Return to Transcripts main page

CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

President Trump is the Mis-Leader in Chief; Right Wing Personalities Pulling Trump's Strings. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired December 23, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:13] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, merry Christmas Eve eve. I'm Brian Stelter and it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how the media really works, of how the news gets made and how all of us can help make it better.

A lot ahead this hour, including a year full of Trump's complaints about the media. We're going to look at some of these unhinged tweets.

And we're also going to get into the boycott against Tucker Carlson. It's a growing ad boycott but is targeting advertisers the best way to protest a TV show? We're going to get into that.

Plus, some surprising news about Hollywood. The big screen is doing better than you might have heard, but the small screen also surpassing expectations.

But first here on RELIABLE SOURCES, it's a chaotic end to year two of the as seen on TV presidency. Right now, there is wall to wall coverage of the third partial government shutdown of the year. It's so embarrassing for the country.

And it's partly due to Trump's radio and TV cabinet. They were warning him that he would look weak if he didn't demand border wall funding so now here we are.

Sunday's "New York Times" reports that Trump is spending, quote, ever more time in front of a TV, often retreating to his residence out of concern that he is being watched too closely. The story depicts Trump as paranoid, isolated, and many of the aides who are with him come from TV.

I mean, think about this, this year, John Bolton joined Trump from Fox, Larry Kudlow joined from CNBC, Bill Shine joined from Fox, now, Heather Nauert is up for the U.N. ambassador job and his longtime aide, Hope Hicks, is working for Fox in corporate PR.

It's the as seen on TV presidency. I mean, that's not all bad. Media experts have been helping presidents communicate for decades and news coverage can keep presidents in touch with the public. That is a good thing.

But leadership means sometimes persuading people who disagree with you, that's why presidents so often use TV to make their case and to talk to more than just the base. But Trump is mostly just tweeting. Leadership also means leading the public, in this case leading Trump's

base away from illogical destructive ideas. Instead, Trump is the misleader in chief. The "Washington Post" has him up to 7,546 false or misleading claims since inauguration day and a good number of those claims are about the so-called border wall, stoking fears, stoking anger.

He says stuff like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Illegal immigration costs our nation $275 billion a year. You hear many different numbers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: His numbers are bogus. This he appear to be made up. He used to say $200 billion, then $250, now he's saying $275 billion. But even the most extreme estimates by anti-immigration groups do not go that far. So he's lying again. Again.

Is it possible to have a fact-based budget debate when the president is so detached from reality? This is an ongoing constant challenge for journalists, as well as for the public.

So, let's get into it with Karen Tumulty. She's a columnist from the "Washington Post" covering national politics. Dara Lind is a senior reporter for Vox Media covering immigration. And CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein.

Karen, is the president creating a crisis, this border wall to shut down, to distract from the real crises he is facing?

KAREN TUMULTY, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, there is a crisis at the border, but it is not the crisis that the president describes of criminals and drug dealers coming over, terrorists coming over the border. There is a humanitarian crisis at the border, of just record waves of legal asylum seekers trying to get their claims heard.

And the answer to that is to look at both the dysfunctional immigration system that we have in this country and also the sources that make -- of the reasons people become so desperate in Central America. So a wall is really -- you know, it's the wrong answer to a real problem.

I think the media is doing a pretty decent job, particularly, for instance, my newspaper has an amazingly well-documented story by Nick Miroff in the paper today of what the real crisis at the border is and it's one that's being made worse by Trump's immigration policies.

STELTER: I love the interactive on the "Washington Post" website that shows you the entire border, it shows you there's already lots of walls, lots of fences, lots of bollards in a lot of different places and I understand Trump wants more of those. But, Dara, what are the biggest misconceptions, the biggest misnomers about the border as we go through this funding fight?

[11:05:08] DARA LIND, SENIOR REPORTER, VOX: I mean, I think that the debate over a border wall or not often takes place in this weird alternate reality where there is no border enforcement or there is perfect border enforcement everywhere. What the Trump administration is actually asking for is 215 miles of bollard fencing largely in the Rio Grande Valley where there isn't a lot of barrier right now. So, we could be having a discussion about is this the right response to this particular flow of people, some of whom were seeking asylum, some of whom aren't.

STELTER: Right.

LIND: But instead we have either the idea that ever one is coming over in an invasion and there's absolutely nothing or that the government has already done everything it possibly could and that every other particular it spends is unnecessary.

STELTER: Right. So we should have that nuanced conversation, but oftentimes that nuance gets lost. What do you want viewers to know as an immigration beat reporter?

LIND: I mean, it's not even what I want viewers to know, it's what would be excellent to have Congress debate, right? Right now, the debate about the border wall has become a debate about giving Donald Trump what he wants, it's become important to both parties to even give it to him or deny it to him because it was a promise made to his base. And we saw that this week when he initially seemed to be moving toward compromise and was then pulled back to the right by conservative media.

So I think Karen is right, the conversation that the public is having is a fairly nuanced conversation about what do we do with a flow of people many of whom are asylum seekers but who are crossing between ports of entry, but Congress doesn't appear to have gotten the memo.

STELTER: Carl, help us connect this fight to Trump's precarious position overall. To me, James Mattis issued a warning to America with his resignation letter and that's the other big story this weekend, loss of support for the president. How do you connect these fights?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you just said it right, it's all one big story and that store is about the fitness or unfitness of Donald Trump to be president of the United States. What the Mattis letter has done in monumental way is to push Republicans into making some real judgments, they're talking to each other, there is coming to be a much greater consensus that he is unfit to be the president of the United States if you talk to Republicans, that he is unfit on psychological grounds, that he is unfit perhaps because of his contempt for the law and particularly unfit in his conduct of foreign policy in such a way as to be a danger himself.

And this is what Mattis has said, Tillerson has said, McMaster has said. They view the president of the United States as a danger to the national security of the United States and Mattis issued a warning, a shot across the bow that this can no longer be tolerated having a president who does business in this way, trashes our alliances and allows Vladimir Putin to be the king of the world by destabilizing the United States of America.

STELTER: But if Republicans are saying it privately, very few of them are saying it publicly. Do you believe that will change?

BERNSTEIN: I think that it's starting to change already. I think as journalists that we need to be going to all Republican members of the House and Senate and having serious discussions with them, questions on background, what do they think about the fitness of Donald Trump to be president of the United States and let's start running detailed stories about what they really think because the contempt that so many of them have, as well as the fear of Donald Trump, they're also afraid of his base, and Trump is a president of his base, not a president trying to unite the country. But they are also still fearful of his base why a lot of them haven't come out and spoken, they've been craven against the president.

Listen to what Mitch McConnell said, he broke with the president of the United States after the Mattis letter in a way that is absolutely definitive and I think is going to be regarded as a changing point in the Trump presidency because there is -- this is no longer about just the Mueller investigation, this is about the fitness or unfitness of Trump in every regard and especially about an untruthful presidency that it makes it impossible to have a truthful debate.

STELTER: There is something real happening among Republicans, but I also wonder, Karen, if there is some wishful thinking going on among liberals. Thinking that this is the end or the end is near. Are you detecting any of that among liberal writers and liberal columnists?

TUMULTY: Well, it's certainly -- it does feel like something is sort of qualitatively different about the events that we've seen over the past ten days.

[11:10:08] But the fact is that, you know, Trump was able to get that vote out of the house for this wall that he wants. So I really don't see particularly in the House until, you know, early January when the Democrats take over any real dynamic changing.

STELTER: I mean, here is an interesting example.

Joe Lockhart, a former Clinton press secretary who knows something about the Clinton years and impeachment and all the calls for Clinton to resign in the '90s, here's what he tweeted. He said, how is it that with everything we already know and there's a lot we don't know, not a single major editorial page was called on Trump to resign. Lockhart says, if this had been any other president, I think we would have already seen the call.

Carl Bernstein, do you agree with Lockhart?

BERNSTEIN: Yes, look, if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama had said and done things that Donald Trump has done, impeachment proceedings would have done a good while ago and I think you could even count perhaps on conviction in the Senate if it were a different president of the United States.

But this is not just a question of whether he is going to be impeached, convicted, not convicted. This is about whether or not a consensus is developing that the president of the United States is not fit to serve in a situation such as we have never had in the history of this country.

Read what individuals are saying in the Congress, being, quote -- quoted as saying he's off the rails. Republicans saying that, not Democrats. He's off the rails psychologically. He's not stable enough to be president.

These are questions that as journalists we have to look at not pejoratively, not saying whether we think he's psychologically unfit, but what people of the country think. We also ought to be talking to people in the country about all these things, but also about Republicans particularly and what they say about these questions and also Trump tried to make this -- his fitness about whether or not he's committed, quote, collusion.

Well, the larger question is whether he has been a tool wittingly, unwittingly, half-wittingly of a hostile foreign power and the evidence seems to stack up that wittingly, unwittingly or half- wittingly, he has been a tool of a hostile foreign power, of Vladimir Putin in such a way as to undermine the interest of the United States. It doesn't mean it's impeachable but it is an amazing fact.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: The Syria example --

BERNSTEIN: Pardon me?

STELTER: -- comes to mind, moving U.S. troops out of Syria, one of the week's biggest headlines.

I wonder, though, a lot of Americans do not want to see troops all around the world, they want the troops to come home. Has the news coverage been out of step with that reality, Carl?

BERNSTEIN: Yes, I think it has in the following way, it is possible to have a legitimate debate about whether or not those troops belong there and whether they should be withdrawn, but what is also clear and where the press has been very good is in showing the chaos and the impetuousness of how Trump came to this decision and decided to enact it as a way of feeding his base rather than an ordered withdrawal in consultation with our allies, but doing it in such a way that serves Putin's interests --

STELTER: The process.

BENSTEIN: -- and also helps the Syrian regime in a way that is unintended, I suppose.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: This is the rare story of the process really matters.

BERNSTEIN: It could be a decent debate.

STELTER: Last question for you, Dara. I wanted to point out that Trump is likely not going to hold a year-end press conference. You might remember that almost every year that Barack Obama was president, he did hold one of these right before Christmas, end-of-the-year press conferences. If Trump does hold a news conference, try to rally support for his positions, what would you want to ask him about immigration?

LIND: I think we've seen that in interviews with Donald Trump simply asking him factual questions about what exactly it is that he and his administration are doing have worked out -- have been much more revealing than inviting him to repeat the same talking points. The administration this week agreed in principle to -- or imposed in principle on Mexico a requirement to house asylum seekers in Mexico for months or years after they had tried to enter the United States while waiting for their asylum claims to go through. If this actually goes into effect and it looks like it will in the coming days it would be so much bigger than any wall that Trump could build.

And yet it's not clear that Donald Trump is aware that his administration has done that and, in fact, he continues to antagonize Mexico by emphasizing this wall. So, even just asking Donald Trump how he feels about the imposing on Mexico this requirement to house asylum seekers I think would do more than just inviting him to talk about why a wall is necessary.

[11:15:10] STELTER: That's really interesting.

Dara, Carl, Karen, thank you all for being here.

A quick break and then a question, will vice president coulter reopen the government, how about secretary Tucker Carlson or director Laura Ingraham? I'm only half-kidding. We'll be right back with CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: It does seem Trump's TV cabinet is to credit or to blame for this partial government shutdown. Of course, we have the countdown clock up on screen. Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter are some of the figures who are challenging the president to make sure the border wall funding came through, warning he would like weak otherwise.

You know, Ann Coulter comment in particular calling the president gutless if we live in a wall-less country, saying if she doesn't get the border wall funding -- he doesn't get the border wall funding, she didn't think he would last into the second term. Her comments, Coulter's comments seemed to upset Trump so much that he unfollowed her on Twitter. Yes, unfollowed her on Twitter.

Now, let's talk about just how much of a role these voices are playing, how much of a role they should play, et cetera, with Ben Smith. He's the editor-in-chief of "BuzzFeed News", Douglas Brinkley, he's CNN presidential historian and history professor at Rice University, and Sarah Ellison, staff writer at "The Washington Post".

Sarah, you wrote earlier this year that some aides at the White House call Sean Hannity the shadow chief of staff. It seems to me you were foreshadowing where we are today.

[11:20:00] Hannity happened to be on vacation this week, but it was the Hannitys of the world that led us here.

SARAH ELLISON, STAFF WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. I mean, we've also written about how Trump has his real cabinet and then he has his shadow cable news cabinet and he listens sometimes to the people in the cable news cabinet more than the people who are really working with him in the administration. And that was clearly on display this week, you had somebody -- you know, you had Mattis resigning. He is one of the people who is actually trying to shape Trump and move him in a direction that's kind of corralling him, whereas you have the people like Ann Coulter, like Laura Ingraham who are reminding him kind of what the base thinks.

STELTER: Yes.

ELLISON: But what they're actually doing I think is that Trump was the person who took over Fox News as opposed to Fox News kind of shaping him and I think that that's a really interesting dynamic that push and pull.

STELTER: Ben, do you agree?

BEN SMITH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, BUZZFEED NEWS: Absolutely. And I think it's hard to imagine Roger Ailes ever allowing the president to take control of his network. It's remarkable.

But I do think that one of the things happening also is just that Trump -- you know, I don't think there is -- often people are looking for a long-term strategy. In the short term here, I mean, he retook control of the narrative, maybe only for like a week because the Democrats are about to take control of the actual reins of power, but his focus through the whole presidency has been on producing the story and he's back producing it.

STELTER: And just win for the hour, win for the day, get through the day feels like if there is a strategy that's the strategy. Look, if there was a long-term strategy, President Trump would be celebrating his bipartisan achievement, criminal justice reform finally passed by Congress and signed by the president. This was something that both Fox and Van Jones agreed on, and yet Trump is not even trying to trumpet, he's not even trying to celebrate that, or he did for an hour.

So, Douglas Brinkley, what's the parallel here to history? Is there a parallel here to anything in history?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, one is that Donald Trump keeps enemies list of the press and he has press friends. I mean, it's very Nixonian in how he scapegoats and beats up on reporters and then he has the air men choir which coming out of mainly Fox News and as we've mentioned Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh.

There has been a weird rule about Donald Trump, anytime Ann Coulter criticizes him, he withers. She has his number. It's like kind of -- she challenges his manhood, calls him gutless, other words that I won't say on the air and he folds. He folded the tents -- we had a government shutdown right now -- I mean, with people not -- being furloughed. I mean, just the national park service alone, 16,000 people now furloughed.

You can't go visit Gettysburg battlefield. I was doing commentary for CNN on Bush 41's funeral and telling people to visit the Bush Library, it's being closed all because of Ann Coulter as a voice of the hard right and he immediately got Rush on the air to say, look, you know, don't worry, the border wall is still the main thing.

So, we are at the end of the year with the stock markets tanking and we are talking about putting up a medieval wall along the border and the president is being basically run by a kind of alt-right press machine.

STELTER: They will take exception to them calling you alt-right, but they would certainly embrace the term right or right wing. What about this narrative, Douglas, that the wheels are coming off the Trump administration? Does it imply that there were wheels?

BRINKLEY: Well, there were wheels for a while. I mean, it did feel for some people like having General Kelly as chief of staff was kind of a calming effect, that General Mattis was the rock of Gibraltar at the Pentagon. Trump may have been warring with the Justice Department, the CIA, FBI, you know, but he wasn't warring with the armed forces.

Mattis' departure I think is stark, it's starting to have Republican senators like Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham really question whether the country can survive more years of Trumpism, and it has our armed forces, our men and women in the armed forces who love General Mattis. He is like the most famous military figure of modern times, write a resignation letter that was biting in its own way, saying that this is a president who doesn't understand that our America's alliances are the glue that keeps the free world together, that this president doesn't get it.

It could not be any worse for a president when you start getting corrosion with the armed forces, with the troops, questioning whether the commander in chief is fit for command.

STELTER: Mattis' departure this week overshadowed other big stories this week, for example, the market meltdown, the prison reform bill I mentioned.

Ben, as the editor of "BuzzFeed News", how do you try to make sure the staff has time for all of these stories? How do you a lot of resources?

SMITH: For every editor, you know, for the last two years, the job has been to sort of try to like minimize the energy you're spending playing defense on the narrative, on Trump's attempts to constantly produce theater and to try to run around the edges and report stories about what is actually happening, about, for instance, Dreamers being denied certain kinds of federal mortgage loans.

[11:25:13] I think one of the things you're broadly seeing now is that Trump has really managed to take control of the narrative through his whole presidency, but as time goes on, facts and the narrative, indictments, people going to jail, depart from the story telling and that gap is getting wider.

STELTER: And, Sarah, you said 2016 was the first election where people carried the news cycle in their pockets.

ELLISON: Right.

STELTER: What's the impact of that now for a presidency?

ELLISON: Well, I think that what that does clearly is it flattens the importance of any single news event.

STELTER: You mean because everything is a news alert, every in us alert looks the same. Right.

(CROSSTALK)

ELLISON: It looks the same when Jeff Sessions resigns as it does when, you know, Jim Acosta is denied his press credentials. This was this one -- you know, his credential to the White House. Those things get -- that can be manipulated very, very easily because everyone is looking at the next headline and, yes, people are trying to do real stories that take months and weeks to report.

But the show in the White House is really entertaining and the people are entertaining themselves. So, that is something that I think for news organizations we're always trying to get at the real issues, but also use the attention -- I'm just sort of as a media commentator and critic at this point, but looking at like the personalities to draw people into what an actual story would be because if you're doing something really dry no one is going to pay attention.

STELTER: Yes, we're still trying to figure out this as seen on TV presidency.

Everybody, stick around. Quick break here.

And then the year according to Trump's tweets. Yes, you've got to see this. We will get to it right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:30:00] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, I'm Brian Stelter. I counted it up and President Trump tweeted about so-called fake news more than 210 times this year. Almost always referring to real and reliable news outlets. He said 60 Minutes was fake, the New York Times is fake, the AP, CNN, numerous polls, he even questioned NBC's broadcast license. Are we getting them to this? Is that a danger? Ben, Douglas, and

Sarah are still with me. Ben is that a risk do you think this constant poison the President spreads about the news being fake? I feel like over time it does have this effect on the public?

BEN SMITH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, BUZZFEED NEWS: Oh yes, absolutely. I think he's done real damage to broad trust in the media and yes, and to kind of the institutional relationship between power and the press. And I think that's something that his Democratic or Republican successor will no doubt ultimately wound up taking advantage of.

STELTER: And Brinkley, you've said the President will always be known, he'll be synonymous with the term fake news.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, you know, absolutely. I mean, it's going to be in Bartlett's books of quotations, Donald Trump, fake news. It's probably his most marketable quip he's ever, ever done. And it is having an effect because you hear people in restaurants or bars talk about fake news. What's one -- the problem is we're actually in a golden age of journalism right now, Brian. You're part of it. I mean, we have the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post doing remarkable work.

The new -- the new young journalists that are investigating the Trump presidency are just stunning and the old warhorses like Bob Woodward doing incredible amount of research with his book Fear this year. So I think the problem is Donald Trump lies all the time, over 7,000 lies, and it's hard to have newspapers fact-check him. And as we know, he deflects any failure in himself. He blames on others. But the press is going to be here. The New York Times will be running long after Donald Trump's not in the White House.

STELTER: Yes. That's an important reminder. We've not seen the kind of disruption that son predicted two years into Trump. These papers, these news outlets, these networks are alive and kicking stronger than ever. So Ben, one of the things the President called fake this year was the dossier, the Steel Dossier. He called it fake. It's not fake. There's a lot of information in it that hasn't been corroborated, but some of it has been corroborated.

You've been sued by a couple individuals for publishing the dossier back in January of 2007. It was a very controversial decision. But this week a judge ruled in your favor. What's the significance of this judge's ruling?

SMITH: Well, I think you know we were incredibly relieved to be to be vindicated in this Florida Court. And Judge Ungaro's ruling was very clear was on the law so that it was -- that our report was fair and true, that this document which was circulating at the highest levels of power which everyone except your audience basically already knew about was important to share with everybody else in the United States.

And I think the notion that we would have gone through the last two years with this secret document at the center of all these conversations and investigations, but that the American people would be forbidden from looking at it seems insane in retrospect.

STELTER: I remember that week when you published it, Chuck Todd said it was fake news. You published fake news. What do we know about how much the dossier is real or not, accurate or not?

SMITH: So as we reported at the time and our report we know which was accurate, a lot of it was on is unverified. A lot of it remains unverified. The -- I think you know some elements of it have borne out. I think if you look at the you know the charges against Paul Manafort, that was very important to the dossier. If you look at the you know, reports of the sort of social media infiltration or sort of targeting of Bernie Sanders supporters, that was in the dossier. Those are two examples.

And then what's sort of remarkable is that the summer of 2016, Christopher Steele is making these very broad allegations about two things. About infiltrate -- about Russian agents trying to infiltrate the Trump campaign and about a Russian influence campaign on Trump's behalf. Both of those things have clearly been borne out but were not obvious when he -- when he was writing them.

STELTER: So it was important. You're saying there was value to publishing this?

[11:35:01] SARAH ELLISON, STAFF WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I also think that that the dichotomy between what journalists know and what they let the people know I think is really important. Of course, as journalists talk to a lot of people about the dossier and a lot of editors say it's our job to report what we know to be true and what we can verify. And they all feel -- everyone feels very comfortable with that kind of parameter. And at the same time, they all feel kind of grateful is the term, that BuzzFeed published because you guys got to take all of the arrows for it and then at the same time you know they were able to kind of benefit from that.

And then the people, the actual civilians and the people that I've spoken to a very happy to have at least some of this information out there. And a lot of it has been borne out. So I think it's -- you know, we do try as reporters to verify things but when people at the highest levels of government are using a document, there is a justification for it being something that the public is allowed.

STELTER: For newsworthiness.

ELLISON: To be in on it. They're allowed to be in on some of this discussion.

STELTER: Let's end with an actually faked subject. This is the headline this week about Germany. Der Spiegel, a reporter there at Der Spiegel was making up entire stories, making up characters making up sources. This is worse than plagiarism, it's fabrication. Now, he was given an award years ago by CNN. He never worked for CNN, thank goodness. He was ever published by CNN thank goodness. But he was given a CNN journalist of the Year award a number of years ago. What is the takeaway been when you see a case like this where a Der Spiegel colleague caught the guy making up stories? SMITH: Well, you know, actually I see this as a story and we complain a lot about social media and have social media flattens things out, how social media misleads people. It's also an incredible way to call B.S. on reporters who have through all of history there have been reporters doing terrible things, there have been reporters fabricating things, they get caught more now because you know, Der Spiegel if it had just published in Germany, thousands of miles away, the folks in this town would not have seen it. Instead, they caught it and they saw it on the internet and they were able through social media to correct this.

And I think like this is something that we all like to complain about social media a lot these days but it is this incredible corrective that keeps us honest and that's what was happening here is you had regular people who were the subjects of a false report keeping Der Spiegel honest.

STELTER: Right. To our panel, thank you so much for being here. Let's say a quick break and then go to David Zurawik. He's fired up about the ad boycott against Tucker Carlson. Hear his perspective on Tucker right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:40:00] STELTER: Fox News has been the target of multiple ad boycott this year. The latest involves a p.m. hosts Tucker Carlson. Well, over a dozen advertisers have pulled their ads from his hour as a result of a social media call-out campaign led by liberal groups. The activists are condemning Carlson for his anti-immigrant views. Carlson recently said that immigrants make the U.S. poorer and dirtier.

Fox is backing up his right to his opinion saying that far left activist groups with deeply political motives are trying to censor Tucker. There's part of the statement there. So I asked Baltimore Sun Media critic David Zurawik, do these boycotts amount to censorship?

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, BALTIMORE SUN: People have a right to say I'm going to advertise with you or I'm not going to advertise with you. I mean, that's not censorship. They don't like what you're putting on, why should they fund it, especially in television where the ad is directly related to the revenue.

In a democracy, if people are offended they have a right to try to use any lever they can use to change what offends them. And look, people are pretty savvy as you and I both know about the media these days. You know, they understand that you can write letters, you can do all this stuff and some of it just gets ignored. But you start hitting the bottom line on an operation with ads or whatever their source of revenue is and you're going to get their attention. That's savvy. That's the way the world works.

STELTER: Yes, but do we want to live in a world where there's liberal advertisers and there's conservative advertisers and you know, everything is that polarize? ZURAWIK: Well, you know, except that's the view I think, Brian, in a way. I understand exactly what you're saying. But I think that's the way Fox is trying to spin it, that the people who don't want to advertise on Tucker Carlson show are liberal. No. It's people who are saying we're offended by the way you talk about migrants.

STELTER: You're saying it's about basic values, basic decency.

ZURAWIK: Yes. Well, no -- yes. In some instance yes. In other instances, it's just good business. We have a product, we appeal we try to appeal to diverse audience, to a lot of different people. You mock diversity in a way or smirking possibly. That's the way they see it. They're saying, why in the world should I spend my money on your show if you're doing that?

Look, if you say that migrants are making our country dirtier, I don't want my product there. I'm sorry. I don't care if you want to call me a censor, fine. I'm not giving you my money to put those ads there.

STELTER: And Tucker all year long has really staked out this position as being the show about immigration. That is really his calling card. There have been a lot of critics of his mostly on the left saying he's a white nationalist or he's supporting white nationalism. What's your view of that? Would you go that far?

ZURAWIK: You know, in a -- no I don't. I don't. Here's what I think though has happened culturally, and this is also the reason for his success. Remember when Van Jones on election night, he explained part of Trump's victory in terms of white lash.

[11:45:09] STELTER: White last.

ZURAWIK: Brilliant, brilliant moment by him. That's going on in this country. Jones is smart enough to know culturally.

STELTER: There is a white lash.

ZURAWIK: And there's an anxiety among white people for the growing shift in the demographic population. It's like patriarchy. People don't give up power easily and when it starts to get close to they're going to lose power, they get anxious. That's Trump's appeal. I mean, Van Jones is absolutely right. Carlson piggybacks that. He's speaking to that same demographic, that same audience out there that Trump is.

I mean, that's why the synergy between his show and Trump's worked so well without him having to be like Hannity out there overtly campaigning.

STELTER: That's the thing. Tucker oftentimes doesn't even talk about Trump at all.

ZURAWIK: Yes. he doesn't have to because he's a surrogate in a way for that. So this is a serious issue this boycott and you know, it's -- we'll see where it goes, you know. Some Fox hosts like O'Reilly and Beck, the boycotts have been deadly, for others they haven't been, Hannity and Ingraham. So we'll see where it goes. It's hard to predict.

But this is a serious, serious deep-seated cultural issue. And it's -- I don't have sympathy for him because he's positioned himself this way. That's his T.V. persona. He makes money off it, he's successful off it, but it's also the other side that can come back and bite you and it can take you down.

STELTER: And we'll keep an eye on this boycott effort over the holidays. Up next here, the big story in Hollywood. Movies like Black Panther and the Avengers made this a record-breaking box-office year. So what's in store next year? Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:50:00] STELTER: Some breaking news now here on CNN. The President naming a new acting Secretary of Defense and essentially telling General James Mattis he'll be leaving two months early. Here's the tweet from the President saying, I'm pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan will assume the title of acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1st. Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as deputy and previously Boeing. He will be great, exclamation point.

This of course, a big surprise coming on the heels of another big surprise a few days ago, the resignation of General Mattis. You'll recall that in the resignation letter, Mattis was very clear that he was going to stay on until February in order to ensure a smooth transition in the military. It appears the President does not want Mattis to stay.

Let's go to Ryan Nobles who's at the White House right now with more. Ryan is this fair to say another surprise from the White House in a week of surprises?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no doubt about that, Brian. This is a huge surprise that this would come down especially in this fashion just before Christmas in the midst of a partial government shutdown. You know, there was a reason that James Mattis had given the President this timeline to step down from his current position. He wanted to see through the budget process at the Pentagon, make sure that everything was handled under a smooth transition. But this is obviously going to throw that process for a loop.

We do know a little bit about Patrick Shanahan who is the Deputy Secretary of Defense right now. This is actually somebody who has a little bit of experience with Donald Trump and the White House. He has been the point person to a certain extent for the President and his space force which is something that the President has made as a high priority as he notes in his tweet about Shanahan that he previously worked with a Boeing Company. He is someone who has experience with aviation and that has been part of his major responsibilities for Donald Trump. But you know, Brian, this is by no means a household name. This is

not someone with you know, kind of you know gravitas that we've seen with previous secretaries of defense. And I think it will be also interesting to see how members of Congress react to this news, Brian. You know, I was on Capitol Hill all week you know, during the shutdown negotiations, and then when the Mattis news came down, and it's -- you know, it's not a stretch to say that leaders both Republican and Democrat were shaken by the news of Mattis living his post.

This just adds more instability to all of that. Not necessarily sure you know Shanahan's reputation on Capitol Hill but I'm pretty -- I would not be surprised at off we get strong reactions from members of Congress to this very surprising move by President Trump.

STELTER: And notedly, he would only be called the acting Secretary of Defense. This is Trump's new trick, right? Name people the acting Chief of Staff, the acting Secretary of Defense.

NOBLES: Yes. And that's right. And you know, this, Brian, is a very important point that you make here. The President has a lot of work to do in the new year in terms of confirming very key cabinet positions, the defense secretary being one of them. Of course, he has a new chief of staff. That doesn't require a Senate approval but that is also a new position he has to deal with a lot of different areas. And this is something that you know he's going to have to have some sort of Democrat support in order to push these positions through. So this is an example of that.

You know, how long he is willing to stay with an acting Defense Secretary, that maybe gives him a little bit of a breathing room here before he picks someone in a permanent position who holds his worldview. And of course, that's the big rub right now for Donald Trump. He, you know, had someone in there who had the support of most members of Congress in James Mattis, but that was someone who he did not see foreign policy through the same lens as.

So if he put someone into that position who aligns with his worldview, that could put him in direct opposition to some of his most staunchest supporters on Capitol Hill. Lindsey Graham being the best example of that. So it's going to be a very interesting few weeks here for the President on a number of fronts. But this the situation here in terms of his foreign policy and the way is going to handle the military going forward it's going to be a you know, at least very high on his list of priorities.

[11:55:16] STELTER: Yes, absolutely. Ryan, thank you so much. The headline here Secretary Mattis leaving after January 1st and not of his choice. He wanted to stay until February. President Trump saying Mattis is out as of January 1st. And the important part here, the news coverage, Trump reportedly hated the news coverage of the Mattis letter. That's what Jim Acosta reported earlier this week. The New York Times reporting this morning that Trump's anger over the news coverage was a factor in this decision to move up Mattis's departure day and to bring in a new acting Secretary of State.

That's all for this hour of RELIABLE SOURCES but the news continues right here on CNN and we'll see you right back here this time next week.