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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Why the Trump-Fox Relationship Matters So Much; Democrats Exclude Fox News from Debate Lineup; Dems Probing Trump's Opposition to AT&T Deal; Rep. David Cicilline (D) Rhode Island is Interviewed About Potential Abuse of Power by Trump. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired March 10, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:01] FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Finally, something the American and Russian military agree on.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I'll see you next week.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. It's time for RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look of the story behind the story, of how the media really works, how the news gets made and how all of us can help make it better.
This hour, did President Trump try to use his power to block the AT&T/Time Warner deal? New questions about that. And one of the Dems seeking answers, Representative David Cicilline will join me live.
Plus, an opening at the White House Communications Department. Bill Shine leaving. Will anyone replace him? We will get into that and much more.
And a little bit later, digital media, the state of the Internet. Is it all devolve into a dumpster fire? "BuzzFeed" CEO Jonah Peretti sits down with me at South by Southwest for an optimistic view of the future.
We got much more this hour, including Connie Schultz and a great line of guests.
But, let's begin with the week's biggest media story. You cannot understand the Trump years without understanding Fox News. You can't understand Fox these days without understanding Trump.
The members of his cable news cabinet sometimes have more power than his actual appointees. So, "The New Yorker" Washington correspondent Jane Mayer decided to take a deep dive into the Trump/Fox echo chamber. She tried to wrap it all up in a single story. That's up on the "New Yorker" website.
And her story drove much of the media news with, for example, the Democratic National Committee using it as an excuse to say Fox is not going to be hosting a primary debate.
So, let's get right to it.
And Jane joins me now.
Your story suggests the network has moved from partisanship to propaganda. The word kept coming up in your piece. Did it keep coming up in your interviews with sources?
JANE MAYER, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: It did. It did. And the interesting was, this is not just with liberal sources. I mean, liberals have been on Fox's case for, you know, from the start.
But what I was hearing was a number of conservatives who were finding what Fox is doing alarming. And we're talking about conservatives who maybe have differences with Trump. And they find that increasingly, there's no dissent allowed on Fox's prime time shows.
STELTER: There was reporting last year by CNN's Oliver Darcy that you followed up on about the Stormy Daniels saga. And the Fox News reporter Diana Falzone knew about it 2016, tried to report on it and was stopped by her bosses. Tell us what you learned.
MAYER: Well, so, what she has said -- she's under a nondisclosure agreement with Fox. So, she's kind of a gag order. But what she has said to others who I've interviewed, one is on the record and then another was on background on the story, was that her story spiked for political reasons, that she had the story about Stormy Daniels being paid off with hush money by the Trump Organization.
She had it by October 2016 and her editor at the time, the top editor of the website there at Fox, Ken LaCorte, said to her, good reporting, kiddo, but Rupert Murdoch wants Donald Trump to win. So set it aside.
You know, obviously, an explosive thing if true. Ken LaCorte has claimed that -- he said in my story, he's claimed that he didn't say that. But she had quite a bit of reporting done and there are a lot of ways to check it.
And her lawyer at this point is calling for that NDA to be lifted by Fox so she can defend her herself. Right now, she's not allowed to talk.
STELTER: One of the other developments since your first came out is the departure of Bill Shine from the White House. You described Shine in quite a lot of detail in the story.
What do you make of Shine's sudden departure?
MAYER: I think he became baggage. It was just a little bit too much.
You know, as I wrote in the story, he was getting millions of dollars still from Fox News while he was the director of communication for the White House. You've got this incestuous relationship already between Fox and the White House. It was just a little bit too heavy-handed and too embarrassing and too much of an issue.
And that's really what he said himself when he was talking to colleagues in the White House explaining his departure. He said he felt he had become a distraction and that it wasn't going to go away.
STELTER: Do you think the president ever worries about these optics? This incredibly cozy inappropriate relationship with Fox News? Does he worry about that?
MAYER: Well, I mean, if he does -- I mean, immediately after my story came out, as if to illustrate it, he tweeted yet again something about "Fox and Friends."
STELTER: Tweeted about "Fox and Friends". Right.
MAYER: You know, if he's worried he's not showing it. He needs Fox as much as Fox needs him. It's a symbiotic relationship. Trump needs the Fox viewers. They are his base. And both Fox and Trump have the same sort of business model which is in order to keep their support in place, they've got to enrage their viewers, enrage the base.
[11:05:07] STELTER: Yes, fear based, anger based model.
MAYER: Read the story and you can read quotes from people who worked at Fox, like Alisyn Camerota, who's now at CNN. But when she was at Fox, she said that the number one thing they always said when you're picking the story was, this is going to enrage the viewers. That was the mantra.
And so, this what -- it is how they decide -- it's their journalistic, you know, lode star.
STELTER: You also describe the relationship between President Trump and Rupert Murdoch, of course, the uber boss of all things Fox. You say that Murdoch kind of mocks or criticizes Trump behind his back? Is that right?
MAYER: Isn't that interesting? Yes. I've got this from a number of people.
I mean, of course, I'm not alone saying this. Michael Wolff in his book also talked about it, that Murdoch got off the phone with Trump and called him an expletive deleted idiot. And he's kind of enjoyed regaling stories of Trump's shortcomings to his friends in New York and Los Angeles. And I think he enjoys the relationship.
But he puts down a lot -- Trump knows it I'm told by people in the White House. Trump deals with it because basically he also needs Murdoch's support.
STELTER: Right, he needs Murdoch. And I know others are doing similar reporting. Others are looking at this relation. What more do you still want to know? At the end of this assignment, what other questions do you still have?
MAYER: Well, I sort of started the story taking a look at Bill Shine and the question I had was, does Fox program the White House or does Trump program Fox? Is it state return TV or is it a TV run state?
I don't think we have a definitive answer on that, even though I spent months on the story, interviewed over 75 people. You can certainly -- it goes both ways. It's really -- it's a very unusual situation and particularly for our country.
STELTER: We've never --
MAYER: We don't have state run TV until now.
STELTER: We've never seen anything like it.
Jane, thanks so much.
MAYER: Great to be with you.
STELTER: So many developments in the days since her story was published. Of course, Bill Shine stepping down. Members of Congress looking for information about possible White House interference in the AT&T deal to buy CNN's parent company. Then, there's Fox News reporter who we just mentioned who -- former Fox News reporter demanded a release from her NDA. All that fall out from Jane Mayer's story or perhaps connected in various ways.
But let's begin with this debate conversation. The Democratic National Committee saying Fox News will not be considered as a partner or as a host for a Democratic primary debate. We know so far NBC and MSNBC have the first debate in the summer. CNN has the second one. Fox not on that list.
Joining me now, Media Matter for America president, Angelo Carusone, Democratic strategist Tara Dowdell, and veteran political analyst and author Jeff Greenfield.
Angelo, what was your reaction to Jane Mayer's story? It didn't say a lot new. What it did is it tied all of these strands together, two years worth of conversation about Fox as the propaganda arm of the Trump White House.
Why did the story matter so much, do you think?
ANGELO CARUSONE, PRESIDENT, MEDIA MATTERS FOR AMERICA: I think because -- partly because of the story-telling and it validated. And I also think that behind the scenes, it's a really big moment for Fox News. It's kicking off advertising season right now. And the major story that Fox News is saying we know our prime time people are out there, we know that our opinion people are out there, but our news is real news and it is dependable and reliable. And this story really cut directly against the major narrative that they just started selling.
STELTER: They've been emphasizing the news division. My view is, yes, they have a news division. It's relatively small compared to the huge opinion division which has all the highest rated shows. "Fox and Friends" and "Hannity", et cetera, et cetera.
Both exist. But it's getting really uncomfortable for both to exist in the same body.
So, Tara, why would Democrats consider going on Fox in the first place?
TARA DOWDELL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think , first of all --
STELTER: For a debate, I mean.
DOWDWELL: For a debate. I think that Democrats want to attract as many people as possible. So, I think that's why it might have been under consideration.
But here's the reality -- Democrats have not been participating or having Fox News as a media partner in debates prior to this decision this time around. It should not be surprising and it should not be the least bit controversial that Democrats made this decision. It's a rationale decision based on facts and a cold hard reality.
STELTER: Jeff, your view?
JEFF GREENFIELD, VETERAN COMMENTATOR: I think they're missing a golden opportunity. Let's assume that Fox is state TV. If during the Cold War, Andrei Sakharov had somehow been given him 90 minutes on Soviet TV, uncensored, unblockable without reprisals to make his case, would he have taken it?
This was a chance first for the Democrats to call out Fox on precisely what it does that violates journalistic standards, without fear of being interrupted.
Second, one of the things that's different from 2016, Democrats have learned who they are not reaching that they used to reach to.
[11:10:00] And not everybody at Fox is a Kool-Aid drinking Trumpist. There are a lot of marginal voters there.
And if you want to win an election, you should be able to make your arguments beyond your base. I think the Democrats are already in a little bit of trouble because they're so anxious to appeal to their base.
GREENBERG: So, this one -- it has nothing to do with respecting Fox as a real news institution. This is a form that would have redounded to their political benefit.
STELTER: To their benefit. Tara, do you think so?
DOWDELL: Let me -- as someone who's worked on campaigns, I can tell you this: the best way to persuade a voter and all the data supports what I'm about to say, is face-to-face contact. So, if Democrats want to effectively reach voters who do not share their political views, the best way to do that is to go into those communities. We have consultants, we have access to voter files. So, we know where registered Republicans are, where registered independents are.
So, you can go into communities and have a face-to-face conversation with them, which is far more likely to generate a positive result. So, why would we invest in something -- Democrats should invest in things that work in terms of reaching voters. Not an outlet that has proven itself to be as Colonel Ralph Peters, who was a commentator, frequent commentator said he left because it's a propaganda outlet.
CARUSONE: Yes, my concern is that by participating in this debate, it validates a lot of the narrative that's not true about what they say. And I do think it's important to speak to people who may not be persuaded.
I think the problem is, is that with the Fox viewer, they are seeped in this, because the information and extremism is not quarantined for their opinion shows. If you look at every single major narrative, Uranium One, the caravan, there's neither exact symmetry because what's happening on their supposed news programs and what's happening at their prime time.
STELTER: I mean, for goodness sakes, Ed Henry, who is one of their top correspondents, co-hosts their weekend conservative talk show. There's so much blurring of the lines every day on Fox.
GREENFIELD: This is why you have a chance to break through this. If you can reach 3 million people at a time -- look, when John Kennedy went to Houston Association in 1960, all of whom were opposed with Catholic on the White House, and then took that exchange, that very confrontation, and used it political advertising it helped.
I think tremendously -- look, I worked on a few campaigns myself before I became a virgin journalist. One of the things that was most effective, whether it's on TV or face to face, is saying to people, you and I may have a disagreement. Here's where I stand.
I think it is, as I said, tactically -- it doesn't validate Fox. In fact, it's a chance for the Democrats --
CARUSONE: But Hillary Clinton did many -- she did interviews with Fox News.
STELTER: I won't say many.
STELTER: But she at least did a few.
DOWDELL: She did a town hall.
STELTER: She did do a town hall.
DOWDELL: And so did Bernie Sanders. Both of them gave a town hall.
GREENBERG: OK. So, what's the problem with doing a debate with three journalists where you use that forum to say, here's why your network is poisoning the conversation?
CARUSONE: I think because of what's in Jane Mayer's piece, which is that it shifted from being politically biased and politically aligned, to something different now, more akin to propaganda outlet. That means I think it's a much more dangerous beast, and you have to deal with differently as a result.
STELTER: And there's also an argument about media solidarity and the hosts on Fox have been making this argument, saying people like me should be defending them and standing up for them to host a DNC debate. How do you all --
DOWDELL: But what do you say about doctors? What if we said a bad doctor who does something terrible, other doctors should stand up for that doctor? That's a ridiculous argument.
I'm in PR, people criticize PR professionals all the time. If they're worthy of that criticism, then I agree with it.
Here's what we know about Fox. And this is what matters. It's a revolving door for talent from Fox coming into the Trump administration. We know that there's Heather Nauert, there are many Fox contributors who are now working within the Trump administration.
Roger Ailes actually was advising President Trump for a period of time following his departure from Fox News. Bill Shine, as it's been widely reported, as we all know, who just stepped down, was working there. This is something completely different and it's something that's dangerous. And I don't it makes sense to any way validate this as normal.
GREENBERG: Would you have had Andrei Sakharov go on TV in 1973?
DOWDELL: Would I have had Andrei --
GREENBERG: Yes. Soviet TV was a total state operation, the totalitarian.
DOWDELL: Still is.
GREENBERG: Would you have had Sakharov -- had somehow that opportunity, would you have had him go on Soviet TV for 90 minutes and tell the people this is a totalitarian dictatorial regime? Would you have taken that opportunity?
DOWDELL: You know, look, I'm not going to engage in something that was before I was born. What I will say is that at the end of the day, we know -- I want to talk about what we know now in the present, here and now. And so, I think what we know here and now about Fox News that it is an outlet -- it's basically completely aligned with the Trump administration.
What we also know is there are other ways that Democrats can reach voters who don't agree with them. There are podcasts. There's all kinds of new media. There are all kinds of people or channels that can be distribution channels that can be used to reach those voters.
[11:15:01] So, why wouldn't we use those channels? STELTER: I think there should be solidarity in certain situations.
If a Fox News reporter was blacklisted from the White House, the way Jim Acosta was, we should all stand up for that Fox News reporter.
But in this case, this is a Democratic National Committee issue. Fox's fight is with the DNC, not the media. And I thought it was interesting, Angelo, that so many D.C. reporters were coming out, supporting Fox, taking Jeff's view, right, about going out and going on Fox. You know, there was a kind of -- I don't know what that was about.
CARUSONE: If you think -- it reflected someone in Fox's response. What they said is that the DNC is banning Chris Wallace and Brett Baier and Martha MacCallum. They made it very personal. They personalize their sort of defense here.
And I think in that case, it's not so much about solidarity for some journalistic principles. They're helping out their friends which I think is understandable for why they're doing it. I also think that's part of it.
The other thing is they're not making the separation between that it's possible to have media solidarity, to defend free speech, to defend the profession of journalism, and in this context say, I don't have to advocate for Fox News to be a debate partner for the DNC. I do not think those two things are mutually exclusive and I think it's important to make sure --
GREENBERG: As I say, my view of this is tactical. I don't think there's any First Amendment right to host the debate. I think the DNC can pick its forum. My point is tactically, I think they're blowing it.
STELTER: And we will see maybe in a couple of years, if the Democrats regret this decision. Maybe we'll find out at the election.
To our panel, please stick around. Quick break here and then more on some of the fallout from the "New Yorker" article about FOX News. We'll talk with the congressman who wants records from the Trump administration about possible interference from the DOJ. That's coming up after a quick break.
[11:20:21] STELTER: Has President Trump been using the Department of Justice to attack media outlets he doesn't like? That's been a question practically since the first day of his presidency. Given to his opposition of AT&T's deal to buy Time Warner, the parent company of CNN?
And in a new reporting from Jane Mayer in "The New Yorker" this week, she said that Gary Cohn and John Kelly were in the room when Trump railed against the deal and insisted that Gary Cohn had to call the DOJ and make sure the government sued to block AT&T from buying CNN and the rest of Time Warner. Now, as you know, the government did eventually sue. The DOJ also denied that there was any political interference at all. The deal eventually went through. And now, CNN is owned by AT&T.
But because of this new reporting from "New Yorker" and from other outlets, there are new questions about whether Trump tried to interfere, whether he tried to abuse his power in that way. And now, Democrats in the House and the Senate say they are investigating.
Congressman David Cicilline is one of them. He's requested more information by writing a letter to the DOJ. They want to get ahold of records from the White House and from DOJ about any of these contacts that might have happened.
So, let's talk more about it with the congressman. He's joining me now from Providence.
Great to see you. Thank you for being here.
REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Good morning.
STELTER: Tell us more about what exactly are you requesting, what documents you do want to obtain?
CICILLINE: Well, Brian, good morning.
We should remember, when this was first reported sometime ago, I asked Attorney General Sessions directly before the Judiciary Committee where the White House or anyone on the president's behalf reached out to him in connection with the AT&T/Time Warner proposed merger. He refused to answer my question. The chairman of refused to require him to do that.
So, this has been a longstanding request. We then made requests for documents from the administration with request to any conducts between the White House and the Department of Justice.
Mr. Nadler and I have renewed that request with a new letter based on Jane Mayer's reporting. Again asking for any documents that relate to any conversations between the White House, the administration and the Department of Justice with respect to this. This is very disturbing.
Anti-trust enforcement is law enforcement. In the same way, it would be completely inappropriate for the administration to interfere in a criminal prosecution, either to charge someone or not charge someone and urging the Department of Justice to do one or other, it ought not in any way be attempting to influence this merger review in the antitrust division at the Department of the Justice.
STELTER: Executives at CNN and AT&T have suspected this for a long time. They suspected that Trump was interfering. But suspicions are not enough. There's got to be evidence.
Right now, there's a lot of circumstantial evidence, but nothing concrete. Do you believe you'll be able to find a smoking gun email or text message or something? CICILLINE: Well, we certainly have a responsibility to look at it.
Look, I raised my own concerns about the merger. So, setting aside the merits of this, the -- it's clear the president cannot interfere or attempt to interfere to reward his friends or punish his perceived enemies. This is sort of reminiscent of the Nixon days with the ITT case.
So, we have a responsibility to call in witnesses, to make document request, to get at the truth. We need to protect the rule of law and make sure people have confidence that this is being done in the appropriate way and pursuant to the appropriate guidelines in the Department of Justice, in the sort of quasi judicial kin of proceeding and not -- and free from any political interference. So, we requested documents. If we're compelled to, we'll issue subpoenas. We'll certainly bring witnesses in.
But we're going to get to the bottom of this and make sure we can ensure that the American people that we are not permitting any political interference by the president or members of his administration to punish people he perceives as enemies and to rewards friends. It's completely inappropriate.
STELTER: And he also perceives "The Washington Post" to be an enemy. He's criticized Jeff Bezos who owns "The Post" and runs Amazon. Are you also looking into his attacks on Amazon?
CICILLINE: You know, we have -- this was a proposed merger where the DOJ had a particular function.
CICILLINE: But I think you're right, there's been a persistent attack on the rule of law, on the free press, important Democratic institutions. We're going to look at all these issues.
STELTER: I see. Congressman, thank you so much for being here. Appreciate it.
CICILLINE: Thanks for having me.
STELTER: Coming up here, former Fox News executive and then White House aide Bill Shine is out of the White House. Can anyone really be comms director for President Trump? Sarah Ellison joins me next.
[11:29:06] STELTER: Does anybody want to be President Trump's next communication director?
I mean, look at the polls. Most Americans believe Trump committed crimes before he took office. And not only that, most Americans recognize that the president is not trustworthy and most people think that most minds are made up about the president. That most people aren't going to change their opinions no matter what information comes out. So, if you're the person tasked with improving Trump's image, maybe
you haven't been doing such a great job. Or maybe it's out of your hands entirely.
Either way I'm guessing that the job that Bill Shine had is going to remain vacant for a while. Bill Shine, of course, was brought in, a former Fox News co-president, to run the White House communication operation. He was a deputy chief of staff.
But his departure was announced on Friday in the worst possible communication style. The president was about to leave Washington to go visit that area in Alabama that had been devastated by tornadoes, and yet he stepped on that trip by announcing Shine's departure?
I don't get it. Color me confused. But let's talk about it with Sarah Ellison --
[11:30:00] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: -- devastated by tornadoes and yet he stepped on that trip by announcing Shine's departure? I don't get it. Color me confused but let's talk about it with Sarah Ellison who's been covering Shine for a while now. She's a Staff Writer at the Washington Post.
So we know that Shine is allegedly going over the Trump campaign. They say he's going to be a senior advisor for the reelect but nobody knows how real that job is or isn't.
SARAH ELLISON, STAFF WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Most of the people that I talked to say that's sort of a soft landing, phase saving job that remains to be seen. It's key that whenever anyone leaves the Trump White House they are sometimes given this kind of a role and continue to be paid as a way of kind of keeping them inside the tent.
STELTER: What do you think it reveals about the President that he's gone through five or six Communications Chiefs at this point?
ELLISON: Well, he's gone through five or six Communications Chiefs and has found that job to be so important that he needs to keep refilling it and yet he has left so many other key positions unfilled. It really says something about the way this president values his own media coverage and also his inability or unwillingness to address the policy issues that continue to make his media image unpopular with a lot of people.
STELTER: Yes. If he's going to try every day to please Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity and right now he's you know, he's yelling about Coulter and insulting her on Twitter, then how are you going to get through the rest of the country?
ELLISON: Well, I think that Shine really knew the Fox audience and that's what he brought to the table as a kind of producer. He was not a strategist. He was not someone who knew how to try to appeal to other sectors of the population. Trump already had the Fox audience. And to speak about Ann Coulter for a second you can either have Ann Coulter like you or you can try to broaden the tent.
STELTER: You can't do both.
ELLISON: Trump -- you can't do both and Trump keeps turning back to pleasing Ann Coulter. Shine was not somebody who was ever going to be able to see around those kinds of corners and try to do -- no one could do this job. I mean, that's the biggest point of the conversation is that no -- this is a -- this is a losing proposition. Nobody would want to try to do it. But Bill Shine was not the kind of person who was going to change the game for this president.
He -- the biggest things that he was able to do was to do these rose -- not these Rose Garden, but these some lawn -- on the front lawn in the White House, he would tape interviews with Trump --
STELTER: Web videos.
ELLISON: Web videos that would be put out. He banned Kaitlan Collins from a Rose Garden event. That was one of the first things that he did.
STELTER: He apparently advocated for Acosta's press pass to be yanked also.
STELTER: And he limited press briefings. Let's put on screen our account.
ELLISON: He canceled press briefing -- essentially he's canceled it.
STELTER: 41 days without a White House daily press briefing. These briefings used to be daily.
STELTER: And under Shine, they become even less frequent.
ELLISON: Exactly. Now, the other thing is that people -- I mean, Jamie's article was a tour de force but the signs were there that that Shine was out with the president for a long time. You know, the fact that he was at CPAC instead of going to Vietnam was something that was a real tell.
The fact that he went on vacation during the shutdown was something that really irked the president according to my sources. He should have stayed there by the president in the White House just sort of adding moral support. So there -- this was a relationship that was deteriorating for some time.
STELTER: But as you said, it's an impossible job. I mean, look at this week's headlines. Paul Manafort sentenced to only four years in prison. I mean, I know that a lot of journalists are rightly shocked by right the leniency of that sentencing, but if -- just for fun for a minute. If Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman was being sent to jail --
ELLISON: Well, you don't even --
STELTER: Imagine the smoke coming out of the heads on Fox News. It's impossible to imagine you know, in that situation Trump is in.
ELLISON: Well, we've never had a sitting president that is under investigation both by a special prosecutor and the SDNY and had many of his very close associates found guilty of very bad behavior. So Michael Cohen's testimony alone would be something that'll be insurmountable for someone who's sitting president to kind of -- or a communications director to change the discussion away from that.
ELLISON: So it's an impossible -- of course it's an impossible job. This says much more about this presidency and this president than it does about the person who's sitting in that job. But I think that you know, I don't -- I agree with you. No one's going to be signing up for that anytime soon.
STELTER: Anytime soon, yes.
ELLISON: And I can't imagine what they would do if they got there.
STELTER: Sarah, thanks for being here. Great to see you.
ELLISON: Thank you. It's great to see you too.
STELTER: And speaking of Sarah's, Sarah Isgur, the former Justice Department spokeswoman who is hiring by CNN stirred a lot of controversies last month is no longer taking a job as political editor in the Washington bureau. Instead, she is going to be a political analyst here on CNN sharing her insights on T.V. segments and on cnn.com.
So a bit of a resolution to that controversy including a lot of the concern internally about her new role. Some of the folks who were criticizing her hiring as an editor are reacting by saying that this arrangement makes a lot more sense.
Coming up here in RELIABLE SOURCES, syndicated columnist and journalism professor Connie Schultz joins me. She has some unique insight into what goes on and the decisions to run for president. We'll talk about it in a moment.
[11:35:00] STELTER: The story this week wasn't so much about who's running for president but who isn't. Several people decided not to run including Eric Holder, Michael Bloomberg, and Sherrod Brown, all announcing they're deciding not to take a run at 2020 nomination.
I'm here with Connie Schultz. She's a journalism professor at Kent State University where I recently visited. She's a syndicated columnist and coincidentally Sherrod Brown's wife. Connie, thanks for coming on. You were inside one of these decisions. I think you probably wanted your husband to run. What is it like to be on the inside and see all of us on the outside guessing about what's going to happen and what's he going to do?
CONNIE SCHULTZ, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, it's quite an experience. Not when I've had before even being married to a Senate candidate. I will say I was really, really happy overall with media coverage. I wanted things I want to remind fellow -- you know, all these Democrats are running right now is that every stop where they're being covered, they've had an entire staff.
Get them there where all these reporters and photographers are just schlepping all their own stuff, they're driving themselves, they're clearly more tired than we are at the end of any long day and I wish we would keep that in mind.
[11:40:07] STELTER: Because it's a day that ends in why, the President of the United States is attacking the media on Twitter. Today he's saying the media is the most hostile and corrupt in the history of American politics. I just wonder how you think other politicians including your husband should respond to those kinds of attacks and handle those kinds of attacks.
SCHULTZ: Well, I think one of the best ways to respond to it is to give full access to journalists. And it struck me a number of times we were asked by journalists, so when you're going to shut down all this access because we tend to gab with them at the airport, we would talk with them offline because we're all hanging out together.
SCHULTZ: And that was -- that was instructive to me because it meant that most candidates do that. And I think one of the best ways you show that you really mean it when we say we don't agree that journalists are the enemy of the people which is what Donald Trump has been saying is to act like we mean it.
And these journalists are trying to do their job. I realize I'm a fellow journalist talking about it but I feel this so strongly. The only coverage really that I object to and it's just small but it's irked me that time is that was after Sherrod announced he wasn't going to get in. And a number of pundits and a couple of journals have said that he had spoken -- clearly spoken to Joe Biden.
He and Joe Biden have not spoken since last October. The only time we heard from the Biden campaign was when one of the people -- one of his camp called our campaign and complained that we had -- they accused us of planting a story that had favorably contrasted Sherrod to Joe Biden. We had nothing to do with that story. It's also insulting to the journalists working on it. They really can think for themselves.
I think that's a bad look, bad form. I hope nobody does that anymore. You don't need to be attacking other candidates. You don't need to be accusing them have tried to undermine you. Just run your best race and be accessible to the journalists. STELTER: Right, right. It's kind of simple in that way. Putting on
your journalism professor hat, today is something called Sunshine Week. It's a campaign, lots of newsrooms engage in to encourage government to be more transparent.
And to mark Sunshine Week, here's an unfortunate -- it's a sad and true headline from The Associated Press about the sun setting of local papers saying town by town local journalism is dying in plain sight. Are you and your husband noticing this on the local level there in Ohio?
SCHULTZ: I used to work for The Plain Dealer as you know for almost two decades. It's not even delivered daily right now. We saw this in town after town. I loved meeting local journalists. We were certainly meaning some. But we were mostly covered by national media. And I know from being a regional journalist and staying in Cleveland, writing nationally from the city and from the state how much we're harmed when we don't have that access.
And part of the problem here, Brian. I'm sure -- I know you've been talking about this in the past. When you've got a president who is demonizing the media, that trickles down to a lot of public officials around the country.
All of a sudden you got a mayor calling journalists the enemy of the people. You got members of Congress calling this that, right? You got the county commissioners saying I don't have to give you information which he or she surely must give to us and constituents have a right to see that information and to know what's going on.
So without the local reporters -- first of all, just their numbers diminishing but also they need the backing of their editors and their publishers to really push for that because that is part of what it means to be a journalist in this country.
STELTER: Right. Let the sunshine in, but we need folks who have the -- who are in those newsrooms and be employed and have a business model that gives them the time to go down to the county courthouse and get those documents and report on them. Yes. Connie, thank you very much for being here. I appreciate it.
STELTER: A quick programming note here, it's a night full of 2020 town halls on CNN. Here's the lineup from 7:00 till 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Jake Tapper and Dana Bash moderating starting at 7:00 live from Austin at South by Southwest. And up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, behind the scenes of Gayle King's blockbuster interview with R. Kelly.
[11:45:00] STELTER: Was this the network news moment of the year so far? It sure seems that way. Gayle King's sit down with R. Kelly, of course, spark an outpouring of support for King. People praise -- praising the way that she handled this interview. The way she shows so much poise despite his unhinged behavior.
We even saw this parody on SNL over the weekend. You know that something is broken through when it's the Saturday Night Live called it open.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now I humbly await your decision, Jail King.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But my name is Gayle King with a G.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're not the Jail King? Then what am I doing here?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So a lot of people want to know why did she even do the interview in the first place? Angelo, Tara, and Jeff Greenfield all back with me. Angelo, what are the interviewing lessons from that interview?
ANGELO CARUSONE, PRESIDENT, MEDIA MATTERS FOR AMERICA: I think it'd be one that she did not antagonize or sensationalize. She was just there to be consistent and credible and I think that was really powerful. Just the fact that it was so flawlessly executed.
STELTER: And Tara, the P.R. advice, you know, thinking about someone like R. Kelly, why they're doing this interview in the first place for any reason.
TARA DOWDELL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: R. Kelly should not have done that interview if I were advising him which I would never do. I would never advise R. Kelly. Just let me be clear about that. But I think the fact that he was so threatening and so -- and looking clearly in my mind to intimidate her and the way she maintains her composure, her stealing this in that circumstance, what I thought was really impressive.
STELTER: And then on Fox News, Jesse Watters reacts to this. He compared Robin Roberts interview with Jussie Smollett to the Gayle King interview but he got something wrong. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JESSE WATTERS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FOX NEWS: I agree. Hats off to Gayle King for totally redeeming herself after the smile at fiasco.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Janet, I you know --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was not Gayle King.
WATTERS: Oh, I knew that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Robin Roberts did the Smollett interview. Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: What can we even say about that?
JEFF GREENFIELD, POLITICAL ANALYST: It is what it is. It is what it is.
GREENFIELD: And perhaps not surprising.
GREENFIELD: We'll leave it at that.
DOWDELL: It speaks for itself.
STELTER: Speaks for itself, yes. I'd like to turn to the most upsetting news of the week I think for so many millions of television viewers, the news about Alex Trebek the longtime Jeopardy host being diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. We've all seen his video, incredible courage that he had here announcing this to the world and even making jokes, even saying this contract goes for three more years so he's got to beat this disease.
Jeff, what is the importance of Jeopardy in our culture? You were on the show back in the day right?
[11:50:24] GREENFIELD: On a version of it where they don't make the questions quite as difficult. No, but it's --
STELTER: But you had your Jeopardy experience. Why do you think this show is so special?
GREENFIELD: I think it is -- if primetime access time is a vast wasteland which it is, Jeopardy is an oasis. I mean, you know, instead of talking about Kim Kardashian's body size, you're honoring and rewarding people with knowledge and you're doing it in a way that makes it fun and interesting to get this knowledge.
I watched this recent all-star tournament with more interest than I watched the Super Bowl, certainly this Super Bowl. And I just think that's something that T.V. doesn't do enough of and then Trebek who's done this for 35 years now really deserves not just our wishes and our hopes that he beats the odds but real thanks for putting us on the air.
STELTER: Yes, the television world united in a way that I very rarely see when this news broke because everybody's rooting for him and rooting for what the show stands for at the same time.
GREENFIELD: I mean, that -- to me that is the key. You know, the idea that you can celebrate knowledge in a way that millions of people watch -- and by the way for the -- for the people who do the show make a fortune, that's a win-win.
STELTER: Yes. Jeff, thank you, Tara, Angelo, thank you all for being here. A quick break here and then an interview with BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti. The company's been through a difficult period, recent layoffs there. I asked him about that as well as his hopeful vision for the future of the internet. All that is coming up in a moment.
[11:55:000] STELTER: Jonah Peretti, the CEO of BuzzFeed says the internet is at a crossroads right now. In his annual strategy member of staff, Peretti said there's a flaming dumpster fire on one side dividing people. But on the other side of the road, the internet is a source of joy and truth and cat videos bringing people together.
So Peretti has some thoughts about how to put out the fire, make more room for the cats and the joy. I spoke with him at the South by Southwest Conference this weekend.
JONAH PERETTI, CEO, BUZZFEED: I think there's been times when people have had just exuberant love for the Internet. A few years ago there was a lot more love for the Internet, all these amazing things you could share with your friends, learning about the world, connecting with other people. And then there's times when people think the Internet is a mess and you see content by anti-vaxxers and racists and hate and online flame wars and trolls. I think there's a lot more focus on that right now.
And for a lot of reasons part of it is that is some of the shifts we've had in our culture in the last few -- couple years. But I think it's important to remember what is good about the Internet and it's important to fight for that and to realize that we have a choice in the matter and we can actually work together to build a better Internet.
STELTER: Has the pendulum swung too far in the direction of people focusing on all the damage that can be done online?
PERETTI: I think that part of what you have to do is put the dumpster fire out. And so paying attention to all the problems of the Internet is important because then you can fix the problems but you can't just focus on getting rid of the bad content, you also have to figure out -- figure out ways to build an ecosystem where really great content can thrive and you need to do both of those at once.
STELTER: In the press sometimes there's a focus on digital media struggles and all these companies that had layoffs.
STELTER: What is the fact of the recent BuzzFeed layoffs? Tell us about your business. What does it mean about your business?
PERETTI: I mean, I think the biggest thing it means is where -- is the industry is shifting from a period where there's a lot of venture funding and investment from strategics in digital media when the focus was growth. You grow bigger than your competitors in the digital space. And so I think we did a good job outrunning everyone and getting
bigger than them and being the leading digital media company. I think we've seen a shift now towards more austerity because the focus now is not can you outrun everyone, is can you outlast everyone. And the digital media companies are starting to be run like real businesses.
STELTER: So where do you see this going? Let's take the thought that yes the platforms are going to clean up this mess. What do you want to do to help take advantage of that?
PERETTI: Well, I know -- you know, Mark Zuckerberg wrote this memo recently --
STELTER: The privacy memo.
PERETTI: About the privacy memo. And I think that what you're seeing in that memo and also I think in the broader industry is that the platforms have gotten themselves into this position where they're kind of in between being a phone company and a media company, you know, so nobody -- so there's a lot of people who have you know racist conversations or say terrible things or hateful things over the phone.
STELTER: Over the phone.
PERETTI: Nobody is going to tell AT&T you should moderate that or you shouldn't let people do that. It's a communication. It's a First Amendment right. It should be protected right? So -- and then a media company wouldn't put anti-vaxxer content, wouldn't put you know, content that is inappropriate.
So if you're the phone company or a media company you don't have these problems. If you're this weird hybrid between the two, it creates all these problems or end up spending billions of dollars hiring moderators and trying to deal with the fact that you're not quite a communications company, you're not quite a media company, you're in between and you're getting attacked on both sides.
You're getting attacked for it's for censoring and not doing freedom of speech and you're getting attacked for you know, not having quality content.
STELTER: Complicated indeed. You can check out the rest of my conversation with Jonah Peretti on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or your podcast purveyor of choice. Let us know what you thought of the show today. Send me a tweet or a message on Facebook or Instagram, anywhere, let me know what you liked and disliked and we'll see you right back here for more RELIABLE SOURCE this time next week.