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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Soon: AG Barr Aiming to Deliver Mueller Conclusions to Congress; Has Russia Coverage Helped or Hurt News Media's Reputation?; George Conway Urging Press To Cover Trump's Narcissism; Varying News Of How The Dems Are Being Covered; More Than 30 News Outlets Are Working Together. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired March 24, 2019 - 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: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter, and this is a special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, as the country waits to find out what Robert Mueller already knows.

We're covering a lot of media news this hour, including Jeanine Pirro's suspension at Fox, George Conway's provocative use of Twitter, and some good news about local news, an amazing collaboration in California to tell you about. There's lots to get to.

But our eyes right now are on this building, the Justice Department building in D.C., where Attorney General Bill Barr is back at work. You can see him arriving a short time ago in Washington. Rod Rosenstein has also arrived at work. They are preparing to disclose some portion of the Mueller report. Some portion but we don't know what exactly.

So, let's talk about what these past two years have been like.

Mueller, just the name Mueller, has come to mean so many different things in America. His name has achieved almost mythical status. Liberals have been hoping Mueller will take down the president. In other corner, conservatives have been claiming that Mueller is a dirty cop. The president's friends have been pushing this view, Sean Hannity and others have been trashing the Mueller probe for months and months and months.

You know, Hannity had called it a fishing expedition and so much worse. At one point, he eluded to a Mueller crime family on an episode that the president promoted.

So, when people claim that Trump did not interfere in the Mueller probe, remember what was happening every single night, attack after attack after attack.

Now, at the same time, over on the left blogs, Mueller was cast as a saint and a savior. Look at "SNL". The comedians last Christmas saying: all I want for Christmas is you, Mueller.

It is so easy to subscribe to either of those narratives: Mueller the hit man or Mueller the hero. It's so easy to subscribe with just a click of a button, or a click of a remote. It is so hard to tune all that out, to tune out the partisanship and just tune in to the news. And right now, there's not much actual news to report. We are

standing by. Camera crews are outside the DOJ and the White House in Mar-a-Lago, waiting for information.

So, here we are in cable, talking, talking, guessing, standing by for news. And I'm actually a defender of this cable talk show model. I'm an avid viewer of it, because news headlines are ubiquitous these days. Our phones alert us to the news.

So, cable is more like a rolling talk show, letting people be a part of the daily debate about how our country should be governed, and how our world should work. I think that's a good thing. Some of the talk shows are really smart.

But the bad thing is when folks mix up the talk with the news. And some times, we do let it get too blurry.

So, let me take this one. Partisans on the right are already claiming the end of the Mueller probe vindicates all their prior positions. And they are saying the media, the evil media, was wrong all along.

Donald Trump Jr. is tweeting out messages like this, "#CollusionTruthers", he says -- accusing the press of pushing a narrative against his dad.

But Junior is making a rookie mistake. Mueller's assignment was to get to the truth about Russian interference.

Now, did many commentators and Democratic politicians allege collusion? Yes. Did many journalists ask about it? Yes.

But there is a giant difference between asking and telling. The job of the nation's news media is to ask, to question all sides, to scrutinize all sides, to report on opposing points of view and to only take the side of truth and decency.

Someone should tell Jessie Watters that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JESSIE WATTERS, FOX NEWS HOST: I feel like this delivers a knockout blow to the press and the Democrats who've been saying "collusion, collusion, collusion" for the last two years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Watters should take his blinders off.

Obviously, some opinion columnists and point-of-view news outlets have invested in an anti-Trump narrative. Others like Watters have promoted a pro-Trump narrative. That is our wild media world.

But the president's kids and friends on Fox should be able to tell the difference between agenda-driven columnists and journalists who are just trying to report. There is a big difference. There is a big difference between news and opinion. And I realize it can be hard to tune out the noise and just tune to the news these days.

But if I have to pick speculation or solid reporting, I would pick solid reporting in a second. I bet you would, too.

Reporting is what adds the most value. Finding out something new, putting out new information into the world is the best feeling in journalism. It is the greatest value-add. That's what hundreds of journalists have been doing, trying to solve pieces of this Trump- Russia puzzle.

But here's the thing: speculation actually has value too. It helps open our eyes, helps open our minds to what's possible.

I know people like to mock cable news in moments like this. It's an easy punch line, right? We are kind of standing by to find out what the news is going to be, waiting for A.G. Barr to tell us something.

[11:05:06] But that does have value, too. It gives us a place to go, a place to turn to -- a recognition that you're not the only one who wants to know.

Me, I rearranged my plan so I can be close to a TV all day today with the hope that we're going to get some news from Barr by the end of the day.

This country needs to know what Mueller found and needs to know what he didn't find. And I think all of us as news citizens, news consumers, need to make sure our tuners work so we can distinguish between what is true and what is news versus what is wishful thinking, speculation, opinion. We need to distinguish between what has happened, what has actually happened, or what might happen.

So, don't be fooled by the partisans who cherry-picked the worst mistakes of individual journalists or the craziest ideas from commentators and claim that's the entire media. It's not.

We are waiting for the facts, because here is what I know. I mean, you're going to hear it from the right for the next days and weeks to come, that the press is basically made all this up to take down President Trump. But the press is just following a trail that Trump created.

He has proven time and time again that he cannot be trusted. He is so dishonest that even America's allies don't know what to believe. He is so unpredictable that his aides something don't know what to say or how to respond.

That's the crucial context for whatever comes next. Maybe every time he said "no collusion", what, more than 231 times so far, maybe every time he said "no collusion", he was telling the truth. Maybe that's what Mueller found. If so, that would be a relief for the country.

But Trump's daily deceptions have given this country ample reason to be suspicious. That is why there's so much noise.

News coverage doesn't happen in a vacuum. Reporters don't ask questions for no good reason. Speculation doesn't happen in a vacuum. So, let's hope real investigating and real research and real reporting can lead us out of this.

The name Mueller has come to mean a lot of things. Hopefully, it means truth, and hopefully soon. Let's get this report out.

Let's talk more about it now with Carl Bernstein. He's here with me in New York.

And in Washington, Matthew Rosenberg, he's a national security correspondent at "The New York Times" and a CNN national security analyst.

Carl, I've got to admit. I'm getting a little bit impatient. The waiting game is frustrating for a lot of viewers at home as well.

When you look at the media coverage for the past two years, has the media's reputation been helped or hurt by the combination of news and speculation?

CARL BERNSTEIN, LEGENDARY WATERGATE REPORTER: I think you have to look at the larger context of the cold civil war that's going on in this country, and the division in the country, and clearly, half of the country, 40 percent, 45 percent of the most intense Trump supporters would say that we have been terrible. And then I think the rest probably of the majority would say we've done a really good job.

And we think we've done -- the media, the press has done one of the great reporting jobs in the history, especially of covering a presidency by the most news organizations. And, look, let's look at where the disinformation and mistakes and lying have come from. It hasn't come from the press. It's come from the president of the United States and those around him.

We need to see the full Mueller report, every word of it, every word of it, to get all of the context, which is also an important element of journalism. Context.

STELTER: Yes.

BERNSTEIN: We need to know everything. The American people need to know everything. This is about Donald Trump in a larger sense. And we're going to find out. I have some confidence that we are going to find out.

STELTER: If it turns out that there was a lot of smoke but no fire, is that a failure of the press to focus so much on all the smoke?

BERNSTEIN: First of all, I think there has been plenty of fire regardless of whether or not there's a finding, of whether or not Donald Trump is guilty of a crime. And remember, under the Justice Department guidelines, he cannot be found guilty of a crime while in office, or indicted. So that's why we need these underlying facts.

Has there been an obstruction of justice? Perhaps that Mueller findings and the recitation of his investigation will tell us. Has there been an explanation for why he has wittingly, unwittingly, half- wittingly done Putin's bidding? Is he a tool wittingly, unwittingly, half-wittingly of Russia, of Putin? Perhaps the Mueller report will give us incite into that.

It's all part of the same story. And we can be patient for another hour or two hours, or even a couple of weeks to find out what's there.

[11:10:03] STELTER: Yes. You know, Matthew, we went back and looked at some of the headlines in the past about Mueller report. The impending release, the impending conclusion, these are all headlines from last year, though. You know, we have been waiting for this moment for a longtime.

I wonder what it has been like personally for reporters there at "The New York Times", you and your colleagues, to be in the middle of trying to get to the bottom of the story for the past nearly two years.

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I mean, look, I think everybody knew in the recent month (ph), things are coming to an end. This is -- it's been incredibly frustrating story, Mueller's team is locked down so tight. And that's partly why it's very easy to see him as the hero or a hit man as you point it, because if you're on the left or the right, this is a man who's not speaking. Nobody in his team is speaking.

So, you project on him what you want. And you've seen a lot of that throughout or kind of political divide. For reporters trying to tread that need has been difficult. Look, you've had a situation where there was enough evidence or enough indications of strange contacts and other behavior to get a federal investigation going into the president and people around him. This investigation was launched before he's elected, but they continued and amplified by people the president himself appointed.

The press is not going to ignore that. We cannot just say, oh, we think it's a small think. That is a big deal under any circumstances. And I think now, you know, we're going to find out.

Investigations are also exculpatory. It's why you often welcome them if you're innocent. And we are going to find out that, you know, maybe there was no kind of collusion, or everyone called that. I kind of hate that word. There's no direct cooperation.

STELTER: Why?

ROSENBERG: But, you know, we still have to see what's in there. We just don't know.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Why do you hate the word "collusion"?

ROSENBERG: It's fuzzy. It's -- you know, is it a conspiracy? Was there some kind of cooperation? Collusion I think is a word that kind of allows both sides, both the left and the right to kind of project what they want onto it. You know, it's a very -- there's no clear definition of it.

STELTER: The word "collusion" never appeared in Mueller's mandate after all.

ROSENBERG: No, it did not.

STELTER: Here's what Matt Taibbi of "Rolling Stone" wrote yesterday. He said the news that Mueller is heading home without issuing new charges is a death blow for the reputation of the American news media.

What's your reaction, Matthew?

ROSENBERG: I mean, look, Matt is welcomed to his opinions on that. I don't think it's a deathblow to the reputation of the American media. I think there were plenty of stories that suggested there may not be a collusion or whatever you call it, angle here.

There were also stories that I know my colleagues wrote that infuriated people on the left, a story about Rosenstein wanting to consider wiretapping or wearing a wire when he saw the president. This is stories that we got pilloried from the left as well. And it's, I think, at moments like this, it's convenient to cherry-pick kind of what you want to see here to make your case, you know, see it from common hitters from the both left and right.

STELTER: Cherry-picking a problem, no matter who's picking the cherries.

But, Carl, on the idea here that there's been so much coverage, the volume has given people an impression that something big is coming.

BERNSTEIN: Well, the volume of coverage is justified, because -- you know, the big question is, what is news? This investigation and the conduct and behavior of this president is the biggest story we have had in many years, because his behavior and conduct is anomalous. It's different than any other president in our history. He says and does things, including the lying that no other president has done, no other president has been -- it has ever been suggested, colluded to use that terrible word, with an enemy. But -- we are going to find out what the underlying facts are, I hope.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: And it's not just papers like Matthew, "The New York Times", that are doing this.

BERNSTEIN: First of all, there has been such fabulous reporting by, especially, "The New York Times", "The Washington Post", "The Wall Street Journal", in cable, there has been some great reporting, other news institutions.

But I want to stop on "The Wall Street Journal". Its reporting has been fabulous, right up there with "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times".

STELTER: You mean the Rupert Murdoch "Wall Street Journal". BERNSTEIN: Great stories broken by "The Wall Street Journal". Why is

that so important? Because it is owned by Rupert Murdoch, because Murdoch's paper, the paper he owns, let journalistic standards prevail and we know a hell of a lot more about Donald Trump and this investigation because of "The Wall Street Journal".

And the right wing, the blind following, I'm not saying -- that there's plenty of room for people to support Donald Trump if they want to, but this idea of marching in lockstep, that those people and Republicans particularly ought to take a look at what "The Wall Street Journal's" reporting has been, because it has been in keeping with what we have reported on CNN, what "The Washington Post" has reported, what Matt has reported, et cetera, et cetera.

And it is exemplary. And it ought to be stressed over and over and over again that the same owner of Fox News published these stories in his paper. And I think we should keep looking at that question.

[11:15:02] STELTER: It's a great point.

Carl, Matthew, thank you for being here.

Much more to come as this hour goes on. We are talking about the Mueller hype, asking if some hosts and talking heads went too far. Are they still misleading the public?

And again, going back live there at the DOJ. We'll show you outside the Justice Department until we get a report from Attorney General Bill Barr.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Right now, we are all seeing what happens, when a slow- motion investigation meets a hyper speed news cycle. The Mueller report, of course, in the hands of the A.G.

But nobody else had seen. We haven't seen it. And yet, we are seeing a lot of reactions, right here, all across this box that you're watching right now.

Let's talk more about it with Oliver Darcy, CNN's senior media reporter, "Washington Post" national correspondent Philip Bump. And in Washington, Olivia Nuzzi, the Washington correspondent at "New York Magazine".

Olivia, has there been responsibility you think amid all this hype. I mean, my goodness, Thursday into Friday, there was all of these -- all these hints on television and the newspapers that something was about to happen. And then sure enough, Friday at 5:00 p.m., the report was received by the DOJ. So, those sources were right to be tipping off reporters that this news was about to break.

But has this hype been an overdrive? OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Well, they

were right this time, that I think we should remember that several different news cycles have occurred over the last several months, or even over the last year, where we were lead to believe that perhaps the Mueller report would be coming sooner than it did come. So, I think in certain respects, the press kind of was too inclined to believe unnamed sources when it came to figuring out when Mueller was going to drop this report.

[11:20:11] But I think, overall, reporters have been responsible. I think whether or not pundits and partisans have been responsible is another question entirely, and I think it's important to separate those two when we talk about this.

STELTER: But it gets so blurry. I mean, Philip Bump, I do think we do bad jobs sometimes of delineating between folks that are speculating versus reporting. It's an ongoing problem for the news media.

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: Yes, no, that's absolutely true. And particularly, problem in this moment, because we're in a moment that is so, so polarized, right? We have a president who has loved by one side, and loathe by the other side, and that drives this whole ecosystem where there is huge reward to take a very, very pro-Trump position or very, very anti-Trump position.

And then that bleeds into this partisan commentary and this punditry which airs on TV and, you know, sits in the editorial pages of newspapers. And that blurs the line of what the media broadly is saying.

So, I think in this moment in particular, it's problematic.

STELTER: There's an incentive structure here.

NUZZI: But, Brian, to --

STELTER: Yes, Olivia?

NUZZI: But, Brian, to Phil's point, I also think that there is kind of a problem where the right is claiming that certain things are partisan that are just not. It's not partisan to say that there are continuing investigations in the Southern District of New York. But yet if you bring that up now, you see people on the right saying, oh, that's liberals trying to save face, trying to make it seem like it wasn't humiliating.

STELTER: They are saying you're moving the goalposts when, in fact --

NUZZI: Right.

STELTER: -- I think what we're trying to do is cover the game, cover the football game.

NUZZI: It's very complicated. STELTER: Democrats may try to move the goalpost. But I think journalists are just trying to keep up with all the action on the field.

NUZZI: Right, and I think because it's so complicated, it makes it easy for either side to claim that the other side is doing something wrong or claim that reporters are doing something wrong just by trying to make sense of all of this.

STELTER: And on both the left and right, we are seeing more conspiracy theory behavior.

Oliver, I want to show you a couple of weeks here. One is from Mark Levin on Fox saying that the media was trying to take down Trump and it's the media's fault. And here's Joy Reid on MSNBC saying, what's Bill Barr up to? She thinks there might be a cover-up. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK LEVIN, RADIO PERSONALITY: This is the great scandal in American history and I mean it. And it's media-gate.

JOY REID, MSNBC NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It feels like the seeds of a cover-up are here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: I'm not sure either of those kind of talking points are healthy and helpful for our national discourse.

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: It's, in fact, very irresponsible, particularly for these people. They have a very large platform, and they are going out there and delivering this very partisan rhetoric. I think it's irresponsible and they should really be waiting until the Barr report comes out, to the Mueller, until we know what he found.

They should be waiting for the facts. Instead, they are going out there and they're either aiming to sort of undermine the Mueller report already or --

STELTER: Or try to keep this going forever --

DARCY: Exactly.

STELTER: -- and get people (ph) new grievance.

DARCY: Right.

STELTER: Here is the funniest headline that I saw this morning. It was in "The New York Post". A comment by Michael Goodwin, he's on the front page. It says: How to end our national nightmare -- probe Hillary Clinton again.

Philip Bump, is that a joke?

BUMP: It's not a joke, I mean, especially coming from Michael Goodwin, we know it's not a joke. I mean, this piece is --

STELTER: How to end our national nightmare?

BUMP: This piece is just staggering. It buys in entirely to this alternate world view, which is that all of this has been a hoax that was constructed by lying FBI agents and so on and so forth, that you hear very prominently displayed on Fox News in particular. I mean, the piece is as terrible as suggests.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: But it is a preview of 2020.

BUMP: That's exactly right.

STELTER: Hillary Clinton is still going to be a boogeyman in the 2020 race.

BUMP: And it's a reminder, too, that we are dealing in two different universes of what actually happened here. You know, in one universe, there was -- there were suspicions by career FBI agents and CIA officials, which has then lead to news reporting about what actually happened. In the other, there were text messages between two people that were having an affair at the FBI and therefore, everything is invalid and Hillary Clinton should be in jail, right?

I mean, it's like -- you know, I mean, this is piece is I think emblematic of that in a way that sort of (INAUDIBLE).

STELTER: And all I can keep saying is don't fall for it, right? To the audience, don't fall for it.

Quick break here. Everybody, stand by.

I want to talk more about the week's news involving the president, including Kellyanne Conway's husband George who is suggesting the press is covering the president all wrong. Hear his proposal for what to do differently, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:28:39] STELTER: And impending release of the Mueller report in some form, in some form, in some fashion maybe President Trump's greatest test of his alternative reality. You know, he's built up a universe of commentators and believers who say he is a victim of deep state hoax. Well, now, he's confronted a man who spent nearly two years trying to figure out the truth. So, Trump is most in need of his Fox News White House right now.

But on Saturday, he was without one of his chief defenders. "Justice with Judge Jeanine" was off the air for the second week running due to Jeanine Pirro's suspension. Instead, you see here, the show was replaced with an hour of Mueller coverage.

This in spite of the president and recently his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, saying bring back, Judge Jeanine. Let me bring back my panel.

And, Oliver, let me start with you. The idea that the president wants Jeanine Pirro back, Fox has suspended her anything. I think she will be back next weekend instead. Does it tell us anything about the Fox- Trump relationship or not really?

DARCY: It's sort of sad for the president, right? The president had very publicly told Fox, you know, bring her back, Judge Jeanine.

STELTER: Bring her back.

(CROSSTALK)

DARCY: And they didn't do it. They didn't do it.

And not only that, but the president then went on Fox News still and gave an interview. So, it almost shows that he is, you know, reliant on this outlet to get his message out. He doesn't have many very friendly outlets. So, Fox News he needs.

STELTER: Yes.

DARCY: And there is only so much that he can do I guess to force them, force their hand. And it showed that he really had -- you know, you just talked to him as a chief programmer at Fox News, his programming abilities have its limits and I think we're seeing that this week.

[11:30:07] STELTER: He did as he mentioned give an interview to Maria Bartiromo. We can put on screen just a few of the Trump-related controversies that might have led this show in any other week. Among those controversies, he renewed his attacks against John McCain. He misled the public about the Veterans Choice Act.

He told Bartiromo "you're not supposed to ask about McCain. It seemed like the White House tried to strike a deal behind the scenes so that Maria Bartiromo would not ask about the McCain controversy but she did anyway. So these are a few of the controversies.

I want to go to George Conway's tweets because he has really tried to draw attention to what he says is the President's narcissistic personality disorder. Let's put on screen just a few of the terms, a few of the things that Conway is said about President Trump this week.

I think what Conway is doing is he's suggesting a different way to cover this president. He's saying that all of the President's controversies, all of the inappropriate behavior, that's all related, that it's all a result of pathological narcissism. Is that a kind of prescription for the press, Philip, that we're supposed to cover all these stories together instead of covering them separately in silos?

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: Yes. I mean, I think that those tweets, the way they strike me is I see a lot of tweets like that from people who identify themselves as resistance people, right. People who say you know, you're not -- you need to cover Donald Trump's mentality. That's what this is all about.

It is you know, beyond the fact that he's married who obviously Kellyanne Conway senior advisor to Trump. They're very similar to what I see a lot of the time. And I think the question is what does that change right? Even if they even if the press led every single story about Donald Trump with we suspect that he has you know, narcissistic -- what does that change?

It doesn't change any of his actions. It doesn't change any of the decisions that he's making. So I don't see what the value of the that is beyond speculation, beyond for the fact that of course he's married to Kellyanne Conway.

STELTER: Right. And I do wonder, Olivia, how long -- how much longer this can go on just from a practical standpoint. Kellyanne Conway working for Trump, George Conway trying to destroy Trump's presidency. That's the way I read these tweets. Do you think the press cares too much about this marriage subplot?

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: No. I think it's very interesting. I think if it were happening in any administration, it would be a major story. I think it's remarkable that given all of these stories that we are also covering that you put up on the screen of what the President is doing, that we have the capacity to cover this as well.

But I think that we -- it proves that we can multitask. And I think it is remarkable that somebody who is married to you know a senior advisor to the president is making these kinds of statements going further than many of the presidents, other critics who have platforms in the mainstream media with what he's saying.

STELTER: Yes. My impression, Oliver, is that he -- George Conway is trying to force this conversation.

DARCY: Right.

STELTER: I don't know if he's chosen his particular time for a reason or not but he's posting so often, using the platform the president loves, Twitter, and trying to force a conversation about mental health, really.

DARCY: And the people who are saying do not cover this. You cannot cover this. These are the exact same people who are obsessed with Hillary Clinton's health there were the ones who were hyperventilating about it every single night.

And imagine if in the Clinton administration, a top aide had a spouse who was saying she's sick. She's you know, crazy. That would be the top story on Fox News forever. It would be the blaring siren on the Drudge Report for 24 hours. I mean, it would be apocalyptic. And for them, for these people to say you cannot touch this topic is just insane to me.

STELTER: Olivia, last word to you. NUZZI: But -- yes, I do you want to say, I think it's fine to cover that George Conway or anybody else is making these types of accusations. But I think that we should be responsible and not try and put our psychiatrist hats on and make a diagnosis from a distance. I think that's irresponsible.

So it's one thing to cover somebody else's accusation, it's quite another for us to get into the business of trying to speculate about someone's mental health ourselves.

STELTER: Right. That's definitely the balance. Thank you to all of you for being here. And I want to make one more note about the weekend Trump. You know, the White House is again claiming that the ISIS caliphate in Syria has been 100 percent defeated. But reporters on the ground are still seen fighting. And sadly a driver working for NBC News was killed in an explosion in Syria on Saturday.

Let me show you part of the statement from Noah Oppenheim, the head of NBC News. He said earlier today, Saturday, a device exploded in the vicinity of a group from NBC News in Syria. We are thankful that NBC employees escaped unharmed. However, one of the local drivers working with them was tragically killed. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and loved ones.

That's the statement from NBC News, and it's a reminder that even if you're hearing that this ISIS caliphate has been defeated, that there is still incredible danger on the ground there and reporters who are braving that area and braving that environment to try to find out what's going on.

Up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, a turn to the 2020 race, and accusations of double standards in the news coverage. We're going to examine the news media's role in framing the 2020 race right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:35:00] STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, I'm Brian Stelter. The press is covering the most diverse field of democratic 2020 candidates, presidential candidates in history, and of course, we're not finished even more could be entering in the coming weeks.

So how are the contenders being framed? Are there double standards that you're seeing in the news coverage? Let me ask two guests who've been watching this very closely. Jess McIntosh, the CNN Political Commentator and formerly worked on Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, Alexandra Rojas is the Executive Director of Justice Democrats. I'm grateful for you both to be here.

There's so much to unpack about how these candidates are being covered particularly the gender dynamics. Alexandra, what are one of the biggest flaws you're seeing in the early news coverage?

ALEXANDRA ROJAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, JUSTICE DEMOCRATS: Yes. I think right now that you know, you see people like Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand who are having very substantive policy discussions at CNN town halls and you know, rolling out concrete policy proposals like Elizabeth Warren was down in Mississippi, right, and rolled out a pretty in-depth housing policy.

But you're not seeing the same amount of coverage and sort of seeing the fetishizing of someone like federal Beto O'Rourke umping on tables and being real sweaty and that's not something that I think you know female candidates are experienced.

[11:40:08] STELTER: All right, cue the video of them jumping on the tables. Let's show O'Rourke because there has been a lot of this. We went through and caught some of these scenes. There's been a lot of tension around this. You think it's a distraction? What you think it is? Or you think it's that women -- if a woman tried to do this on the campaign trail, it wouldn't be celebrated this way.

ROJAS: No, it wouldn't be celebrated this way at all. And I think it's absolutely too much coverage on that rather than the real issues and solutions that the American people are facing. We're experiencing absolute crises when we talk about our housing crisis, rising income inequality, climate change. And you have Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand leading the policy discussion and unfortunately, the news media doesn't seem to be picking that up.

STELTER: But Jess, aren't visual is always important when covering campaigns? Amy Klobuchar in the snow was it visual, Beto on tables is a visual, I'm trying to think what the defense here.

JESS MCINTOSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: All you have to do is put a woman in Beto's position to see how impossible it would be. Imagine, like actually imagine a woman jumping on a counter -- on a lunch counter and crouching down taking a moody road trip, saying that she takes care of her kids some of the time, saying that her speeches were pulled from her by an unseen force since she was born to do this. That woman would not be taken seriously.

STELTER: But O'Rourke has been criticized a lot.

MCINTOSH: Yes. He's also been given round-the-clock coverage. And it's not just about the amount of coverage, it's about the quality of coverage. Elizabeth Warren, I think objectively at this point, and it's early, has the most substantive policy proposals out there. But that's regularly seen as a liability for her. People talk about hers her schoolmarmishness, her likability.

Well, millions of people like her so she's plenty likable. I've liked everything that I saw out of Pete Buttigieg this week but no one suggested that his wonkishness, his ability to learn Norwegian to read an untranslated author might strike somebody as unlikable or unrelatable which is, of course, the first thing that happens if a woman displays those same kinds of leadership skills.

We have a huge opportunity this year because multiple men are running and multiple women are running to see how the two get treated differently and correct some of this stuff.

STELTER: So you're saying that to some of the folks who might think that being a woman is an advantage right now in this field, you're saying no, not so much.

MCINTOSH: Before we can even suggest that that might be the case, we have to see how being a woman in the field running for president is an advantage. We've never seen that in 200 years of history in America. So we're going to need to tag that pendulum swing a whole long way the other way before we can even start to say that being a white man running for president could possibly be a detriment.

STELTER: And Alexandria, you're talking about some of the policy issues that need to be forefront. I absolutely agree with you. We need to continue to drag the conversation back to policy. Do you any practical thoughts on how to do that? Because I think the candidates also have a responsibility to find ways to put a spotlight on what they're saying even if you got to jump on a table, right?

I don't -- that's the only way but the candidates have to find ways encourage that news coverage, don't they?

ROJAS: They do, right. And you know, to kind of shift it to policy, you have Elizabeth Warren right, going down to Mississippi but you also had Bernie Sanders out in California on a Saturday night pull out 22,000 people. I think we have to start covering excitement, right, and enthusiasm from the base of supporters that are really excited about people like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Because as much as it is you know, we are seeing the sort of sexist dynamic, it is also about policy and it's also about the movement. For Beto O'Rourke --

STELTER: The amount of attention that people are showing up at these events for a number these candidates, there is a lot of energy out there, and that in and of itself is a news story you're saying.

ROJAS: Yes. Absolutely. I think we have to really care about where young people are right? I think that it's obvious that they're gravitating towards the progressive policies that are -- it's a pretty historical moment that the majority of presidential contenders right now are running on policies like a Green New Deal, Medicare for all, making sure they take no corporate money.

And I think it's also important to mention at least in the context of Beto O'Rourke, the media has been covering him pretty consistently even before he announced for president, right, since November of 2018 when he lost his Senate race and decided to go on that journey that you mentioned.

STELTER: But isn't that because editors and producers suspect there's something special here?

ROJAS: But why didn't we do that --

STELTER: They sense that he has a lot of raw talent.

ROJAS: Yes. Why didn't we do that for Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum who did far better in their races and are actually doing more for the movement right now, staying in their states and building power? They're seeing that the long term movement matters a lot in terms of impacting the lives of everyday Americans versus you know running for president to you know, push your political innovations.

MCINTOSH: I couldn't agree more. And I think the idea of looking where the enthusiasm is, that can often be really subjective when it's left up to the media gatekeepers.

STELTER: Definitely.

MCINTOSH: We saw like profile after profile of the people who were into Bernie Sanders's campaign in 2016. We saw so many deep dives into who the Trump voters were, who had wronged them, why did they feel that way. We never saw that kind of coverage about Hillary Clinton. And she wound up getting three million more votes.

There were millions of Americans who were very, very excited enthusiastic about her campaign and it simply wasn't covered that way. So we got to correct that by the time -- by the time we get in the -- in the full heat of 2020.

[11:45:16] STELTER: We do at least have a little bit of time to make those adjustments.

MCINTOSH: We do.

STELTER: Thank you both for being here. And a quick plug, speaking about democratic politics, on the podcast this week, the RELIABLE SOURCES podcast, a talk with the editor and publisher of the main socialist magazine in the country. The magazine is called Jacobin. It's been experiencing a rise thanks to all the talk in the Democratic primaries about socialism. Check it out on the RELIABLE SOURCES podcast.

And next, here's something I don't say enough. There's a bright spot. We have found some good news about local news. We're going to show that to you right after the break. Just a reminder here, we are still waiting. There it is, the Justice Department. Barr and Rosenstein are in there right now. hopefully, they're going to share some of it soon. Stay tuned.

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[11:50:00] STELTER: Local news outlets continue to struggle across the country. If you pick up your local paper, you probably feel the impact we talk all the time about layoffs and cutbacks. But there is some good news to report. Across the country, startups, local papers, Web sites trying to revitalize local news, and a lot of them are collaborating. And this next story really is amazing.

It's a collaboration between 33 news outlets all across California. They've banded together to request and report on police misconduct records that were unsealed under a new transparency law in the state. Now, there's been some pushback from police in providing the records.

So these news outlets have been working together, some of them even joining a lawsuit in order to get the records to have more information, to have more to report. So for more on this unlikely show of solidarity, I'm joined by LA Times Executive Editor Norm Pearlstine in the south, and in Northern California KQED Reporter Sukey Lewis. Thanks for both coming on. Norm, how did this collaboration start?

NORM PEARLSTINE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, LA TIMES: Well, I think you have to give credit to Suki and KQED to begin it, and then a number of us came in very quickly.

STELTER: So, Sukey, tell us the backstory. You know, why do you all decide to gather dozens of partners?

SUKEY LEWIS, REPORTER, KQED: Well, I think right after the governor signed this bill, Senate Bill 1421, like this is a huge sea change in police transparency laws in California. And me and one of my colleagues Alex Emslie we're talking about what was our obligation to get these records and to report on them for our audience. And there really was no other answer than we needed to get all the records.

And we couldn't do that alone and so we started to reach out to other public media partners that we've worked with on other projects like KPCC, Capital Public Radio. KPCC brought in the LA Times and it just kind of grew from there. And we've also been working very, very closely with the Bay Area News Group.

And it's really amazing to see all these different news organizations even within competing markets working together to truly serve the public.

STELTER: Is this the future norm? Are we going to see more of these kinds of collaborations across the country?

PEARLSTINE: Well, I think certainly within California that this kind of collaboration makes great sense. And if the issues are right such as climate change, you could imagine a number of news organizations coming together and pooling their reporting.

STELTER: Is it happening more out of strength or out of weakness? Because I look at some of these newsrooms, you know, they've suffered cuts over the years, do they have to work together because there's no other choice?

PEARLSTINE: Well, I think that the cuts are real but the bigger problem here is that with over 700 municipalities, that's a lot of police organizations for anyone to try to monitor.

STELTER: Right. I see. So working together, you can get to more of them. There's been some amazing headlines, some crazy stories of evasion. We'll put one on the screen from the LA Times. It reported that the Englewood Police Department destroyed more than 100 shooting records that otherwise would have become public. So this is some of what you're exposing through this investigation?

PEARLSTINE: That's correct. And we really have it on many fronts. But we've also had some great successes including some stories that appeared across the state this week. STELTER: So Sukey, what comes next? There's this pending lawsuit

against the state A.G. in order to gain what?

LEWIS: So the state attorney general basically said we put in a request along with some other reporters and also transparency advocates for the records that the Department of Justice holds. And the Attorney General said you know, the law hasn't been totally defined on this because the unions are suing in a number of places around the state saying that the law should not apply retroactively. So should not apply to records already in existence before January 1st when the law went into effect.

And you know, we don't agree with that reading of the law. The -- you know, the bill's author herself said that she intended for the bill to apply retroactively. And so the Attorney General said we're not going to give you any records until this issue is resolved. And KQED joined a suit you know, we don't think you can delay indefinitely while all these lawsuits play out you know basically, you know make a decision.

STELTER: I see. Right. So we need more sunlight. We can get more sunlight. Norm, we have about 30 seconds left. If other newsrooms in other places we're interested in doing this on a collaboration, what do you -- what advice do you give them? What do you recommend?

PEARLSTINE: Well, I think the main thing you have to recommend is that the issues really are about serving the public. And if you begin by thinking about what the audience needs, then collaboration comes together very quickly.

STELTER: Right. Figure out what do they need and how can we work together and make -- get a better-finished product by working together, yes.

PEARLSTINE: That's correct.

STELTER: Norm, Sukey, thank you both for being here. A very interesting project out of California. Much more RELIABLE SOURCES in just a moment.

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[11:55:00] STELTER: Well, we're still waiting. There it is the Department of Justice. It's been almost 48 hours now since the Mueller report was delivered, received by the DOJ and we're still waiting. CNN will be here with you throughout it.

A quick plug here in the meantime. Tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time is part two of CNN's Original Series that explores Richard Nixon's rise and fall with never-before-seen footage. That's Tricky Dick tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time on CNN. Otherwise, you're going to see live continuous coverage of this waiting game.

So let me know what you thought of today's show. Send me a tweet or a Facebook message. I'm @BrianStelter on both sites. And your feedback each week I think makes the show better every week. Dana Bash continues our live coverage from Washington right now.