During Sunday’s edition of Reliable Sources, host Brian Stelter and most of his panel seemed quite confident that the walls are closing in on President Trump. Stelter opened the show by asking “does the public understand just how much trouble the President is in? If not, that’s a failing of the press.” After playing some clips of TV personalities declaring that the President is in serious trouble, Stelter brought in his panel, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Will Bunch, CNN Political Commentator Joan Walsh, and Matt Lewis of The Daily Beast.
According to Bunch, “we have all the proof we need of a scandal that’s probably worse than Watergate.” After Bunch gave his hyperbolic analysis, host Brian Stelter jumped back in and asked Walsh, “are some in the press too timid about explaining where we are and how bad this picture already is?”
Walsh claimed that “some have been too timid,” before adding that she saw “a sea change in the last two weeks,” with reporters and anchors getting “more comfortable saying these appear to be crimes.” He specifically praised MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who recently declared “I don’t know who you know or how old they are. But nobody else has ever lived through a moment in the American presidency like this. We’re the first.”
Lewis pointed out that “liberal media bias...has the unfortunate effect of actually proving Donald Trump right” while slamming President Trump for trying to cast the media as “enemies of the people.” He informed his fellow panelists that “we sometimes help him along...by biasing...it’s not necessarily bias within the story. It’s what types of stories we are talking about,” effectively and correctly accusing the media of practicing bias by omission.
Towards the end of the segment, Bunch reminisced about the good old days, when the American people only had three networks to choose from: “I was a 14-year-old Watergate geek back in 1973 …people got their news from the three networks and they all had uninterrupted coverage of the Watergate hearings, and everybody saw this. And now, exactly, we’re so splintered that, you know, the 30 percent of people who get their news from conservative sources are just getting a totally different story from what other people are saying.”
A transcript of the relevant portion of Sunday’s edition of Reliable Sources is below. Click “expand” to read more.
BRIAN STELTER: But let’s start with this. Does the public understand just how much trouble the President is in? If not, that’s a failing of the press. Sure, there’s lots of talk here on cable news about the President being boxed in, lots of warnings that the walls are closing in. It sounds like the White House is undergoing like a really bad renovation. But do viewers and readers understand why? From my vantage point here, I think the press needs to redouble its effort to zoom out, way out, and make sure the big picture isn’t being clouded by all of the hourly and daily developments. Because don’t get me wrong, each puzzle piece is important. Each of the headlines every minute, every hour, every day, are important. But what’s most important is that we try to show people the entirety of the puzzle, show people all of the pieces that have been filled in so far. And what we already know. And to be sure, there have been some strong examples of this in the past week, some great examples just in the past couple of days. Look at this graphic from CNN on Friday. This was in heavy rotation on CNN throughout the day on Friday, showing all of the various investigations that involve Trump, everything from his company, to his foundation, to the inauguration, to the transition, of course, to his administration, et cetera. And more here from the Associated Press, a similar story on Saturday. And the Washington Post in today’s paper putting it this way: Two years after Donald Trump won the presidency, nearly every organization he led in the past decade is under investigation. That’s the kind of writing we need more of right now. Zooming out, connecting the dots, emphasizing the facts and skipping the spin, because extraordinary times call for new, different, extraordinary ways of story-telling. Here’s a few examples of how it’s been framed on television the past week that I thought got it right.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
CHRIS CUOMO: The President is battling a ton of investigations. Frankly, we’ve never seen anything like it.
BOB WOODWARD: Clearly, the investigative walls are closing in.
SE CUPP: This is not normal. Things are not okay. The President of the United States is in serious trouble.
COLIN JOST: This last week was a pretty bad year for Donald Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
STELTER: Trump, by the way, lashing out at SNL today and we’ll get into that later this hour.
But I think what we need to see on television, in print, online are more than just the 90-second packages, more than just the 500-word stories. We need trusted voices, both nonpartisan anchors and clearly point of view-driven hosts to explain what is going on, and why Trump is in such a precarious position. Let me show you another good example. This is how Rachel Maddow put it on Thursday night. I thought she framed it really well right here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW: I don’t know who you know or how old they are. But nobody else has ever lived through a moment in the American presidency like this. We’re the first.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: She’s right. And we need to come up with new ways of telling that story and helping people understand what it means. Let’s talk more about this with Joan Walsh, CNN Political Commentator and National Affairs Correspondent at The Nation, Matt Lewis, CNN Political Commentator and Senior Columnist at The Daily Beast, and Will Bunch, National Columnist at The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Daily News. Good morning everybody. Thank you all for being here. Matt Lewis, first to you. You’ve said that conservatives need to prepare for the possibility that the Mueller probe is going to find damaging, criminal information on the President. You’ve said that the conservatives need to prepare for that possibility. Why is that? Do you think conservative writers are preparing for that?
MATT LEWIS: Well, look. And I think liberals probably should prepare for the possibility that Donald Trump is maybe not exonerated, but that he’s not brought down like Nixon. I think it’s healthy for people to, to not get caught up in their own spin and their own hype. And I do think it’s entirely possible that if you’re a conservative and you’re in that bubble, and you’re just reading and watching conservative outlets, that you would think, oh, this is nothing. This is just a witch hunt. Well, guess what? Something may come out of this. There’s a lot of problematic things, and who knows what’s going to shake out when Mueller issues his findings. But I think it’s healthier and safer, it will keep you sane to be prepared. And I think that conservative writers, especially, need to preserve respect and legitimacy, and if you, if you fall for some spin coming out of the White House that this is all a witch hunt, you’re going to end up ruining your reputation going forward.
STELTER: Interesting. And what about you, Will Bunch? You have said that the real shock is what we already know; that already we know so much that it would take down any other President. That’s obviously more about perspective.
WILL BUNCH: Well, absolutely. You know, the last couple of weeks, I think the tone of a lot of the coverage I’ve seen on TV has been, you know, we’re waiting for the Cohen plea, we’re waiting for another memo on Manafort and we’re waiting on new developments. And people, I think, were expecting a big bombshell. And there really weren’t that many big bombshells in the last couple weeks. I mean, they basically confirmed the things we already know. And I think the Trump administration and I think some people in the media…I saw an NPR piece this weekend, are going to spin this as a question of whether the Mueller probe is fizzling out or something. I would argue just the opposite. I think the, I think the biggest electoral conspiracy in American history has already been laid out there. It’s hiding in plain sight. I think the bombshell is the details that we already know. You know, in terms of the quids and the quos. There has been a lot of great investigative reporting over the last two years. And that’s why we know some of the things that came out in court. But I think, I think all the evidence of, you know, CNN reported on the 15 Trump campaign officials and their meetings with 15 Russian officials. We have dramatic evidence of collusion, of quids in terms of the Russian hacking, quos in terms of the promises of sanctions relief. You know, we have a motive with the Trump Tower Moscow deliberations that were going on. I think, I think we have all the proof we need of a scandal that’s arguably worse than Watergate.
STELTER: This is what I mean by the puzzle pieces. A lot of the pieces have been filled in.
So, Joan, to Will Bunch’s point, are some in the press too timid about explaining where we are and how bad this picture already is?
JOAN WALSH: I think some have been too timid. I really do see a sea change in the last two weeks, I would say, Brian. I really think there is a lot more willingness and capacity. We do have more information. I don’t, I’m not sure I entirely agree with Will that we haven’t had bombshells. I think we might not have had bombshells, but we are getting pieces of the picture filled in that make reporters and anchors more comfortable, saying these appear to be crimes. I think, you know… we are challenged in our profession.
STELTER: How so?
WALSH: From the left and the right. It’s a huge story. That graphic was fantastic. We need graphics like that, that show that every aspect of this man’s life is under investigation. We had major blockbusters this week from different news organizations about the Trump inaugural committee. It just keeps expanding. And as somebody, you know, we try to do this pretty much every day, coming up with new superlatives, new expressions of shock. We need a whole new language. But I think every news report should lay out…practically every news report, there have been 33 indictments. So when people say what’s Mueller doing, this is taking too long, it’s nothing, it’s a witch hunt, it’s smoke. No, there have been 33 indictments. We have examples of 15 people, as you have said, in the Trump Organization, who have talked, who have talked to Russians. And…
STELTER: You’re saying repeat the basic facts.
WALSH: I think you’ve got to repeat the basic facts.
STELTER: Go back to the basics.
WALSH: And that, you know, for people…I know she’s on another station, but I’m glad you gave credit to my old friend Rachel Maddow, because she does…that’s one thing that people like about her, is that some people get bored, some people say, come on, Rachel, ease up. But she does…she has brought her viewers along on a journey. And now she’s able to put together the pieces. I’m actually semi-surprised, and this may happen…that we haven’t had a Nightline type of show on one of our stations. Remember, you’re not old enough to really remember Nightline.
STELTER: Oh, come on!
WALSH: Really remember Nightline but it started just about, it was about the hostage situation in Iran. And so, you know, it broadened out and became a great show. But we could have a…I don’t want to tell Don Lemon what to do, and I’m often on that last half hour and it’s a lot of fun. We could have a midnight roundup of today in investigations, because it’s coming that fast and furious.
STELTER: In a prior era, it would be a primetime broadcast news documentary. But we’re not in that time any more.
STELTER: The networks don’t seem interested in doing that. And the audience doesn’t all tune in at the same time and the same place. To me, the audience is so fragmented.
WALSH: So fractured.
STELTER: Matt Lewis, this is an important point I think for you. So much fragmentation of the audience that even if the A.P. and the New York Times and CNN and the rest are all explaining this scandal, there is still going to be a 30 to 40 percent of the population that does not necessarily hear or believe that reporting.
LEWIS: Right. And look, and I think this is a serious scandal…scandals. And as I said, I think conservatives ought to take it seriously and be prepared that things could go down that are very intense. But by the same token, it’s not the only story, right? We’ve got a good economy. We’ve got ISIS on the run. There are a lot of things, I think conservatives look at this and say, you guys are focused solely on the Mueller investigation, on these scandals. A lot of things are going right in the country. And I do think that there is liberal media bias. And it has the unfortunate effect of actually proving Donald Trump right. Look, I think it’s horrible that Donald Trump attacks the media and tries to cast us as enemies of the people. But I think that sometimes we help him along by, by biasing…I would call it, you know…it’s not necessarily bias within the story. It’s what types of stories are we talking about. We have to talk about this story, but there’s a lot of stories out there.
WALSH: Matt, I just…
LEWIS: Are we talking about them all?
WALSH: I cannot, I cannot agree with you on this one. I think when you have the potential for the kind of corruption that is at the heart of this administration going back to the way this man got the office in the first place, is now profiting from the office, the level of scandal…we haven’t even mentioned the name Ryan Zinke or Scott Pruitt, the level of scandal within the administration…okay, we report on the good jobs numbers every month that continue to be good. I hope they continue to be good. We report on news like that as it breaks. But I just don’t think that there’s a way to balance this and say, well, here’s the good news, but the bad news is our President might be a complete and total corrupt man.
STELTER: Well, let me give you an example of this. Will Bunch, here is the cover of Mother Jones, the most recent cover of Mother Jones, it’s a really nice, bright, yellow cover, saying “Let The Sun Shine.” All about examinations and oversight of Trump. Now, that’s a left-leaning cover. But it’s not liberal or conservative to want to let the sun shine and know what the heck is going on in the administration.
BUNCH: No, absolutely not. And, you know, I think getting to Joan’s point, I was a 14-year-old Watergate geek back in 1973. And right, you had the…people got their news from the three networks and they all had uninterrupted coverage of the Watergate hearings, and everybody saw this. And now, exactly, we’re so splintered that, you know, the 30 percent of people who get their news from conservative sources are just getting a totally different story from what other people are saying. And it’s a shame, because I think…I think there could be a lot of consensus on a lot of the facts about the wrongdoing in the Trump administration.