CNN's Stelter Compares Trump's America to Soviet Union: 'What is the Cost of Lies?'

June 29th, 2020 3:14 PM

CNN’s Brian Stelter kicked off Sunday’s edition of Reliable Sources with the usual foot-stomping editorial. He asked “what is the cost of lies?” Stelter noted that those were the first words of the HBO miniseries Chernobyl, which dramatized the 1986 nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union, a year after Stelter was born. After describing “secrecy, state deception, and endemic lying” as the main themes, Stelter proceeded to compare the Soviet Union to Trump’s America.

Stelter referred to to the “dangerous, dangerous downplaying of the pandemic, outright...denialism coming from the President and his aides.” According to Stelter, “The cost is trust. The cost is a collective truth and sometimes, the cost is human lives.” He laid the blame for this “denialism” at the feet of the “right-wing media machine.”

Before introducing his panel, the CNN host complained about Fox News choosing not to cover coronavirus enough, lamenting the virus only received three minutes of attention on Sean Hannity's town hall with Trump in Wisconsin. He complained Fox shows on Sunday were focused on unrest plaguing America’s major cities. Stelter complained that the network makes “these cities out to be disaster zones that they’re not.” 

Not surprisingly, all three members of Stelter’s panel agreed with his analysis. CNN analyst Kirsten Powers, a former contributor on Fox News, claimed that the network’s “refusal to accept that this was a real problem versus the narrative that this was just something that was being done to harm the President, obviously…cost a lot of lives. She reiterated this point at the end of the conversation, accusing Fox News of “harming their viewers out of allegiance to Donald Trump.”

Demonstrating no self-awareness whatsoever, Stelter referred to a recent town hall President Trump did with Fox News’s Sean Hannity as “propaganda.” CNN has no right to lecture any other network about “propaganda” after allowing supposedly objective “journalist” Chris Cuomo to interview his brother, New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo.

After Stelter brought up the “Hannity bunker,” Susan Glasser of The New Yorker described the TV program as the President’s “equivalent of a safe space.” Once again, there was no mention of the fact that the Cuomo Prime Time bunker operates as a “safe space” for the Governor of America’s fourth-largest state; where he can expect jokes about nasal swabs as opposed to hard-hitting questions. Even when Gov. Cuomo shows up in other hours on CNN, there's no effort to hold him accountable. 

The phrases “bunker” and “safe space” can also apply to CBS Sunday Morning, where Governor Cuomo is treated to questions about his love life rather than questions about the massive loss of life in nursing homes in his state. If these so-called journalists really cared about “the cost of lies,” maybe they would ask a few more questions about the impact of Cuomo’s directive to nursing homes requiring them to admit COVID-19 positive patients.

Don’t count on that happening. The liberal media in America sound like propagandists for the Democrat narrative. If you want to make loose analogies of America to the Soviet Union, you could start there. 

This segment was brought to you by Doordash, Showtime, and

A transcript of the relevant portion of Sunday’s edition of Reliable Sources is below. Click “expand” to read more.  

Reliable Sources


11:00 AM


BRIAN STELTER: A question that applies to all of us right now: “what is the cost of lies?” Those are the first words in the HBO miniseries “Chernobyl,” last year’s award-winning dramatization of the 1986 nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union. Secrecy, state deception, endemic lying, those are the themes from “Chernobyl.” They affected millions of people back then. So, the miniseries starts by saying, “What is the cost of lies?” It is not that we will mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.”

The coronavirus is not a nuclear accident, of course, but if you watch the miniseries or you read about Chernobyl, as…as I did this week, you will notice parallels between the Soviet screw-ups then and the Chinese failures this year. I mean, look at The Wall Street Journal, this is pointed out there earlier this year when Chinese authorities tried to cover up the truth about the outbreak in Wuhan, that quote from the miniseries, “what is the cost of lies,” went viral on WeChat. What is the cost of lies?

Now, the United States, thankfully, is far more free and open than Russia or China, but the lies are taking a toll in America, too. As President Trump and his aides try to push this narrative that we are seeing great success against the virus, cases are surging across the country; largely affecting the South, the Midwest and Western states that were spared earlier.

Look at what front pages now from some of these states that are really taking the brunt of this. This is from Dallas, you see inside an ICU, a person suffering there. In Austin, the virus unleashed long lines for people trying to get tests. Let’s go to Arizona. The Arizona Republic headline: “Battling the ‘beast’ on the front lines.” And there, another local paper talking about how everything in the community is being upended; everything being postponed and changed. And here’s Florida, Tampa Bay Times, “Virus Seizes an Opening,” and look at the beachgoers on the beach there; although fewer beachgoers than other weekends, according to that paper. 

What is the cost of lies? The cost is trust. The cost is a collective truth. And sometimes, the cost is human lives. And we have seen that trust violated. We have seen this dangerous downplaying of the pandemic, outright denial…denialism coming from the President and his aides. And it is partly, I only want to say partly, but it is partly due to the right-wing media machine. 

Here’s a brand-new headline from The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan, media critic for the Post, saying, “The data is in: Fox News may have kept millions from taking the coronavirus threat seriously.” Now, she’s citing a number of studies that have come out in recent months. The studies are piling up. The evidence is piling up. That’s from March and April. But it is still true now at the end of June.

The network, Fox News, the…the prime time talk shows often don’t talk about the virus threat. They focus on their pro-Trump narratives instead. And we looked today at Fox & Friends, 6:00 a.m., 7:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., they did not bother leading with the virus today either. 10:00 a.m., choosing instead to focus on the President’s preferred narrative about so-called law and order. They make out cities to be these disaster zones that they’re not. But let’s talk more about the virus and downplaying of the virus now with Susan Glasser, staff writer for The New YorkerBaltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik, and CNN senior political analyst Kirsten Powers. Kirsten, you previously worked at Fox. You knew the machine from the inside. When I see these shows talking about anything but the virus, I view that as a form of downplaying or…or even denialism. How…how do you see it?

KIRSTEN POWERS: Well, yeah obviously, I think the biggest story that’s happening right now is the pandemic. And so, to not be talking about that and not be talking about the fact that we are seeing these spikes is to be ignoring the…the main news that’s happening in the country. And, you know, you have Vice President Pence saying a few days ago that things were going better when, of course, they’re getting worse. And so, it clearly is them trying to avoid a topic that is not beneficial to the President and goes against his narrative. And I think, you know, early on, these studies show that their…their refusal to accept that this was a real problem versus the narrative that this was just something that was being done to harm the President, obviously cost people…cost a lot of lives.

STELTER: Do you think it is that stark, it’s that bleak, there’s no way around it?

POWERS: I don’t know how to get around it. I mean, when you have…when you look at these, these studies of how…which also, they jibe with what I’ve seen also anecdotally. Right? When…when you look at people who…I have a lot of friends who have parents who watch Fox News and they were having such a hard time convincing them that this wasn’t some liberal media hoax, right, that was being perpetrated against the President. And so, they weren’t taking any precautions early on. And so if you look at the…the studies showing that the people who were consuming mainstream media were taking the precautions, the people who were consuming right wing media…media were not taking precautions and were believing that it was this attempt to harm Trump, there’s just no question that they have done irreparable damage.

STELTER: So, this rhetoric affects the president and then it affects Florida, GOP governors, you know, in Florida and elsewhere, and affects millions of people. David…David Zurawik, did you see this continuing today? I mean, yes, it is true in February and March when there were these, you know, ridiculous commentators comparing this to the flu. What is the version of downplaying or denialism now?

DAVID ZURAWIK: Brian, right-wing media is still doing this. And I…I think just one clear example of this is in terms of the mask. And it goes right to that quote about truth, Brian. Look, the truth is the public health officials and the medical officials have been humbled by this virus. But the one thing…and they say, “we don’t know, we don’t know this, we don’t know enough about it,” but the one thing the data they have gathered shows us to be true is that if you wear a mask and if you social distance, if you don’t get in a room with a lot of people, you will have a better chance of avoiding this virus. So, what happens? This is…the truth is, wear a mask and you will be safer. But we have President Trump, of course, in his vanity, not wearing a mask and his inability to say he was wrong. And then the right-wing media echoes that. And we see the result. We see the result in these spikes.


11:07:40 AM

STELTER: We took a look at Hannity’s…


STELTER: …town hall with the President. It was an hour-long interview special. It was pretty much an example of propaganda. And in this hour-long special, the pandemic came up for a total of three minutes. Let me show you all the other topics.


STELTER: Left wing lawlessness, inner cities’ violence. They love these stories. They don’t want to talk about the pandemic.

ZURAWIK: And Brian, one of the things that they also pushed, that Trump pushed through his right-wing messaging machine was this totally unsubstantiated notion of Americans can’t be kept in their homes, Americans need to be free to go out and do stuff. And I see it in stories about parents who are saying, “my children need to go play…go to summer camp and play baseball. I can’t keep them penned up.” The…the Trump and the right-wing messaging machine, which you and I have been pounding about since 2016 is really…this is not a game of words. This is life and death. There is…people who put that message out and I don’t understand how anybody who calls themselves a journalist could not give citizens the information they need to make an informed decision about their lives with masks and social distancing. But Trump and his right-wing messaging machine are muddying the waters, confusing them, and telling them they don’t need to do it.

STELTER: One of our banners said “Trump was Inside the ‘Hannity Bunker.’” Credit to Susan Glasser for that line, that’s how you described this propaganda hour that was broadcast on Fox. But, you know, Susan, the President’s has actually been doing a…a lot of television interviews. We can put up a calendar, thanks to Factbase, which…which found that this month, June, was one of the President’s busiest months in terms of TV interviews, print interviews, et cetera. He’s actually been out there quite a bit. It’s just that he’s not telling the public what they need to know about the virus.