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Sinclair Under Fire For Mandating Anchors To Read Statement Criticizing Fake News; WSJ: Mueller Investigating Alleged Communication Between Roger Stone And Julian Assange Kushner Strikes Deal With Sinclair For Straighter Coverage Back In 2016. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired April 2, 2018 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
President Trump on a Twitter tirade complaining about really our self- inflicted wounds and leaving out a lot of facts along the way. So we're going to put facts first in the next couple of hours.
President Trump, let's start with your all-out war on Amazon, against Amazon and your false accusations that the corporate giant is taking advantage of the U.S. Postal Service and not paying its fair share of tacks.
Here's the fact on that. Amazon pays the same lower rate that the post office charges other bulk shippers. That's good for the postal service bottom line. Another fact, Amazon collects sales tax in every state, every state that charges it.
What's really at issue here, Mr. President and the viewer, what you should know are the president's hard feelings for Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos who also owns the Washington Post, a paper that has aggressively been covering his administration and he doesn't like that.
And did you watch the market today? Tech stocks fell and fears of a trade war are weighing heavily on your friends, Mr. President, on Wall Street. You have repeatedly taken credit for the boom since your election in 2016. Now, sir, you must take responsibility for the markets tanking today.
The Dow Jones dropping 459 points, the NASDAQ plunging nearly 3 percent. The Dow Jones are climbing more than 8,000 points since Trump's election through January of this year. But guess what, it's lost about 3,000 points since then.
Then there's the issue of the DACA now, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program put into place by President Obama in which you are trying to end now. Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill tried to work out a deal with you to protect those in the program. But instead you are blaming the Democrats, tweeting this.
"DACA is dead because the Democrats didn't care or act and now everyone wants to get onto the DACA bandwagon. No longer works. Must build wall and secure our borders with proper border legislation."
But here's a reminder, Mr. President, you ended DACA as my CNN colleague Jim Acosta pointed out to you today at the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM ACOSTA, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Mr. President, what about the DACA kids, should they worry about what's going to happen to them, sir?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats have really let them down. They really let them down. They had this great opportunity. The Democrats have really let them down. It's a shame, and now people are taking advantage of DACA and that's a shame. It should have never happened.
ACOSTA: Didn't you kill DACA, sir? Didn't you kill DACA?
TRUMP: Whose is this?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: President Trump, you could answer these kinds of questions if you held a real news conference. A real news conference but that hasn't happened since February 16, 2017. That's 410 days ago.
And speaking of news there's this story about Sinclair Broadcasting. That's a conservative leaning media company, the largest owner of television stations in the country ordering its local news anchors and journalists to read a script that pairs your ill conceived narrative about news, fake news and legitimate news organizations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the media (Inaudible) they're own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think and this is extremely dangerous to our democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Really? It is not the role of news anchors and journalists to report stories about you and your administration with a glowing beam. It is our job to speak truth to power, facts first. Not ideology first, not ideology at all.
We're not supposed to tell the viewer what to think nor should management. But before we delve into this story even deeper just a little bit later on this evening I want you the viewer to know a few things about Sinclair's connection to the Trump world, OK?
So keep in mind the TV stations, that's the broadcast element of this operation. Circa TV is their digital arm. It was launched in 2015 and headed by the controversial former executive editor of the conservative newspaper The Washington Times, his name is John Solomon who traffics a misleading far right leaning stories like the alleged Uranium One scandal.
[22:05:12] And during the election the Trump campaign, this is according to Politico, struck a deal with the Sinclair Broadcasting Group to secure favorable coverage.
Here's what happened. The report says that Jared Kushner admitted that the campaign agreed to give Sinclair more access to the candidate and the campaign if the company broadcast their Trump interviews across the country without commentary, which means without scrutiny, without criticism, without fact checks.
Shortly after the inauguration Sinclair hired Boris Ephsteyn as a chief political analyst. You probably Ephsteyn. He's a voice supporter of Trump on this network and other networks. The Russian born political strategist was a senior advisor to the Trump campaign who went onto become a special assistant to the administration.
Sinclair now mandates that Ephsteyn's commentary be run at least nine times per week, on all of its 193 stations across the country 40 percent of American households and growing if a pending merger goes through.
So what did the president do today after the Sinclair story blew up? He tweeted support calling Sinclair superior to CNN and another news organization. Now, that is fake news if I've ever heard it.
So let's get to real news now. So let's begin tonight with CNN contributor Frank Bruni, a columnist for the New York Times, CNN political analyst April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Network, and David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida.
Good evening to all of you. Welcome to the program. We laid out the facts there. The president spent the last 24 hours really on a Twitter tirade, Frank Bruni, targeting Democrats, Mexico, Amazon, fake news, the Justice Department, the FBI. Do you worry about who's advising him?
FRANK BRUNI, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: I don't think this was the product of advice. I think what you saw here was President Trump simply reacting to his impulses and indulging them on Twitter. And I think the question is he going through a phase right now and how long will it last or he's not listening to a advice but he's indulging this when?
LEMON: The president's frustration really with his cabinet is on full account tonight, full force night. Jim Acosta is reporting that the EPA administrator Scott Pruitt's job is in jeopardy now. And that Trump is angry over stories about Pruitt's action. Do you think Pruitt can survive, Frank?
BRUNI: No, I don't think he will. And I think we're going to have yet more turn over in the cabinet that seen at historic level of it. You know, this is -- this is an administration that is getting sloppier and sloppier, and it's always been sloppy. And it's hard to see how we have smooth management of the country when you got all these melodramas all the time and an administration.
Mind you, as a very good cover story in New York magazine this week, pointed out that it's just rife with corruption and conflict of interest. Scott Pruitt is just the latest example.
LEMON: April Ryan, let me bring you in. Because he is under scrutiny for his -- speaking of Pruitt, for his travel and living arrangements and that's being investigated now. Even Trump ally Chris Christie said over the weekend that he doesn't see how Pruitt survives this. Is he the next to go, do you think?
APRIL RYAN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: He's on the list most definitely. There are others on the list. We've heard about issues of furniture with Ben Carson. That's still an issue for this president, and it doesn't bode well for his president to see his staffers or cabinet officials take trips when they shouldn't be taking trips, using taxpayers' dollars when they shouldn't be using, officials when they should not be.
This president does not like this kind of waste even as he travels to Mar-a-Lago, and that's still in question for a lot of people to include fiscal conservatives. But Pruitt is definitely on the list as well as Carson.
LEMON: Yes. Congressman Jolly, President Trump was with his Mar-a- Lago cabinet for the holiday weekend, it included news anchors news personalities Jeanine Pirro, Sean Hannity, controversial boxing promoter Don King and his immigration hard liner Steven Miller. Not in attendance we're told chief of staff John Kelly. Are we seeing the repercussions of that?
DAVID JOLLY, (R) FORMER UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Sure. And I think it's what Frank said he was not acting under staff advice. But Don, this is what we're seeing in the last 48 hours is really the full display of the Trump administration. This is we are led tonight by a president, if we really reset the base line, is making policy pronouncements he doesn't quite fully understand.
He is administering the levers of the federal government. He still quite doesn't fully understand. He's attacking a justice process he doesn't understand. He's tinkering with trade economics that he doesn't fully understand. He's undermining the basic freedoms of speech that he still doesn't fully understand.
But talk about who he had dinner with. What he does understand is all of that works for his base. It does work for his base. This is Trump's GOP and everything we saw on the last 48 hours is not just reflect on the president, it does reflect on today's Republican Party fully.
LEMON: Yes, absolutely. That's a good assessment. President Trump unleashed a series of tweets about immigration, Frank, claiming DACA is dead, claiming the U.S. is being stolen by undocumented immigrants, threatening to pull out of NAFTA and again calling for a wall.
[22:10:06] Here's our Chris Cillizza summed it up and writing in part, he said, "Donald Trump's latest dog whistle on immigration is more like a scream." Do you agree with this, Chris?
BRUNI: I do. And what has happened is Donald Trump realize he has a problem. There's a portion of his base, a portion who thrilled to what he had to say about immigration. They want a border wall. And there was just a budget plan that he signed a week and a half ago that had no money for a border wall and had plenty of money for other things and looked in their descriptions like a Bush or an Obama budget.
They're very, very restless about this. He is trying by tweet to tell them no, no, I want all this stuff as badly as you do and I'm going to make it happen but he hasn't made it happen and he's got a big problem with his supporters right now.
LEMON: April Ryan, you can speak to that. And Chris said it's a scream not a dog whistle.
RYAN: You know, it's a Twitter browbeating of Mexico to build this wall. The president kept putting the onus on Mexico for many of the immigrants who are crossing the border. But it's not just the immigrants the president is saying and drugs. But at the same time with this wall, you say the way but there is trafficking with trucks and trafficking in other ways of immigrants.
And then when you talk about this, I mean this president has taken onus of this economy now. This is his economy. And when he talks about the North American Free-Trade Agreement, NAFTA, he's really messing with the piece that is the largest trade agreement that we had, you know, starting back with the Clinton administration. And when you do this, you mess with an economy. And when you think about immigration, you don't think about the economics of it.
Many of the immigrants that are coming from Mexico and coming from these other countries are actually putting money back into the economy from their salaries, be it low wage or a little higher than low wage. But they're directly going to food, housing, shelter, clothes. They're putting money back into the economy. And this president is dancing a dangerous dance when he deals with issues of DACA and this wall and Mexico and NAFTA.
LEMON: Yes. So Congressman Jolly, Trump also tweeted completely inaccurate information. Here's what he said. He said, "Mexico has the absolute power not to let these large caravans of people into the country. They must stop them at their northern border which they can do because their border laws work, not allowing them to pass through into our country which has no effect on border walls."
And so speaking of caravans, yesterday he tweeted this. He said these "Big flows of people are all trying to take advantage of DACA. They want in on the act." So here's a fact check. The caravans are full of people from Central America who are seeking asylum, also no one can take advantage of DACA because no one new can enroll in DACA. So why is he tweeting something that is simply false?
JOLLY: Because it reflects clearly on his incompetence when it comes to facts and federal policy. What else is true tonight is the president of the United States has the authority to detain and deport many of these individuals through a due process system that frankly that his administration has great authority over through the law enforcement process.
But let's go back to Chris' statement, because what we're really seeing, Don, is this. Trump's GOP is an anti-immigration party, not anti-illegal immigration, they are anti-immigration and anti-diversity and that is the reality.
Gone are the voices of the Jeb Bush's and the George Bush's and the John Kasich's. This is Donald Trump's voice being reflected in his tweets and in the politics of today's GOP.
When they talk about wanting educated and wealthy immigrants only, they're talking about white. They're not talking about bringing diversity into the country. Donald Trump is playing to this base instinct that is wrong and immoral.
LEMON: And what you said it speaks more about--
RYAN: Controlling the browning of America.
LEMON: More about the people in Washington who are not saying anything about this or who say it behind closed doors but refuse to say it in public. This president is still sticking with what we now see a regular tactic.
He's calling out the Justice Department, putting the justice in quote and attacking the FBI, calling them an embarrassment to our country. Why is he attacking one of America's bedrock institutions and where does this go from here, Frank? Why is he doing this?
BRUNI: He's just looking for and finding scapegoats wherever he can. Whether it's Mexico, whether it's the Justice Department. When it comes to the Justice Department his assault on them has been pretty steady and that's because he wants to condition his supporters and as many Americans as he can.
If a report comes out from Mueller, if stuff comes out that makes him look more culpable with Russia than he is telling as he is, he wants to invalidate the messenger and that's been a very steady campaign that continues to these tweets with justice in quote.
LEMON: Frank, April, congressman, thank you. Fascinating conversation. I appreciate it.
JOLLY: Thank you, Don.
LEMON: Just ahead tonight, President Trump blaming Democrats for the failure to reach a deal to save DACA while ignoring the fact that he terminated the program in the first place. We're going to talk about that next.
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: The president blaming Democrats for the failure to reach a deal on DACA, but he is the one who terminated the program. Listen to what the president said when my CNN colleague Jim Acosta asked him if we should worry about what will happen to the DACA kids.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The Democrats have really let them down. They've really let them down. They had this great opportunity. The Democrats have really let them down. It's a shame, and now people are taking advantage of DACA, and that's a shame. It should have never happened.
ACOSTA: Didn't you kill DACA, sir? Didn't you kill DACA?
TRUMP: So who is this?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Didn't answer. So, CNN political commentators is joining me now. Patti Solis Doyle, former manager for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, and Steve Cortes, a former Trump campaign advisor. So, good evening to both of you. Thank you very much.
He didn't answer that question, Steve. It was the president who rescinded DACA back in September of 2016. So how can he say it's the Democrat's fault?
STEVE CORTES, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Because, Don, he wanted to do it the right way. President Obama instituted DACA. He thought he was a king, he waved his scepter and did it by executive order, which was unconstitutional and wrong.
And President Trump said let's do it the right way, let's go through Congress, let's pass a law and let's make this permanent and real. And he offered a generous proposal and by the way, one that really got a lot of people on my side angry, a lot of people on team Trump angry.
[22:19:59] He said I want to not only codify in law these 800,000 young people, they're not kids, but young adults, who signed up for DACA, I want to expand it to 1.8 million. I want to be more generous here.
LEMON: But Steve--
CORTES: In exchange we deserve a border wall--
LEMON: -- listen, with that but didn't -- you said he tried to do it the right way, but let me give you the facts on this. The Democrats and some Republicans tried again and again to cut a deal with this president on DACA. None of the deals were good enough for the president.
He tried to get in law, as you say the right way, I'll give you that if you believe that, he wants full funding to build a wall in exchange as well as a poison pill element that are impossible for Democrats to accept, yet he is still trying to deflect responsibility. They tried to do it, but he said I want full funding for the wall. So he wasn't giving.
PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: And Don--
CORTES: When you say poison pill, Don, hold on, hold on. Listen, if there is one thing that Donald Trump as a candidate, as candidate Trump, if there was one thing that he was unambiguous about, he was utterly clear about it was the wall.
LEMON: OK. But you're connecting the wall--
DOYLE: But you were getting the money for the law.
LEMON: Hold on, hold on, hold on, Patti. Hold on. You're connecting the wall, you didn't answer my first question. I asked you, I said he try to do it. The whole premise of your answer the first time I think is false. And then when I gave you the facts on it, then you are deflecting to the wall.
They tried to pass DACA. He wanted the wall included. There was no compromise, so they tried to do exactly what you said in your first answer, but it didn't happen because of him.
CORTES: His compromise offer was we will enshrine DACA into law and do it the right way not by executive order, not by the (Inaudible). We'll do the way it's supposed to happen in America. And by the way, I want DACA. And I think Patti and I probably agree on this.
LEMON: OK. Let Patti get in.
CORTES: We want DACA. But the right way to do it is through the Congress, through law. And what the president said is in exchange we want what he clearly ran on which was a border wall.
LEMON: You just said exactly what I said, Patti. You understand -- you understood my question, didn't you?
DOYLE: Absolutely. Here's what happened, Steve. He had this great big meeting this bipartisan DACA meeting that he opened up to the press, he said he wanted a bill of love, that he was going to sign whatever they bring to him because he love the DACA kids, this is a big issue for him, it's a bill of love.
So Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham came gave him a bill, he turned it down.
LEMON: He said he will take the heat, remember.
DOYLE: Yes, he said he'll take the heat, he turned it down. Government shutdown happens, Schumer offers him money for the wall, Trump turns it down. Then Trump says he wants $25 billion for the wall in exchange for 1.8 million path to citizenship for immigrants. Guess what, Democrats gave him $25 billion for the stupid wall, which really doesn't do much of anything, and he turned it down, Steve.
CORTES: Well, by the way--
DOYLE: He keeps moving the goal posts and then he turns it down.
CORTES: The ICE agents would beg to disagree that it doesn't do anything. But also here is an important part that we're missing. Also he said we have to end chain migration. That was the third critical component. So it was the wall, DACA and an end to chain immigration as we know--
LEMON: Steve, respectfully, he did not respond--
CORTES: Terrible for the national and economic security of America.
LEMON: Steve, hold on, hold on. You didn't respond to anything Patti said. You went from, well, we have to get the wall in. You said he wanted to do it the right way, he wanted to go through the Congress. I explained to you how we tried to do that, and then he said I need money for the wall. Then you went from that to chain migration. You keep going -- you keep moving the goal posts as you said.
LEMON: And you're not responding directly to what she said. They tried several times. Don't you understand that?
CORTES: Here's -- no. Here's what I understand, Don, and again I think Patti and I probably don't agree on a lot, right? We're both Chicago Hispanics, by the way, and I think we want to see DACA kids -- they're not kids, by the way. DACA young adults protected. We do.
I think that matters and I think that's compassionate. A lot of people by the way in the Trump base don't want to see that, and by the way, I respect their view. I get their view that illegal immigrants however they got here are still illegal. So I understand their point of view and I'm not dismissing that--
LEMON: Steve, you're not responding to what Patti said.
CORTES: But, hold on.
LEMON: You're giving another narrative. You keep giving shining objects.
CORTES: No, I'm not. LEMON: Can you respond directly? Do you think that the president--
CORTES: Here's the deal.
LEMON: Do you think the Congress tried to work with this president and he said no?
LEMON: Several times?
CORTES: I believe the Democrats want an issue and a controversy more than they want a solution on immigration and I think they've shown that.
DOYLE: No. Steve, we want to give DREAMers a future.
CORTES: They have shown it through the way they have acted.
DOYLE: We want to give DREAMers a future.
CORTES: The way they have acted Chuck Schumer -- and by the way, Americans have dreams, too. I reject that term about DREAMers, I really do. Americans have dreams, OK?
LEMON: So do with immigrants.
CORTES: And again, I want these young people protected. But to call them DREAMers is such a -- you know, it's such a supposition as if American citizens--
DOYLE: You can call them whatever you want, let's just protect that you can call whatever you want, Steve.
CORTES: -- legal American citizens don't have dreams.
[22:25:00] DOYLE: Let's just protect them. Let's give them a future here in this country, the only country that they know--
CORTES: I want them to -- I have them to have status.
DOYLE: -- we are willing to give Donald Trump his wall even though we don't think it's really going to do anything in terms of border security. But in order to protect these 750,000 young people who know the United States as their only home, a future in their home, build a wall and protect the kids.
LEMON: OK, I got to go.
(CROSSTALK) CORTES: Well then, we're in agreement. Build it.
LEMON: You guys have been in agreement, the Republicans and Democrats are pretty much in agreement on all of this, it's just how to get to it. You guys can. I think it's, you know, the Republicans say, well, those are Democrats who can't do that.
The president said, well, those are Democrats, I can't do that. I got to get my wall, and no one is actually sitting down trying to come to some consensus. Thank you both. I appreciate it.
When we come back, developments in the Russia investigation. Report that Robert Mueller's team is looking for possible ties between Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone and WikiLeaks.
LEMON: Special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly looking into alleged communication between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and President Trump's former adviser Roger Stone.
I want to talk about this now with CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem. Juliette is a a former Department of Homeland Security official and Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor. Good evening lady and gentleman, I appreciate you joining us.
The Wall Street Journal, Juliette, is reporting today the Special Counsel is looking into whether former Trump confidant Roger Stone met with Julian Assange in the final months before the 2016 election.
The Journal reviewed an e-mail sent from Stone to Sam Nunberg. Nunberg is another former Trump advisor where Stone claims he met with Assange. Stone is now telling the Journal he sent the e-mail in jest. What's your take on this report?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, PROFESSOR, HARVARD'S KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: Well, that's always the excuse is that something was a joke, or it was said in jest. And we simply don't know at this stage. We do know that Sam -- that Nunberg and Stone are now in a sort of very public confrontation fight, and calling each other names.
What I found interesting about the story today is just taking us back a week, because sometimes we can forget these things. It was a week ago Ted Malloch -- this is the guy who were taken off a train -- a plane in Boston and interrogated by the FBI team, he is set to go before a grand jury.
He said that he was asked specifically if he had ever visited Assange in the embassy. And that just seemed really strange to me at the time.
It was so specific, it was as if that Mueller's team actually knew someone that they are going to -- you know, someone who had visited Julian Assange. That someone we don't know who it is.
But it does appear that there was some focus on whether there was a direct visit between someone with ties to the Trump campaign and Julian Assange who we all well know, you know, was in cahoots, or is the equivalent of Russia's, you know, anti-Hillary campaign.
LEMON: So, how do you sift though -- and these stories are finding the truth, Renato, because WikiLeaks denies it had any communication with Stone, but then a report from the Atlantic, it was back in February show that Stone did indeed exchange direct messages in 2016. So how do the prosecutors sift though all these stories to find out what's truthful?
RENATO MARIOTTI, PARTNER, THOMPSON COBURN: Well, what you do when you're a prosecutor is you look at the hard evidence that you have. So for example, most likely Mueller has obtained, for example, records from Twitter regarding direct messages, obtained e-mails via search warrants, obtained phone records, for example.
Various things that really can't be easily explained away, can't easily be falsified. You know, for instance their Twitter has no reason to cook its books regarding the direct messages between Stone and Assange.
And then, those are the facts that you can -- you can build your case around. And then, you know, what you usually do is you take those records, and you use them to question witnesses, and test whether witnesses are telling you the truth.
And once you develop some cooperators, people who are going to be willing to cooperate, Nunberg for example is somebody who clearly appears like a troubled individual, but, you know, he may not have the incentive to lie that Stone has.
Then ultimately Mueller can build a case against Stone, for example, regarding the, you know, potentially aiding or distributing materials related to the hacking that WikiLeaks was involved in.
LEMON: Juliette, you mentioned this a little bit about that stuff that you want to call between Stone and Nunberg.
LEMON: We saw over the weekend Roger Stone attack Nunberg because his phone a protege, calling him cocaine (ph), and a psycho. Do you think he's a threat to Stone now? Is that why he is lashing out?
KAYYEM: I think he is. And I think Stone, you know, has this sort of grandiose personality, and he likes to go after people. I think what you're seeing in real-time is a conspiracy unfold. This is how these cases, you know, happen.
No one quite knows anymore what others are saying, and what they are saying before grand juries, or what they are saying to FBI agents. And so because there's probably not full transparency to what's going on, you're seeing these sort of public attacks.
This is -- this is conspiracy unwinding in real-time, and now the only question is, you know, how close does it get to the Oval Office? I've been saying for, gosh, a year now that the problem for the Trump White House is that the investigation is getting wider and closer, rather than narrower and further away, right?
And that's -- and that's not just Mueller. This is grand juries. This is, you know, judges approving warrants. And so that's the problem they've been living with for over a year if not longer.
And will continue until either Trump decides to take action against Mueller, or you know, grant pardons, or we actually are at the moment, you know -- you know, we are getting to, which is this investigation is getting, as I said, wider and closer.
[22:35:06] LEMON: Thank you, both. I appreciate your time. When we come back, a conservative leaning broadcasting company which owns some 200 local news stations is forcing its anchors to read a script criticizing, quote, fake news. Guess who loved it? The President.
LEMON: President Trump coming to the defense of a right leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group tonight after a montage showing its local TV news anchors reading the same script went viral. The topic near and dear to the President, the dangers of what he calls fake news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JESSICA HEADLEY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I am Fox San Antonio's Jessica Headley.
RYAN WOLF, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I'm Ryan Wolf, our greatest responsibility is to serve our...
UNIDETIFIED FEMALE: ... Treasure Valley Communities.
UNIDETIFIED FEMALE: ... the El Paso (ph) Communities.
UNIDETIFIED FEMALE: ... Eastern Iowa Communities.
UNIDETIFIED MALE: ... mid-Michigan Communities.
CROWD: ... the sharing of bias and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories without checking facts first.
[22:40:00] Unfortunately, some members of the media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think. And this is extremely dangerous to our democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Dangerous to our democracy? I want to bring in now Michael Copps, a former FCC Commissioner, Frank Sesno, the Director of the Schools of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, and Liz Wahl, a former anchor at Russia Today. That really pains me, Frank, when -- good evening, to all of you, by
the way -- when I see those news anchors having to do that. And I'm sure many of them didn't want to do it, but they have to.
My heart goes out to them, because, you know, they've got bills to pay. What do you think when you see it all edit together? Frank, what's your reaction?
FRANK SESNO, DIRECTOR, SCHOOLS OF MEDIA AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: I see them walking the news plank, Don. I mean, this is a terrible thing. Look, especially for local news anchors.
Local news anchors -- local news thrives on the community connection. They thrive on being that voice that people trust. They're the neighbor, they're the community connector.
They're not supposed to be taking dictation in anybody's sense from some national boss, and speaking from the top down. They're supposed to be covering the news locally. That's one thing.
Secondly, these are talking points that are white hot in the national debate right now, and to take those talking points without any context whatsoever, and force them through all these mouths like this, undermines what journalism, and what media are supposed to be at the local level, which is a bunch of different voices with independence, covering their news from their perspective, not from some top down boss.
LEMON: Yes. Michael, I just want to get Sinclair's response. And it says, this force script they're saying is just objective reporting saying, for the record, the stories we are referencing in this campaign are the unsubstantiated ones, i.e. fake false like Hope indorses Trump, which moved quickly across social media, and result in an ill-informed public.
Some other false stories like the false Pizzagate story can result in dangerous consequences. We are focused on fact-based reporting. Sinclair is the country's largest broadcast with more than 200 stations I should say. There's a -- is there a precedent for a mandated anchor read like this? Michael.
MICHAEL COPPS, FORMER FCC COMMISSIONER: Certainly not that I'm aware. I wish everybody in America could see the viral messages that went out depicting hundreds of stations that they own, all reading from the same script.
And I think Sinclair is probably the most dangerous company in all of our American media. It's the most dangerous company that most people have never heard of, and the fix has been in for this merger for quite some time now.
There's been cooperation between the Trump campaign and the company. The company has a long reputation for twisting, and turning, and pushing, and pulling against FCC rules, they try to limit ownership, and try to develop some sense of public interest responsibility on the part of broadcasters.
It's a deal that should have been dead on arrival at the Federal Communications Commission when it was first proposed. Unfortunately, that's on a pretty fast track to be proved, and it's going to make the station probably the most influential TV conglomerate in the United States.
I've long been a critic of media conglomeration, but this one is especially bad just because of the facts that I just said, about how they have avoided all responsibility, bent the law, and really undermined the democratic dialogue that's so important to our civic democracy.
LEMON: There's a pending merger that now has about 40 percent of American household coverage now that would give about 70 percent.
COPPS: That is correct.
LEMON: Yes. So listen, I've got to ask you before I bring Liz in. You know, we talked about that if they had done this, Frank, and they said it was commentary, and they labeled it that way instead of having news anchors read it as if it was fact, would that be a different story?
SESNO: Not really, no. I think that when you're talking about -- it's one thing if you're CNN, or you're Fox, or you're MSNBC, and you want to take a position. You want to call it commentary. You're a channel, all right?
But these are multiple stations, and the only thing that would have made it transparent enough to make some sense is if they have said, this is guidance that we are putting across the Sinclair Network.
SESNO: And been flat out about that. If they care so much about this, and they wanted to communicate the dedication, and the commitment to reporting real news in real journalistic terms, that should have been a memo that went to the editorial staff, that said we now support, and we're going to back this kind of independent reporting, and put that in your editorial process. And it doesn't need to be a channel like that.
LEMON: And the problem is that when they mentioned all these other source like Pope endorses Trump, and the Pizzagate story, at the time of the reporting of those stories, they could have meant -- they could have said that they were fake news or conspiracy theories.
[22:45:00] LEMON: They didn't mention that initially on the air as the anchors are saying these. But, Liz, you resigned -- you resigned on the air from Russia Today now, and known as RT, some three years ago because of what was categorized as dishonest coverage over Russia's forcible take over Ukraine. The DOJ recently made U.S.-based employees to register as foreign
agents. So tell us about RT, and the parallel, and your experience within, and what you thought when you saw this.
LIZ WAHL, FORMER RT ANCHOR: Yes, it's striking to see that video with all those anchors talking in unison. It looks like something that would happen not in the United States, but in Russia, or another authoritarian company.
And it's been really striking and troubling to see from my point of view the way -- I mean that Fox News for example, and now Sinclair that they're kind of taking a page out of Russian TV's play book.
In the case of Sinclair, you have this narrative of delegitimizing the media. That's something that's been happening in Russia media for years, because they, you know, don't listen to the mainstream media. That is fake news.
We're here, we're telling you the truth, when in fact they are actually, you know, this is pro-Trump propaganda in a lot of situations, and also the spreading of conspiracy theories.
And so it's troubling to see that, you know, at a time where journalism is fair, and balance, and holding our government leaders accountable, it's more important now arguably than ever, or in a very long time.
But to see kind of this trend toward both Fox News, you know, spreading conspiracy theories, telling the pro-Trump, you know, propaganda lines, and in this case with Sinclair, it's even more dangerous because of that separation.
As other guests have mentioned, people are watching. They think they're just getting their local news. You know, they connect with their local anchors.
And -- but here, they're getting this direction from the top to deliver hyperpartisan news or not even news, opinions and in some cases, conspiracy theories, the deep state for example, all of that.
LEMON: Yes, and what's interesting I saw on some conservative sites, and some conservative social media pages, they posted this saying, you know, this is proof that the news is corrupt, when they realized it was a conservative news group, they took it down.
But this is what I want to talk to you guys, because this is a report -- this is from 2016. Where it's -- it's from Jared Kushner, and it's from Politico. And it says, Kushner says we struck deal with Sinclair for straighter coverage.
Donald Trump's campaign struck a deal with Sinclair broadcast group during the campaign to try to secure better media coverage, his son- in-law Jared Kushner told business executives, Friday, in Manhattan. We'll discuss that when we come right back.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: The President defending right-leaning Sinclair and its hundreds of TV stations across the country, and if that sounds familiar, another member of his inner circle has advocated for Sinclair before.
Back with me, Michael Copps, Frank Sesno, and Liz Wahl. Frank, I held the Politico thing up. Let's put it up, because this was written in -- on December 16th of 2016. There it is from Politico about Kushner striking a deal.
In 2016, he confirmed that the Trump campaign had struck a deal with Sinclair broadcasting. It involved giving Sinclair own-operated stations greater access to then-candidate Donald Trump in change for running Trump interviews without commentary, which means without fact checking, without scrutiny, without anything.
And then Sinclair -- let's see, I just want to get their response in here. The V.P. of news said, we're all about tracking the truth, and telling the truth, and that's typically missing in most political coverage. Go ahead, respond. And they said both candidates were given the same deal. Is that an unusual arrangement?
SESNO: Yes. Yes. We don't -- we don't do that. CNN doesn't do that. NBC doesn't do that. The New York Times doesn't do that. But those are all the bad guys at least according to the world, according to the President right. Look, journalism is supposed to be about coverage without fear or favor.
SESNO: Journalism is supposed to be about holding the powerful to account.
SESNO: The powerful have every right to criticize coverage, to say it's unfair, to say it's sensational, to say it's unbalanced, and criticize, but don't delegitimize. And that's what concerns me that most here, this process of the delegitimization of these voices themselves.
Kushner's comments speak for themselves. And I can't say -- I'm not in the news meetings, the editorial meetings at Sinclair, about whether they're going easy, or going soft, or whatever.
But these sorts of things are very troubling. And any serious news organization, any serious news organization, should be addressing those and denying them head-on.
COPPS: Look, though guys were looking for each other when you come right down to it. Trump was looking for help from the media industry, especially conservative leaning, one like that.
The industry was looking for help from an incoming Trump administration to get this proposal passed, and do more consolidation. So it's not really surprising. What's unprecedented here though is, it's all part of a frontal
assault on the First Amendment that we have never really seen the likes of, I think, in our political -- our political history. The press is the named enemy -- the enemy of the people.
And when you have -- you know, it's not unusual for a president to opine on communications issues. Trump tweeted something today, other presidents have done that before.
When it's part and parcel of an attack like this on freedom of the press, and the First Amendment, and on our civic dialogue, and our democracy, it is downright dangerous to our ability to continue to successfully govern ourselves as a nation.
LEMON: Liz, I mean the potential issue of not allowing, you know, any commentary from a political candidate, no scrutiny, no fact checking, just to let it all out there. I mean, talk to us about the potential dangers in that.
[22:55:03] WAHL: Yes. Well, it's clear there that the aim is for it to amplify a pro-Trump message. And that's not reporting. And with that special deal with Kushner, it's this exchange, almost asking for loyalty, that's what Trump's all about, right?
He wants to have -- he wants to have his message amplified the way that he does on Fox News. In exchange, you'll get -- you know, you'll get the interviews. You'll get -- you know, Trump himself, he'll be watching.
It's like this reward system. That's not how journalism is supposed to work in the United States, that's not how independent journalism is supposed to work.
So it's very, very troubling, because at this time, you know, viewers are tuning in, and they're thinking that this is -- this is the truth. And they're not seeing that it's backed by a foreign government. But here, there's a loyalty to spread that pro-Trump message. So it's dangerous.
LEMON: Go ahead.
COPPS: Imagine with that montage you just showed at the beginning, if that was 173 different independently owned broadcasting stations, reflecting real community news, reflecting diversity, owned by diverse populations, minorities and women.
What a better media environment we would have, and how much more reflective of the public interest that would be, than to have this one voice, which is not going to reach by three-quarters of the American people putting out this kind of garbage, which is passed off as news.
SESNO: And, Don, if I can just jump in here. You know, there is nothing wrong with having a conservative bent to producing the news.
I mean, the Weekly Standard, plenty of other publications are conservative in their approach to the issues, and what they choose, where they choose to come down on an editorial page. But they will also give a hard time to their partisans, to their pals. They will point out when that's a problem.
What gets into a completely different territory in media, and it's not something we've seen, is where you are just blatantly pro whomever.
SESNO: And that becomes what we used to call propaganda. And that's where it becomes very deceptive and very dangerous.
LEMON: It worked for a number of different news organizations, almost 30 years in this business, can you believe it? I can definitely say this.
I've never been told what to say on the air, never given a script to read unless it was something legal, or a correction that one needs to make, but never anything like that. Let me tell you viewers, this is outrageous, and it's wrong, and it's dangerous. Thank you, everyone. We'll be right back.
SESNO: Thank you.
COPPS: Thank you.