MY LIVING ROOM — If it’s Sunday, it’s time to settle in to hate-watch CNN’s “Reliable Sources” with Brian Stelter. But really, I’m trying my hardest to keep an open mind. If he or any of his guests say something smart or insanely interesting, I will tell you. But don’t hold your breath. Keep your expectations low and maybe we’ll all be pleasantly surprised.
I’m calling this episode “Three Balding Men And Tara Palmeri.”
Stelter begins his show the way he begins nearly all his shows as of late – by ripping President Trump a new asshole.
The opening includes these topics: What the administration says. Trump’s treatment of the media. And Trump’s latest tweets against the press.
“Why should we believe what they say now?” Stelter asks incredulously after playing a string of clips of Trump associates like Counselor Kellyanne Conway, former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus — who looks like a frog — and his namesake son, Don Jr.
“Without the tireless efforts of reports, the last seven days of revelations would not have happened,” Stelter said, bragging about a media that Trump routinely savages.
Stelter apparently spent a few days at the beach, but you can’t tell. His face looks a tad rosy but that and his skull look the same shade of pasty white they typically do. But he’s clean, shaven, and decently dressed in a dark suit and crisp white button-down.
But clean clothes can be deceiving. Stelter wades waist deep in what the media – largely MSNBC and CNN — has been sludging through all week long – the Don Jr. meeting with the Russian lawyer. He has no new details. But we have to suffer through it all again.
“This is it, this is everything,” Don Jr. says in the ubiquitous clip on Fox News’s Sean Hannity program that has aired on a loop all week long.
“Why should we believe him? Does he have credibility?” Stelter asks of Don Jr.
To help him assess these weighty matters that no one has been able to decipher, he’s bringing in the big guns: The Washington Post’s Carl Bernstein, who at this point looks like a cross between Colonel Sanders and Orville Redenbacher and Len Downey, former executive editor of The Washington Post.
Stelter refreshes us on the only real fact anyone knows about Bernstein, which is that he helped break “Watergate” in the early 70’s.
Bernstein is like anti-Trump crack for Stelter.
“We still don’t know, uh, what this cover up is about,” Bernstein says. “We know there is a cover up. We know that people in the White House, including the President of the United States have been lying, that his family has been lying.”
But, Bernstein says, he, too, doesn’t know what the fuck any of this means. “We cannot make an assumption of guilt of obstruction of justice or collusion,” he says.
In other words: ??????????????
“We still know very little,” Bernstein continues on the nation’s premier media program. “We are early in the investigations.”
Then the man who helped bust open “Watergate” says something truly pointless. We’re talking J-School 101 for preschoolers: “It’s important to go on the air with what we know and not what we don’t know.”
Huh. I’m glad I stopped my Sunday to learn that.
The dinosaurs — Bernstein and Downey — keep interrupting Stelter, who can’t do anything but let them interrupt him because they can’t even hear him at this point.
Bernstein says during “Watergate” there were 200 stories with no-named sources.
Stelter asks for similarities between what’s happening with Don Jr., Trump and Russia and covering Watergate.
Downey explains that Trump tweets out his opinions while Richard Nixon‘s shit wasn’t known until they heard the tapes.
No matter what these two are saying, CNN’s chyron blares: “Pattern of misleading statements about Russia meeting.”
Downey takes a stab at the right-wing media. Without specifically calling out any one outlet, he says the right-wing press is “not concerned about facts” and “constantly attacks the legitimate reporting that is going on.”
Stelter asks the dinosaurs about the President knocking the media for its use of “fake sources.”
Again Bernstein comes rolling in with details we all already know: “We know that Donald Trump has spent a good part of his adult life being an anonymous source for the New York press. …He knows how to manipulate the press. He knows the process very well.”
It’s in this blur of the show where Bernstein shows that he has no clue how to pronounce Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller‘s last name. In back to back sentences he calls him Muhhh-ller and Me-yoo-ler: “The Mooler Investigation or the Muller investigation.” (The actually pronunciation is Muhhler.)
The interruptions are getting comical. Bernstein interrupts Stelter again. Stelter might as well be quiet because Bernstein, with his silky white politician mane with curls at the ends, is not going to stop talking until he gets all his thoughts out no matter how much he bores us or how long he takes.
Things are getting slightly senile. Bernstein interrupts Stelter and apologizes to Downey for his rudeness.
Bernstein is a roll. And not a captivating one.
My brain is spinning. But this is what I heard:
“Our politics has been changed inalterably by this right-wing counterforce, whatever you want to call Fox News. Cable news itself is a different from what we had during the time of Watergate. We didn’t see reporters on television discussing their stories.”
Bertsein then slipped down a rabbit hole, mixing witch’s brew and arboretum metaphors with war.
“It’s a cauldron taking place in this hot house of political debate in which a fact base debate is becoming impossible in this culture and that’s part of the difficulty here,” he said.
Moving into a war metaphor, he says, “We’re just lobbing accusations here back and forth.”
Bernstein has an unfortunate case of verbal intoxication.
Something else? He was being patched in from Southhampton, N.Y., a detail I nearly missed. It only flashed on the screen once.
“Maybe he had a lobster boil in the Hamptons?” a fellow watcher wondered regarding his witch’s brew metaphor.
It’s time for a commercial break—thank God.
When the show returns, it’s time to shit on Fox News.
There are clips of The Five‘s Jesse Watters, Eric Bolling and Sean Hannity.
“Don Jr. is the victim here,” Watters says nonsensically.
Bolling is just as idiotic, saying, “Colusion is not illegal, by the way.”
Hannity gives his viewers some candy that has been lit on fire: He says Trump’s critics are trying to overturn the election.
Stelter has a panel to hash it all out.
There’s White House Correspondents’ Association Prez Jeff Mason, the White House correspondent for Reuters, Politico‘s White House reporter Tara Palmeri, who is also a CNN contributor, and The New York Observer‘s former editor Ken Kurson.
Kurson starts by giving Stelter a gift.
“I want to start by giving you a cigar,” he says. “I haven’t seen you since the birth of your daughter.”
He’s referring to Sunny Ray Stelter, whose baby pictures have been splashed all over social media, including one of her in a onesie bearing the dramatic phrase, “Democracy dies in darkness.”
Stelter better enjoy that cigar, because it’s the only gift Kurson is going to give him. Stelter doesn’t know it yet, but Kurson is going to lead an assault on Stelter’s brain without him necessarily realizing he’s doing it.
Stelter asks him a leading question intended to get him to dump on Trump: “What did the White House accomplish this week? Wasn’t it mired in this scandal?”
Kurson replied, “It’s hard for them to get their story out. I would argue that they are accomplishing quite a bit. Their fans are happy.”
Palmeri’s wearing a pretty, bright red blazer.
Mason looks stiff. His lips move, but his neck, jaw and head do not. He’s, um, frozen?
He’s asked about Trump’s request last week to release a statement condemning a specific story from an unnamed outlet and reporter. It concerned Trump’s 9-day voyage overseas.
“Well, to be more specific..it was regarding a story that had been written about the press,” he said. “They asked me to release a statement essentially defending the White House. I said no, it’s not something we do.”
Mason revealed that the story was Politico‘s Palmeri’s. “I talked to Tara ahead of time,” he said. “It was a story she’d written about media access on a trip overseas.”
Palmeri explained that an editor told her that Trump’s White House tried to remove her from the White House Correspondents’ Association “which they don’t have the power to do,” she said defiantly.
This is all striking me as odd, since I know Palmeri has a lot of good sources in Trump World.
So why would they try to cross her like this?
“Over the course of the trip the President hadn’t given a press conference,” she said. “That is plain and simple. We didn’t get access to senior administration officials until my story came out. …We were getting our information from foreign officials before we were getting it from White House officials, hours were passing.”
She gave the White House some lip. “I can see why they were angry, but it was a factual story,” she snapped.
But things are about to get really bitchy. The frozen one — Jeff Mason — didn’t agree with Palmeri’s boastful detail that her story got the press increased access.
Mason “quibbled” — such a Mason word — with this, saying, “I’m not sure I would draw a direct line between her story and an increase of access on that trip.”
Soon Kurson pipes up again and things are about to get ugly for Stelter.
Kurson was in Jersey over the weekend covering Trump at his Bedminster abode.
“No news,” he said . “He was watching the Women’s Open. Like many other Americans. He’s a normal person. He watches golf. That’s what we the media can’t get through our heads. People like him. …I think he’s quite accessible. …The guy just really connects.”
WHAT? Trump is NORMAL? Something positive about Trump on Stelter’s show?
How is this going to get ratings?
Stelter moves on to the contentious topic of the White House cutting on-air briefings.
He prompts Mason to whine about it.
“Well, it’s not accepted by us,” Mason says on cue. “…It’s very important to be able to ask those questions….I think it’s important whether the answers are satisfactory to the American public or not. A mix is ok, but the trend is not something we as the association are in favor of.”
Stelter asks what Mason can do to further his cause.
In so many words, the answer is whole lot of nothing.
“We can keep pushing for our rights,” he says. “We’re working hard on it.”
Kurson comes in with a buzzkill for Stelter.
“I think they are a waste of time,” he says of the briefings. “They are so canned.”
Kurson says “the media has become the opposition to Trump,” which is not music to Stelter’s ears.
Stelter interrupts, but it’s hard to hear because he’s talking over his guest. This forces me to rewind several times (damn him). He says pointedly, “That’s your idea.”
Kurson barrels on: “And the way the press has assigned itself the chore of undoing the results of this election, which they simply don’t accept.”
Stelter is now losing his shit a little. ”Who has assigned themselves that? There’s not some secret cabal,” he says.
Kurson brings up a column this week from New York Times columnist David Brooks about how the Upper Middle Class is ruining America. The piece included a graph about a high school graduate who was so overwhelmed by the fancy Italian sandwiches in a gourmet shop that she opted for Mexican.
Writers like WaPo‘s Erik Wemple went berserk over this story.
Stelter snapped, “It was a stupid column. What does it have to do with the Preisdent’s lies and misstatements?”
Kurson isn’t done critiquing the Washington bubble or Stelter.
“During these breaks when I watch you go on Twitter…the way journalists reward each other for stabbing and needling..there’s a new system of reward out there that has very little to do with policy and very little to do with advancing policy in this country,” he says.
Kurson asks, “Where are the pro-Trump journalists in the mainstream media?”
Stelter replies flatly, “I think a lot of journalists are against lying and deceit – that’s where we are right now.”
It’s Politico‘s Palmeri who becomes a sober voice on this show: “I think at the end of the day we should not be pro-Trump or anti-Trump,” she says. “We should just be all about the issues. …We’re being critical…that’s our job to be critical regardless of who the President is.”
Except then there’s a weird conflict between her and Frozen Jeff Mason.
Frozen says the White House never asked him or the White House Correspondents’ Association to remove Palmeri from the association, as Palmeri noted earlier in the show.
“That’s not something that anyone from the White House has asked me to do or approached the association about,” he said.
Next up: The Baltimore Sun‘s media writer David Zurawik, who has an internal volume problem, so everything he says comes out LOUD.
So yeah, he’s back and loud as hell.
His topics are boring and I’m half sleeping. He’s talking about Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Chief Political Analyst Boris Epshteyn being “close to propaganda” and Sinclair being on a “perilous political path” and I don’t care about any of it.
I did catch this exchange. Which just got weirder and weirder.
Stelter: Does he [Trump] think we’re idiots?
Zurawik: I can’t answer…but he probably does.
Stelter: There has never been such a media steeped presidency.
Zurawik: Unfortunatley I think some of the stuff President Trump watches like Judge Jeanine [FNC’s Justice With Judge Jeanine] may not be the high end of this medium. I wish he would watch a little more high-end media.
Stelter asks Zurawik what Trump should binge watch.
Zurawik apparently thinks this is the funniest question he has ever been asked in all his decades of media reporting. “I’d like to see him watch The Americans,” he says, cracking up like a mental patient. “HAHAHA,” he can barely breathe.
Stelter flashes a tweet that says Trump is watching Fox & Friends on his DVR.
Dr. Zurawik diagnoses Trump as a narcissist. “It’s like reading positive tweets about you on Twitter,” he says. “It’s looking in the mirror and the water and saying, oh am I not beautiful?”
Even for Stelter, Zurawik has gone too far: “That’s not a cheap shot at the president?” he asks.
Zurawik shoots back,“How? It’s ego inflating. It’s ‘you are a great President, sir.’ That is the message from Fox & Friends. That’s narcissism, isn’t it? If you limit yourself to only that. If you limit yourself to only that.” (He repeats the phrase again just in case we didn’t understand or didn’t hear him the first time.)
Stelter ends the show on a characteristically lecture-y note.
“My advice? Don’t fall for Trump’s tweets. If a public official tells you smething is fake, check it for yourself.”
Somehow I can’t recall anyone asking for Stelter’s advice on how to read Trump’s tweets.