MY LIVING ROOM – I’m on my couch trying to muster enthusiasm for another episode of CNN’s “Reliable Sources” with Brian Stelter. Stelter is live in Tucson today. The backdrop is ethereal. Lots of green, nature, and a gigantic tree trunk. But there’s also danger? Stelter looks like he’s standing in the middle of a road, and soon enough a big white truck goes whizzing by.
It’s Sunday, so it’s time to watch CNN’s “Reliable Sources” so you don’t have to.
Is Stelter going to lead viewers in an outdoor Zumba class?
Not likely since his physique is stuffed into a dark suit and tie. What the hell is he doing here? He never says, but he keeps calling the show “special.”
The meat of today’s program is the “seismic shift” in Trump’s communications team.
His big get is President Trump’s chatty Counselor Kellyanne Conway, who has a tense relationship with the network.
“What if anything is going to change?” he asks of Trump’s “crisis of credibility” that “imperils” his presidency.
Kellyanne says CNN has been “systematically unfair” to Trump.
She tells the host she wants “complete” coverage. She says she knows they won’t get unbiased coverage, so she’ll settle for “complete.”
Stelter is silent. He lets Kellyanne off the leash and lets her go on for as long as she pleases.
The silence becomes deafening. Even after she’s done, Stelter waits a few more beats.
Shockingly, no grimaces. No major reactions. Just listening.
And then he goes in for the kill:
“You started by attacking CNN. Why does attacking CNN make America great again?” he asks.
If Stelter was in a chorus he’d be a soprano.
Kellyanne assumes a mocking tone for much of the show. She see saws between teasing and bashing. “I’m sure you want that to go viral,” she says, sounding 13. “I’m wondering why CNN spends its time…”
Stelter interrupts her. “What we are trying to do is cover a very unusual president to try to explain what the heck is going on in a White House that seems awfully dysfunctional,” he says.
Kellyanne says she’ll invite Stelter inside the White House. This is the people’s house, she says, you are more than welcome to come inside.
Stelter returns the invitation, saying, “You’re welcome here anytime.”
Kellyanne gets weirdly personal, to which Stelter reacts by becoming a brick wall with no expression.
“I don’t feel sorry for CNN,” she says. “I don’t feel sorry for you or me. We are fine. …You and I have health care benefits … great jobs and we’re safe in our jobs. God bless you and your wife Jamie and your new daughter [which she pronounces duuu-or-ter]. We are people who are not struggling paycheck to paycheck.“
Then she asks Stelter for a favor. Hey, screw Jeff Zucker and the ratings. How about throwing the White House a bone every once in awhile?
Her words: “Brian….if we can rely on your help at CNN to connect America with the information they need. If you’re going to cover Russia Russia Russia while we’re talking about American America Amercia we’re always going to be like this.”
With that, Kellyanne slices her hands in opposing directions.
Now he looks at her like she’s insane.
Did Kellyanne really just pull a “Marsha Marsha Marsha” argument?
Stelter asks if the White House’s new communications strategy is to only play to the base?
I’d like to remind viewers at this point that Stelter is still standing in a nature parking lot, the reason for which is still unknown.
Soon he brings up health care, which he calls a “stunning failure.” “There you go again…those words,” says Kellyanne, scolding the host for doubting the President’s campaign promise to repeal “Obamacare,” which has stalled in the Senate.
Kellyanne continues bashing CNN for its news judgment. She wants the network to cover issues that people say are most important to them. She says CNN goes with “unequal coverage on Russia with nothing there.”
Stelter pelts out a staccato attack: “JUST. BECAUSE. YOU. SAY. THAT. DOES. NOT. MAKE. IT. TRUE.”
But Kellyanne is quick on her feet. “I’d say it right back to you,” she replies.
Now she’s talking about how Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton called to concede the election on her cell phone.
Stelter is thoroughly irritated: “We’re talking about Hillary Clinton again? Honestly, I don’t have time for that.”
Yeah, well, he actually does. He’s in the middle of nowhere in a suit. I think he’s got time for a whole lot of everything.
Kellyanne looks at Stelter like he’s a small child who needs a lunchbox.
She plainly explains that she brought up Clinton because she was getting to the part where Trump declared that he’d be the president for every American. You know, right after Hillary LOST THE ELECTION.
“This is a White House in crisis whether you recognize it or not,” he says insistently.
Kellyanne treats Stelter like someone who works for a fake news network. “Why?” she asks, smiling. “I work there. Where do you get that?”
Stelter tells her that “the credibility gap is severe.”
She stabs back, “To what…to the people at CNN?”
Get ready for more Marsha Marsha Marsha. “Your job is not to Russia Russia Russia all day long,” she says.
OK, Kellyanne. You want playful? Here’s Stelter being playful. “It sounds like you should be an assignment editor, Kellyanne,” he says. “I’m sure you could get a job in a newsroom.”
Kellyanne starts throwing knives. She tells Stelter that three of his colleagues were forced to resign because they reported some bullshit that wasn’t true.
Stelter tells her she has been an anonymous source and asks her about the President’s new IT boy Anthony Scaramucci’s plan to close up those nasty leaks coming out of the communications team. She ignores the remark.
Kellyanne asks him to name the scandals. He says the President’s rhetoric about the “fake news media” is poisonous to the national conversation.
She laughs, like he’s ridiculous: “The rhetoric?”
He asks if she’ll reports to the new White House Communications Director with the maffioso sounding name. “I report directly to the President,” she says.
Was she consulted in bringing Tony Soprano’s nephew to the White House? “I was,” she says.
He reminds her repeatedly that the show they are on is “Reliable Sources.” So if it’s okay with her – and it isn’t – he’s going to ask her a question about the media.
Stelter wants to know about that merger between AT&T and Time Warner. There was a Vanity Fair story that alluded to Trump complaining about CNN to the President of AT&T.
Kellyanne won’t spill her convos with the President.
She downplays the time Trump spends on Twitter, saying 90 percent of what her boss does is not on Twitter.
She keeps asking him to say things with a straight face.
Stelter’s brows are furrowed. A bird just flew by.
Is this show going to culminate in a staring contest?
“I respect the President and I respect you,” he says. “I’m worried about the credibility of the President.”
The show is now 29 minutes in. Stelter is standing in a parking lot filled with stones. There are large rocks in alluring shades of earth tones in his midst.
Kellyanne and Stelter say goodbye to each other by promising to go for manis and pedis. He begs her to return to his show. She pleads with him to come on the road with her to hang with regular Americans.
It’s now time for a panel. Three people have full heads of hair, two do not.
There’s Poltiico’s Tara Palmeri, who is also a CNN political analyst, former Asst. to President George W. Bush Scott Jennings, former President Obama advisor Dan Pfeiffer and Don something or other, who previously worked in communications White House.
Stelter keeps asking questions to which there will obviously be no real answers. He asks Jennings about talks he had with Trump about a potential communications job. “Well, I’m not going to talk about any conversations I had with the White House,” he says.
Stelter says that “No amount of smooth talking or spin can solve this White House’s crises.”
Pfeiffer gives Scaramucci a compliment of sorts.
“He may be the right guy in the wrong job. You have to develop and execute a strategy that is used to persuade the public and Congress. …It’s not a job you can do if you’re sitting in a cable news green room all the time, which it seems Scaramucci wants to do.”
Stelter lets out a “hmmm.” Like why wouldn’t anyone not want to live in a cable news green room?
Palmeri says the White House wants a better relationship with the press, such as more off-the-record discussions about policy. “The dirty little secret is Trump loves the press,” she says jubilantly.
More cars fly by.
Stelter concludes by thanking everyone for this “special edition” of “Reliable Sources.”
Whatever that means.