MY LIVING ROOM — CNN “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter is blowing up TV screens across America in more ways than one.
On Sunday he wore a dark suit paired with a bright golden yellow and blue striped tie. The colors were pleasing. Why not start out with a compliment since it’s all going downhill from here?
“Lately the news feels like one long disturbing episode of Political Survivor,” Stelter says, holding up the New York Post cover that screamed as much.
“If nothing else, Trump is a reliable source of news,” he says, trying to – what? — rub the irony of the words and the name of his show in our faces?
Get it? Reliable Sources?
Stelter hardly ever displays a sense of humor. So if that’s what that was, it was a complete failure.
The host starts off telling us what could be his lead story. But we’re not going to hear any of that. “Right now the biggest media story is Anthony Scaramucci,” he declares, not knowing that in another 24 hours Scaramucci will be out on his ass as White House Communications Director.
Stelter says Ryan Lizza’s story in The New Yorker will “go down in infamy.”
Last week Lizza wrote the most memorable story to date in the soap opera that is As the White House Turns.
Stelter won’t utter juicy details because he’s Stelter. But it’s the story in which Scaramucci told Lizza that Trump’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon “sucks his own cock,” among other nasty details about now ex-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who he called a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.”
Somehow Lizza is not on Stelter’s show, which is odd considering he just announced that Scaramucci is the biggest story of the week. How hard can it be to get a CNN contributor come on Stelter’s CNN show? Sure, we may be all Ryan Lizza’ed out, but I’d kind of like to know how Lizza is doing after all that splash and if his life has been threatened Soprano style.
Instead, we have a panel to discuss Scaramucci. There’s The Guardian columnist Richard Wolffe, American Urban Radio’s April Ryan (an enemy of the White House aide Omarosa Manigault) and historian Douglas Brinkley (who has political helmet hair).
So what’s on April Ryan’s mind?
“The question is, is it leakers or whistleblowers?” she asked. She called the relationship between the press office, senior administration officials and reporters as “friendly adversarial.”
I like Wolffe. He’s non-annoying and seems smart enough. Granted, anyone with a British accent sounds smart. But he may be the real deal.
“Well, that New Day interview was by far the most insightful thing,” he says, referring to Scaramucci’s 30-minute phoner with CNN’s Chris Cuomo last week. “Yes, the New Yorker interview was shocking and stunning, he says. “…This is the kind of thing that happens at bars after hours inside Washington. To have him spill his guts on TV like that was unworkable.”
Wolffe says people inside the White House can’t trust each other under these circumstances.
Stelter sends out an S.O.S. signal to Brinkley for some context. “HELP us out,” he says.
For Stelter’s purposes, Brinkley is a dream get for his panel. Brinkley serves up anti-Trump meat that makes Stelter ravenous.
“Um, it’s in utter disarray and you can’t really compartmentalize everything because it’s all morphed together as Donald Trump unfit for command in my opinion,” he says.
Stelter looks like he just consumed a Brontesaurus burger. In other words, satisfied. Did a historian just say that Trump is unfit as commander-in-chief? Stelter is frothing at the mouth.
The host decides now would be a great time to interrupt Brinkley. “You send he’s — let me be clear — you say he’s unfit for command,” Stelter says, salivating with the enunciation of each word.
Stelter takes a moment to go “on record” for something of EXTREME IMPORTANCE: He predicts that Sen. John McCain‘s (R-Ariz.) thumbs down finger moment during the Senate healthcare vote will become the new symbol for anti-Trump Republicans — “a meme” of sorts, he says.
I like Wolffe’s casual button-down, blazer, no-tie look. It conveys ‘I don’t give a shit, but I’m the best you’re getting today.’
And don’t cross April Ryan. She has consumed smaller mammals than Stelter for breakfast.
She looks good in navy blue. Her hairdo is far more stylish than Stelter’s.
April is well-liked by members in the White House Press Corps. She’s known for battling press secretaries and presidents and for never holding back.
“It’s just a hot mess from what I’m hearing,” she says of the scene inside the White House. “It’s nothing that we’ve seen before. …We even heard that Kellyanne [Conway] told people stop calling the President by his first name. It’s so far gone that they feel like he’s just their friend.”
Stelter asks one of his incredibly inane questions. He wants to know if the President is intentionally trying to distract us.
Wolffe has no idea. But he and his no-tie look are going to give it his best shot.
“This is a distracted President,” says Wolffe. “He’s watching TV all day and does a live commentary on what he feels about his coverage. That seems to be his driving force on what he’s doing most in office.”
Stelter announces that The Baltimore Sun’s media critic David Zurawik is coming up later in the show.
My heart sinks.
As I’ve previously noted in this column, Zurawik has no volume control. Every bone in my body now hurts as I anticipate having to hear his wretched voice. Do I have to?
Stelter thinks conservative media divisions are fascinating.
He brings up Rush Limbaugh lightly spanking Trump for what he’s doing to AG Jeff Sessions.
Here we go. Time for another panel.
The Washington Post’s conservative writer Jennifer Rubin, who looks like Popeye‘s girlfriend, Olive Oyl, is in a hot pink blazer with what looks to be a lighter pink and white striped T-shirt underneath.
She’s a conservative writer who Stelter can stomach because she’s fiercely anti-Trump.
There’s also John Phillips, a political commentator, who’s being blasted into the show from Politicon in Pasadena, Calif. He’s pro-Trump and a political columnist for the Orange County Register.
Stelter invites Rubin to trash Trump. “Are you finding conservatives starting to agree with you?” the host asks hopefully.
Why start practicing journalism now if you haven’t since before the election?
Rubin gives Stelter what he’s looking for – a glimmer of hope that Trump’s base is eroding.
“There is small segment that is beginning to wonder…this is a chaos show,” she says. “This is someone who is disrupted himself. This is who he is and it has backfired spectacularly.”
Rubin says she’s seeing the “beginnings of real deep concerns.”
Phillips says Trump needs a “major legislative victory.” He says Trump “needs to go back and do some arm-twisting and deal-making and get that thing through.”
He’s talking about the healthcare bill.
Stelter promos his “essay” about Trump and Fox & Friends. I really hate TV essays with every fiber of my being. I’m still bracing myself for Zurawik’s upcoming LOUD ass appearance. But first I have to survive a preachy essay from Stelter.
It’s 11:28 a.m. I’m nearly at the half-way mark and feeling pretty proud of myself for lasting this long without wanting to break dishes.
“I believe in power but I believe that responsibility should go with power,” Stelter announces.
He explains that he’s “repurposing Theodore Roosevelt from 99 years ago.”
He’s saying that “time and time again the pro-Trump programs” – such as Fox & Friends – produce “irresponsible segments” that have “misled the president and, in turn, the President has mislead the public.”
And CNN has never misled the public into believing anything that isn’t true?
The chyron reads: “Fox & Friends provides Trump with safe space.”
Life comes at you fast. Zurawik is now on the screen and offending all my senses. “Do the hosts of Fox & Friends think about that when they wake up in the morning?” Stelter asks, referring to his own TV essay that Trump misleads the American public through Trump.
Why Stelter thinks Zurawik knows what the fuck Fox News hosts think about in the morning when they wake up is beyond me. But fine, whatever. Let’s just get through this without violence.
“I’ll tell you what,” Z starts. Oh Christ, he’s already so damn LOUD. Do I have any Advil in the house?
“The more outrageous, the more erratic, the more strange this White House gets, the tougher the coverage on those channels that are doing real journalism is going to be,” he says, giving Stelter the fellatio he wants.
Z has worked himself into a deep lather. “Absolutely the way he seems headed, this is going to end not just in embarrassment but infamy,” he says.
Z says if you voted for Trump, then watching Fox News will help reinforce your decision for doing so.
He declares that Fox News’s Bret Baier (competent but Zzzzzz) and liberal Shepard Smith are what’s left of so-called “hard news” at Fox News.
Zurawik: “When you are as reckless and in some ways, even, and I would say dishonest, it’s dangerous.”
With all this shit talking, Stelter wants a ray of sunshine: “The press briefings are back on camera. ..This is a positive step is it not?”
Zurawik is getting all worked up. “In a serious vein, I’m glad the cameras are back,” he says. “The bad news is they are going to be focused on Scaramucci doing his peacock rooster dance saying all this crazy stuff. (HEH HEH HEH)”
Z’s voice goes up and down in unpredictable decibel spikes.
“BUT WE SAW ONE…WE SAW HIS FIRST ONE,” he shouts, referencing Scaramucci’s first presser.
Stelter asks Z about the NYT’s decision to print every lewd thing Scaramucci said in Lizza’s New Yorker piece.
Z says that the NYT is out to destroy Trump and should be.
“I think the Times sees itself with this President in a unique position. I think they’ve made a decision in seeing the excesses of this presidency…I don’t disagree with them. I’m glad they showed. It isn’t even the vulgarity. It’s the attempt to assault us almost with the Scaramucci…how he uses words to assault us. …God bless Ryan Lizza for what he did on this one.”
Zurawik, whose voice has been destroying my eardrums for the last 10 minutes, is one to talk about words assaulting people.
Stelter wraps his segment with Z by declaring that he is “never a word mincer.” Somehow Zurawik thinks this is hysterically funny.
It’s 11:41 a.m. We’ve made it past the mid-way point and I think I deserve a medal.
Lt. General Mark Hertling, with commanding salt and pepper locks, is a military analyst who’s coming to us live from Orlando. He’s here to discuss what Stelter obviously thinks was Trump’s shitty tweet banning transgender people from serving in the military.
“Holy smokes,” Hertling says. “…It’s an unfair way to do business, frankly.”
Stelter smooches Hertling, telling him he “loves” his Twitter account.
The host takes an opportunity to do something he hasn’t yet done today – he wants to dump on the President. And yes, I’m being sarcastic. He has been doing that for his entire show. “This is the crisis,” Stelter says dramatically. “We are in the crisis. The President is the crisis.”
Next up: Stelter is interviewing his colleague Alisyn Camerota, co-host of CNN’s New Day who has published a novel called Amanda Wakes Up.
Camerota has a bit about the late Fox News President Roger Ailes. In April, Camerota came clean about her experience with Ailes sexually harassing her. But she’s not going to discuss any of that with Stelter.
“I remember a day that my old boss called me into his office and he said that I had looked uncomfortable during a segment…and I think it involved Sarah Palin and death panels,” she recalled.
“He said it didn’t matter…I had the sound down. You looked uncomfortable. He said it’s good for journalists to be uncomfortable with their subject matter sometimes.”
“The funny thing about Roger is he was not a journalist…he was a TV wizard. But that advice…it did stick with me.”
She says the experience with Ailes taught her that she has to be open-minded. “That was good advice and I’ve tried to channel it,” she says.
She talked about leaving Twitter: “They are so outrageous…this is the kind of language and vitriol that we actually get. In real life I decided enough is enough.”
She mentioned the rules of journalism. “Not all news is created equal,” she says. “We are in a climate where we do have to be careful of your news source. …There are rules and I think they are important.
Her book debuts Tuesday.
Fade out. Show over.
Note to readers: I’m away next Sunday. And no, I won’t be interrupting my vacation to tune into “Reliable Sources.” I will, however, be back for another recap of this aggravating show in two weeks. If you need to vent your feelings to me about this show, as always, you can reach me at [email protected].