CNN's Reliable Sources Outlines How Trump's “Spin Doctors” Manipulate Coverage Of His Russia Ties

Brian Stelter: “Deny, Deny, Deny. When That Doesn't Work, Conflate And Confuse”

From the January 15 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:

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BRIAN STELTER (HOST): Deny, deny, deny. And when that doesn’t work, conflate and confuse. That’s what spin doctors do. They have done it for decades, both Democrat and Republican. And right now, that’s what President-elect Trump and his aides are trying to do. Number one, deny. This is Kellyanne Conway reacting to the breaking news about the claims of Russian efforts to compromise Trump, on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Myers on Tuesday.


STELTER: He is not aware of that, she said. In fact, CNN said that it had confirmed a two-page summary of the allegations against Trump was included in the documents that were presented to Mr. Trump, but cannot confirm if it was discussed in his meeting with the intelligence chiefs. So the difference between this paper and a verbal discussion. That was on Tuesday. Deny. So now for number two, conflate. On Wednesday, Trump press secretary Sean Spicer lumped BuzzFeed and CNN together, wrongly suggesting that both outlets had dumped all the allegations from the 35-page memo online. Conway seized on an NBC story that further muddied the waters. She tweeted, “From NBC: Trump was not told about unverified Russian dossier, official says. Will TV anchors and networks correct story?” That brings me to number three. So we have deny, conflate, and now confuse. Listen to how Conway sowed confusion in this interview with Anderson Cooper:


STELTER: Cooper challenged her at every turn but Conway glommed on to NBC’s reporting and confused people. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other newsrooms did confirm the thrust of CNN's reporting, and so did government officials on the record. Here's the thing, journalism really is a process. Sometimes a long and frustrating process. You pull information from sources while you push other sources to talk. Sometimes, it's wise to be transparent and tell the audience what you don't know. And, case in point, CNN originally said it could not confirm if the summary of the allegations was verbally discussed in Trump's meeting with the intel chiefs. But, on Thursday there was a reporting breakthrough.


STELTER: The conservative news site RedState called this “more.evidence CNN was right.” It was confirmed by other news outlets pretty quickly. I would add, it's also more evidence that the denials and conflations were wrong. Maybe team Trump wanted all of us talking about the media and not about the implications of a foreign government claiming to have compromising information about a U.S. president. But this case did reveal something about Trump's media strategy. I thought Jim Sciutto said it really well on Thursday night:


JIM SCIUTTO: What I worry about is a broader issue, which is a hostility to facts, right? And [[an]] an effort, a concerted effort by Donald Trump and his team to call into question the very existence of facts, right? The very existence of non-partisan news. … That it seems to be part of its strategy to attack information it finds inconvenient or critical. That's a problem for the way this country functions.


STELTER: Jim's right. That's why it's absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts. I read these words at the start of the program today. These words came from a Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt in 1918. After leaving office, Roosevelt was disturbed by Woodrow Wilson's efforts to tamp down on dissent. Roosevelt said, “Free speech exercised both individually and through a free press is a necessity in any country where the people themselves are free.” Those words were true 100 years ago. They are true again today, and I think we've all got to be reminded of that.


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