Brian Stelter: Fox News prime time hosts are 'poisonous' but CNN's Don Lemon 'is a news anchor who has a point of view'

Two weeks ago I wrote about Brian Stelter’s book tour and what happened when he was challenged about CNN’s media ethics during an interview on The View. At the time, Stelter suggested Meghan McCain’s examples were “cherry-picked” and then dodged the questions saying he wasn’t a spokesperson for CNN.


Today the book tour continues and Stelter appeared on Hugh Hewitt’s show where he once again struggled to defend his views when challenged. I want to highlight two exchanges here. In this first one, Hewitt argues (convincingly) that prime time opinion shows at CNN are just as partisan as those on Fox News.

Stelter: And if you watch the opinion shows, first of all, you need to watch prime time on Fox. It is poisonous. It is extremist rhetoric. And that’s why we should pay attention to it. It’s important to know what four, five, six million people are hearing every night, because it’s so extreme and so radical anti-Democrat, anti-Biden. That is not the same as what CNN or MSNBC is doing. It’s just not. Here’s my favorite example, Hugh. MSNBC, Rachel Maddow at 9pm, she’s always saying buy a local newspaper, support local news, support a healthy media ecosystem. Sean Hannity says journalism is dead. He tells you not to trust anything else. I think there’s just a gigantic difference between what Fox is doing in prime time and the other networks.

HH: Let me queue up for you, I’m not going to go through thousands of clips with you on CNN where I can disagree, but I’m going to play you Don Lemon from last week. Here’s Don.

Hewitt then played this clip of Don Lemon to rebut Stelter’s point:

Hewitt asked what the difference was between this and Sean Hannity and Stelter changed the subject:

HH: Brian Stelter, blow up the whole system, stack the courts, amend the Constitution. That’s radical. That’s Don.

BS: That’s one person’s view of a situation. Why is that, why do you think that’s a big, why isn’t that shocking or surprising?

HH: Because Don’s a, do you think Don is an opinion host or a news host?

BS: Don Lemon is a news anchor who has a point of view and talks about his point of view, because sometimes, the best way to get through the news and all the noise is to explain what’s happening in our own words.

HH: How can you contrast Don and Sean and say they’re any different? Don’s just a lefty, and Sean’s a righty. That’s all.

BS: Well again, here’s another example…


Eventually, Hewitt came around to his main problem with Stelter’s book. He notes that Stelter is criticizing Fox for its coverage of things like the Mueller investigation but, in the end, that investigation found no evidence of the long-promised collusion. Stelter’s reaction is pretty amazing:

HH: We know the end of some stories that you criticize Fox for their coverage of. We know the end of the Mueller report, right? There was no collusion, correct?

BS: You know, I’m not going to play a game about a word that is irrelevant to the question at hand. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the President’s ties with Russia, period.

HH: But Brian, that kind of asks, that begs the question. Your criticism in Hoax, a lot of is based in the coverage of the Mueller investigation and how they downplayed it and called it a Hoax. It turns out there was no collusion, and it turns out we know this week, you couldn’t have known it during writing of Hoax…

BS: Yeah.

HH: …that the primary sub-source of the Steele dossier is probably a Russian agent, correct?

BS: I think there’s a fantasyland that Fox promotes about what you’re describing, about the Steele dossier and all of that that distracts from the key questions about Trump’s ties with Russia. We now know from the New York Times hundreds of millions of dollars of loans. Who does the President owe money to? We need to know. We deserve to know that, Hugh.

HH: Brian, that’s a deflection. The primary sub-source of the dossier was revealed last week to be a Russian agent investigated by the Obama Department of Justice in 2009 and ’10. The dossier is discredited. There was no collusion. These are factual matters. That’s my problem with Hoax.

BS: I’m reflecting, I’m a media reporter, and I’m not a Steele dossier reporter. What I know is that when you use the word hoax over and over again the way the President has, it’s dangerous and poisonous, because it makes people think there’s nothing real and nothing true anymore. And that’s what I think the problem is.

HH: Will you at least agree with me that the primary sub-source of the dossier has been revealed to be a Russian agent?

BS: I literally do not know, because I’m a media reporter.

HH: Okay.

BS: I hate to disappoint you. I just, I don’t cover the dossier over the air…


If you follow the conversation closely here, Stelter first denies that collusion is a settled issue. Then he calls the report that Steele’s primary sub-source was investigated as a likely Russian agent part of Fox’s “fantasyland” about the dossier. Finally, when pressed, Stelter claims he doesn’t know the details about the dossier’s source because that’s not his beat.

That’s quite a series of deflections on Stelter’s part. How can you complain a network isn’t reporting things accurately when you don’t know the facts in the first place? Stelter doesn’t seem to have an answer for that.

Video of the exchange isn’t available on YouTube yet but you can listen to the audio here. Finally, here’s Mollie Hemingway’s reaction to Stelter’s admission that he doesn’t know much about the dossier or its sourcing. She argues that Stelter has managed to miss the biggest media story of the Trump era.

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