Like drinking from a firehose: Jeff Greenfield on the week in historic headlines
A whistle blower has turned Washington upside down and has changed American politics in just the span of a few the day's how's the press stepping up for this moment and what might happen next. Welcome to this week's reliable sources podcast. I'm Brian stelter. Turn we use this weekly podcast to go in depth with media leaders and newsmakers talking about how the news gets made and how all of us can help shape it and make it better and this has been an extraordinary week of news. We are recording this on Friday. September twenty seventh just a couple of weeks ago on television. I said the Democrats are losing the impeachment messaging wars. The president trump is winning. The Democrats don't seem to have a strategy or plan but then and this whistleblower story erupted and every day this week. We've been bombarded by news. It's like drinking from a fire hose and I have the perfect person with to try to process it trying to make sense of it and make sense of how this news environment effects something like an impeachment inquiry. Jeff Greenfield is with the war winning political analyst. He's endured two rounds of presidential impeachment proceedings in the past as a television journalist working out for almost all the major networks including CNN for many years Jeff. Thank you so much for joining me. Okay always a pleasure to be with you Brian. You're a calm Tom. Voice amidst the Salamis of needy out with the signal last week still relatively high with you. Oh Gosh well thank you I I don't. I don't always feel very com but I'm glad to hear it. I have this sense that maybe viewers and readers heads are spinning right now at the end of this week you know there. Was this impression impression that the Democrats were were were far from impeaching trump. The net simplicity was reluctant to go forward and that was just like four days ago. How do you make sense of this week. Well look shocking to people who believe email created leaks universe. Real events often have an impact the the whole Watergate story really began when one of the Watergate Erc was read a letter in open court saying you know there are other people involved in this judge Ceriga than said we'd better get we find out who beside these original burgers may have been involved so in this case as what you had in the midst in the midst of a whole bunch of different approaches to what's impeachable. There really was collusion. It is taxes It's the the payoff to the mistresses. It's the lies about how he got rich. Whatever it's him and Putin sudden you had a a very clear clear understandable assertion by someone whose credibility was was vetted by one of Donald Trump's own appointees namely the director of National National Intelligence who said the president pressured the president of a country another country to help uh-huh pin- politically at the risk of perhaps risking desperately needed military. That's a simple understandable of assertion that goes to the heart of what the president's supposed to do not do and because it involved a urgent urgent matter of foreign policy it rattled rattled a lot of the Republicans no we didn't have a lockstep defense of the president because of the assertion is true he was he was playing with the future of Ukraine threatened in by Russian militarised saying you may not give you the selenium she helped me politically and so I think the clarity of what was asserted. an in nature was asserted was a big reason why things change pretty quickly. What did it feel like to you as someone who has seen it all so recipe fail like to you in one cents a because of the last three years ahead reaction. Oh Oh yeah why not at this point Ryan if an alien spacecraft landed and some people getting out of the space fresh said for the sake of the survival of the planet. You really need to change presidents. I'm not sure I'd be surprised I just I said. A couple of times talks that I feel like somebody who's been a commercial airline pilot. All is like an today about to take off the control control tower said by the way you should know the love gravity has been suspended. You know this is not normal. Thing is so much a part of what we've all been living through data that in one sense this may not be surprised if we look we certainly had stories from inside the administration of discontent and concern and bafflement excellent at how the president behaves. It's just this one appears to shaken people inside the administration in a way that even things like like how he dealt with president crucial didn't it was different qualitatively thing as I said because of the of the jaw dropping nature ager of what the president did on this phone call in for what reason it does seem to have shaken people inside the White House if this whistle blowers to be believed there our multiple officials who were sharing information with them about what happened and yet those others have not gone public. They don't appear to have filed their own whistle. Blower complaints planes. I look at this and I see some timidity or probably stronger than that you know about White House Zaid's who are not willing to stand up and say something is going wrong here it kind of extraordinary. This is the first time we've had a complaint about president trump and remember you know your I think often one of those people wanna see cautioning against a rush to judgment right so we're talking about something. That's what three days old so it may be. This is the sort of story that evolves over time and it all doesn't happening. Warn Sudden Rush you have had I say it's fair to say less unanimity among Republicans in Congress in in the media that in the past you have had not just knit wildly but a couple of other senators and a couple of Congress people in a house aide. This bothers me. I'm worried about this. You've had a kind of civil war going on at Fox News. It's intensified over this so I just don't think we can draw conclusions so how this evolves based on the last seventy two hours that is interesting point. You're saying the the response from Republicans is actually more muted than maybe it would the expected that there isn't as much of a staunch defense of trump as might be expected because there have been some defenders there certainly have been figures on Fox that are defending him no matter what but you're saying that we should notice the relative lack of support that there's not stronger support him on the Republicans yeah. I'm this is in no way of prediction. I just noted that there were there were more people on the Republican side of things going on. This is bothersome you yesterday a at the at the hearing with deny one of the Republican congressman on his way to sort of trying to say kind things about the president said you know this phone. Call was not okay. You've had to me you've had you've had a couple of others. shaking your heads and this we're we're. We're at the beginning of this stage of the process. There are so many things we don't know about you know how do the Democrats Kratz in the House intended to do this of other really going to funnel everything to the House Judiciary Committee which is one of the most polarized committees in Congress. It has opposed to for instance the idea of select committee which is what Ca- generation or two we'll go. The Democrats in the Senate did Formula Seven Person Committee composed centrists centrists non ideologues Do we have a media. This is your department to have a media universe that would permit a kind of slow unfolding of facts or are we as you use a much used analogy. Are we just going to spend the next couple of months straight out of the fire hose. It's just uh it's unclear. All I'm saying is this feels different because there are people on the Republican side of things who seem genuinely unwillingly bothered by what the president did on substantive grounds once again for additional Republican approach to foreign policy one a muscular foreign policy you want the United States h. Defend allies against threats. Here's Ukraine threatened by Russia and the president seems to have put military aid on hold and waiting to see whether or not Ukraine would cooperate with his political desires that is that is at the root. That's about as basic question question about presidential behaviors you can get. Is there any alternative to drinking from the fire hose. Do you see any way to avoid that or to have to have an alternative as we go through this impeachment process sort of doing a piece of political critical about the concept of alternate universes so there might be an alternate universe where we would proceed slowly in dispassionately but it occurred to me aren't made this point. Maybe before you even if you go back to. Watergate rain once Walter Cronkite and company signed off at seven thirty on the east go. S- back then the next news you got was when the morning paper hit your door you could watch. PBS replay the Watergate hearings but basically that was it we we did not immediately switch to five hours of frenetic analysis or opinion making we did not have a bombardment of of social media in tweets until the whole process of unfolding story of finding out what happened was much deliver to face again. This is your turf Warren but you tell me whether using the modern media universe would permit that kind of a stately crosses the idea that the news turns off is is something that's not imaginable anymore unless people go out of their way to turn it off you. Only it only stops if you force it to stop but that's an individual decision need back then. If you no matter how hungry you were for news you know Walter Cronkite said that's the way it is and that was it so in that in that universe ending the political universe I or how many people in the congress spend more of their time trying to figure out how to get on their favorite cable lose network been doing the business of say legislating legislation or honest to God investigating look. I mean this by the way in a in a bipartisan way how many Democrats already call not for inquiry but for impeachment any Cam Democrats of Eight Hundred Fifty Democrats when you've oppressiveness have we got to impeach the Scott now that's not they're not saying we we'd better get to the root of it like some. Biden's that but just in lots impatient on the other side you think about that House Judiciary Committee Republicans on like Louis Goal Nair Air and Jim Jordan and Matthew gets and Doug Collins. We think they're going to say we will not let she was. The president really may have overstepped aligning fear. Is that is that anybody thinks that's the process. We're going to be going through. I don't well so far. How so how does this compare in your mind to the Clinton years or the Nixon years. How does it feel let's talk about the the Clinton years because because because I was in the midst of actually covering that story and what I think we saw was a more slightly were civilized way a of people go into their respective corners on once said that the CNN should not we didn't need to any guests we should just have sock puppets because everybody was saying the second thing he lied under oath. Abbott it was about a private matter but no man is a bubble of trying to overturn the election but it's important to remember member that that that back then even though the ultimate votes were highly parts were five. Democrats that voted to impeach speech in the House and they were all like southern Democrats in nothing Muslim ceased to Become Democrats. I think there were some where depending on account five or dozen Republicans who voted against against impeachment so the votes were partisan but the process was less poisonous. The process was more yeah but because we were less polarized country because the identification of party as almost tribal religions was less lesson grade and so what you had was an also he issue if you think about it whatever you think about the President President Clinton his behavior you know debating whether or not the president's going to be removed from office leasing lied about being sexually pleasure by intern isn't quite the same thing as is is this president subordinating American foreign policy to Russia or to his own political fortunes. It's a it's a more it's a much more serious creed of process than I think it was even even twenty years ago and either Watergate comparisons trying to go back in time to the to the other impeachment. the people know about is it. Is it even possible I mean. Is it a waste of time to try to compare what's going on now to the seventies or the nineties given how much has changed in our media and politics. It's it's it's a waste of time. Provided realizes analyzes just how totally different things were in the Watergate written about this before and I consider the both houses of Congress were heavily dominated by Democrats. The Senate Watergate Committee was a model of non ideological combat. You know that the chair was a conservative -servative. Democrats and Arben who a constitutional expert the highest ranking Republican was Howard Baker a moderate Republican. There was Lowell Weicker a liberal Republican Herman Germantown legit conservative Democrat so the process of trying to find out what happened was lunch. Walk honored back in also so you also had a media that was much more homogeneous. There was no Fox News there was no Breitbart and the media to be sure was more than anxious more than how happy to explore the potential wrongdoings of Richard Nixon was not a media favorite so there was no counterweight. It was not nightly on onslaught on a the equivalent of Fox News saying you know this is an attempt to overturn the election. Democrats did the same thing back when they had power Palo Mum so the the difference in the in the political immediate universe between then and now was is incredibly star. I don't know if there had been the equivalent of a Fox News and Democrats Republicans have had looking for Publicans that had the Senate Senate. It's possible with Nixon might survive this even though a lot of the Republicans back in action so I think what you learn in looking at the Watergate situation. It's just out inappropriate or inaccurate or yeah. I'm sorry I'm stumbling awards but how you can't fit the Watergate model into today it really can't you know his parents of Ernestine and John Dean Dino Yeah on on what they may. I have to say about this but to try to analogize to Watergate. It seems to me to be wrongheaded. There's something incredible about the diversity of media media now versus twenty or forty years ago but there's also something I find I find so sad knowing that we're going to be locked into these two alternative universes purses and that the facts will will appear so different in those two universes. There's a sadness that comes from knowing that this is going to cause even more division in hate the only the only in one of the alternate universes somehow or other. Um Yeah I think this is beyond possibility. Now you wonder if Speaker Pelosi decided to form a small select committee rather even having six different committees and all their information to judicial would the Republican leadership in the house cooperate. We need one of the things that's happened happened the midterms in two thousand eighteen a lot of the more moderate. Republicans were undefeated so what's left is a Republican Caucus. That is even more more ideologically homogeneous than it was in. It's very hard for me to imagine that the Republican Caucus would permit on its leadership to see let's try to let's try to come to the heart of this. Let's let's try to really find out what happened and appointed select committee with the least partisan members of each party together. I think that's a fantasy. I just don't see how that happens. You also have on the Democratic side of the Progressive Caucus. That basically has already said let's impeach the guy and can and will regard any attempt to kind of cool. The brakes put the brakes on as a senator so as a result there. There's no way to have a process that will not be politically polarizing painful. Is that what you're saying yeah. I here's again. I'll give you one other alternate universe a whole bunch of people who served in the trump administration like master Mattis Tillerson I'm not sure I don't maybe Bolton but a bunch of say it's time for us to level and tell you that this president has to be removed that he he's a he's a danger to the American Republic easies. Just he doesn't know what he's doing is three whatever it is. If you could imagine such an event we're at that point the Republican leadership in the House and Senate says okay you know this is now matter of beyond even politics Let's let's send a whole bunch member in you know the story how in Watergate it last as a bunch of Republican senators went up to the White House told Nixon he had to leave so I suppose under those circumstances you could imagine I don't know Sean Hannity Laura Ingram Roman Geraldo Rivera Lou Dobbs and Rudy Giuliani Lena sorry Mr President you have to go but I do think that's in the fantasy. Also let's say a quick break here on reliable sources podcast give back to reality in a moment here what's up. 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Maybe this on Friday September twenty seventh and I'm talking with Jeff Greenfield renowned put analysts we've been talking about Fox and the right wing media among other things and and that's something that it has been notable this week jeff to see anchors shop Smith and commentators like Judge Napolitano on Fox talk about the possible crimes that that have been identified here and then on the other hand pretty much the rest of the Fox lineup stars like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity mocking the ships miss of the world swearing there aren't any crimes you know you have these alternate universes right within one channel when it comes to Fox yeah now ships and for swallows among others for some time been very different from the prime time advocates they've been and I think in this case we've just seen battling out more because we have almost kind of verbal sparring match between Smith and Andrew Napolitano who said the presence presents committed a crime and Laura Ingram Joseph degen of only other who said now they're all crazy the the one that I think I've been keeping an eye on for a while as drug because drugs was for quite a while very reliable transmission bill for pro source he began a while ago hosting esteem stuff on his front page questioning how strong the economy was in the last few days. The front page has been filled with stories that are critical trump that that raise questions about whether in fact he was behaving in a unpresidential way and I don't know whether that's simply gently a case of him wanting to get out in front impeachment which is what made his reputation during the Clinton Europe right or whether it's a sign that that what what trump tom has been doing a has rattled somebody who was more inclined to support and that's look in some way run. This is an old story from the days as of the campaign itself when trump I ran the question was was the center of the Republican Party of prepared to reject him as a hostile element or was he. GonNa Conquer it and Beneton his will. That's been the case from the time he started running. he has remained the Republican party he has violated many of their most cherished beliefs about free trade deficit and foreign policy and they'd gone annalong part because he has won over the base of the Republican Party and so the question is again. It's kind of like what we talked about earlier. Whether the comments Senator Ron Johnson senator SAS and others are just worn off so whether they in suggests that something slowly may be changing that the the kind of reflection circle the wagons remember this is our guy may not Rena fully survive of this latest story. We've seen this in Robinson. You'll know this place out but I just found that I found the drugs response to this worthy of a look at least and it gets your broader utter point about Republicans and how they are responding or or in some cases just not reacting not commenting. There's been this wide range of responses with some pro-trump kind of social media stars and celebrities on Fox swearing that the president is the hero and has done nothing wrong and finding finding ways to bend over backwards support him but yes you're right. There has been in other parts of Republican Party in the media. A much more muted response. Maybe an old fashioned thing they actually waiting for more facts what an old fashioned idea or at least waiting for the public opinion polls. It's not one of the one of the questions is whether or not the public which seems to have been until recently sceptical sceptical if not hostile about impeachment is going to change. Its mind nerve some numbers but you know how in this is. This is a basic jason belief of mine. The polls have long become the crack cocaine of journalists and it's probably a good idea not to not aggressively wait for every new number but I I have a feeling that some of these Republicans got their fingers in the wind seen whether or not there's some kind of sea change come about how the public regards trump and impeachment on look this president has uniquely Lou in pretty much in the same place in the polls as he has been from the beginning of this compound little change incredible and we just don't know whether this event is going to be different so you know as the president links to save Ryan. Let's see let's see what happens. Is it fair to say that no matter what happens this will be a trauma a national trauma Emma. You're seeing Democrats like Joe. Biden say this is a tragedy Nancy Pelosi saying that take no joy in this and then you get some liberal commentators saying oh come on. This is a great thing you know. This is not a tragedy at all. Where do you come down on that. Will I remember back in Watergate. Michael Kinsley Berry was observer server said the same thing so you kidding of course I'm enjoying this. I you know next Mile Hyphen these in trouble and I'm delighted which has the advantage of at least candor you know one of the possibilities and I think maybe one of the possibilities that would help trump is if the the country at large the middle not the not the partisans come to see this as just Chakra fifty of another example of endless noise coming out of Washington nothing getting don just a just a mug fight between two equally this likable sources and so that's one possibility depending on on on how sprays out the possibility of again the middle of the country getting an education in just what it is about this story that it's so disturbing that's another possibility but as we've talked about given the frenetic nature of how media or delivered absorb. I just don't know how that happens. I know people will try. You know it's not it's not that the that the news media making effort to spell this out to the New York Times today at the entire whistle blower complaint Mike question but I mean then the inside the whole thank but how many people do we think we'll say you know. I think I'll take the next the hour so read through with this is I just I just I don't know to what extent people have already chosen up sides to the extent that as they watch this play out. It'll be like watching you know the major. Julie Playoffs depending on whether you're for you know Houston or the dodgers or the Yankees or whatever into everything gets affected through the frame of the good for my guy bad for my dun rite. I'm just packers game yesterday and I'm watching as an eagles fan and nobody watching an NFL game. Nobody watching a baseball about a matter that no one's going to change sides met game. Nobody there's no that's right. There is no eagle than with things pass. Interference correctly called against their defensive secondary degree. It doesn't matter how many replace us now if the guy had a length that's what fans are. That's why Fannie short for fanatic for the needs and I think that's what spilled over heavily women probably always who's there but certainly the politics. Is You you today that way it's. It's you know if the if the players were in my team's uniform. I'm form if he's not. He's an evil guy. I don't see how this I don't. I don't see where where this changes if anything I think this accelerated because now we're talking about whether or not a president's GonNa be impeached is one other quick thing I think we should we should note that de impeachment impeachment. I'm thinking about this back. In the Nixon was very very portend is thing in the people who even the people who voted for it. I think genuinely felt my God. What is she no. We're really GONNA do this by the time it got to. Clinton was much more ahead much less. Impact you know the Clinton was impeached. He was acquitted and wound up with higher. job approval ratings at the in the beginning so so there's that the whole idea of this is kind of a solemn moment in constitutional history. I think is going to be replaced Ari. WHO's up WHO's down. Who's WHO's losing well. This is going to be a challenge for for the country for politicians for journalists. Do you have any final awesome advice for the reporters for the for the commentators for the folks who are who are watching this every day. Take a breath. Take a breath bum you know I I think that applies if it's even possible to the political players players one of this came on the heels of that New York Times a book excerpt that suggested that there was another complaining witness against Brad Kavanagh having all and before before clarified to say by the way this person doesn't remember it and I think there were four candidates for the presidential nomination and the Democratic Party in call for impeachment I would hope that the president president and the people making judgments the people making would take a breath not always allowable you gotta get gotTa get that twitter feed out. Oh God I got an actual story but the sheer speed of this is not of this whole media world is not conducive to say wait a minute. Let's let's take a breath and see if we can actually figure out what happened to you. A menu were many journalists will do this but whether they will be overwhelmed by the rush to judgments right whether that high quality news and information and that well thought through well process information gets drowned out by the fire hoses. is a question Jeff Greenfield. Thank you so much for your next column on Politico Okay. We've been talking with Jeff Greenfield legal analyst you can find him on twitter at Greenfield sixty four on twitter and as I mentioned he has a column coming up on POLITICO DOT com. Thanks for joining us on this. Week's reliable sources podcast we will see you on T._v. This Sunday and every Sunday Eleven A._M. Eastern time on C._N._N. thanks for tuning in.