FBI Director Robert Mueller listens as President Barack Obama speaks to staff members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force Headquarters in New York, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009.
BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I’m Brooke Gladstone. This just in! Well, actually, it was last week that the excruciatingly nonpartisan website PolitiFact announced its 2017 Lie of the Year.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s what the website calls a Pants on Fire! lie, one that rejects heaps of evidence, such as Russia’s theft of private data, its targeted placement of deceptive political ads, its armies of online bots and trolls, the release by WikiLeaks of Democratic National Committee documents, snatched by what most experts believe were Russian hackers, the reluctant admission by Facebook, Google and Twitter that yes, Russia did use their platforms to influence the election and, of course, the confessions of Trump campaign officials to lying to the FBI about contacts with highly-placed Russians. Not proof of collusion but certainly evidence of Russian attempts to meddle. PolitiFact singled out this particular vie for the honor because the stakes are so high. Denial of the truth, it said, makes it all the more difficult to address the problem.
And so, Trump says he's fully cooperating with ongoing investigations, while dismissing it all as a hoax. Fantastic, as former US ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns testified to Congress this past summer.
NICHOLAS BURNS: I’ve worked for both parties. It’s inconceivable to me that any of President Trump’s predecessors would deny the gravity of such an open attack on our democratic system. I don't believe any previous American president would argue that your own hearings in the Senate are a waste of time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But then no previous president was so obsessed with the media or had so much media with which to be obsessed, especially cable TV news, most especially Fox News.
JEANINE PIRRO: The stench coming out of the Justice Department and the FBI is like that of a Third World country where money and boys and clubs decide elections.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Fox talk show host and Trump buddy, Jeanine Pirro, a former judge and prosecutor, is talking about anti-Trump texts written while he was still a candidate by an FBI investigator who was speedily dropped from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing Russia investigation when they were discovered.
JEANINE PIRRO: Not good enough. There is a cleansing needed in our FBI and Department of Justice. It needs to be cleansed of individuals who should not just be fired but who need to be taken out in handcuffs.
BRIAN STELTER: It’s an anti-Mueller, anti-FBI feedback loop, claiming that Mueller's probe is hopelessly biased and downright corrupt.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: CNN's Brian Stelter is alluding there to the power of Fox News, a point underscored by the website Mediaite this week, when it posted this year's list of the most influential in media. Rachel Maddow was number five, Matt Drudge four, Sean Hannity three, CNN Chief Jeff Zucker two and number one.
CO-HOST STEVE DOOCY OR BRIAN KILMEADE: Fox & Friends starts right now.
[MUSIC/SOUND OF ROOSTER CROWING]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mediaite wrote that, quote, “The President of the United States regularly starts his day watching Fox & Friends and then tweets about whatever they cover. That alone makes Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade and Ainsley Earhardt three of the most influential media people, not just in the United States but in the entire world!
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STEVE DOOCY: The President of the United States is taking on the FBI.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Steve Doocy.
STEVE DOOCY: It was revealed that -- remember Robert Mueller who is the special counsel, he has had the reputation of having -- stalking his team of attorneys with a bunch of people who love Hillary Clinton. Well, as it turns out, they had to essentially fire from the Special Counsel investigation a fellow by the name of Peter Strzok. He was an FBI agent and, as it turns out, he’s a Trump hater.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Meanwhile, the chorus of Democratic anxiety and mainstream media excitation grows more intense.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Do you worry that they’re trying to shut down the investigation by year’s end to lay the foundation for Donald Trump to fire Bob Mueller?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF: I, that’s exactly what I’m worried about.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Representative Adam Schiff this week.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF: I think this is a concerted effort to deprive the country of getting to the bottom of what the Russians did and what help they may have had from the Trump campaign.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Senator Mark Warner this week.
SENATOR MARK WARNER: Any attempt by this president to remove Special Counsel Mueller from his position or shut down the investigation would be a gross abuse of power and a flagrant violation of Executive Branch responsibilities and authorities.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Senator Richard Blumenthal.
SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: It would provoke an uprising, an outcry and outrage in the American people and in this chamber, but the time to make that fact clear is now.
PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I want to be very clear and make sure that I address Senator Warner’s concern for the one-thousandth time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
PRESS SECRETARY SANDERS: We have no intentions of firing Bob Mueller. We’re continuing to work closely and cooperate with him. We look forward to seeing this hoax wrap up very soon.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Did she just say “hoax”? Pants on Fire!
HOWARD KURTZ: There was a Chicago Tribune columnist and the headline was, “Trump Insists He Won’t Fire Mueller.” I don't believe it. That's the attitude of the press.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Howard Kurtz hosts Fox’s Media Buzz.
HOWARD KURTZ: Journalists, pundits, commentators, they’re saying, no, no, he could do it! You wait. And then, therefore, we need to talk about it, what if? But right now it’s a hypothetical. It’s a hypothetical that the President himself and people on his behalf have denied, and yet, that doesn’t seem to be slowing down the media narrative.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: PolitiFact said that, quote, “It’s not so much that Trump trades in falsehoods. It’s more that he tries to create a different version of reality simply by asserting it. Listen to Trump. The real story isn’t about a firing but about a hoax, his hoax, that the FBI, the Justice Department, the court, the Congress, the free press are a joke, and he’s the joker who won. That’s a fact.