LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
As Donald Trump makes his argument for four more years, we're looking at the impact he's had this past four, and you can't do that without looking at the press. It's been a mutual obsession. The media has covered him wall-to-wall, and he, in turn, has fixated on that coverage, using his various platforms to praise or call out newsrooms and journalists in a way never seen before by an American president. The Fourth Estate, as it's known, is supposed to be a check on power. How well has it done? Brian Stelter is the chief media correspondent for CNN, and he joins us now.
BRIAN STELTER: Thank you so much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's go back to 2016.
STELTER: Oh, boy.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Yeah, we're going to take a little bit of a journey. The mainstream media was ripped for giving the president too big a platform and doing too little to fact-check him. Obviously, four years later, things have changed. But I would argue that the media's obsession remains. Do you agree?
STELTER: It does. He still sucks up all the oxygen in every room. And to a great extent, the media still lets him. Of course, he is a giant story. But too often, he still gets to set the terms of that story, define that story and set the agenda.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let me ask you this. Has it done the media any favors to have these combative interviews, the endless fact-checking, where the media has to be basically a watchdog constantly, endlessly in a loop?
STELTER: Well, I think the public has been well-served by the increase in fact-checking. And I find it shocking that not all news outlets have invested in hiring fact-checkers because the line is so pervasive. And really, in many ways, the line is the through line. It's the central story of the Trump presidency. It's this creation of an alternative reality that is in competition with what we do as journalists, trying to vet information and have kind of reality-based news.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, he has called us the enemy of the people. Has he actually been able to put us in that role, in your view? Because of the nature of the kinds of interviews that the media has to do, because what the public hears is the media constantly fact-checking him, does it actually put us in the role that it seems or gives the appearance of that we are acting against this presidency?
STELTER: Right. A chronic liar causes the press to be in a more adversarial stance, which then feeds his narrative the media is out to get him. And yet I think most Americans see through that. I suppose my attitude is what's most important is that we surround the president's misleading information with accurate information and help people know what is true 'cause I think the biggest trend of the Trump years is that people are increasingly confused about what is real and what is made-up. And as a result, some people just don't engage at all, and that's dangerous.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I was about to say we have seen very separate media ecosystems evolve. You know, you turn on CNN, you get one reality. Fox has a completely different one.
STELTER: It is a really discouraging trend because the greatest hoax of all the last few years has been Trump and Fox working together to distract the public, deflect from Trump's own real scandals by focusing on made-up controversies and conspiracies instead. The president unfortunately gets misinformed by right-wing media. And then he misinforms the rest of the country, as we recently saw at the presidential debate, where he was talking about storylines and scandals that really only exist in his pro-Trump media universe.
But this will be a long-lasting, you know, right-wing media ecosystem. There are networks now and websites that make Fox News blush, that, you know, people at Fox News say to me, well, those are radicals; those are extremists. And President Trump - if he does not win the election, he may well end up with a show on one of those networks. Maybe he'll end up on the radio. I think we know for sure he will seek out a media platform if he is not living in the White House. This sense of two competing realities is something that I fear will be with us for the rest of our American lives.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what if President Trump does win?
STELTER: If President Trump wins, I think there would be legitimate fears about the president using his power against the press in new ways.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What would you say the big lesson is of this era for the media? - because I would argue that one of the things that the press has done is not connect with people where they live. And it has been a continual sort of feedback loop with the president. What would your big takeaway be?
STELTER: I was in Allentown, Pa., this week speaking with reporters at the local paper there, The Morning call, that's been decimated by cuts by a hedge fund owner. These communities that are losing local news coverage are losing something deeper. They're losing a connection to American democracy. And those connections must be rebuilt. We need more of a bottom-up sense of what it means to produce news. There are more stories about voters. We are hearing their voices more often in the coverage. We are hearing less from Trump at his rallies. Let's hope that that continues - that kind of coverage continues regardless of who wins.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter. He's also the author of a bestselling book on Donald Trump's relationship with Fox News. It's called "Hoax."
Brian, thank you very much.
STELTER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.