CNN's Stelter asks Democratic attorney embroiled in Russiagate for media advice on covering democracy

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In media news today, NBC fact-checks Anthony Fauci’s COVID superspreader comments, Jon Stewart says the media is making a ‘mistake’ casting Trump as a ‘supervillain,’ and CNN’s Brian Stelter frets that Katie Couric’s editing scandal further damages the media’s reputation

CNN’s Brian Stelter asked a Democratic attorney mixed up in the probe into the Russia investiation’s origins what advice he woud give the media on covering “threats to democracy.”

Marc Elias – the general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s campaign who hired the research firm that spearheaded the infamous Christopher Steele dossier – was introduced by Stelter on “Reliable Sources” Sunday as being concerned about a “true constitutional crisis” but also “critical of this show last week.” Elias earned his way onto the media affairs show by criticizing CNN earlier in the week and drawing the attention of Stelter, a proficient tweeter.

“I want to hear your number one critique of how the news media is or is not covering threats to democracy,” Stelter said.

Elias noted he was “usually more praising of your show,” drawing a smile from Stelter, before he launched into his critique that the media only “treats certain aspects of democray as sacrosanct.”

“For example, any encroachment on the First Amendment right to publish newspapers or curtail the media or to take action against the media is uniformly denounced by the media in absolutist terms. But when it comes to free and fair elections, there tends to be more of a nuanced and sliding scale that the media has,” Elias said, going on to praise CNN anchor Jake Tapper for framing Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s, R-Ill., opposition to a Democratic voting bill as insufficient dedication to democracy.

(AP Images/Getty Images)

Elias had suggested to Tapper on Twitter that he ask that question. 

“So that’s really my main critique, the goalposts have been moved and for everything other than the press’ coverage of press freedoms,” Elias said.

“So the press takes its own interests very seriously, but then doesn’t do as good a job with the rest of it, you’re saying,” Stelter said.

“I think that’s exactly right,” Elias said.

“So what should we be doing differently?” Stelter asked. “Feels to me like every day there’s a slow, gathering storm. We see this democratic backside happening. What should the nightly news and newscasters and AP and Reuters do on a daily basis differently?”

Elias argued it should be covered on a daily basis, with a “pro-democracy slant.”

Elias played a major role in a recent indictment from the John Durham probe investigating the origins of the Russia investigation, which Stelter ignored on Sunday.

Elias tapped Fusion GPS to investigate the Donald Trump campaign on behalf of Clinton while a partner at left-wing law firm Perkins Coie. Fellow Perkins attorney Michael Sussmann was indicted by Durham for allegedly hiding his Clinton campaign affiliation from the FBI while pushing for an investigation into then-candidate Trump’s ties to Russia in 2016.

Sussmann pushed for a probe into a possible link between the Trump Organization and the Russian Alfa Bank through a computer server, and days before the 2016 election, then-Slate writer Franklin Foer published a piece wondering whether the server was an illicit backchannel with the Kremlin. Foer appeared to admit he sent 2,500 words of his story to a Fusion GPS employee before publishing. The Clinton campaign-planted story in turn was immediately seized upon by the Clinton campaign as smoking-gun proof of collusion between Trump and Russia.

CNN’s Brian Stelter hit a new ratings low on Sunday in the category most coveted by advertisers. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for WarnerMedia) 
(Kevin Mazur)

Steele, who Fusion hired shortly after Elias hired it to investigate Trump, testified in 2020 that Sussmann provided him with claims about Alfa Bank’s purported ties to the Kremlin, according to the Washington Examiner. Steele and Elias also met in 2016.

Stelter didn’t mention that, instead asking Elias about criticism of him in a new book by Mollie Hemingway about the 2020 election and how Elias handled scrutiny from the “right-wing media.”

“As anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, I tend to take it head-on. Because I think ignoring it — And this, by the way, is one of the things your show does extremely well, and I wish all of the media did what your show does,” Elias said. “You don’t ignore the right-wing misinformation, you take it head-on. So that’s what I really try to do.”

“I appreciate what you said about this program and about some people are trying to call attention to this every day, every week,” Stelter said. “I think CNN every day is sounding these alarms and one of my fears is that other networks, other major outlets are not, and they’re going to regret it years from now. Isn’t this ultimately about, let’s not have regret 20 years from now?”

“That’s exactly right, Brian,” Elias said.

Elias had scolded “Reliable Sources” and CNN in general last week for not finding one hour to “cover democracy.”

Stelter, who is often defensive of CNN when challenged about the network’s issues, wrote back he had “been talking about these issues every single week” and would love to have Elias on again.

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