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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, August 24, 2020

Guests: George Will, Brian Stelter Neal Katyal, Katty Kay, LaTonya Johnson, Brittney Cooper


President Trump kicks off the Republican National Convention. Congress grills the U.S. postmaster general, Louis DeJoy. A black man is shot seven times in the back by Wisconsin police.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to THE BEAT. I'm Ari Melber.

And we come on the air right now, there are two big stories in politics right now, President Trump kicking off his convention, of course, a campaign to win votes for reelection.

And then there's the other story, Donald Trump's own postmaster general bailing on that plot to crack down on votes, of course, against Trump's reelection. Democrats are drawing new concessions from him under oath today.

This is that emergency hearing that was originally forced by Speaker Pelosi, the House Oversight Committee grilling the Trump official on the plot that he's been backing away from.


REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D-NY): Mr. DeJoy is just doing exactly what President Trump said he wanted, block enough funds to justify sweeping changes to hobble mail-in voting.

REP. JIM COOPER (D-TN): Fifty-three foot trucks forced to travel hundreds of miles completely empty due to your so-called reforms. That's not efficiency. That's insanity.

REP. STEPHEN LYNCH (D-MA): After 240 years of patriotic service delivering the mail, how can one person screw this up in just a few weeks?


MELBER: What you see there is not what Donald Trump was aiming for.

The official, Louis DeJoy, used government-speak at times to break further with Donald Trump, calling his whole approach unhelpful.


REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): In fact, you had had contact with the Trump campaign to ask them to stop their attacks on the Postal Service and voting by mail?

LOUIS DEJOY, U.S. POSTMASTER GENERAL: I have put words around to different people to plead that this is not helpful.


MELBER: Not helpful.

Now, this is important. What you're seeing here -- we're showing you just some brief highlights -- this is what government accountability can look like. That's why it's part of our top story tonight, even if the painstaking details can seem less than exciting than that original scandal, when the president stood up and admitted a plot in public.

But this part here tonight, this matters a lot. This is the speaker using her power to force Congress back into session, so it could do this oversight, which dials up not only the public scrutiny, but the actual legal pressure on DeJoy, who will be handling part of the administration of this election.

Now, politically, this is also not what Donald Trump had in mind when he attacked voting by mail, watching his own official on defense in public over voter suppression heading into the first night of a convention that's supposed to tout unity.

We're also seeing the convention scenes today. You see some of it right here, delegates and some physically separated ceiling in Charlotte, North Carolina, a state that knows all the danger here, with 156,000 cases, nearly 2,300 deaths.

That's why Trump had to reverse himself and follow Democrats with this virtual convention starting tonight. We're going to hear tonight, if you watch the convention, from a range of speakers. That includes Donald Trump Jr., the former Trump official and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, plus lawmakers like Tim Scott and Steve Scalise.

They're also moving well beyond just those big Republican names. They are going to tout tonight, for example, people like a Saint Louis couple who brandished guns in the vicinity of black protesters and then were charged with unlawful use of firearms.

Meanwhile, Democrats pushing counterprogramming with over 20 lifelong Republican lawmakers who are endorsing Biden today, and arguing that, after the Democrats' rousing convention last week, they say it's Donald Trump with something to prove right now, as he trails in key states, struggles with a pandemic that hangs over a virtual gathering, and is in obviously no position to repeat any economic claims he made in 2016, because now, under Trump, everyone knows this economy is clearly not better off than it was four years ago.

We begin our coverage right now with Katty Kay, Washington anchor for BBC News and a veteran of many of these types of pageantry and pomp, as well as the substance, at a convention, and Brittney Cooper, professor from Rutgers University.

Good evening to both of you.


KATTY KAY, BBC: Evening.

MELBER: Good evening.

Brittney, I'd love for you to tell us your thoughts on this split-screen moment. We have many of them in the Trump era, because so much is just done in a rush in public. But you have this convention, which we will be covering, and you have Speaker Pelosi's -- basically her strategy working so well that some people are over it.

I mean, some people are saying, OK, I guess they got that handled, move on to the next thing. But today was actually the day of the Democratic hearing.


Look, I think that the Democrats are doing what they're supposed to do. I have long said that part of the thing Trump was so good at over these last four years is the political theater of it all. And Democrats have finally caught to that, that we have got to play the game and have a media narrative that competes with what he's trying to do.

Messing with the post office is just un-American, no matter what your political sensibility is. I think we can all agree about that. People are deeply incensed about it. They put this Congress in place, this particular House of Representatives, to hold the president accountable. And I think that that's what's happening.

Moreover, I think that the thing that we have to prepare ourselves for, part of what the Dems are trying to do is create a counternarrative, as you point out, for what we're going to -- we're going to get a weeklong series of commercials of just Donald Trump yelling at us and gaslighting us.

And I think they're trying to say what -- remind the American people, here's what's actually going on, on the ground. You aren't getting your mail in a timely fashion. And that's not because of the inefficiency of government. That is because the Trump administration has deliberately decided to break the post office.

MELBER: Well, Brittney says yelling at us.

Katty, that may sound like a type of criticism, but we were actually checking the last convention. And he did yell into the microphone throughout most of the speech. On the other hand, he won the Electoral College. So there's a lot of yelling, a lot of loud energy at these conventions.

I do want to play for you, Katty, this basically a progressive group that is looking at how you could win over some of these folks. Take a look.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): I just cannot support Donald Trump.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): Donald Trump is a delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): Donald Trump is a con artist.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): He doesn't know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think he's a kook. I think he's crazy. I think he's unfit for office.


MELBER: Katty, some of those people aren't getting the star bookings they got in '16, because this is truly completely Trump's party.

KAY: Yes, I mean, it's actually almost, a lot of it, Trump's family for the Republican National Convention. There are enormous numbers of people with the last name Trump who are going to be speaking.

I am not sure how much success Democrats are going to have peeling away or spending their energy and their focus on peeling away Republicans who voted for Trump in 2016 and they think that they can win over now.

There are probably some of them. It's not going to be an enormous number, because Donald Trump has a huge amount of depth when it comes to his support. People still really love him. That's why he's going to be speaking every night of this convention, because he is the star. He is the Republican Party for them. He is their party.

The one area -- and this kind of links the two stories that we're covering tonight together -- the one area where there is breadth, and it's breadth in opposition to Donald Trump, is on the issue of the post office. I mean, you had more than two dozen Republican members voting in favor of Nancy Pelosi's bill to add finances to the post office this weekend.

MELBER: Good point.

KAY: It is the area where Donald Trump is really vulnerable, because Republicans don't like this defunding of the post office.

Tens of thousands of vets are getting their medication every day through the post office. And it's kind of weird to see the White House play out this thing or the president play out this thing that is one thing where he's losing support amongst Republicans.

MELBER: Yes, it's a great point, as you say, and speaks to how much of this got out of his control, even if he thought he was just sounding -- quote, unquote -- "tough."

I want both our panelists to stay with me. We have a special guest coming up and to get into this.

I do want to remind everyone, conventions, of course, as Katty was just saying, are about the nominee, but they're also about traditionally what the party supports. That's why both parties have the leadership write out principles and platforms at every convention.

We have seen legendary battles about what's in the platform, from civil rights to guns to abortion.

So, in an unusual move, which really does capture Trumpism's control of the GOP right now, this year, Republicans aren't debating any platform issues, because they're literally scrapping any platform at all, the convention announcing it will -- quote -- "adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention."

Call it a surrender in the battle of ideas, if you want.

I'm going to bring in Pulitzer Prize-winning author and reporter George Will, conservative columnist for "The Washington Post" and the author of the book "The Conservative Sensibility."

Good to see you, George.


MELBER: You are someone who's always been interested in these ideas and what parties stand for.

What does it say to you that there is no platform at all?

WILL: Well, it's not on the shortest platform in American political history. It's the most honest. It's brutally candid.

It says: We are a cult of personality. And our policy is to do whatever Mr. Trump wants to do, never mind his versatility of convictions, because he's -- no one quite knows where he's going to go.

But this is -- there's no nonsense here about intellectual content. And to that extent, I think they should be saluted for candor.

MELBER: It's interesting when you say that. I'm going to read from some analysis of this.

It says, the Republican platform fiasco has gotten worse -- quote -- "The RNC has asserted its strong support for the president's agenda" -- I want to bring in a whole panel here -- "which might be more compelling," they say, "if the president had an agenda."

And so, George, to your observation, this is a tell that basically they think they can do this without any political costs, right, that, George, they don't think anyone's going to on their side care that there's not even an attempt to write down what they stand for this year.

WILL: Well, you have a platform when you're ready to have platform debates.

And you have platform debates when there are factions within the party that need to reconcile and compromise. Today, the Republican Party is more united, more homogeneous ideologically than at any time since Teddy Roosevelt ran against William Howard Taft in 1912.

This party is more Donald Trump's party than it ever was Ronald Reagan's party. And Ronald Reagan got to a point where he had about 80 percent of Republicans supporting him. Trump is into the 90s, in part because a lot of Republicans are no longer Republicans. That's one way you get a pure party, is by shedding an awful lot of people who are not prepared to be part of the homogenization.

MELBER: Brittney?

COOPER: Donald Trump is very dangerous, because, at this point, he is bold and arrogant. He doesn't respect his base enough to even pander to them by offering a platform.

As, Mr. Will said, it's just a cult of personality, but also he has so eroded our public life and our public discourse, that he's not even acting as though he's coming to the table with any terms to debate. He's simply going to assault us with lies.

And I think that what we also need to be clear about is that the Republican Party does have a platform under Trump.

And that platform is to assault people of color, to assault and underfund the poor, to attack public institutions like the post office, to terrorize people at our borders, to ruin our foreign policy around the world, to pull us out of climate change, so that we're in a worse position than we have ever been, to literally do the opposite of what Trump campaigned that he would do.

This is the worst version of America that we have seen since my people were enslaved 150 years ago, because there's no breath anywhere for anybody. There is no actual debate. There's just demagoguery on one side and an attempt to be reasonable on the other.

And what you know is like, if you're -- if you have ever been in an argument with an unreasonable person, where you're trying to have a reasonable discussion, and they're just yelling their position, there is no way to do anything with that.

And that's all that Trump is doing. And that means that we're in a terrible position here.

MELBER: Katty, what do you think about this, again, rather unusual thing?

I mean, historians, political scientists, they dig through platforms for all the reasons discussed. The notion that the logical advancement of Trumpism in the Republican Party was not necessarily writing down what Brittney just spoke about or what Mr. Will mentioned, George Will mentioned, as well, but, rather, is just saying, no, we don't have to write anything down. We're whatever he says, wherever it goes.

KAY: Yes.

I mean, when I heard that news, I kind of had a flashback to Cleveland in 2016. I mean, imagine you were there. And the one issue of the Republican platform that got any news attention at all back in 2016 was the watering down of the Republican Party's position when it came to Russia.

MELBER: That's right.

KAY: And I -- part of me wondered whether, actually, this time around, they didn't want to have a discussion about a platform because it had got negative publicity for Donald Trump back in 2016.

And perhaps the president said, listen, I just don't want to even have the platform being discussed, because I certainly don't want it to be any discussion about Russia again.

MELBER: That's a great point you raise.

And it's a reminder, George, of why the platform does matter. I mean, that was both something that ended up in the Mueller investigation, but also spoke to having to stand for something.

I'm curious, as a final thought, George Will, what would you recommend viewers and citizens keep in mind if they watch part of this convention this week?

WILL: I think they should be listening for the recrudescence of George Wallace.

Watch for the president to go on and on about suburbs and how he is going to protect the suburbs from the invasion of high-density, low-income housing, protect our suburbs, protect your property value, protect your schools.

This matters, because he knows that the suburbs are crucial to his future. A majority of the people of Georgia live in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Texas is five of the 20 largest American cities with an enormous suburban population.

Arizona, which the Democrats haven't carried since '96, and before '96, it was 1948 that they carried it, Arizona must be one of the most suburban states in the nation.

Let me give you a couple interesting statistic. Mesa, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, is larger than Saint Louis. Tempe, Arizona, another suburb of Phoenix, larger than Providence, Rhode Island, Scottsdale larger than Richmond, Virginia or Birmingham, Alabama, Glendale larger than Des Moines or Salt Lake City.

These are enormous concentrations of suburban voters, and Donald Trump is being massacred there. And he thinks the way to win them back is to say their entire way of life is threatened.

I think that's going to be a heavy lift. But he has no other choice.

MELBER: Really interesting, a warning from George Will tonight, to put it bluntly, against those who would appeal to Wallace-style segregationism in their political arguments.

George Will, always good to see you, sir. Brittney Cooper, Katty Kay, my thanks to each of you.

Right now, we go to the shortest break in THE BEAT, 30 seconds.

When we come back, protests after an officer caught on tape shooting a black man in the back. We have that story night.

Later, the Trump Organization under investigation, Eric Trump apparently taking the Fifth.

And bombshell reporting on how FOX News is taking more control of the Trump White House.

We will be back in 30 seconds.


MELBER: New heat on Donald Trump's family over this New York investigation of both President Trump and the Trump Organization's finances.

It grew out of Michael Cohen testifying that his former boss inflated assets for things like loans or insurance coverage. Now the company's vice president, Eric Trump, is refusing to appear at all. And the reports are, he was actually scheduled for an interview last month. Investigators believe he likely has information relevant to the inquiry.

The Trump Organization respond to this request, saying: "We cannot allow the requested interview to go forward." And they cite Eric Trump's constitutional rights.

We're going to get into that a moment. The New York A.G. asking a judge to now order him to testify under oath.

Now, in a new statement, the Trump Org says that it's simply a dispute over documents and they reiterate they don't think they have done -- quote -- "anything wrong."

I'm joined now by former acting Solicitor General of the United States Neal Katyal.

Good to see you, sir.


MELBER: This is one of those times where, on the one hand, everyone has their constitutional rights. So, we don't make giant attacks on people exercising them.

On the other, if this were just a document dispute, as the Trump Org claims, it would seem that you could normally work that out. Donald Trump himself, the most litigious person to ever occupy the office, they know how to do that.

So what do you see is the significance here of this invocation of constitutional rights?

KATYAL: Yes, Ari, this is not some minor document dispute, by any stretch. Otherwise, we wouldn't be invoking the fifth -- Eric Trump wouldn't be invoking the Fifth Amendment.

There's a legal dimension here and there's a political dimension. Legally, you might remember there were a pair of cases going to the Supreme Court, criminal cases about Trump, one from Congress, in which I always said wasn't going to be as big of a threat, because even if that congressional investigation found something criminal, Bill Barr had to do the indicting, and he doesn't seem -- he passes out get-out-of-jail cards to the Trump administration like candy.

But there was also a New York Manhattan district attorney case. And that is the one that the Supreme Court really resoundingly decided against Trump. Now, today, you have a civil action by the New York attorney general.

And what the New York attorney general is saying is, look, your own lawyer, the Trump -- Donald Trump's own personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified in Congress that there was inflation of assets going on. We want to know about that. Eric, tell us about it.

And what did Eric Trump do? Nothing. He decided to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Now, of course, that's his constitutional right to do so. But it's not something that government officials or family members of government officials or presidents invoke, for a very good reason. It makes you look guilty.

I mean, here you have got Trump's own lawyer saying, you have done all this stuff that's wrong. And an ordinary person would go and clear it up and say, of course not. That's all lied up -- it's all made up.

But not of that happened. And it's a pattern with these Trumps. They're always afraid to face the music. Donald Trump refused to testify to Mueller. Now you have got Eric Trump, his son, doing the same thing.

MELBER: Yes, and that's the backdrop for the convention tonight, Neal, where you have multiple cases in New York. As mentioned, one looks more civil, which means, to put it simply, not as big a deal, but still could be very important or could change in its nature over time.

The other, as we pointed out, that you initially told viewers was going to be fast and potentially be a big deal, which was, as mentioned, the Supreme Court victory on the tax case, which clears that up.

At what point does it look like, regardless of what happens in November -- nobody knows -- the Trump Organization and Donald Trump and his family are going to have these legal trains bearing down on them here for the foreseeable future in New York?

KATYAL: I think the music is coming regardless, because, even if Trump won a second term, these are state prosecutions in which the U.S. Justice Department and the president's pardon power won't matter.

And, politically, Ari, what you're saying is also really damaging too, because remember Donald Trump's best argument against Joe Biden is Biden's son Hunter. And that's what -- remember, Trump tried to get conspiring with the Ukrainians, information about Hunter and so on.

Now things have really changed. Now it looks like if Trump wants to play the son game and the wrongdoing by the son, he's going to have to look in the mirror himself. And so that's one political dimension.

The other is just the kind of raw inequity here. If you or I, in applying for a home mortgage or a car loan, inflated our assets to the way that these folks are do -- are accused of doing, we'd be in jail.

One of the one of the things New York is investigating is the Westchester County property by Trump which Trump assessed at $261 million at the same time as the state authorities said it was $20 million.

That's a very serious abuse of credit reporting and things like that. And, of course, that's the kind of thing, when we're filling out those forms, ordinary Americans, we struggle to get it right. We might even hire appraisers, and so on.

The last thing we do is inflate it multiple-fold. So I think the New York attorney general's absolutely right to be investigating all this stuff. And it does look very bad for Trump, both legally and politically.

MELBER: All really interesting.

The other big thing I haven't heard from you yet on, on THE BEAT is that arrest and indictment of Steve Bannon. He came back out punching and said, this is all political attacks, basically, the argument you might make to a jury that, even if something was off, the only reason this happened was because he's a high-profile Trump supporter.

Does that get him anywhere? What's your view of his case?

KATYAL: No, it gets him nowhere with a jury, a judge, the law, none of that.

It's the same kind of Trump excuse every time any of these folks are caught. It might -- he's obviously shopping for a pardon. And, again, this is a prosecution brought by Bill Barr's Justice Department from the Southern District of New York.

And I suppose he's trying to get the Roger Stone deal, like every other member of the Trump administration at this point, a commutation or something like that.

MELBER: Really all very interesting.

Neal Katyal, always good to have you.

Let me remind everyone you can go to for our series of legal breakdowns with Neal.

Now, coming up, a new bombshell about Donald Trump and FOX News, and what people really think about their increasing control of his agenda. We actually have journalist Brian Stelter as a special guest.

Also, protests in Wisconsin after an officer-involved shooting. Children were watching. We're going to get into that later this hour.


MELBER: This week's RNC will showcase what today's Republican Party cares about. People can debate about whether what they see is good or bad, but the party's priorities will be on display.

And many of them break all modern precedents, a party that often talked to patriotic public service not even featuring a speech by its most recent president or past nominees, nor even some top Republican senators, because they're not Trumpy enough, allegedly.

Meanwhile, it's setting aside time for a Trump family member to speak every night. And its resolution canceling this year's platform, which we were just discussing, well, it also takes time to blast the press, arguably elevating media criticism as more important than written policy to a political party.

Tonight, there's also new reports that it was media criticism on Bill Barr's mind when he personally demanded Rupert Murdoch muzzle a FOX analyst who said Trump broke the law. That was Judge Napolitano drawing notice with appearances like this:


ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS JUDICIAL ANALYST: It is a crime for the president to solicit aid for his campaign from a foreign government.

SHEPARD SMITH, FORMER FOX NEWS ANCHOR: So that would be a -- that to which the president has admitted is, in and of itself, a crime?

NAPOLITANO: Yes. This is about as direct and profound a violation of the Emoluments Clause as one could create.

It's clearly impeachable, because the president requested something that's criminal to ask for. Can you help my campaign?

I think the Democrats do still have a case. But it's clear from what Ambassador Sondland testified yesterday that there was an understanding that the president wanted some things from the Ukraine.


MELBER: DOJ denies that Bill Barr requested to censor any of that.

But this report is among several striking accounts by journalist Brian Stelter. He documents how Sean Hannity has become an off-the-book, unaccountable shadow chief of staff to Trump, producing the presidency, counseling Trump at all hours of the day, as White House aides begrudge the fact that Hannity seems to have more power.

But they still watch Hannity because they need to know what mood Trump will be in.

Now, you may ask, OK, Ari, but is this just media reporting on media? Stelter says no. He offers evidence that life-and-death government decisions can be traced back to Donald Trump listening to Hannity, like the false claim that the virus would disappear originating with Sean Hannity.

Now, look, these are strange times. Even before Donald Trump entered politics, America had clearly entered the most mediated, entertainment-saturated celebrity era ever. Now the government is literally run by someone who measures results through ratings.

In 2017, that was absurd. In 2020, this new reporting reminds everyone it's actually dangerously absurd.

We turn now -- and it's a very special thing -- the author of the book I mentioned, "Hoax," by former "New York Times" reporter and current CNN anchor Brian Stelter, who, I should mention, burst onto the reporting scene quite young, making waves as far back as 2006 as the 21-year-old creator of TVNewser, if you remember back then.

BRIAN STELTER, AUTHOR, "HOAX": And this one-time critic of the media has become the media.

Thanks for coming on THE BEAT, your first time.

STELTER: Thank you.

I did have a lot more hair back when I started blogging about TV news. But I guess that just goes to show I have been covering FOX News for a long time, Ari.



MELBER: And losing your hair over it. We will credit you on that.

You got a lot of interesting stuff in the book. You're a writer first. You came to TV from writing,.

But ,big picture, do you ever sit -- would you ever sit there, having steeped yourself in all this, the FOX News coverage, the reporting, what you learned from inside the White House, and say, wait a minute, this whole situation is just supremely and dangerously bizarre?

STELTER: It's absurd, but it's also dangerous. It's ridiculous, but it's also scary. It's both and all of those things at the same time.

And that's why, Ari, I wouldn't have written this book back in the 2010s, whatever we used to call those the 2000s. I would not have written this 10 or five years ago.

Something has changed at FOX News. The network has moved from being conservative, which is great. There's lots of room for conservative media. It's moved into this conspiratorial, extreme place, largely led by Donald Trump.

He gradually took control of the network, because there was a leadership vacuum. And now he has a propaganda machine the likes of which nobody in this country has ever seen before.

MELBER: Yes, and part of what you document is the way the dual role works.

So, take all of the scandal over Russia and Mueller. And people -- as everyone knows, people went to prison over that. National security was involved. It's a big deal, even if you think that some people think that Donald Trump really didn't rise to a conspiracy, and we reported on that with Mueller's ultimate findings.

But on the FOX side, you report, Sean Hannity actually knew about this Don Jr.-Manafort June 9 Trump Tower meeting more than a week before "The New York Times." You say he -- quote -- "He strategized with the Trumps about how to keep it from coming out and what to say if it did."

What does that tell you about Sean Hannity's role?

STELTER: That Sean Hannity is not a newsman. He's a stop-the-news man. He's not about the media. He's anti-media. He's anti-journalism.

And there's room for that, I guess, if that's what viewers want. But it looks like news, it smells like news, and tens of millions of people think it is news. One-third of the country is disconnected from the normal news system, the NBCs and "The New York Times"es of the world, and they have opted into this alternative reality led by Trump.

And that is something that Trump didn't do, but he's taken advantage of it. And men like Hannity should know better. Men like Hannity should be tethered to the truth. But we are far from that situation now.

MELBER: When you document that, then, people who watch Sean Hannity and FOX News, as you say, they may be well aware that they're getting a view.


MELBER: And the First Amendment certainly protects all of that.

But you're talking about a deceit that I don't think all of those viewers would understand, which is, they would think that, if he has hot information about this Trump Tower meeting, whatever his angle on it may be, he may still draw from that information that Trump didn't do anything wrong.

But that information itself would come out through his powerful platform, where he reveals, allegedly, information every night.


MELBER: And yet you're documenting that it looks like more of what, a cover-up?

STELTER: And, if nothing else, that he would call his colleagues at FOX News, tell the journalists there, tell the White House reporters, give them a tip, give them a scoop.

I mean, frankly, that's how it works at other news organizations. But it doesn't work that way at FOX, because Hannity is anti-journalism, and he is causing this anti-media movement in the country.

I had to write this book because so many journalists at FOX are concerned about the network. They went to me and said that -- they started leaking to me and said, this place has changed. It's off the rails. It's dangerous to democracy.

So, honestly, I hope people buy the book and read what I think, but I really hope they read what the FOX insiders think, more than 140 FOX staffers and 180 people that used to work there or are on the periphery, they're agents, they're executives, people who know FOX.

It's really notable. This reporting has been out for a couple days. There's been no denial from FOX about the thrust of the reporting, because I believe they know it to be true.

For example, Hannity saying that Trump is crazy. He's privately telling people Trump is crazy. Well, Hannity's friends and colleagues, they all know that's what Hannity really thinks.

MELBER: That's what your reporting found. You're saying they're not denying that. And you're saying those are essentially multiple-source secondhand accounts that he both goes along with this, but Sean Hannity sees himself as the sane one.

STELTER: But has his own concerns about Trump, right, that he's concerned about Trump...

MELBER: And he sees himself as the sane one in the Hannity-Trump friendship.

STELTER: Yes. I liked your banner earlier. It said "Vice President Hannity?" because he has all these different roles.

He's a confidant. He's a counselor. He's a spokesman. He's an adviser. That's not the way the media should work. The country deserves a stronger, more reality-based conservative channel.

MELBER: Interesting.

And I appreciate only Brian Stelter is inside an interview, also watching the live banners, and also doing...

STELTER: I am watching your banners.

They just put it back up, Ari. I love that.

MELBER: And do it -- Vice President Hannity, which is what you say people are seeing him, as really the number two in the whole administration. He just doesn't happen to have a desk at the White House.

I want to play a little bit of something that is both odd or goofy, but also speaks to the priorities of the president of the United States, Donald Trump doesn't know certain things. And I think we're all familiar with those pockets of ignorance.

But, boy, does he know the lineup at FOX. Take a look.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Lou Dobbs, the great Lou Dobbs, he says that, right?

Sean Hannity says that, the dims, Sean Hannity.


TRUMP: Judge Jeanine says that, doesn't she?

Laura. How good has Laura been, right?

Do we like Tucker? I like Tucker? How about Steve Doocy? How about Ainsley, Brian? We got a lot of great friends.


MELBER: What does that tell you?

STELTER: He rates the "FOX & Friends" host. Ainsley Earhardt is a 10. Steve Doocy is A 12. Gosh. Brian Kilmeade used to be a six. Now he is a nine.

It tells me that he's addicted to this network. And he's addicted to something that doesn't help him. It hurts him. I know he thinks they're doing them a service, but they're actually doing them a disservice, because he's misinformed so often, whether it's about North Korea, whether it's about Portland, Oregon, and everywhere in between.

He gets bad information from FOX. It would be different if he was getting really helpful, useful intel, but he's not. He's getting grievance politics. He's getting culture wars. He's getting the hoax of the day.

And then I actually think it ultimately hurts his presidency quite a bit.

MELBER: And final question.

Obviously, full disclosure, I'm here in the media, you're in the media. But that doesn't mean we should ignore the self-critical issues. What do you say to conservatives -- I hear this from sources -- I'm sure you do as well -- who say, OK, FOX, like Donald Trump, may go too far, but, they argue, much of the traditional press, print and TV, they view as more sympathetic to the resistance, and stocked with people who they claim haven't -- have views that track more against Donald Trump than for?

And that FOX is the one -- maybe they and OAN -- OAN -- excuse me -- are the one places that have to do all the conservatism because it's them against the rest of the press. And they would -- some of them would include this channel and yours in that critique.

STELTER: I would say MSNBC benefits when there's a healthy conservative ecosystem. The world benefits when there's a healthy conservative media ecosystem.

But what insiders of FOX said to me is, we don't have standards and practices. We don't have checks and balances. We don't have the kind of journalistic standards that other networks do. And that's problem. That actually hurts us. It hurts our credibility.

So, I would say, this is coming from FOX folks who say, we should be better. We shouldn't have propaganda every night from Hannity. We should have more real journalism.

And you know why it mattered the most, Ari? When the pandemic upended our lives, because FOX did a disservice to the public by downplaying the pandemic.

Even though they were stocking up on hand sanitizer internally, even though they were building home studios like the one that I'm in, on the air, they were talking about this like it was the flu, and that had life-and-death consequences.

MELBER: I appreciate you making that point.

And that's something that's well beyond red, blue, whatever. You're talking about the safety of people, people who happen to be viewers, people who happen to be elderly, and may watch FOX, people who just are trying to understand the world around us.

And, as you say, they're getting disinformation that actually could make them less safe, or worse. That's really important.

Brian, you have an interesting book on your hands. Your debut on THE BEAT. As we say in the business, I hope you will come back when you're contractually allowed.

STELTER: I will bring a verse next time. OK? I will drop a beat next time.

MELBER: Do you have a verse, if you bring it up? Do you have one?

STELTER: No, I have none. That's why I said next time. I have got nothing.

MELBER: Nothing.

Well, I would say, when it comes to what's really going on at FOX, if you don't know, now you know.

STELTER: Yes, you give it to me.

MELBER: That's Biggie Smalls.

Brian Stelter, the book is "Hoax." And it comes out tomorrow. You can get it, "Hoax: Donald Trump, FOX News" and those dangerous distortions.

Up ahead, we have a lot more stories that are important that we haven't gotten to yet, including this shooting in Wisconsin, and new Black Lives Matter protests.

A black man was shot seven times in the back. His kids were in the car. We go live to Wisconsin next.

Stay with us.


MELBER: Turning now to an important story that we want you to be up to speed on, a police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, partly caught on tape.

Police officers shooting a black man in the back several times. This was around 5:00 p.m. yesterday. Jacob Blake now fighting for his life.

Now, an eyewitness captured video of the moment Blake was shot while entering his car. We should note his children were in that vehicle.

NBC News has not confirmed what occurred before this partial recording started. But it's important to see the evidence as it's coming in.

And a warning, as always: This is the kind of video that is graphic. We paused the video there at the initial moment of impact. Blake is a 29-year-old father of three. His sons, ages 3, 5, and 8, were all in the car where you just saw that shooting take place.

Protests already breaking out last night, a curfew now issued for 8:00 p.m. in the city tonight. Wisconsin National Guard is called in for this. The officers are now on administrative leave. State officials are investigating.

Now, as you may know, from living through this, as we report, in many of these cases, we see the initial response from government officials, by the way, in either party, is to rush to defend the police officers or take on a fundamentally neutral tone.

And there may be times where they believe that is the right thing to do. But we are seeing changes in these stories. We try to bring you that context as things change. And we are hearing something different here in the initial reaction from the state's lieutenant governor.


LT. GOV. MANDELA BARNES (D-WI): And let me be clear. This was not an accident. This wasn't bad police work. This felt like some sort of vendetta being taken out on a member of our community.


MELBER: We're joined now on this important story by Wisconsin state Senator LaTonya Johnson.

Thanks for joining me.

STATE SEN. LATONYA JOHNSON (D-WI): Thank you so much for having me.

MELBER: Absolutely.

These are very important incidents, when we learn about them. We don't have all the evidence. What do you see that's important in the evidence that is available here?

JOHNSON: What we see with the evidence that's available is that this has happened too many times here -- both here and Wisconsin and across the country.

Myself and state Representative Chris Taylor in 2014 started working on legislation known as the use of force legislative reform, because of all the shootings that we had witnessed here in Wisconsin with members of color and the police departments.

We started working on that legislation in 2014 with the death of Dontre Hamilton. Then, in 2015, with the death of Tony Robinson, it became even more relevant, and then, in 2016, with Sylville Smith, which sparked Milwaukee's first riot in 2016.

What we have noticed is that, despite this legislation being introduced for over two sessions, our Republican colleagues have refused to even give it a hearing. Even with the governor calling for special sessions to do something around use of force, we haven't seen our Republican colleagues act.

And that's a huge issue.

MELBER: Let me join the point you're making, because you're talking about whether this is an incident. Bill Barr recently testified, oh, these are -- quote -- "isolated incidents."

And you're talking about how, in your state, Wisconsin, it's the opposite. We will put this on the screen. In the last full year of numbers, 2019, you had an all-time high in these kind of incidents.


MELBER: And so you see this here, 32 officer-involved shootings, highest annual total record, obviously an issue there, as it is in so many places in the country.

I want to play a little bit from Laquisha Booker, who is Mr. Blake's fiancee, about that incident that we saw. Take a look.


LAQUISHA BOOKER, FIANCEE OF JACOB BLAKE: This is just insane that you treat somebody like that who are not armed, not giving no problems.

He ain't thrown no punch or nothing. What, you mad because you Tased him and he didn't bend, he didn't break, he bought it out?

So you felt intimidated because you had a gun, so you used it? You overused it. That's what you did. You shot him numerous times for no reason. It didn't take all that. Disregard that my kids was in the car at all. And you knew they was in there, because I kept screaming it.

So that's not important to you all. What's important is killing somebody.


MELBER: Raw, raw remarks, I think Americans can probably try to understand because of the video that was seen there and the kids in the car.

What do you see in the police work that occurred where the individual was shot in the back?

JOHNSON: We don't know all the aspects of what led up to the situation.

But what we did witness was that an African-American man who was getting into his car that didn't have any visible weapons was shot seven times in the back in front of his children.

Not only is it traumatic for me as an adult and a state elected to watch, but I can't imagine the trauma that it's caused his kids, as well as the trauma that it's caused our community.

Some people would say that legislation doesn't govern every single situation. And I get that. But there's no reason why we should not be doing everything that we can in this state to make those occurrences more safe.

And that's what we were saying.

There is no unified state reforms around use of force, meaning that life should be preserved. And if deadly force is used, the least amount necessary to stop the threat should be used. We don't have those as written policies.

So, a lot of times we see what we get. We get piecemeals, where different departments around the state get to decide what it is that they want to adopt and toss the rest away.

This calls for uniform practices around the state to make sure that we don't keep finding ourselves in the same situation.

MELBER: Right.

No, and I appreciate the emphasis you have put on the night, which is reminding viewers who may not be caught up on -- in this individual state what the trend lines are there, all-time highs in '19, and the work that's being offered to try to actually fix the systemic problem.

We're going to stay on this story, like other ones that we have covered, obviously, sad, to say the least.

Senator Johnson, thank you.

JOHNSON: Thank you so much.

MELBER: Of course. Appreciate it.

We're going to fit in a break.

When we come back, we're going to go in a totally different direction, and something we think could be interesting, which is why, of all people, Jerry Seinfeld is standing up and defending New York in the time of the pandemic, with optimism that may apply all through the country -- when we come back.



JERRY SEINFELD, ACTOR: Again with the sweatpants?


JASON ALEXANDER, ACTOR: I'm comfortable.

SEINFELD: You know the message you're sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You're telling the world, I give up.


MELBER: Seinfeld always puts it clearly.

He's out with a positive defense of his beloved New York City at a time when a lot of people may want to pull up the sweatpants and just kind of give up on a lot of things, especially when it comes to Manhattan and COVID.

Well, Jerry is out with a "New York Times" piece. And in his characteristic voice, he mocks the recent talk about 2020 being so terrible that people want to go backwards, saying: The last thing we need is wailing and whimpering. Everyone's gone. I want 2019 back.

He says that. And he reminds people why there's no comparison for bringing people physically together, whether that's gatherings in a safe way or in a giant city like Manhattan, which he believes will rebound.

Jerry Seinfeld also says -- quote -- "New York is over because everybody will remote everything? No," he says. "You know why? There's no energy, attitude and personality that can be remoted through even the best fiberoptic lines."

Seinfeld continues to say, that's the whole reason many of us moved to New York in the first place.

And when Seinfeld finishes, he basically says -- quote -- "This virus will give up eventually. We're going to keep going with New York City, if that's all right with you."

Jerry Seinfeld gets our last word. And it's a spirit that could be applied across America.

And, tonight, we will have coverage of night one of the RNC on MSNBC, of course, with all of our great anchors. And, if you're up late, I will be back at 1:00 a.m. Eastern.

Right now, it's Joy Reid on "THE REIDOUT."


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