February 7th, 2016
02:03 PM ET

Larry Sabato on CNN's Reliable Sources: “There's no question about it. This isn't a close call"

Today on CNN’s Reliable Sources, Chris Moody, Senior Digital Correspondent for CNN Politics, Dylan Byers, CNN Senior Reporter for Media and Politics, Doug Heye, former RNC Communications Director and Larry Sabato, Director at the Center for Politics, University of Virginia joined host Brian Stelter to discuss Ted Cruz’s falsifications about CNN’s reporting.

MANDATORY CREDIT for reference and usage: “CNN’S RELIABLE SOURCES”

Contact: Emily Kuhn, Emily.Kuhn@turner.com

 

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS:

Chris Moody, Senior Digital Correspondent for CNN Politics on his scoop from Monday night that reported Ben Carson was not traveling straight to New Hampshire following the end of the Iowa Caucuses: “The reporting stands on its own.  I don't have to necessarily comment or extrapolate on it…….Let me give you a tick-tock about what happened that night.  I was assigned to cover Carson's victory party in West Des Moines, in Iowa.  His campaign, two sources told me on the record told me that instead of going straight to New Hampshire or straight to South Carolina as most candidates do, he’s going to take just a short, brief rest.  They described it as a deep breath, by going home to Florida, get his affairs in order, and head to Washington, D.C., for the National Prayer Breakfast.  Then, after that, head to New Hampshire for the debate. And so, I reported all of those things in order.  He's going to Florida.  He's - then I said, he's not dropping out.  Ted Cruz's campaign cherry-picked part of that information, and not only sent messages to precinct captain on e-mail but also called and said he's suspending campaigning - which is something I or no one else at CNN ever said.  We also had a story on CNNPolitics.com that had all of that information. So, either Ted Cruz's campaign just stopped reading, or - as others have said, it was something that was misleading intentionally.

Larry Sabato, Director, UVA Center for Politics on the controversy surrounding the Cruz campaign’s actions during the Iowa Caucuses and his assertions about CNN: “Oh, there's no question about it.  This isn't a close call.  Cruz is to blame - Cruz and his staff.

Sabato on the spread of falsifications in the 2016 campaign:  “Brian, I think one of the most disturbing things about a very disturbing election cycle, for me, has been the growth of this idea that somehow we're in a post-factual era.  Well, God help us if we're in a post-factual era."

Moody on Cruz’s false assertions about CNN’s reporting: “But again, it was never reported on CNN television, digital, or social media that Ben Carson was dropping out.  In fact, almost in the same breath, it was reported that he was staying in the race, the exact opposite."

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

 

BRIAN STELTER, CNN'S HOST OF RELIABLE SOURCES AND SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: …. That comment from Cruz spurred this response from CNN, quote, "What Senator Cruz said tonight in the debate is categorically false.  CNN never corrected its reporting because CNN never had anything to correct.  The Cruz campaign's actions the night of the Iowa caucuses had nothing to too with CNN's reporting.  The fact that Senator Cruz continues to knowingly mislead the voters about this is astonishing."

 

Joining me in New Hampshire this morning is Chris Moody, along with Dylan Byers, CNN senior reporter for media and politics.  In Washington, GOP strategist Doug Heye, a former RNC communications director.  And in Charlottesville, Virginia, Larry Sabato, director of the UVA Center for Politics.

 

Larry, let me ask you.  You're an independent voice, not a CNN person.  What do you think happened here?  Do you think Cruz is to blame, or is CNN to blame?

 

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UVA CENTER FOR POLITICS:  Oh, there's no question about it.  This isn't a close call.  Cruz is to blame - Cruz and his staff.

 

Now, look, everybody knows what he was doing.  He was shifting the blame to CNN for a dirty trick.  What was the reason for the dirty trick?  To get some of those Carson voters in the Iowa caucuses to switch to Cruz.  He was the second choice of many of the Carson voters.  It's perfectly obvious.

 

So, why did Cruz revert to the explanation that he himself had admitted was false last night in the debate?  Because he was at a Republican debate.  If there's one thing we know from a whole series of Republican debates over three, four cycles, it's that if you want to get out of a tight spot, blame the media.  The Republicans watching will almost always agree with you.

 

STELTER:  Dylan, do you agree that's the Cruz campaign strategy here?  And if so, is it going to be effective in New Hampshire?

 

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR REPORTER FOR MEDIA AND POLITICS:  Yes.  No, that's absolutely the Cruz campaign strategy here.  I think what's so baffling is how much they've sort of gone back and forth over this issue.  And they've also seen that it's an issue that CNN is not sort of going to take sitting down.

 

I mean, when the Cruz campaign first tried to throw CNN under the bus, there was a very aggressive response from the network, pointing out the facts saying, no, that's just factually not true.  Of course, ultimately, Ted Cruz relents and he says CNN got it right.  And then, now, he goes back up on the debate stage and says it again.

 

The calculation is certainly that the majority of viewers watching ABC News at home, you know, Republican voters, are not going to be going to CNN to see the fact check and see whether or not that's true.  But, of course, now, this is becoming such a story in its own right that it - that it - it feeds into this perception, you know, the one that Donald Trump has tried to pin on Ted Cruz for a long time that he's not a likeable guy, that he doesn't tell the truth.

 

And why he would want to feed into that perception when the facts aren't on your side is a campaign strategy that I - I just can't understand.

 

STELTER:  Doug, do you think this hurts Cruz?

 

DOUG HEYE, FORMER RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  Yes, I do.  If the battle was truly just between Ted Cruz and the media, Cruz would win.  But it's really between Ted Cruz and Ben Carson.  I was in Des Moines -

 

STELTER:  Ah, interesting.

 

HEYE:  - on Monday night.  And I saw Chris Moody's tweet.  The conversation initially was, what is Ben Carson doing?

 

By the end of the night and the morning, the conversation was, what is - what is Ted Cruz and his campaign doing?  It hurts him because it knocks him off message.  It knocks him with Ben Carson supporters.

 

But it also says, you know, anybody who's worked on campaigns can talk about the volunteer who knocks over opponents' signs.  That's not serious.  This is serious.  And it looks to be with so many iterations of it to be coordinated.

 

And for Ted Cruz, his real challenge is he's past the point of where they can get out in front of this.  They've got to get this behind them, and that won't be easy.

 

STELTER:  Chris, let me ask you because you haven't actually talked about your reporting from that night before now.  This information you reported exclusively, this actually came from the Carson campaign, didn't it?

 

CHRIS MOODY, CNN SENIOR DIGITAL CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, Brian.  Let me give you a tick-tock about what happened that night.  I was assigned to cover Carson's victory party in West Des Moines, in Iowa.  His campaign, two sources told me on the record told me that instead of going straight to New Hampshire or straight to South Carolina as most candidates do, he’s going to take just a short, brief rest.  They described it as a deep breath, by going home to Florida, get his affairs in order, and head to Washington, D.C., for the National Prayer Breakfast.  Then, after that, head to New Hampshire for the debate.

 

And so, I reported all of those things in order.  He's going to Florida.  He's - then I said, he's not dropping out.

 

Ted Cruz's campaign cherry-picked part of that information, and not only sent messages to precinct captain on e-mail but also called and said he's suspending campaigning - which is something I or no one else at CNN ever said.  We also had a story on CNNPolitics.com that had all of that information.

 

So, either Ted Cruz's campaign just stopped reading, or - as others have said, it was something that was misleading intentionally.

 

STELTER:  I’m curious what it's been like for you, Chris, to see your reporting maybe twisted in this way.  It must be a strange experience to be talked about on a presidential campaign stage.

 

MOODY:  Well, certainly is.  But the reporting stands on its own.  I don't have to necessarily comment or extrapolate on it.

 

STELTER:  Right.

 

MOODY:  It is what it is, and it's truth.  There's nothing more I really have to necessarily say to really defend it.

 

Now, here's the problem is that the facts were true, but as you know in politics, many times, people can extrapolate from that and draw wrong conclusions.

 

Ted Cruz's campaign drew that wrong conclusion, ignored the other half of the sentence basically, and then blamed me for their wrong conclusion, saying that I had reported what they were telling everyone else.  It all got lost in the speed that is an election night.

 

STELTER:  Yes.

 

MOODY:  Obviously, that's unfortunate for everyone involved.  But again, it was never reported on CNN television, digital, or social media that Ben Carson was dropping out.  In fact, almost in the same breath, it was reported that he was staying in the race, the exact opposite.

 

STELTER:  What was sort of intriguing to me by this whole story, Chris - and, Doug, let me go to you on this, is that it does to me feel like Carson's only sort of half running.  You know, I grew up in Maryland.  I’m a Marylander like Carson is, very fond of him over the years.

 

But it doesn't seem to me like he is campaigning as aggressively as some of the others.  So, there was a kernel of truth to the idea that he was going to go home and take a deep breath.  And as Chris was saying, it was manipulated, maybe twisted by the Cruz campaign.

 

But isn't there something here, Doug, to the idea that Carson is not campaigning as aggressively as the others?

 

HEYE:  Well, Carson's never campaigned in the same way that everybody else has.  But it's still a rare - a big mistake by a campaign that's made very few of them.  I’ve been really impressed by the Cruz campaign.

 

But this is something they should have tamped down on day one, maybe day two.  But we're now almost a week into this, and it's pretty clear we'll be talking about this for several more days, in part because of what Ted Cruz said last night.  It's a big mistake by a campaign that's made very few.

 

STELTER:  I want to show a couple of other fact-checkers, because you shouldn't take CNN's word for this, you should do your own research.  Here's what "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" and "PolitiFact" all said.  "The New York Times", wrote, "Don't blame CNN."  "Washington Post", "PolitiFact", we'll show you the others, as well.

 

I do wonder, Larry, if the bottom line about there is about fact-checking - about whether fact-checking is taken seriously by voters and news organizations, and how you feel that's going in this presidential election cycle.

 

SABATO:  Brian, I think one of the most disturbing things about a very disturbing election cycle, for me, has been the growth of this idea that somehow we're in a post-factual era.  Well, God help us if we're in a post-factual era.

 

It is incumbent upon media organizations like CNN, all the other networks, newspapers, blogs, to go after the candidates hard when they misrepresent the facts.  Not just to print a box with a "PolitiFact" analysis, we love all "PolitiFact", I’m glad they’re there.  But you have to do what the candidates do - be repetitious, repetitious, repetitious, bring it up, make them deal with it until they either take it back or just admit they were wrong.

 

STELTER:  Real quickly, Dylan, do you think it's possible we'll see news outlets be more forceful in the way that CNN's statement was last night?  Could we see more muscular fact-checking in the next few months?

 

I know a lot of viewers would like to see news outlets make clear, strong statements when there are misstatements made by candidates.

 

BYERS:  Well, look, that's a great question.  And the sort of fact-checking industry I would say has never been so strong.  But, look, the point is exactly right - It almost doesn't matter if a candidate doesn't pick up the ball and run with it.

 

CNN, "The New York Times," "PolitiFact", "Washington Post" fact checker, they can all go out there and they can all do the work, and believe me, they are doing very diligent work.  But at a certain point, you know, these campaigns come down to a contest between candidates.

 

What you saw last night was Ted Cruz go after not a candidate but a news network, much the way that, you know, Donald Trump has been engaged in a war with FOX News of late.  And when the news network gets sort of dragged into this and the mudslinging is going toward news network, then you see that really robust response.

 

But, you know, when it comes to these bigger issues, the sort of really important stuff that some of these candidates might be misleading their viewers about, about the economy, foreign policy, their past records, you know, at a certain point, there's only so much news organizations can do.  Candidates really have to step up and sort of run with that ball and challenge their rivals on that, if we really want to see those things play out in the national media.

 

STELTER:  Gentlemen, thank you all for being here this morning.

 

We should mention to the viewers at home, we have invited a Cruz spokesperson on to CNN this morning, and they have declined to comment. 

 

###END INTERVIEW###

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