CNN’s Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter began this morning’s program with a heads-up – “This was not a normal week so this is not a normal show” – before raising questions he conceded were usually posed off the air: Is Donald Trump a racist? Ill? Unfit to serve?
Though Stelter’s questions – posed to a panel including reporter Carl Bernstein, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley and former Ted Cruz communication director Alice Stewart – weren’t as broadcast-verboten as he seemed to suggest, the debate was certainly blunter than usual. (Watch a clip below).
“In discussions among friends and family and social media, people are questioning the president’s fitness,” Stelter said at the top of his Sunday Beltway show, “but these conversations are happening in newsrooms and TV studios as well, usually after the microphones are off or after the stories are filed and the papers have been put to bed.”
“Is the president of the United States a racist? Is he suffering from some kind of illness? Is he fit for office? And if he is unfit, then what? We in the national news media can’t pretend like our readers and viewers aren’t already asking.”
Stelter said that, at least on air, the subjects are typically broached with code words like “unhinged” and “unpresidential,” with hot-mic slip-ups like last month’s conversation between Democratic Senator Jack Reed and Republican Senator Susan Collins raising the word “crazy.”
Asked by Stelter whether “objective journalists” – “I don’t mean opinion folks” – should raise the questions, Bernstein responded with a definite yes.
Bernstein said that he has “been raising questions as a journalist” in recent conversations with congressional Republicans as well as intelligence and military officials and business leaders. He said “many” of his interviewees have “openly questioned” Trump’s stability, and “in the last couple of weeks [it] has become a cascade, a torrent, a river of serious questions about whether the president of the United States is fit and stable enough to be president.”
While historian Brinkley called Trump “a sick man in the White House” and “not mentally stable,” CNN commentator Stewart wasn’t having it. The former Cruz spokeswoman said that much of the speculation about Trump was fueled by emotion after the Charlottesville violence.
“I view it as much more of a political issue than a medical issue,” she said of Trump’s stability and fitness.