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Syria and the Media; Obama's Syria Struggle; Twitter On The Campaign Trail; The Birth Of Longform Journalism; A New Era At The 'Washington Post'

Aired September 8, 2013 - 11:00   ET


FRANK SESNO, HOST: Around the world this week, the news about Syria raised questions about America. What are America's motives? Is it a nation of war or the great defender of human rights?

Public perception may hinge on where the news comes from.


STEVE DOOCY, ANCHOR: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave the president the United States what he wanted. The authority to use military might against Syria.

RACHEL MADDOW, ANCHOR: President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry keep asserting over and over again that they believe they have the right to go on their own, even if Congress says no.

GAYANE CHICHAKYAN, CORRESPONDENT: It seems that Washington's priority at the moment is to send a message to help the Syrian people a way out of their crisis.


SESNO: And if you're a fan of HBO's "The Newsroom," you know them, obsessed with social media. But a report this week from the real world says Twitter may be ruining presidential campaign coverage. We'll talk to the author of the report along with a campaign insider.

And Amazon's Jeff Bezos gets a look inside his very own "Washington Post." Former executive editor Len Downie was in the room and today he's here to discuss the future of the post and the future of news.

I'm Frank Sesno and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

Each day the United States debates the use of military force in Syria is another day that new imaging of war emerge online, in print, and on television. Now, fair warning, some viewers may find these images disturbing.

But earlier this week, new video posted on YouTube and around the world reported to show the impact of chemical weapons on children. Then, more video of attack aftermath first obtained by CNN on Saturday, 13 videos in all being shown to members of Congress. And then there was this image, published in Wednesday's "New York Times" claiming to be recent video showing Syrian soldiers about to be executed by rebel forces, perhaps the same rebel forces who would benefit from an American missile strike. "The Times" later said the video, that picture, was a year older that first reported.

We'll talk about the impact of images like these, whether they are reliable sources and how this story is getting told around the world.

We start with CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon, who is in Beirut, Lebanon.

Arwa, how is this story being portrayed by the various media there?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's quite interesting because when you look at the region, there's not a lot of independent TV stations or publications. Everything is either state-run or affiliated with one sort of political party or another. So, depending on which side of this, whether a nation or publication or network is with the Assad regime or with the opposition, they are either for or against a strike.

That being said, when we look at what's coming out of Syria, for example, Syrian state television has been broadcasting a multipart documentary that is focusing on America's relationship with the Middle East, playing this up very much as being yet another act of American aggression reminding people what happened to Iraq and also emphasizing this access of resistance that, in their view, extends from Iran through Syrian, through Lebanon, of course, access of resistance against Israel. It's an incredibly polarizing issue.

The other thing, too, when it comes to this region in particular is that conspiracy theories tend to dominate much more than the facts themselves, Frank.

SESNO: Talk about that conspiracy theory that is seen in much of the press. What's the theory? What's the conspiracy supposed to be?

DAMON: Well, it depends on who you are talking to and which publication it is, but people will say this is exactly what America wanted to see happen in the region, that American policy towards the Middle East is to create more chaos to keep Arab nations at their weakest, that it's all for the benefit of Israel and trying to make sure that any entity that could pose a threat to Israel, Hezbollah, for example, is being deliberately weakened.

They very much view this as being foreign meddling and that's what we're also hearing coming from the Syrians themselves. Remember, Bashar al Assad from the beginning was saying that this revolution against him was part of a foreign-backed conspiracy theory to try to weaken him because he was becoming such a formidable force in the region.

All that being said and done, though, when we talk to people here, they are absolutely terrified about what is going to be coming next because from everyone's perspective, whether the U.S. does or doesn't strike, there are going to be much more bloodier days ahead. Not just through Syria but other regions as well.

SESNO: Arwa, very briefly if I may because we're almost out of time for this segment, though.

How about the fundamentals of the story itself? That is the suffering of the Syrian people, the use of chemical weapons on children and others? Is that all being eclipsed in this coverage that you're talking about by American and its motives? What about the story itself?

DAMON: Well, again it goes back to which broadcaster it is or which publication is that you're dealing with. Is it getting coverage? Yes, absolutely.

But you also have those Syrian publications, the Iranians ones, for example, who are saying that this was all faked. The Syrian government has come out and said that all of those videos that you're seeing on YouTube, they were staged. That didn't even take place. So, it's very polarizing.

But at the same time when we've been speaking to the Lebanese about this, they do believe that a strike took place, a chemical strike took place. And a lot of them do want to see action being taken against them because those images are so incredibly difficult to look at and people are very worried that that could be repeated and even possibly repeated here in Lebanon.

So, there's a lot of concern at this point.

SESNO: Arwa Damon, thank you so much.

What is the impact of these images on public opinion around the world? How do news organizations decide whether they are legitimate? What impact do they have on government officials who must act?

Joining me here in Washington: Sara Sonenshine, who until recently was under secretary of state for public democracy and public affairs at the State Department, is now a distinguished fellow at the George Washington University.

Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at University of Maryland, and author of "The World Through Arab Eyes: Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East."

And Len Downie, former executive editor of "The Washington Post" and current vice president at large. He teaches at Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

Shibley Telhami, first to you, you heard Arwa Damon describing this mosaic kick of coverage, some of it riddled with conspiracy theory. You've looked at and studied it. What are the patterns and trends and the disparities that you see? SHIBLEY TELHAMI, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: First of all, you know, the coverage in the Arab media is very graphic, particularly a war on death. We see that.

This is not new. I saw the images and they are chilling. But, you know, even without chemical weapons, some of the images we watch of people mutilated has been constant.

So, the chemical weapons issue does not add a lot to what they have seen. So, in fact, Arab public opinion to the extent it's reacting, it's reacting over different issues as, you know, we heard in terms of the polarization, this is a time -- it's like the time of war here, when the media is absolutely polarized.

So, we see three issues. One is humanitarian, people who really see that Assad is attacking its own people and that's separate from the chemical weapons. Second, is the Sunni/Shiite divide and we see that intensely in the way the press covers it and reacts. And third, the Iranian Saudi competition, strategic competition, reflected also in the debate. And, finally, the reaction to the U.S. where people don't trust American's intentions even as they want something.

SESNO: That's what I was going to ask you about, this notion of the conspiracy theory that permeates a lot of the press coverage in the region. How prevalent is that?

TELHAMI: It's huge. And I think it's silly to talk about American credibility because frankly the public in the Arab world and governments in the Arab world don't trust what we say, meaning not our threats. They know we can use military power. They see our hands in everything small and big, whether it's in Egypt or Syria or somewhere else. It's not that we think that they are not acting. They think we are doing it all for the wrong reasons.

So, when we say we're doing it for chemical weapons, they simply don't believe it. And the conspiracy is mostly either related to Israel, or get this, even in Egypt -- it's related to the Muslim Brotherhood. We think we're saving the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria to come back next to Egypt.

SESNO: Len Downie, big problem in this world that the world is talking about. Is there precious little journalism on the ground to actually see and report on what's happening?

LEN DOWNIE, FORMER WASHINGTON POST EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes, that's just part of a kind of a double problem. Number one, trustworthy reporting is hard to come by, very few of them are there.

When a reporter is in Syria, they are often risking their lives being there without notice to the government. When they are allowed in by the government, you wonder what restrictions they are under.

So, there is this reliance -- increasing reliance on other sources of information, other sources of videos, other sources of pictures that are smuggled out of countries like that that arrived on the Internet and so on. SESNO: Tara Sonenshine, here's "The New York Times" from Thursday, September 5th, with this horrible, graphic picture of these reportedly Syrian soldiers on the ground about to be executed. It turns out that this was first identified as a picture from 2013. Now, "The New York Times" says it's from 2012.

OK. You're the undersecretary for public diplomacy. You're the one that has to convey America's story. A picture like this hits, a story like this hits. How does it change your day?

TARA SONENSHINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, firstly, if you work in government, media changes your day constantly because we live in a social media environment where every tweet, every piece of video may go viral.

What you interestingly didn't mention is that the next day, "The New York Times" has a still photo of victims of a gas attack and it's from Iraq in 1988. And so, here you have something that may be threatening to the position that we need to strike because the opposition is not coherent in this picture but on the next day, you have this. And the video you showed yesterday may not change hearts and minds in the Arab world, but I do think the chemical weapons issue for an American, even the European public is likely to move that hearts and minds meter.

SESNO: Len Downie, back to you on the issue of the dates on this picture. Now, one opposition group said we weren't even in existence when this picture was taken in 2012, so don't go blaming us.

How big of a problem is this for "The New York Times" to misidentify the date around a photo? What does this tell us about video and pictures that come to us through social media and citizen journalists?

DOWNIE: It's obviously a serious mistake for "The New York Times" and not being part of that decision-making process, I don't know what they did to try to discover the providence of this video, the accuracy of it, where it came from, at the time.

I do remember when we were at a time when there was even obviously less social media and that sort of thing there is now, when we have got the Abu Ghraib photos, the photos of the abusive prisoners in Abu Gharib, one of the first things we did was check very, very hard on exactly what the providence of those pictures were. We actually talked to soldiers involved in taking some of those pictures in order to make sure that they were real, what they depicted, and then we made a difficult decision about what do you published and what don't you published.

What goes on in the front page, that picture on the front page -- if it was on A-22, it wouldn't have the resonance it has.

SESNO: Would you have put that picture on the front page?

DOWNIE: Given what we know now, of course, I would not have. But I don't know what "The Times" and that the time they may get -- (CROSSTALK)

SONENSHINE: There are times where you don't use pictures of Abu Ghraib, if I remember.

DOWNIE: Yes, of course. There are other pictures we've never used from Abu Gharib. There are other kinds of photographs we have not used at various times.

SESNO: What's the threshold for what you use and what you don't use?

DOWNIE: Well, part of it is we're visitors in people's homes. It is less than newspaper is, and our Web site is. And you're carrying it in your pocket and your children are being able to see it on your computer screen.

And so, part of it is of taste. But part of it is also credibility and are you conveying an unintended message? You need to think about that.

SESNO: You don't -- we don't see in this country and "The New York Times" video and picture are part of that pattern the actual moment of death. Very seldom do we see that. "The New York Times" video fades to black before the shots are fired.

In the Middle East and much of the press around the world, it's a very different pictures.

TELHAMI: It's a different picture. And I personally on the moral ground I go back and forth on this, whether we should show the death more because people have to know what's happening. "The New York Times", of course, describes that these people executed after this photo. But I do go back and forth.

There's a huge difference. In the Middle East you see graphic pictures, even bodies that are mutilated, not only their own but also of the enemy.

SESNO: So does that inform, Shibley, or does that inflame?

TELHAMI: It inflames, for sure. But over time, you actually start taking it less seriously, unfortunately.

SESNO: Quick break.

President Obama is preparing to make his case on Syria, with a nationally televised address from the White House. We'll look at expectations games playing out in the media when we come back.


SESNO: And welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Frank Sesno.

Our guests right now as we talk about the media and the crisis in Syria: Shibley Telhami, Len Downie and Tara Sonenshine. Folks, here's what you see if you go on to -- if you went on to "Huffington Post" not very long ago about President Obama and Syria. "Can he make the case?" And just underneath, "Full-court press, interviews with six anchors coming on Monday.

Len Downie, what's the president of the United States trying to do here?

DOWNIE: Well, he's clearly trying -- an uphill battle to convince the Congress and American people that this strike would not only be a good idea but I think he's trying to make the moral case for it. That's why these videos are being shown. That's why -- he very rarely speaks to the nation.

SESNO: Through the media, Tara Sonenshine, six anchor interviews, a full-court press, some of these videos and this information coming from the government. Is this information or is this propaganda?

SONENSHINE: You know, for a long time, so many of us have argued we need a vigorous public discourse around foreign policy and global engagement. So, for many of us we are happy that we are now engaged in a public debate, a public discussion about two issues. What do we want to be doing in the world and do we want to actually shape global events?

I think what the president is doing is bringing the global foreign policy home so that it is not such a foreign issue. This is about our security.

SESNO: Let me ask you this question. Six network anchors going -- I mean, is that yesterday's news? Once upon a time if the president of the United States had done that, he would have reached all the people in the country. Now, I don't want to say it's inconsequential because it will reach millions and millions. But in new media --

SONENSHINE: But everyone will tweet. Everyone will have their blogs. You can, in a sense, everything is redistributed in multi- platforms.

DOWNIE: This has also become a vital issue for Americans I think for two reasons. Iraq, the worry that we're doing that again, that we're -- a slippery slope, somehow we're going to end up at war with Syria, and the plight of the people who are gassed.

The opinion polls show Americans are engaged in this news story as they very seldom are for a foreign news story. And I think the people will be watching. I think the president has to do what he's doing here.

SESNO: How does experience in Iraq do you think change the way the media and the Arab media in particular will be listening to the president's pitch?

TELHAMI: Well, substantial. I mean, for one thing, I think one of his problems is people are skeptical about the evidence.

SESNO: And the media are skeptical about the evidence, more skeptical than they have this been in the past?

TELHAMI: I want to know more, including by the way, explain to me why Assad used them because besides being hugely immoral, it's tragically stupid. I need to know what his aim was in addition to that.

But also, he has a problem on the moral issue. If it is a moral issue, how is it that you world isn't applauding this internationally? How do you maintain the norms internationally while you're breaking the consensus on international action?

SESNO: Len Downie, at what point do the media go from healthy skepticism, which in many cases was absence going into the Iraq conflict and into an unhealthy suspicion where the president's words are pulled apart unfairly?

DOWNIE: I think there's a difference between the world media and the United States media on this for one thing, because this is also taking place against the backdrop of what we know about NSA surveillance. And one of the interesting things in response to your question is, they know some things from surveillance here and the interesting question will be how much will they reveal about what they know about the surveillance of the decision-making going on in Syria because they know some of the answers I think to some of your questions.

TELHAMI: Members of Congress who saw the classified evidence still came out skeptical.

SONENSTONE: But they hadn't yet released declassified videos.

I want to add one more thing before we lose time. A war-weary nation is one thing. But America also does not like be tagged a weak nation. So, I think some of this will get framed around American credibility, which may not have as much drive overseas but still resonates here.

The second is, this politics stuff at the water's edge. We remember that question and do we rally around presidents and countries when there is a big issue?

SESNO: One thing, this weak nation is actually one of the themes that comes out of the media that we've seen in the Middle East. Here's one quote from a paper we've got from (INAUDIBLE). "It's not surprising that Assad continues to commit his crimes against Syria and the Syrians, for Assad's strength stems from Obama's weakness."

TELHAMI: That's total nonsense and let me tell you why --


TELHAMI: Again, this is bipartisan media where people want to get the U.S. to intervene and others don't. But if you look at public opinion, public opinion thinks that America is too powerful, meddling in everything and even when it doesn't act there's a conspiracy. When it acts, there's a conspiracy. It's helping the opponents, it's helping the governments.

And they've witnessed what America could do in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere for a decade, and to tell me that they think America is weak is ridiculous. I think the only problem for them or the main problem for them is they don't trust our aims. They think our aims are nefarious, even when we act --

SESNO: The media reflects the public opinion, which is confused and skeptical.

And, unfortunately, we're going to have to leave it right there.

Coming up, is twitter altering, maybe ruining news coverage of presidential campaigns and politics? A study suggests the answer may be yes.


SESNO: It's hard to believe but when Barack Obama announced he was running for president in February 2007, there was no iPhone, Twitter had just been launched and this thing called "Politico" was less than a-month-old.

By the time the 2012 campaign rolled around, politics and journalism and media had collided, a big bang that completely changed the conduct and coverage of political campaigns.

CNN's Peter Hamby did a study for Harvard Shorenstein Center. He writes, "With Instagram and iPhones and a journalistic reward structure in Washington that often prizes speed and scoops over context, campaigns are increasingly fearful of the reporters who cover them. Any perceived gaffe or stumble can become a full-blown narrative in a matter of hours, if not minutes, thanks to the velocity of the Twitter conversation that now informs national reporters, editors and television producers."

So does the 140-character, never-ending Twitter-driven news cycle made campaign coverage even more superficial and silly?

Joining us now from New York is Peter Hamby, national political reporter for CNN Digital, and here in Christina Bellantoni, political editor for PBS "NewsHour", and Kevin Madden, political and an adviser and spokesman for the Romney 2012 campaign.

Peter, I've got to read those words again, "a journalistic reward structure in Washington that often prizes speed and scoops over context." So what's new?

PETER HAMBY, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, CNN DIGITAL: Right. The obsession with political process among political reporters is as old as time itself.

You know, if you live in Washington and cover politics, you know this.

Look, when I set out to write this study, I had read all of the great books about past campaigns. I had covered the 2008 campaign on the plane, on the bus with Hillary Clinton and John McCain and Sarah Palin, and then when 2012 came around, I noticed that there was no real value other than logistical purposes of being on the plane editorially.

So I set out to write, you know, what's the value of being on the bus with the presidential candidate at this point? But I found in the course of writing it and talking to reporters and members of the Romney campaign and the Obama campaign that it became impossible to separate a lot of the anxieties about being on the bus from these changes currents in Washington and the Washington media ecosystem.

I started working at CNN in 2005. That was before YouTube, before Twitter, better Politico." Look, Drudge existed, all these process existed, but I really think that all of these new platforms have really accelerated the news cycle and changed not only the tone but also the content of what gets covered during political campaigns.

So, this paper was almost kind of a catharsis for me.

SESNO: It's a big paper, too. I've got it right here. It's 95 pages and I'm glad that it's cathartic.

Christina Bellantoni, what he points out in here that exchanges are shorter, sharper, angrier, snarkier and from younger journalists. What's the impact then?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, PBS: Well, the impact -- I think Mitt Romney gave a speech in a big stadium and a reporter who was traveling with him took a photo and put it on Instagram and it looked like it was a big giant empty stadium. And that became the discussion point for what he did in the speech, not what he said, not the content, not the policy, but the fact that here was a Romney campaign doing a big event in an empty place.

And it has dramatically affected him. And I hope Peter got an A on his paper here because it was very, very good and it really gets at the heart of the issue.

The flip side I will say, there are a lot of good things about social media that can make reporters stronger.

SENSO: Kevin Madden, you know, the old bus -- old books, timothy Crouse's "Boys on the Bus," and I've been on the bus, I've been on the campaigns, I know a lot of those boys.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Now it's boys and girls on the bus.

SESNO: Now, it's boys and girls. But in that book, part of the purpose was to show the bonding and how people got to know one another and they drank late into the night. And the premise was, that you knew that campaign so well, you could bring so much context to it and you are writing and you could write long and all the rest of it, and now this, 140 characters. What does it mean for campaigns?

MADDEN: Well, I think in this particular instance, the 140- character campaign, you know, a lot of the focus was reporters reporting on themselves. I think one of the great frustrations that we had from the campaign perspective was that so much of what was being written was not in proper context, so much was written was snark, and that they were missing a much larger element of providing context of who is this candidate and why is he running to be the leader of the free world. So that was the real big frustration, I think that was one of the negatives.

CESNO: Let me show you some -- we pulled some random tweets. OK. So here's one. Etch-a-sketch stocks stores. Thank you, Mitt Romney. I'm sure that was a favorite day of yours, Kevin. Here's another one. This is from Rupert Murdoch, "Yesterday Obama went off script and showed real self government omnipotent individuals secondary must be big damage. And here's another one, from Emily, ABC, "Good news. Plane expected in an hour and a half. Bad news, new plane expected in an hour and a half because our campaign plane was late. Peter Hamby, let's play yes or no here for a minute. Is the coverage do you think more superficial because of this now?

HAMBY: Look, I think one thing that I found again in talking to a lot of reporters for this paper is that Twitter has really just become the central news wire of political campaigns.

CESNO: Wait, the central news wire, really?

HAMBY: Yes, absolutely, absolutely. Every reporter, every editor, every assignment editor, producer back in D.C., every political operative working in a campaign fresh up is looking at Twitter from the minute they wake up in the morning, the moment they fall --

CESNO: So do they have less time to report as a result?

HAMBY: Yes, that's the thing and also I think that it makes everyone sort of cover the same thing. Look, Washington has a tendency towards droop think. I think Twitter makes it worse. A lot of reporters said this, too. Look, if someone in the campaign in a bubble, you know, had a small scoop, some state legislator from New Hampshire, for example, endorses Mitt Romney and say the reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" reports that, then all of the other reporters on the bus are hearing from their editors back in D.C. and New York, saying, do we have this?

Can we confirm this? And their time is spent chasing these little small things and there's not a lot of time to go off and do sort of enterprise reporting. Again, talking to journalists, looking ahead to 2016, want to have a little more confidence to kind of step off the ball, playoff the ball a little bit, and go out and kind of step away from this sort of--mind, which is what Dave Weiggel call it is.

CESNO: Christina Bellantoni, how, then, in 2016 are you going to do better? BELLANTONI: Well, I will just to point out the positives of it. Yes, all of that is true. It becomes a little bit more shallow, but it does open you up to a whole flood of people that can access you when you're in different places. If you're in Ohio and you're at an event and somebody says I'm going to find you on Twitter, you can actually have a conversation with people and share --

CESNO: Wait a minute. Globalized world, we're talking Syria, OK. We're talking about spending debt ceilings, spending limits and shutting down the government. These are complicated global issues. They cannot be brought down to 140 words. So how do you connect the American public to what their candidates are actually thinking and proposing?

BELLANTONI: I think that everybody in the news media can do a better job of that. I think that Twitter can be a way of sharing off of that information, but it's about getting at all of the different types of way that you communicate with people. Sometimes a picture can tell a thousand words. Sometimes you're trying to do it in a short bit of time. It's all about context.

CESNO: Kevin Madden, last word to you, 2016 what's your prescription -- to serve the American people?

MADDEN: The animation of the news cycle I think is something that you have to get used to. I mean, it's happened and it's going to continue to happen even more. I think -- what is really important is that candidates and their campaigns have to adapt. You can't just complain about who it is that is covering you instead adapt to the situation at hand.

CESNO: Kevin Madden, Christina Bellantoni, and Peter Hamby, thanks to you all very much.

OK, let's go from the frying pan into the fire up next and the future of long form journalism. We'll delve into the effort to revive what the numbers indicate is a dying brand of journalism.


CESNO: And welcome back. With attention spans shrinking nationwide, thanks to the popularity of Instagram photos, 140-character tweets, 6- second Vine videos, you may not be surprised to hear that there's been a steep decline in the number of long-form in depth pieces appearing in national newspapers.

According to Dean Stockman of the Columbia Journalism Review, the "Los Angeles Times," published 86 percent fewer stories of 2,000 words or more last year compared to 2002. The "Wall Street Journal," once a repository of brilliant long form journalism, the decline was 35 percent, a 25 percent drop at "The New York Times."

However, there are some signs of life in the long form arena, "Politico," of all places, has revamped its magazine to feature more long-form reporting. Do readers have that attention span? How does long form fit in an iPhone buzz feed world? I'm joined now by Susan Glasser, former editor-in-chief of "Foreign Policy" and recently hired by "Politico" to oversee their new long form journalism. So we just had this conversation about Twitter and the proliferation, the explosion of these short verses. Is there really a market for the long, deep, delicious read?

SUSAN GLASSER, FORMER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "FOREIGN POLICY": You know, honestly, I'm very bullish on this. I think that, you know, what you just described could be also described as the opportunity that exists, the editorial opportunity that exists, to come back and say at a time when news has become commodified when you something, the instant that it happened courtesy of Twitter, that you're actually probably more interested in really getting something that tells you something truly original, which what I think a great ambitious piece of journalism can do.

CESNO: So what are you doing in "Politico?"

GLASSER: Well, you know, so what we're going to do is we're going to launch a magazine later this fall. You're going to be able to hold it and read it every day online. You're going to be able to interact with it in a variety of different ways. You know, certainly if you want to shape the conversation and "Politico's" ambition has always been to drive the Washington conversation, you're not going to be able to do that six times a year. So our aspiration it to give you real-time ambitious reporting around subjects that people care about as well as to use the form of a print magazine six times year --

CESNO: So you'll print six times a year?

GLASSER: That's right. That's right.

CESNO: And what kinds of stories, what kinds of things fit the long form that people are actually going to read more?

GLASSER: Well, first of all, I must admit I sort of hate the word in the sense if it comes to that long form it can only be 8,000 words --

CESNO: That's why I say deep, delicious read.

GLASSER: Exactly right. In many ways, I think the same tools that you're talking about, whether, you know, five years ago it was blogs, now it's Twitter or 6-second Vine, the truth is, it's a golden age for content in the sense that you have the ability to access more things more easily than ever before. And I think that's going to play to the benefit of a more ambitious journalism project as well because you're going to be able to find it and read it.

CESNO: You know, the Atlantic has done very well with some of their longer, deeper narratives, their article that Emery Slaughter wrote, for example, can women have it all prompted huge traffic both with the magazine and print and online and all of the conversation afterward. What exactly -- what kinds of stories in the political realm do you most want to see yourself engaged in? GLASSER: Well, I think there's an urgent need for more accountability reporting, more investigative reporting, more deep memorable profiles even around subjects who are shaping the national conversation in a way that is faded away so much now basically you have a small handful of magazines that are doing this now. So what happens? They profile Chris Christie. I don't want to follow that very small little herd anymore.

I think we have an opportunity by taking all of the subjects that "Politico" has a daily voracious appetite for and then coming in and say, wait a minute, we want to do the bigger pieces, the memorable things and on the leading edge of the story and tell you something you didn't know about.

CESNO: I picked up a "Time" magazine, the old print edition from last week just the other day it felt like a pamphlet. It was a couple of pages. A small breeze would have blown the thing away. We just ticked through the numbers of how much long form has declined. What makes you think that you can be successful when the trend has been otherwise almost everywhere else?

GLASSER: You know, usually that's where there's an opportunity. I think if ambitious journalism is original journalism and that's what in the end, people's whose business it is to understand American policy and politics, they want to know really original things. They don't want you to tell them what everybody else is telling them.

CESNO: And the big question in much of the journalism community is, can you make money with this stuff? All right, so --

GLASSER: That's the really hard problem. Thank goodness, I have the bigger challenge of, you know, sitting down and looking at the journalism piece of it. And I think finding a way to tell you a story that you didn't already know about what is going on behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, how does President Obama really govern, those are the subjects that --

CESNO: When is your first edition?

GLASSER: We'll be coming out later this fall. So stay tuned for more news.

CESNO: OK, so peel back the curtains just a little bit. What should we look for?

GLASSER: Well, I think again, I think you're going to see on "Politico's" web site something that is very different from the "Politico" you've come to known and rely on for news all the time, but you know, if you can start looking there for a big, ambitious read or two or three every day.

CESNO: And you'll tweet it?

GLASSER: Starting soon, absolutely. And you'll be able to find it on Twitter.

CESNO: Very good. Susan Glasser, thanks so much. We look forward to it and good luck with it.

GLASSER: Ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, sizes up his newest acquisition, the "Washington Post." The paper's former editor, Len Downie returns to tell us how that getting to know you event went.


CESNO: It is a national institution that is about to start its next chapter. Last month came the stunning announcement that "The Washington Post" is being bought by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for $250 million. This week, Bezos paid his first visit to the legendary paper and it has been a rough ride at that paper over the last several years, reporters have been laid off, circulations plummeted, the "Post" has closed bureaus around the country and around the world.

But the soon-to-be owner was upbeat. What is his vision? Will it be profitable and what will it mean for the future of news? Joining me again in the studio here is Len Downie, the former executive editor of the "Washington Post." Len, you were there. What did Jeff Bezos have to say about the future?

LEN DOWNIE, FORMER EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I was very impressed with him, first of all, very well informed about "The Post," very well informed about the world and about the world of journalism considering that had not been in his background. He emphasized several things. Investigative reporting he believes is a very important public service --

CESNO: Investigating?

DOWNIE: Investigative reporting, which of course, "The Washington Post" is known for. It continues to place a great emphasis and our resources are devoted to it. He wants to preserve that and grow that and grow its impact around the country. Secondly, he wants to rebundle news in some new form.

CESNO: What does that mean?

DOWNIE: Well, because he said he loves the printed newspaper. He said that's still his preference. On the other hand, we want to read all these other platforms. So he said the problem is that the newspaper is being torn apart with "Huffington Post" picking up something here and something else being over there and something being tweeted out over there. And people aren't seeing that whole bundle of news. He believes that there is a way to do that and his focus is on tablets. He must have used the word tablet 20, 30 times during this conversation --

CESNO: Whether iPad or anything else.

DOWNIE: Exactly. But he differentiated it from what he called the PC screen. He differentiated from that. He talks about tablets being the potential future and trying to figure out some way to rebundle the content --

CESNO: So does the "Washington Post" under the Bezos world and do other papers go tablet and stop printing all together?

DOWNIE: He won't stop printing all together anytime soon and he emphasized that too because there is still an enormous amount of income that comes from print advertising. I would say 3/4 probably still the "Washington Post" income comes from printed advertising.

CESNO: Numbers game, Len, you know this well, at the height of its circulation, what was "The Post" distributing in the Washington area?

DOWNIE: Over 800,000.

CESNO: Today?

DOWNIE: I've lost track, but I think 500,000.

CESNO: So about not quite half.

DOWNIE: Yes, but at the same time, the audience is larger than ever before.

CESNO: What's happened to revenue?

DOWNIE: The problem is the revenue is going down because the print revenue is decreasing. Even though it's still large, but much smaller than it used to be and you cannot so far make it up so far make up that revenue --

CESNO: So how does Jeff Bezos say the "Washington Post" and other news organizations are going to make money?

DOWNIE: He says he doesn't know yet, but he is going to experiment in trying to figure out why and he took us through experiments that he's done at Amazon. Remember Amazon lost money for a long time and then even once it became a big successful operation, they needed to make changes to meet competition. He told us how he would try things. That failed within a year, so let's try this version of it.

CESNO: The "Philadelphia Inquirer," the "Cleveland Plain Dealer," the "Los Angeles Times," I could go on and on, newspapers that have had similar trajectories to the "Washington Post." They are going to be watching the Jeff Bezos era very closely as with every American who cares about news. What is the first and most important thing to be watching as he takes charge?

DOWNIE: I think he'll be looking to see what he does in terms of new revenue sources number one, and the extent to which he is going to stop the cutting. He said he just doesn't want to cut anymore. He sees areas where he probably needs to invest, but he doesn't know enough about that yet.

CESNO: The other thing that "The Post" is trying is "Post TV."


CESNO: Trying to go into video --

DOWNIE: Yes. I should say he said he was impressed by the innovation that was taking place digitally at "The Post" including "Post TV."

CESNO: So should CNN see the "Washington Post" and "Post TV" as competition?

DOWNIE: Well, I don't know that CNN necessarily should, but I think all across the country, those news organizations that are learning how to convert themselves to digital, "The Post" isn't a newspaper anymore, we're a multiplatform news organization. And that does mean we're competition for television and I think especially for local television news.

CESNO: What's the one thing that you're most looking forward to or fearing from the next step in "The Post" trajectory?

DOWNIE: Well, the only thing I guess I would fear is that somehow Jeff Bezos would realize at some point way down the road that this wasn't really possible, this transition. I don't bet on that at all. What I'm most looking forward to is a new robustness to the newsroom's attitude. You can already see it after listening to Bezos the other day. The entire news room was in auditory of listening to him. They came backfired up. It was like a football team. They are ready for the next game.

CESNO: A little optimism in the news business. Not a terrible thing to see. All right, Len Downie, thank you very much. I want to talk to you about your study that you're doing for CPJ, but we're a little out of time, so can me then about 15 seconds --

DOWNIE: I'm finishing up a report for the Community Press Journalist on the Obama administration and the press examining the fact that most of the media feels this is the most closed manipulative administration they've ever --

CESNO: Headline?

DOWNIE: This administration that if the president's promise to make it the most transparent administration has not being met.

CESNO: We'll be looking for that. That comes out when?

DOWNIE: In October.

CESNO: We'll watch for that. Len Downie, thanks. Appreciate it. Good luck.

Up next, some thoughts on what really is all about involved and engaged in being a reliable source.


CESNO: Now for a look at some reliable and not so reliable sources from this past week. First, say what you want about catch me if you can fugitive Edward Snowden who is somewhere in Russia. Stories from his leaks were all over the place. Reliable source? The "Washington Post" thought so. The "Post" published a story from Snowden's leaked material about al Qaeda's efforts to fight back against drones. They are reportedly assigning cells of engineers to remotely hijack the pilotless aircraft, all from a classified intelligence report provided by Snowden.

The "New York Times" published a story from Snowden's leaks too. This one on what it called the National Security Agency's secret war on the technology that ensures privacy online. The reports "The Times," the agency has cracked much of the encryption that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records and automatically secures the e- mails, web searches, internet chats and phone calls of Americans, all part of a super secret program code named bull run "The Times" says according to documents provided by Edward J. Snowden. No one has said Snowden's information is wrong. And a government official with knowledge of the Snowden leaks tells me there is much more and it will be devastating.

Also devastating, continuing turmoil in Egypt, the generals apparently think several Islamist TV stations were more than unreliable, so they shut them down. They've also shutdown Al Jazeera English. The government accused it of spreading rumors and claims that are harmful to Egyptian national security and threaten the country's unity. Which otherwise is what, just fine? Al Jazeera, of course, denied the claims, and said it was fair and balanced.

Finally, actress, Melissa Milano, proved to be a weirdly reliable source. It looks like a sex tape, sounds like a sex tape, ends up being a tape about Syria. Just the basics, though and it only takes 2 minutes. We'll leave it at that.

And that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Frank Cesno. By the way, if you miss a program, you can find us on iTunes or And if you have comments, tweet them to you us using the hashtag, reliable. Join us again next Sunday morning at 11 a.m. Eastern for another edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.