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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Media Identify Missing Man as CIA Spy; Megyn Kelly's White Christmas; White House Press Angry Over Access

Aired December 15, 2013 - 11:00   ET

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


BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning. And welcome to a bright and sunny Washington, where it's bitter between the White House and the press corps. Reporters say they're not getting the access they need. Now, the White House says we'll never be satisfied. We'll look at that.

And also, this week's Santa controversy and what it reveals about FOX News.

Later, we'll look at how Ron Burgundy has blanketed the air waves and how a courtroom decision in New York that happened this week that could impact the future of journalism.

So, let's get started. It's time for RELIABLE SOURCES.

(MUSIC)

STELTER: Thanks for joining us today. I'm Brian Stelter.

I know I wasn't the only person stunned when this story came out Thursday -- Robert Levinson went missing in Iran nearly seven years ago. The American government always said he went there on a private business trip.

But that was not true. He was a contractor for the CIA. A rogue group within the agency sent him there on an unauthorized mission.

Reporters started to find this out years ago, "The Associated Press", "The Washington Post," "The New York Times," ABC News. But the government urged them not to reveal what they knew. And for years, everyone agreed. But this week, "The Associated Press" and "The Washington Post" decided to go with the bombshell story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Stunning disclosures about an American who disappeared seven years ago.

CHARLIE ROSE, CBS NEWS: Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: The secret and unauthorized CIA mission inside Iran.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN: A secret unauthorized mission for the CIA --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Matt Apuzzo was one of "The Associated Press" reporters who broke the story and here with me now. Matt, did I get that right in the intro?

MATT APUZZO, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes, absolutely.

STELTER: Take me back to 2010 when you first learned about his true identity and what led up to this week.

APUZZO: Sure. I mean, figuring out that bob was working with the CIA was kind of just the first step. That in and of itself is a story, but frankly the calculus on whether to hold that story versus the story we ultimately ran is very different. The reason this story was important and the accountability issue behind the story we ultimately ran was --

STELTER: Right, the bungled mission.

APUZZO: That a U.S. citizen was put in harm's way by elements of its government, and that is an important story that can't stay in the shadows forever.

STELTER: You heard on Twitter, keeping a secret and deciding when not to keep a secret is the hardest thing I've ever done. You mean in your whole career?

APUZZO: Yes, I mean, I think it speaks to the intensity of the conversations both with the government and family and internally at "The A.P." and the real weight we gave to this decision, because, obviously, it had an extreme accountability and government transparency issues and had obviously a very serious, you know, we wanted to take the issues of risk and safety into the factor as well.

STELTER: Right. One of the points I've seen you and your colleagues make is that there hasn't been any proof of life for Bob Levinson in about three years, is that right?

APUZZO: Yes.

STELTER: So, some people in the government believe he is not alive anymore.

APUZZO: Yes. I mean, look, I certainly, I want Bob to come home. I know that Adam Goldman wants Bob to come home.

STELTER: He was your colleague who wrote the story now in "The Washington Post".

APUZZO: Yes, this is a complex issue, right? Smart, ethical -- human beings can debate the merits of running the story versus not running the story.

I hope we get to the point soon where the discussion shifts a little bit from why did "The A.P." run the story to, hey, how do we make sure the CIA can never do this again, and how we do -- and why did the government -- why weren't they being straight with us for so many years.

STELTER: You're right. Sometimes the ethics issues can be a distraction from the point of the story.

APUZZO: Right. And it's important. I mean, we should be having the ethics conversations and this platform is the right one for those but I hope other people start to raise questions of the U.S. government and say, you know, does this still happen? Could this still happen? Could this happen today? I still haven't seen anybody answer the question. Could this happen to another American citizen today and if they did what would they do differently?

STELTER: Let's bring in Kathleen Carroll, the most senior editor at "The Associated Press". She joins us by phone this morning from New Jersey.

Kathleen, I'm hoping you can tell us what the decision process was up until the story being published, why did you decide to publish now?

KATHLEEN CARROLL, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (via telephone): Well, as Matt said, it was a long and very complex set of discussions over a period of time always with Bob Levinson at the top of our minds. You know, the story was complete some time ago.

STELTER: It read that way. It read that it had been waiting around for a little while, yes?

CARROLL: Well, you know, I think waiting around -- listen, one of the things that we kept coming across was however impatient we were to publish our frustration was nothing compared to that of the Levinson family, and Mr. Levinson himself. We try not to put ourselves at the center of this issue.

Bob Levinson is the center and the government officials who sent him off on this mission.

STELTER: Let's play a clip from Jay Carney, the White House press secretary who addressed the story in his briefing before the weekend started and I'd love for you to respond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to fact check every allegation made in the story you referenced. A story we believe it was highly irresponsible to publish and which we strongly urged the outlet not to publish out of concerns for Mr. Levinson's safety.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: I'm guessing, Kathleen, that you disagree that it was highly irresponsible. CARROLL: Obviously. I wouldn't do anything that was highly irresponsible, none of us would. We've had conversations with people in the United States government about this over three years, over several administrations at the CIA. And when they were able to be persuasive that something was about to happen, or that something was in motion that might lead to a resolution of Mr. Levinson's circumstances, we took that very seriously and we listened to it.

Ultimately, for the reasons, the arguments that the government was making were no longer persuasive.

STELTER: Some people might wonder, by the way, if there's any connection between the Justice Department another branch of the government, coming after "The Associated Press" months ago, getting subpoenas for phone records and now this story, which is rather antagonistic perhaps of the government. Is there any connection?

CARROLL: None whatsoever. I assure you the topic never came up once during the course of many, many, many, many, many, many hours of discussion.

STELTER: This does remind us that organizations like yours and this one exist in part to challenge the government, to report what they do not want reported.

CARROLL: Well, not just the United States government, although it's certainly the one that we have had some of the most high profile disagreements with, but accountability requires us to do this with people who are in governments around the United States and across the world.

STELTER: Matt, I wonder if, having seen the government's reactions to the story if you feel they are mostly bothered by the publication because it is an embarrassing story about a rogue agent, a rogue unit within the agency?

CARROLL: I certainly don't speak for the government. I certainly hope that as I said before, you'd like to see the government talk a little less about "The A.P." and a little more about Bob Levinson and a little more about what it can do to make sure this can't happen again.

Bob Levinson was in Iran, serving his government and Bob Levinson was not well-served by his government. And I think that's something we can't lose sight of.

STELTER: Very well said. Well, thank you for joining us.

And, Kathleen, thank you for joining us by phone.

Coming up, now is the time to say this, if you have small children in the room, maybe you should distract them, because we're about to discuss the jolly rose cheeked man we know as Santa Claus, with the writer who started the discussion. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: In "Slate", they have a piece, on dot- com, "Santa Claus should not be a white man anymore." Yet another person claiming it's racist of a white Santa.

And, by the way, for all of you kids watching at home, Santa just is white, but this person is arguing maybe we should also have a black Santa. But, you know, Santa is what he is. And so, you know, we're just debating this because someone wrote about it, kids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: All right, here we go, that's Megyn Kelly of FOX News responding to an article published by "Slate".

In the article, the author, Aisha Harris, argued that it was time to give old St. Nick a makeover. The reaction has been, well, let's ask her.

Aisha joins me now from New York.

Thank you being here.

AISHA HARRIS, SLATE.COM: Hi. Thanks for having me.

STELTER: You know, I feel like your voice has sort of been missing in all the coverage of this, at least the coverage on FOX this week. Tell us the point what you were trying to make was.

HARRIS: The point I was trying to make was that I think that we have, the world has changed a lot over the last 50, 100 years, and Santa Claus is a fictional character. He is nothing like the original historical figure he was based off of anymore. We've kind of evolved him into this magical mythical figure, and for kids, I think it's important that they don't have to feel necessarily bogged down that Santa is always white, and that's the way he should be.

He's not real, so I think that it's important to incorporate a less ethnic appropriation of Santa.

STELTER: I suppose you must feel good knowing this has kicked up a debate. But I wonder how you felt when you heard the comments on FOX on Wednesday. What was that like?

HARRIS: It felt, it kind of reinforced my point actually I think, because the fact that Kelly and some of the other guests on the show were insisting that Santa is white. To me, just spoke to the reason why I wrote the piece, is that there are a lot of people out there who automatically assume that Santa must be white and there's no way -- it's laughable that he could be anything else.

STELTER: I thought, actually, you should be on that panel discussion. Did they call on Wednesday, did they invite you on the show?

HARRIS: No, not for Wednesday. I was not reached out to, and they did not reach out to "Slate".

STELTER: And FOX says they did reach out for a follow-up segment on Friday, and that "Slate" declined on your behalf. Is that right?

HARRIS: Yes, that's correct.

STELTER: Why was that? Is that because you didn't want to appear on the network, because they didn't give you enough warning or something else? I think maybe they didn't give enough warning. They didn't reach out to us just a few hours before the show was airing?

HARRIS: I think it was mainly because they didn't give enough warning. They didn't reach out before a few hours before the show was airing.

STELTER: Oh, I see.

HARRIS: And I had heard already she was going to be talking about it that night, earlier in the day, so it just felt like it was kind of last-minute thing and felt almost like a sleight.

STELTER: Right, right.

Well, let's play what Megyn Kelly said on Friday. Here is a clip of her explanation of her comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY: For me, the fact that an off-hand jest I made during a segment whether Santa should be replaced by a penguin has now become a national firestorm says two things, race is still an incredibly volatile issue in this country, and FOX News and yours truly are big targets for many people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: So, Aisha, how do you feel about that response?

HARRIS: I felt like they were kind of playing the victim there, and the fact that they tried to deflect it and say they were also making a joke out of it, it just didn't -- it didn't ring true to me. She said it very emphatically on the program, on Wednesday, and to me, there was nothing joke-like about that.

STELTER: You know, to tell you what I think for a minute, I kind of wonder if FOX had a different audience demographic, if she would have commented differently about Santa. You know, data from 2012 shows that about 1.4 percent of FOX's prime time audience is African- American. If that was 24 percent, I'm wondering if she would have said something differently.

But, of course, that's not something we can know.

It was interesting, wasn't it, to see "SNL" last night. Did you watch?

HARRIS: I have not seen it yet.

STELTER: Let's play this stuff and you'll see it for the first time. Here's Kenan Thompson as black Santa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does it bother you when people like Megyn Kelly insist that you're white?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm surprised people thought I wasn't black. You ever known a white man to wear an all red suit? I mean, people want to believe the reality that's most comfortable to them. They don't want to live in a world where Santa is black and one of his reindeer is gay.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really? Which one?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, Cecily.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Prancer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Prancer!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: It was a pretty good episode, I thought. And, you know, it goes to show both the power of the member for someone to write a blog post that gets his attention and the power of FOX to get it more attention, doesn't it?

HARRIS: Yes, definitely.

STELTER: Of course, Jon Stewart talk it on as well. I want to play a clip from "The Daily Show" a couple nights ago as well when they took this topic on also.

Let's roll that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: Who are you actually talking to? Children who are sophisticated enough to be watching a news channel at 10:00 at night, yet innocent enough to still believe Santa Claus is real, yet racist enough to be freaked out if he isn't white.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: This really did take on a life of its own. I wonder if you plan on writing anything more about this.

HARRIS: You know, I wrote a response to Kelly after the fact on Wednesday on "Slate", and I think that kind of says it all. Basically just the fact that Santa isn't real, and I think we need -- the larger point is that we need to start thinking outside of just the cultural norms of white always being the default, and that goes into not just fictional characters but also into everyday life and the way we perceive people of different ethnicities and different cultures.

STELTER: Where do you think we'll be in ten years or 20 years? Do you think what you're describing will become more common in.

HARRIS: I hope so but I feel like there's really no way to tell. I mean, the world is changing, and America is becoming less white, so maybe we will get a broader view of things and be able to kind of see things in a different perspective. I hope so.

STELTER: And if FOX calls today or tomorrow, if they give you more time, will you come on?

HARRIS: You know, I can't say at this moment. Thank you.

STELTER: OK. I understand, I understand. We're live on TV, no commitments.

But, Aisha, thank you for being here. I appreciate it and we enjoyed the debate this week.

HARRIS: Yes. Thanks for having me.

STELTER: Coming up, the White House and the press corps, they are at odds over access to President Obama. We have new information on that from the White House, coming right up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

Access to the president is crucial when you're a White House reporter, and even more so, when you're a photographer. The press always wants more access to the White House. The administration usually wants to give less access. And this tug-of-war has been going on for decades.

But the press says it's gotten worse lately and the only photographer allowed inside some White House meetings now actually works for the White House.

To set up our conversation here is CNN's senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(CROSSTALK)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Reporters and photographers frustrated that independent media are shut out of even routine presidential events at the White House, no reporters, no photographers, so no uncomfortable questions of the president, and no images the White House can't control.

Recent examples, the president's lunch with Hillary Clinton, his Oval Office visit with Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani human rights activist who told the president to stop using drones in her country, and a meeting with Palestinian and Israeli negotiators.

Doug Mills is a "New York Times" photographer.

DOUG MILLS, "NEW YORK TIMES" PHOTOGRAPHER: The White House photos as many people have, are press releases. They are basically putting the president in the best light.

KEILAR: Last month, 37 news organizations, including CNN, sent the White House a letter, comparing decisions that shut out the press to, quote, "placing a hand over a journalist's camera lens." The restrictions seem at odds with the pledge President Obama made to Americans at the beginning of his presidency.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me say it as simply as I can. Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.

KEILAR (on camera): So, isn't it sort of the problem is that he has set up a standard himself that he's not meeting?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What I can tell you, Brianna, every White House, every president has had meetings that the press didn't cover. I want to work with and we want to work with the photographers and others to see how we can be more responsive.

KEILAR: A sign there maybe changes made to give more media access to the president's day-to-day events, although the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says there will never be agreement between the White House and the press on the appropriate level of access.

Brianna Keilar, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: Let's get our panelist's take on this. Joining me here in the studio, Amy Holmes, the anchor of the "Hot List" on Glenn Beck's theblaze.com; Peter Hamby, CNN national political reporter; and Christina Bellantoni, the political editor for the PBS "NewsHour" and the soon-to-be editor in chief of "Roll Call" beginning next month.

Christina, congratulations on that, by the way. And let's start with you.

We heard in the package there's probably never going to be agreement on this but do you think they can get back to a better balance between the two competing interests?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, PBS NEWSHOUR: I think the White House realizes that because they've been under so much pressure on it, they have to give a little bit more access to alleviate some of that pressure but the bottom line is that the White House does this because it works. They're able to take advantage of new distribution channels to tell the story they want to tell about the president.

That's not necessarily new and it's certainly not new for Barack Obama. They did it on their 2008 campaign. They did it in the last campaign and they're doing it in the White House. And lots of administrations have done this, every administration has had, not every, but most recent administrations have had a taxpayer funded photo office. There's all kinds of reasons for that.

What the press is trying to get at here is when you say it's a private event and you don't allow our news people to come in, but then you're sharing that photo with the world, you're trying to tell your own story and the whole point of being a journalist is being more than a stenographer, being more than that, and trying to tell the story as it is accurately portrayed.

STELTER: Amy, where do you come down from these two sides?

AMY HOLMES, THEBLAZE.COM: Well, look, I think this goes far beyond a tug-of-war between competing interest and access.

As Dana Milbank wrote in "The Washington Post" just a couple of weeks ago, the White House is actually banning press corps photographers from covering what are not really private events, these are events that involve the president of the United States doing the people's business.

And so, on the one hand, yes, of course, the White House, this one and future ones will be releasing their own photos around the White House press corps through social media. But this is starting to smack of propaganda and particularly when the press is publishing these photos that are being, you know, hand-fed to them by the White House as if that was a news photo and not a propaganda photo.

STELTER: Peter, do you feel this is only going to increase with every administration that follows?

PETER HAMBY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, absolutely. Calvin Coolidge had a press conference every week. President Kennedy, one every two weeks. President Roosevelt used Fireside chats that go over the heads of reporters.

I mean, the White House uses, advances the media to go around us. They don't need us anymore. I mean, that's the bottom line.

David Axelrod told me earlier this year, they go -- when I was talking to him after the campaign, they go fishing where the fish are. They can put their paid controlled messages on "Duck Dynasty" and "The Big Bang Theory "inside video games. They don't need us.

A hundred twenty-eight million people, 48 percent of the country, on Facebook. Twenty-two million people watch the evening news every night.

HOLMES: But, Peter, no one begrudges the White House using those avenues of communication. The fact is that they're banning, they're banning the free press from their events. And what about the question of the press publishing these propaganda photos?

HAMBY: I'm not defending the White House here. I am sort of sympathizing with the political operatives, like I get where they're coming from a little bit.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLMES: But Jay Carney was the bureau chief from "TIME" magazine. He knows better.

HAMBY: Yes.

I'm agreeing with you, though, that a lot of this seems just self-inflicted. There --

STELTER: Self-inflicted -- what do you mean by that?

HAMBY: Why not let a photographer into an event where like you said the president is doing the people's business for 30 seconds to get a pool spray. I mean, we're talking about this on national television right now and the White House always derides process journalism -- you guys are focusing on process. These are them stepping in it. We're talking about it right now.

So, just let us in there. Take a few pictures and that's it. This isn't a big deal.

BELLANTONI: And part of the dustup this week -- I mean, this has been going on for a long time -- I mean, really from the very first day of the administration, don't forget, when Chief Justice John Roberts botched the oath of office and they had a private swearing in ceremony, they had a still photographer in there, not from the news organizations, to put that out there, so this has been an ongoing trend.

This week --

HOLMES: From the administration who promised to be the most transparent in U.S. history.

BELLANTONI: Air Force One, you have had --

STELTER: I have a feeling no president will say that again because it's been used against him for years.

BELLANTONI: All kinds of that.

So, George W. Bush comes back and chats with the press off the record. There's photos that my friends posted on Facebook, but they weren't allowed in the front cabin to see the images of Bush and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama having this conversation.

STELTER: And looking at the paintings on his iPad, right?

BELLANTONI: Right.

STELTER: So, I do think -- because this is process journalism and the White House detests that, Jay Carney said to several news organizations that he's going to have a meeting on Tuesday, that he's going to bring in representatives from the White House Correspondents Association, the photographer's association and talk through these issues, they'll try to find better ways to work together.

I guess that's not surprising because they do want to move past this story.

HOLMES: They do and they are looking at their poll numbers. And that's something else I would say. That, finally, it seems possibly the media love affair with this administration might be over and they are no longer willing to be lap dog just taking predigested tidbits.

HAMBY: Can I puncture that real quick? I think probably in 2008, there was probably a larger infatuation with the media. The reporters that deal with this White House and the Obama world on a day-to-day basis aren't really in love with the guy. This is -- there is a real sort of toxic relationship in this city if you go out and talk to reporters --

HOLMES: It seems to have grown in the past year particularly.

HAMBY: Yes, it certainly has.

BELLANTONI: One more point, too. As media organizations consider their own costs and what they'll be doing for both campaign travel and White House travel, it's very expensive to go with the president.

If you're on Air Force One, you sort of have an expectation you're going to be gathering information. And if you can't do that and just spent $12,000, $15,000, $20,000 to take this trip, maybe the news organizations pull back. I mean --

(CROSSTALK)

HAMBY: That happened on the Romney campaign. People decided not to send reporters out because the Mitt Romney was taking cues -- the Romney campaign told me, why should we give access to reporters? President Obama doesn't give access to reporters. So, we're not going to.

You know, the campaigns today, the entire political apparatus is frankly a risk averse, we all have phones on our cameras, with he can catch any gaffe and why go out and cover Mitt Romney if he's not going to talk to you, spending all that money.

BELLANTONI: It's funny. At the "NewsHour", we took a look at (INAUDIBLE) back and look at our archives, and we did a story in 2009 about how many interviews President Obama was giving at the time to all different sort of outlets, whether that was ESPN --

HOLMES: Well, that was the honeymoon period, I think.

BELLANTONI: Exactly.

STELTER: Well, I wonder, you know, now that we know this meeting coming up on Tuesday, what do the press reps want to get out of it?

So, I asked the head of the White House News Photographers Association this morning. Here's an email from him. Ron Sachs, he says "the specifics of a resolution to this issue would include at very least giving the press appropriate access to the events, which are photographed by White House staff photographers except where additional -- where exceptional circumstances warrant. Failure to provide appropriate access threatens the First Amendment freedom of the press."

One of those exceptional circumstances could be the situation room, for example. If we see photos of President Obama in the situation room, there's not an expectation of the press being allowed in there.

But he seems to be saying he wants some sort of compromise where there is more access than there is right now.

BELLANTONI: There's very little access to the Oval Office, for example. I think there's only been a handful of times photographers have been allowed in there. They go into the cabinet room and they do what's called a pool spray, which is maybe 30 seconds where they, click, click, click, everybody gets the same photos. That's not an easy job, by the way, if you're a photographer to be able to make your photo interesting.

But then there are also sort of the storytelling, getting back at that, you know, the pictures of the White House dog or the way that the first lady is portrayed or things they're able to do. An example that I've seen is when they visited Nelson Mandela's cell actually earlier this year when they went on that trip.

STELTER: And of course there is the dog. You know, CNN will show these pictures, this is an example of a compromise where some White House photos we will show on the air.

BELLANTONI: Sure. If they have general interest. And people do want to see pictures of the dog, I will say that. When you go out and talk to everyday people they ask.

STELTER: I was very impressed that the White House rolled out of the most recent dog, because it was done on YouTube, you know, it was -- they went where people wanted to see it as opposed to some other way.

One other topic before we go to the break, and that of course also involving photographs. It's the famous selfie that we saw in South Africa. I was very resistant to cover this, I have to admit. And then I saw a tweet from a viewer who argued why it was worth bringing up. Here is what the person wrote, they said "especially for Reliable Sources, the more obvious media coverage angle is the sexism and objectification of the prime minister in the photo."

You know, we saw the covers of the New York Post and the New York Daily News this week talking about President Obama flirting with the prime minister. Did you think this had any sexist overtones, did this feel like it was inappropriate in some way?

HOLMES: I didn't see it as sexist, but I certainly saw it as sexualizing the encounter and this whole soap opera and drama that the American people seem to love particularly in the rich and the powerful. And if you do a Google search of George Bush and Condoleezza Rice, you'll see all sorts of stories about some crazy love triangle and Laura Bush moving out of the White House, all splash across the front of the tabloids.

I think the American people -- we love this is salacious sort of titillating story. I don't think it was sexist to note that, yes, the prime minister is an attractive woman. And it seemed that she and the president had a familiar and affectionate relationship.

HAMBY: I also went back and -- I'm not familiar with the Danish prime minister...

STELTER: As few of us were.

HAMBY: But I think she's actually back home sort of on her political campaigns has cultivated of an image kind of like a style icon back home. So that's just sort of...

HOLMES: The Gucci prime minister.

BELLANTONI: Right. And you know, this expression on First Lady Michelle Obama's face, right, that's one reason this became a story. She could have been reacting to anything. I mean, we weren't there in that box.

HOLMES: But the photographer said that actually she had been participating in the conversation only two minutes earlier.

HAMBY: Another photo surfaced that got -- that went viral where she....

STELTER: What we needed was not a photo, we needed a video so we could fast forward and rewind and understand the context of the situation.

BELLANTONI: People complain that we focus so much attention on this in the media when it's the anniversary of the Newtown massacre or there are other important stories.

HOLMES: Or Nelson Mandela...

BELLANTONI: There is a lot of coverage of that.

But in the end, this didn't affect global policy, this didn't really take away from that service whatsoever. There are people, thousands of people attending that event.

HOLMES: It was just a little moment of melodrama, I think.

STELTER: Well, Amy, Christina, Peter, say with us. We're going to take a break with more political topics in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Welcome back to Reliable Sources. I'm Brian Stelter.

Here with me still Amy Holmes, the anchor of "The Hot List" on Glenn Beck's The Blaze.com, Peter Hamby, the national political reporter for CNN and Christina Bellantoni, the political editor for PBS NewsHour and soon the editor-in-chief of "Roll Call."

And Peter, I want to bring up a story that you wrote -- that you broke the CNN.com this week about the GOP planning ahead to 2016. Let me read a quote from it. It says, they were talking about proposals for debates and for the process, they say one proposal being weighed by the RNC members would involve sanctioning a small handful of debates, while penalizing candidates who participate in any non- sanctioned GOP debate by stripping them of one-third of their delegates to the national convention.

You know, this caught my eye of course, because debates are bread and butter for CNN and other cable news channels during the primary season. Tell me about the reasons you're hearing for why there's talk about limiting them in 2016.

HAMBY: Well, the RNC chairman, the Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has been pretty public and outspoken about wanting to condense the primary calendar. We saw in 2012 Republicans thought it was too long, dragged on too long, too much...

STELTER: It may have hurt them, they think.

HAMBY: Yeah, it hurt them. Too much intraparty fighting, self- inflicted wounds, things that eventually dragged down Mitt Romney in the general election.

So they are now working behind the scenes to both shorten the primary calendar and they have done in this sort of new panel passing a lot of motions to figure this out.

But one big thing, like you mentioned, is debates. Last time in 2012 there were 20 Republican primary debates. I was at 19 of them. So it's like for reporters, how many more stories can we write about this?

They provided endless drama. There was the Rick Perry oops moment, there was Mitt Romney saying self-deport. Again, these things hurt Republicans they say.

So, what they want to do, and they really haven't passed a lot of specific things behind the scene, they're still working on what to do, penalize candidates who participate in non-sanctioned GOP debates by stripping them of a full third of their delegates to the convention which could be crippling.

But again, they're still figuring this out. They don't know what to do. They're potentially talking about working with networks to sort of massage who they moderate the debates.

They were sort of upset this time that George Stephanopolous, for example, who -- you know, the ABC anchor who used to work for the Clinton White House, you know, Republicans saying why was a Democrat moderating our debates. So, they really want to maybe get five or six debates instead of 20.

Again, they are -- this is still embryonic. But this is something that they're going to making a real hard push for in the next year.

STELTER: Well, let's talk strategy about this, Amy. Isn't this a smart strategy on the part of the GOP?

HOLMES: Politically I think it could be smart, although I think a lot of the base will be very unhappy with this, because as we saw in this last election cycle, these are these more conservative candidates that had their boomlets. So there was Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and at the end, Rick Santorum, really giving Mitt Romney a run for the money. So it's quite -- that phenomena will be less likely to happen if they condense the schedule. I would also say it's really bad for the press. I mean, there are all these great--

STELTER: Let's just say it is. It is.

HOLMES: Absolutely. It creates news, like who is up, who is down, who just stepped in it and who just had a brilliant moment, like when Newt Gingrich pushed back on the stories about his wife and the divorce and the question was put to him and he was very effective and --

HAMBY: He won South Carolina.

HOLMES: Absolutely. So I like drama in politics and I like politics to be more open, but I certainly understand why the GOP wants a candidate--

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: If I'm a viewer, I might want a Fox anchor to host a Democratic debate or I want an MSNBC anchor to host a Republican debate, to get different kind of answers.

(CROSSTALK)

BELLANTONI: Or if you're Republican, maybe you want a Fox person to not -- to moderate your debate because that is going to get at more Republican issues or conservative issues. So it's interesting to me how very different the general election debates are from the primary debates. Debates matter. They filter out candidates, they allow you to sort of flesh out your policy where you're forced to do something that's more than a soundbite or a TV commercial. So why isn't there a look at overhauling the entire thing? If I had my druthers, I would see a debate between the heads of the congressional committees, too, to get them to say like what is your blueprint for America, and why should your party win overwhelmingly in the midterm elections? There should be more airing of policy --

STELTER: Sounds like a "Crossfire" debate at least. (CROSSTALK)

BELLANTONI: Yes, a little plug.

HAMBY: What I'm anxious to see is how the Republican Party manages this. If we're talking about this delegate penalty. Remember, these debates, the presidential campaign everyone says presidential campaign is three years away. No, it's not. It's 11 months away. It starts the November after the midterm elections next year. That is when all of this starts. And to your point, all of these insurgent candidates, your Herman Cains, Michele Bachmanns, when they make a decision of whether or not to participate in a sanctioned debate, they don't have delegates yet. So they are just kind of rolling the dice to rise up in the polls early, and then these delegate penalties are going to happen later. So you have to make these decisions --

(CROSSTALK)

BELLANTONI: -- don't even care about delegates if they're running for vice president or cabinet secretary or to raise their speaking fees.

(CROSSTALK)

HAMBY: You can run for president and you can run for president. The only people--

HOLMES: I think it's a great opportunity to raise your name I.D., whether it's for politics or for press or other professional reasons.

HAMBY: You're totally right.

STELTER: Mike Huckabee this week signaling he might run in 2016. So we're already hearing it.

HAMBY: The Des Moines Register yesterday came out with a poll in Iowa.

STELTER: I did not see that.

HAMBY: His favorable ratings are through the roof. Mike Huckabee's pollster rolled out a poll two days ago that showed him leading Iowa and leading South Carolina. Again, you can run for president on Fox News. I have spent -- I don't cover the White House, but I do cover the country. I've spent the last five years living in Republican politics, going to Iowa, Texas, South Carolina, wherever. You talk to Republican activists, all they do is watch Fox News. You can reach as many Iowa voters by going on Fox News, more Iowa voters than by flying to Des Moines.

BELLANTONI: And if you polled Iowa caucus goers on whether Sean Hannity should run for president, I guarantee they'd--

(CROSSTALK) HAMBY: So Mike Huckabee gets to be on TV, knock Democrats' teeth in every day, do it with a smile, and not have to do the nitty-gritty of campaigning.

HOLMES: But in fairness, let's look at the other side. I remember back in 2008 there were rumors that Chris Matthews was considering running in Pennsylvania, and he has his perch at MSNBC where he gets to bash Republicans and conservatives every night.

HAMBY: Again, you can do -- looking at 2016, there are only three or four candidates doing the real behind the scenes hard work to plot a presidential run. They are Chris Christie, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. Then you have like the Scott Browns, who are like talking about it and going to Iowa. Again, you can go out to Iowa, get a lot of buzz, maybe rise up to 3 percent in the polls, (inaudible), rise to 10 percent, all of a sudden you're on the VP short list discussion. You can raise your profile just by talking about running for president.

STELTER: Thank you for sharing the story with us. It's a great read on CNN.com, and Christina and Amy, thank you for being here as well. Great conversation.

Ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, the Ron Burgundy phenomenon, is there anything such thing as too much marketing of "Anchorman 2?"

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Welcome back. I'm going to see if I can get through this segment without any Teleprompter mistakes, because that would be ironic if I were to mess this up.

Ron Burgundy is who we're talking about. He has been everywhere lately. The actor Will Ferrell, who plays Burgundy in "Anchorman" and the upcoming Paramount Pictures sequel "Anchorman 2" has done so much. He's filmed ad spots touting the Dodge Durango, he has honed his local news chops alongside a North Dakota news anchor, and he even flew to Boston this month, where Emerson College renamed their journalism school the Ron Burgundy School of Communication, although that was just for one day.

Ron Burgundy has been on ESPN. He's going to be on GMA this week. He has got an ice cream flavor, a signature brand of scotch, an autobiography, a museum exhibit, and he even got CNN to play along in this promotional video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Ron Burgundy.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN: What hasn't been said about Ron Burgundy?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: He's a news legend.

BLITZER: One of the most influential anchors in broadcast history. CUOMO: On camera, he's the best, but off camera, he's a bit of an [ EXPLETIVE DELETED].

BLITZER: A major [ EXPLETIVE DELETED].

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: So are the executives at Paramount on to something with this viral ad strategy? Or are viewers already exhausted by it? The movie's not even out yet, after all.

Joining me now from New York to discuss, Sam Thielman, a staff writer for Ad Week. Sam, we could talk about this all day, but in the few minutes we have got, tell me, what do you think they have done right at Paramount with this rollout?

SAM THIELMAN, AD WEEK: First of all, thank you so much for having me here. I think they have done a lot right. But I don't think you can give enough -- I think it's impossible to give enough credit to Adam McKay and Will Ferrell for this. I mean, these guys are indefatigable. They are writing all of this material, they're performing it. There are 70 of those Dodge Durango spots.

STELTER: Really?

THIELMAN: Yes, that's a lot. That's well beyond the sort of the press like the kind of media you have to sign on to do when you do a normal movie.

STELTER: Right. Right. I do wonder if the movie can possibly live up to all of this marketing?

THIELMAN: I don't know if that matters. I mean, the job of the marketers is to get people into the movie. If you think the marketing is funny, that's an accomplishment on the part of the director and the stars. So you know, if the marketing is better than the movie, good job, marketers.

And there's some discussion of whether or not there's too much of this stuff out there. Again, I don't think you can oversaturate. I don't think -- I can't remember a movie where that's killed the opening weekend is people felt like they had seen too many trailers. Awareness is a good thing.

STELTER: Is there a lesson we can take away about marketing of movies and other products in the future from this whole campaign?

THIELMAN: I do think that this is really going to change the way stars' contracts are written in these big comedies, because if you have somebody like Ferrell, who's created this fascinating character, then like maybe you do want to see like three hours worth of advertising with him. Like, maybe like you give him more gross points or whatever, and then he says I'll play ball not just for the month before the movie, but for the six months before the movie.

STELTER: Tell me what gross points mean for the audience at home?

THIELMAN: Sorry, gross points is the percentage of the chunk of the gross of the movie that -- the ticket sales they're taking in, because Hollywood accounting means that no movie ever made money.

STELTER: Right. As someone just pointed out on Twitter, Ron Burgundy is no Beyonce. I want to know what you think of the surprise release of the album this week. What was the strategy there?

THIELMAN: I think it's a real power move on Beyonce's part. No record executive says yes, let's take our biggest artist, put out a brand-new record with her, and then not tell anybody it's coming out. You saw Eminem's "Marshall Mathers LP 2" earlier this year. They had him do everything for that, but she's Beyonce, she can do what she wants. She has -- this is her fifth album, she is the Ron Burgundy of the music world. She's kind of a big deal.

STELTER: There it is, there's the connection. Billboard says this thing's going to be No. 1 on their release chart in the week upcoming. I wonder if anybody can pull this off other than Beyonce?

THIELMAN: You know, I don't know. I can't think of anybody who could at the moment. Her fans are rabid, they love her and they love her. And that's -- I think you are probably right on that. It's kind of a one-time deal. I don't want to be the guy who has to explain why when he tried to -- or who, maybe this is the pitch in the future. Maybe you are like, oh, Beyonce, put out a record with no marketing, we don't have to do any marketing for our record, either. Probably a hard one to sell.

STELTER: Probably not going to fly. Well, Sam Thielman, thanks for joining us. This is great.

THIELMAN: Thank you, Ryan.

STELTER: Up next, a big win for the news media in court this week. We'll tell you all about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Welcome back. Two days ago, there was panic at a high school in Colorado after a student opened fire with a shotgun. Commentators pointed out that it happened just a few miles away from the Aurora movie theater shooting in July of 2012, and one day before the anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. After every shooting, we always ask, what went wrong? What caused the suspect to terrorize innocent people? That's what the Foxnews.com reporter Jana Winter tried to find out after the Aurora shooting. She persuaded anonymous sources to tell her about the existence of a notebook that the accused shooter, James Holmes, sent to his psychiatrist before the attack. According to Winter's sources, the notebook was full of details about how he was going to kill people. After Winter's story was published, Holmes' attorneys pursued her and tried to compel her to testify about her sources. She lost twice in lower courts, raising the prospect that a judge might say she was in contempt of court and sentence her to jail time. But this week, in a big victory for journalists, the New York State Court of Appeals said she would not have to testify after all. The court cited the state's unusually strong shield law.

Winter came on Fox the next day to thank her colleagues. She still looked shaken up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANA WINTER, FOX NEWS REPORTER: I promised my sources I would keep their identities confidential and would have ended up having to go to jail to do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: I would have been shaken up too. Roger Ailes, the chief executive of Fox News, said the protection of Jana Winter's confidential sources was necessary to preserve and protect journalism and democracy itself, and he was absolutely right.

That's all for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. Tell me what you thought of today's show on Twitter and Facebook. My user name is Brian Stelter.

And join us on CNN.com, where we're covering the media every day. Online right now, my look at how the news media mostly stayed away from Newtown on the anniversary of the shooting there.

And a debate about whether Time magazine made a lousy choice for person of the year. Also online, view (inaudible), a study funded by Netflix, how convenient is this? Says everybody is doing it nowadays. And tonight is the season finale of "Homeland." So look out tomorrow for a recap on CNN.com.

Check out the Reliable Sources blog at CNN.com as well. And we'll see you right back here next week Sunday at 11:00 a.m.

State of the Union with Candy Crowley begins right now.