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MSNBC Host Apologizes to Mitt Romney; NY Times Report on Benghazi; Interview with Founder of Recode; Interview with Neetzan Zimmerman; Interview with Charlotte Koh

Aired January 5, 2014 - 11:00   ET


BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: What happens when you mix a liberal year- in-review with some bad jokes, a rabid reaction from pundits and a response from a former presidential candidate? You get the biggest media story of the week. We'll examine why it happened and what it says about cable news.

Later, tech gurus Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg reinvented themselves this week with a new website. Mossberg is here to tell us why.

And we will talk to the guy who just left Gawker, who knows exactly how to get you to click on a story. It is something to behold.

I'm Brian Stelter and it's time for "Reliable Sources."

Good morning. Welcome to a very cozy studio here in Washington. A little later I'll give you my take on this week's winter storm coverage, now that I have gone out and donned one of those bright red CNN jackets.

But let's begin with a partisan storm that's still erupting over something that happened on the MSNBC show hosted by Melissa Harris- Perry last week. During a year-in-review show, she talked about a series of photos, including one of Mitt Romney's family. Before we have a discussion about it, let's go ahead and run the segment in its entirety.



(UNKNOWN): Right.


HARRIS-PERRY: And of course, there on Governor Romney's knee, is his adopted grandson, who is an African-American, adopted African-American child, Kieran Romney. Any captions for this one?

PIA GLENN, ACTRESS (?): One of these things is not like the others. One of these things...


GLENN (?): And that little baby, front and center, would be the one.

HARRIS-PERRY: And isn't he the most gorgeous? My goal is that, in 2040, the biggest thing of the year will be the wedding between Kieran Romney and North West.



HARRIS-PERRY: Can you imagine Mitt Romney and Kanye West as in-laws?


DEAN OBEIDALLAH, COMEDIAN: I think this picture is great. It really sums up the diversity of the Republican Party.



STELTER: Now, the reaction from the right came quickly and lasted all week. Some called Harris-Perry and her panelists "racists" and "thugs." She apologized via Twitter on Tuesday and then again on her show yesterday.


HARRIS-PERRY: Whatever the intent was, the reality is that the segment proceeded in a way that was offensive, and showing the photo in that context of that segment was poor judgment. So without reservation or qualification, I apologize to the Romney family. On this program we are dedicated to advocating for a wide diversity of families. It is one of our core principles, and I am reminded that, when we are doing so, it must always be with the utmost respect.

I am genuinely appreciative of everyone who offered serious criticisms of last Sunday's program, and I am reminded that our fiercest critics can sometimes be our best teachers.


STELTER: Our best teachers. Now, it's a little out of course. She's a time-slot competitor. Keep that in mind while we're talking about this. Make sure we're fair.

Let's figure out what this episode says about MSNBC and about people that loathe the liberal cable news channel. Joining me from Los Angeles, Dylan Byers, the media reporter for Politico; and in New York, Sally Kohn, a political columnist for the Daily Beast; and in Boston, Callie Crossley, the host of "Under the Radar" on WGBH, the powerhouse radio station there.

Callie, first of all, I want to ask you, do you think an apology was merited in this case? CROSSLEY: Oh, absolutely. Those were inappropriate comments, and, as the host, Melissa Harris-Perry had to step up and make the apology. But beyond that, her brand really is to offer pointed commentary against just this kind of tone-deaf commentary in another situation.


So she would have to step up and say that. And I think also, because of her own personal racial history, that it had a double whammy here, in which she wanted to sincerely apologize.

Now, as we know, Governor Mitt Romney did accept her apology this morning on Fox News with Chris Wallace and in doing so said that he recognized the sincerity of the apology.

STELTER: Yeah, let's go ahead and actually...

CROSSLEY: I believe that because...

STELTER: I'm sorry. Let's go ahead and actually run that tape and then react to it.


FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS.: I think people recognize and the folks at MSNBC who have apologized recognize that people like me are fair targets. If you get in the political game, you can expect incoming, but children, that's -- you know, that's beyond the line. And I think they understand that and feel that as well. I think it's a heartfelt apology, and I think, for that reason, we hold no -- no ill will whatsoever.

STELTER: Callie, sorry to cut you off there. What was your point there about Mitt Romney?

CROSSLEY: No, it's fine. Yes, no, I think that, you know, his response was that he was responding to the sincerity in her apology. Not only did she write a piece for; she sent out several tweets.

And here's what's important. She said "without qualification." And also -- I'm paraphrasing now -- it's not for me to say who I -- how much hurt I caused people I may have offended, even if I don't think it's offensive. In this case, she knew it was offensive. She recognized that. And as Ben Franklin says, "Don't ruin an apology with an excuse."

There were no excuses here. And I think that's what made it so powerful, her apology. And it was definitely warranted.

KOHN: Sally, maybe this is a playbook for future cable news hosts who have to apologize for future offenses.

KOHN: I think you're right. You know, this business we're in, this 24/7, constant, if you add the Twitter on top of that, there's always this incentive to say something that's newsworthy, attention-getting, but the -- it's really easy to cross the line into offensive and stupid.

So, you know, and that's a split-second judgment sometimes. What really matters is how you address it when it happens. I really thought this was a textbook apology. You could tell she was sincere. She didn't qualify it. I mean, I got choked up. And we can compare this to the many, many, many times people have said things offensively in moments of poor judgment and have tried to defend them or contextualize them or not walk them back.

STELTER: Well, there have been complaints from liberals...

KOHN: You know, good for her.

STELTER: ... saying that people on Fox News, when comments happen, tend not to apologize in this way. Do you see a double standard here, as someone who used to be a contributor to Fox News?

KOHN: You know, I'm not going to judge how anyone behaves in these moments. I think these are uncomfortable and unfortunate moments. And I do think she set this bar higher, and I hope more of us can all reach that bar and also reach the bar of forgiving. I think that's the other side. I would like to see the right drop it now. She apologized.

STELTER: Dylan, do you think this incident -- this episode says something larger about the discourse on MSNBC? It, of course, comes only a month after Martin Bashir resigned after talking about Sarah Palin in a derogatory way.

BYERS: Right. And I think that's only the latest in these sort of controversial remarks that have been made by MSNBC hosts. You have seen a string of it. And it's, sort of, creating this branding issue for MSNBC, I think, which is a problem.

And I think what happened with Melissa Harris-Perry is, sort of, a continuation of that. And I think the biggest problem there is that MSNBC wasn't just supposed to be a sort of liberal counterpart to Fox News, a sort of place for the progressive base to go every day and every night; it was also supposed to be smarter. It was supposed to elevate the discourse. The idea was that you were having these sort of smart, well-educated progressives coming forth and changing the conversation -- "lean forward," lean into the 21st century.

And so much of these remarks, which have to do with going after someone's family, with issues of race, certainly with Martin Bashir suggesting that Sarah Palin should be treated like a slave. I mean, all of these things are -- it's leaning backward, and it's totally -- it's not what MSNBC, I think, was supposed to be about originally. And I think it's doing real severe damage to the brand.

STELTER: Sally. do you agree?

CROSSLEY: I agree...


CROSSLEY: Did you say Sally or Callie? STELTER: I'm sorry. (inaudible). I was hoping to go to you, Callie.

CROSSLEY: I agree in general about what Dylan said there, but I have to say I would not compare what happened on Melissa Harris-Perry's show with what happened with Martin Bashir.

And again, I want to return to the fact that her brand is to exactly be on top of the kind of, I would say, ignorant and other kind of racist commentary. So for her to even in a slight way seem to be supporting that was important for her to speak to. But that's not where she's going every day. I mean, she stands for something else. I'm not saying that Martin Bashir didn't, but I think that was so out of pocket, that, you know, it was an entirely different case.

I get, in general, where Dylan is coming from, but I think -- I'm not sure everything can be lumped together in this way.

STELTER: Well, and you're the host of a program...

BYERS: I couldn't agree...

STELTER: Sorry. Go ahead, Dylan.

BYERS: I was just -- I couldn't agree with you more -- two very different cases. I think the point I'm trying to make here is there is a sort of, whether it's Bashir or Harris-Perry, there's this sort of desire to demonize the Republican Party, and it makes one sort of intellectually lazy, I think.

And though they are two very different cases; each show has a different sort of tone and purpose, I think they fall into the same trap, whether they do it in a major blunder the way Bashir did or a kind of inadvertent blunder the way Harris-Perry did.

STELTER: I think it would be good if I played a clip from some of the reaction to this. This is a clip from CNN talking about this case a few days ago.


MARC LAMONT HILL, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Stuart Stevens, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney's campaign in 2012 said this. "MSNBC has become a club for the smug to go to exchange hateful opinions and reassure each other it's acceptable."

He has a point with that.

I don't think Melissa represents this point. I think she actually has some diversity. I think she's brilliant and amazing. But I think there are pockets of MSNBC which are echo chambers, which are smug and condescending, and it's just a bunch of people on the left, like myself, who all agree with each other. I don't think that makes for good TV.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: Dylan, you wrote on Politico this week about CNN and FOX News both covering this story. Do you sense there's something here about rivals of MSNBC going after a rival in this way?

BYERS: I think there's a little bit of that. I don't think you can discount that, I think, especially given how much FOX News hates MSNBC. They probably enjoy seeing them fall on their face. CNN and MSNBC are certainly in something of a ratings race, depending on how you look at it.

I think the larger thing here is just that these sorts of controversies, these sorts of sense that someone in the media, especially in the liberal or mainstream media, fell flat on their face, that, I can tell you as somebody who has a media blog, that traffics well.

People enjoy seeing that. It makes for a good story. People really do enjoy seeing people fall flat on their face. And it's not necessarily a good thing, but that's just the reality.

STELTER: Let's all make sure we're properly in our chairs and not about to topple over here.

You know, Callie, I wonder, since you're the host of a radio show up in Boston, you sometimes have guests on like Melissa Harris-Perry did who say things that are outrageous. What do you do in those cases?

CROSSLEY: In the moment I distance myself from the comment, because you have to. As the host of the show, you end up taking most of the blame if that's said on your show and left unchecked.

So in this instance, as several other people, I think Sally said, in the moment, she didn't react fast enough to realize, wait a minute, where is this conversation going? And so you have to in that moment.

And then, you know what? In those cases where I didn't react fast enough, I have to come back and say, here's what was said, here's what I should have said in the moment. And make it plain that that's -- I didn't approve of an inappropriate comment.

STELTER: Well, here's a good closer for us. Mark Liebovich of The New York Times wrote on Twitter a few minutes ago. He said: "Cable news should turn over all weekend programming to mea culpas and emotional apologies." He said: "eventually just that format up to non- hosts, it would make for good TV," he said.

I don't know if that would make for that good TV or not. Sally, would you watch?

KOHN: Well, I actually would love to see more regular people on television. That was part of the reason I got into this in the first place. You know, I do think there's something worth noting here between the three cable networks and their audiences, which is that I'm fascinated that the right, which has sort of argued that political correctness is this problem, they've railed against it, they've complained any time people want to critique coverage on FOX or elsewhere as racially insensitive, and yet they're the first people to grab the mantle in this case.

I hope, again, we can all step back, learn a larger lesson here that it's important for us all to be sensitive on these issues across channels and stop sort of saying only one side should be held accountable. That's just immature and unhelpful.

STELTER: Well, there's a good place for us to pause. Callie Crossley, thank you so much for joining us from Boston. Sally and Dylan, stand by, I've got some more with you in a moment.

When we come back, would you believe me if I told you that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un fed his uncle to 120 hungry dogs?


STELTER: Welcome back.

The word Benghazi, by which I mean the city in Libya, has come to mean something very specific in the American media. Benghazi now seems to mean the September 11th, 2012, attack at the city's U.S. consulate, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Last Sunday The New York Times published an exhaustively reported reconstruction of the attack. It pointed the finger away from the group that some believed were the perpetrators.

Here is what the reporter, David Kirkpatrick, wrote: "Months of investigation by The New York Times centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there, and its context, turned up no evidence that al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault."

Kirkpatrick also concluded that a YouTube video ridiculing Islam was one of the reasons why the attackers stormed the U.S. compound. Conservative advocates have mocked that idea ever since it was first spoken aloud.

Now I worked at The Times for six years. So I know that a story like that one took months to report and write. It was taken very seriously by the editors there. But it almost completely contradicted the story that conservative media outlets have told about Benghazi.

If you watched FOX News this week, this is what you saw: segment after segment that tried to undermine The New York Times. One graphic right there read "not fit for print."

FOX reports said they had their own sources, mostly anonymous ones, that said al Qaeda was involved. Talking heads suggested that The Times was trying to help Hillary Clinton by cleaning up what they see as a Benghazi scandal.

To Bill O'Reilly, it was "pure bull."

Now we asked Kirkpatrick to come on the show this week. But he was unavailable. So what's this all about? Joining me from New York, Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a senior editor at the Long War Journal. And returning to the discussion, Sally Kohn and Dylan Byers.

Thomas, you wrote this week for The Weekly Standard that The Times whitewashed Benghazi. How so?

THOMAS JOSCELYN, FELLOW, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Well, I think that The Times report -- and I think we should have respect for the fact that David Kirkpatrick and The Times have done some really granular reporting inside Libya in very a dangerous area.

However, anybody who is familiar with the FBI's investigation or the U.S. investigation, not just conservatives, but also Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, have said that there are known al Qaeda ties to the Benghazi attack.

So it's not just a conservative versus The Times sort of storyline. The bottom line is that there are a lot of threads that were left out of The Times reporting that point to international actors, including some who were tied directly to al Qaeda.

In October, for example, the United Nations Security Council designated an Egyptian network, led by a guy named Muhammad Jamal, and found that reports of his involvement, his network's involvement in Benghazi were credible.

This is just one of many ties, I would say, to a broader international network that sort of were left out of The Times reporting.

STELTER: Here's one of the comments that Bill O'Reilly made. Of course, Bill O'Reilly, the biggest host on FOX News. Here's what he had to say a couple of days ago.


BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": The Times also says: "The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned." Nonsense. For more than two hours, they assaulted the U.S. mission compound in Benghazi. Militants were seen on video cameras casing the mission before the attack. And they hid themselves until opening fire. I guess the word "meticulously" is the paper's fallback, but it is pure bull.


STELTER: Thomas, what are reasons, do you think, why there continues to be so much uncertainty about what happened that night?

JOSCELYN: Well, I think there are a lot of reasons. I mean once this enters the political realm, of course, you get all sorts of different arguments about what it means for politicians. But one of the things we've been calling for consistently is sort of the declassification of more of the evidence surrounding Benghazi and related matters. I think there are a lot of areas where the U.S. government can step up and declassify information about what it considers -- who they consider to be the suspects, what their ties are, or are not, to the broader al Qaeda network and sort of a lot of the other details surrounding that night.

Don't leave it to just basically this partisan infighting, but let's actually see the actual facts about what the U.S. government knows about the suspects.

STELTER: And, Dylan, I want to read a quote from one of your colleagues, Blake Confol (ph), who wrote a column this week talking about Benghazi. And he said, "The volume of reporting on Benghazi is enormous and that means alternative explanations are available to those seeking one."

Would you agree with that?

Is that a pretty fair assessment?

BYERS: Yes, I think so. I don't think you will ever have as comprehensive a report about what happened in Benghazi as you would like. I'm sure there's a lot more out there.

I will say the "Time's" reporting is deep. "The Times" has a very strong team. Kirkpatrick is a very strong reporter. He unearthed a lot. And I think you have to take him seriously. And while I think that there's more to be reported and I -- you know, I would welcome more reports on it, I think that the conservative blowback and the attempt to completely undercut this article says a lot more about the conservatives right now than it does about the "New York Times."

STELTER: Sally, you know, I -- because Dylan mentioned that, I think it's worth bringing it up. We saw "The New York Times" editorial page editor come out and say no to conspiracy theories, there was no connection between the news reporting and the opinion side of the newspaper here.

What did you make of the fact that he came out and said that?

KOHN: Yes, I found that somewhat troubling. I mean there's this sort of trend that I think that kind of comes on the heels of, of conservatives, for a long time, arguing that there's this sort of liberal media bias. And then it becomes this kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. The media rushes to prove that it's not and so has to sort of fall over itself to try and defend its actions.

And "The Times" actually sort of more upped the conservatism of its reporting to try and, you know, appeal to -- or appease those conservative critics and, actually, then you create a conservative bias in the media.

So it's sort of deeply troubling.

The other thing that's troubling about this overall is it's good to get the facts. I agree with everyone. We really need the facts of what actually happened. But the reason this continues to be an ongoing story is because -- is solely because of conservative desire to smear President Obama and Hillary Clinton. And so the lens through which every little granular piece of information is interpreted and misinterpreted and manipulated -- I mean they now -- they're attacking the "New York Times" for actually having sources on the ground and saying that they should have gone and interfered or done something to prevent the violence. That -- that's ridiculous. It's preposterous. The story has sort of jumped the rail, frankly.

STELTER: Before I run out of time...


STELTER: -- we run out of time, I want to bring up one other very different kind of international story, because this -- this blew me away the last couple of days. Let's put up on the screen the Google News results for the term "North Korea dogs." You'll see dozens of headlines claiming that the North Korean leader fed his uncle to a pack of 120 dogs. That was allegedly the way that this uncle was executed.

But this all stems from one unreliable source, one online news report that's been translated and mistranslated over and over again.

"The Washington Post" put out a very good debunking which says, no, Kim Jong Un probably did not feed his uncle to 120 hungry dogs.

But, Dylan, what does this say about the current media climate, where we have so many Web sites repeating this unsubstantiated rumor?

BYERS: It's a great question. I think more and more media organizations fall victim to this. I will admit, I have even fallen victim to this.

You see a very tantalizing story and you write it and you say "unconfirmed report -- reports," "so and so says," "we are unable to confirm." And you put it out there and it just keeps repeating itself and repeating itself and repeating itself.

And when the story gets proved wrong and someone comes to you and says why did you report on that, you say, hey, I didn't report on that, I just reported that this other guy or this one source was reporting on that. That's all. I was just throwing it out there.

And the problem with that is that the role of the media should be actually to go out and confirm this news. And the news that might not be true is not -- those stories aren't the stories that we should be like sending out into the Twitterverse -- into, you know, that go viral. That's not -- that's not our role.

STELTER: To CNN's credit, I saw an e-mail chain with them trying to fact check it. And the e-mail basically concluded, we're not going to report this as fact, because we don't believe it's true.

But, Sally, I wonder if this just shows that people are willing to believe anything about North Korea because it's so hard to see inside the country.

KOHN: Well, I mean, of course. And certainly North Korea is kind of grist for this mill. But this is literally the tail wagging the dog.


KOHN: I mean if ever an example there was. You know, we have this sort of click driven and sort of first on the scene driven media, which is understandable, because that's actually how it's structurally set up. And yet it leads to things like I'm going to put out this unconfirmed rumor about 120 dogs.

I did love "The Washington Post" piece, I will say. I thought the best part of it was where they quoted a satirist who said the most obvious reason why this probably isn't true is at a moment like that, who has time to count the dogs?


STELTER: That's the perfect thought for us to close on.

Sally, Dylan, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

Thomas, thank you for being here, as well.


STELTER: And I'd love to hear what you think of the show so far on Facebook and Twitter. My user name is brianstelter and I'll be checking out your comments.

In fact, we're heading online next. We have two -- we have a pioneering technology journalist here to tell us about his new venture.

In a sea of tech news, how can any news outlet stand out?



I'm Brian Stelter.

This was a huge week for Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg. They've been at the cutting edge of technology and digital journalism for over a decade. Their popular tech conference began in 2003 and in 2007 spawned a Web site, All Things Digital, backed by "The Wall Street Journal" and its parent company, Dow Jones.

It's been required reading for people like me and for anyone interested in technology and media ever since.

On New Year's Day, their deal with Dow Jones ended and they introduced a new site called Recode. They're betting on the idea that the personal brand they've forged from years of strong writing and reporting is more powerful than the institutional brand of a place like Dow Jones. Why?

Well, let's ask.

Joining me here in DC is Walt Mossberg. Thanks for joining us.

WALT MOSSBERG, RECODE: I'm thrilled to be here, Brian.

STELTER: And as you say, Kara is under the weather in San Francisco?

MOSSBERG: She has a cold, yeah.

STELTER: Couldn't join us as well.

But let me start with what I was saying there in the intro about the personal brand. What appealed to you all about making this leap?

MOSSBERG: Well, we -- this was not fleeing The Wall Street Journal or fleeing Dow Jones. It was a decision Kara and I made about a year and a half ago that the way we could really expand and build and take some risks with the conference business and the Web business that we had and some new, kind of, experiments in journalism -- the best way to do that was to be independent and have our own company.

And, you know, a credit to Dow Jones: they gave us a ton of autonomy, but ultimately there are some things you just need to have your own business, your own show to do, and that's what we're doing.

STELTER: And what does that say about where we are with digital media right now?

Because we continue to see people leaving old institutions, old-line institutions like newspapers. We saw Nate Silver recently go over to ESPN. There were reports this week that Ezra Klein of The Washington Post might go out on his own with a new venture.

Does it say something broader about digital media or are these just a series of coincidences?

MOSSBERG: Well, no, I don't think they're coincidences, but I also -- I would say two things that I think are really important. One, and here I'm quoting my pal, Kara, who made this point the other day, there isn't -- we're not all hung up on old media versus new media. It's all media. It's all journalism. Some of it is done well; some of it's done poorly. And that includes -- you know, there's terrible newspapers; there's great newspapers. There's terrible websites; there's great websites. So...

STELTER: It's all blurring.

MOSSBERG: And that's one -- that's one really important point. The other thing, and it's pretty obvious, is, if this were 100 years ago, it would be really hard to start a new newspaper. If it was 50 years ago, it would be really hard to start a new television network if you were just a journalist. Digital, yes, we did have to raise money. We have great investors, one of whom is NBC News; the other is Terry Semel, who is a veteran media executive.

So we had to raise money. It's not like you can do it for no money.


MOSSBERG: But it's a lot lower barrier to entry to start your own thing as a journalist than at any time in history.

STELTER: In history, that's right. And what's it been like to be out there raising money? Because you all have written about, reported on these people for decades?


MOSSBERG: It's a great question. It's really been -- it was really, kind of, a little bit of a surreal experience. I will say we had dozens of inquiries from people who figured our contract with Dow Jones was going to run out, and it was very nice to have people say "You're great; here's some money," or "We'd like to give you some money."

But, you know, very often the fit wouldn't have been right or the exact nature of the way these folks wanted to do it wouldn't have been right. So we were very lucky to find great investors.

But the answer to your question of what was it like is it was like living the thing you've covered, and it was -- it was a little bit surreal.

STELTER: I, kind of, think I know what you're talking about, a little bit, here...


... being on television now.

I had a question from a viewer just now who says, "Any advice for the upcoming generation of journalists?"

Because you and Kara are veterans in this industry.


STELTER: But there's a lot of technology reporters out there that are just getting started.

MOSSBERG: Well, I think -- I think, yeah, I have three pieces of advice. I could have 12, but I'm going to do three because it's television.


One is honesty and ethics. I know it sounds corny. But if you want to differentiate among 100,000 websites...

STELTER: Yeah, you've got hundreds of competitors out there.

MOSSBERG: ... you want trust. People need to trust you. And that's been our -- our kind of -- we've hoped distinguishes us. And so that would be one piece of advice I'd give to the -- to the questioner. And the second piece of advice would be think about being entrepreneurial. Even if you're inside another organization -- we were inside Dow Jones. I personally was inside The Wall Street Journal and still tried to be entrepreneurial and start new things. And you can do that, and now we're doing it again in an independent way. And so I think those would be, maybe -- that's just two, but that's enough.


STELTER: Two good ones.

MOSSBERG: That's enough.

STELTER: And let's point out, it's not just you and Kara Swisher. You've got a big team that you're able to -- you're going to bring from Dow Jones to the new site, and actually hired new people as well.

MOSSBERG: Yeah, you know, exactly. Thanks for asking. There's been a lot of focus on what you asked about, us going out. But this is not "The Walt and Kara Show." We have about 18 journalists, which is not a big team, by the way, in comparison to other tech sites. But the thing I'm really proud of and Kara is really proud of is that every one of them is coming with us. Most of them had other job offers. And also coming with us are web developers.

I mean, 100 percent, everyone, our web developers, our conference producers, our administrative people, all our journalists, all our editors, are coming with us. And we've just hired a great managing editor, Ken Li, from Reuters, and we have hired a science correspondent, James Temple, from the San Francisco Chronicle.

So Kara's and my intention is not only for Re/code to become a brand, and the Code Conference, which is our new conference, but also each of these people to be able to build up their own brands the way that we've been lucky enough to do.

STELTER: Right. Well, Walt, thanks so much for spending some time with us. Best of luck with the new site.

MOSSBERG: Thanks a lot. Thanks for having us.

STELTER: Up next, an interview with a very different kind of Internet pioneer. But what can we learn from the man who's been called a viral genius?


STELTER: Welcome back.

On Friday, Neetzan Zimmerman quit his job at Gawker.

So who is he?

Well, last month, "The Wall Street Journal" said that he may be, quote, "the most popular blogger working on the Web today." He's the brain behind headlines like these: "China Thinks 'The Onion's' Sexiest Man Alive is A Real Thing and That Kim Jong Un Won It;" "Reporter Nearly Killed Taking Most Dangerous Selfie Ever;" "Grandma Writes Letter Disowning Daughter after She Disowns Gay Son." Zimmerman combs the Internet for stories that are primed to go viral. By writing about them and getting tens of millions of page views for Gawker, he basically subsidizes the other writers at the Web site.

Neetzan joins me now from New York.

Thanks for being here.

NEETZAN ZIMMERMAN: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: So before we talk about why you're leaving Gawker, tell us about how you do what you do.

ZIMMERMAN: For the most part, it involves sifting through the Web to find what people are talking about. The conversations that people are having among each other are crucial to the content that I publish. I want to know what people are talking about on Facebook, what they're talking about on Twitter, what they're talking about amongst themselves.

And I want to spread that conversation further to the people who aren't talking about this particular topic yet. It's all in the packaging. It's all in how you sell it to people, make them understand why it's relevant to their lives.

STELTER: So those headlines, for example, have to capture the audience.

Let's put up the traffic for Gawker on screen, because this is -- I think this is amazing, this graphic. Gawker publishes this so people can all see it. That -- you are the top line there. Every other writer are the lower lines. There's a dip in the middle. That must be because it was New Year's Day and you took a day off.

ZIMMERMAN: Yes, that's right.

STELTER: But, you know, when you see this traffic, what does this tell you about what the economics of the Web are?

ZIMMERMAN: I think for the most part, people want to be talking about this stuff. I mean this is stuff that's relevant to their lives, even if they don't know it yet.

So for me, the most important thing is to explain to them why they're going to need this stuff in their life and make them understand why it's going to be valuable to them.


ZIMMERMAN: So Web economics, for them, is also real life economics, because it translates into conversations they can have with their peers and also seem relevant to the people around them, make them influencers, in a way.

STELTER: Now, when you said on Friday you were leaving, Gawkers editors said they're going to have to find people to replace you. This is so important to the site now, to have this fire hose of traffic.

Why did you decide to leave.

And then what will you be doing next?

ZIMMERMAN: I think I decided to leave because one of the things that make me good at my job is my Attention Deficit Disorder. And, in a way, it also makes it tough for me to stay in one place for too long. But I'm...

STELTER: And so what will you be doing now?

ZIMMERMAN: I'm very excited about this opportunity that I've been presented with. I'm joining a company called Whisper. I'm going to be their editor-in-chief. This a department that they don't have yet. It needs to be basically built from the ground up.

This company, I would say in a few words, is the anonymous anti- Facebook.

What I mean by that is it's a social network, but the focus is on anonymity. So, essentially, you would share the sort of things that you might not want to post on your Facebook page, the things that are more intimate to your life, but you might benefit from sharing them with other people.

You can find other people like yourself who might be struggling with certain things in their life, things that you want to vent to the world, but don't necessarily want your mother or your grandmother seeing now that they're on Facebook alongside with you.

STELTER: It sounds very useful.

Well, Neetzan, thanks for coming on the show.

Best of luck at the start-up.

ZIMMERMAN: It's my pleasure.

Thank you very much, Brian.

STELTER: We've got one more Internet pioneer on the way this morning. This one is a company that's helping to reinvent television on the Internet. Take a tour of Hulu with me next.



I'm Brian Stelter. If you've ever used the online video Web site, Hulu, it's probably because you wanted to catch up on episodes of TV shows that had already aired on ABC, NBC or Fox. But the owners of Hulu, which are also the owners of those big networks, are gradually making it harder to do that. In fact, new limits on ABC shows are going into effect tomorrow.

It's still more profitable for the networks if you watch their shows via a cable or satellite subscription.

So Hulu is doing something smart. It's acting more and more like a network, even though it's a startup. It's premiering original TV shows, not just repeats from elsewhere.

If it sounds sort of like Netflix's strategy, that's because it is.

Charlotte Koh is the head of development for Hulu Originals. And out in Santa Monica recently, she gave me a tour of the company's very cool new offices.


STELTER: This definitely feels more like a startup than a television network.

CHARLOTTE KOH, HULU: Yes. It's definitely about having a piece of the Silicon Valley culture here in Southern California. It's a pretty democratic setup. Everyone just has a desk. It doesn't matter.

STELTER: Even the CEO?

KOH: Even the CEO. He just sits out in the open.

STELTER: Even you?

KOH: Even me, yes.

STELTER: Well, I guess that fosters more conversations about what you're working on.

KOH: Yes. And I think it lets a lot of happy accidents happen, because you get to join in on conversations or learn from conversations that your colleagues are having.

STELTER: So I don't think this job that you have, head of development at Hulu, actually existed when Hulu was founded.

How new is it?

And then what does it entail?

KOH: So I joined the company about three years ago. And it came about as an evolution of Hulu being a successful online on-demand distributor. So I think the idea was initially we were very successful at doing premium content distribution for other people. And as time went on, it made sense for us to have things that are uniquely and distinctly ours.

So when I joined the company three years ago, the idea was, let's figure out some modest but interesting projects to start with and see if we can make our own shows, see if we are able to figure out how to distribute them and how to find the right audiences on the service.

STELTER: So all of a sudden, people like me weren't just watching "Modern Family" on Hulu, we were also watching "A Day in The Life," Morgan Spurlock's show.

Was that the first one?

KOH: Yes. Morgan's show came out in August, 2011. And that was our first in-house original.

STELTER: And what have been the biggest hits since?

KOH: The biggest hits since have been "The Awesomes," which is Seth Meyers' and Mike Shoemaker's animated show that's voiced by current and former "SNL" cast members and "The Wrong Mans," which is coo- created by Matt Baynton and James Corden. James is right now shooting "Into the Woods," with Rob Marshall directing. So that's been great in terms of dovetailing with his film career and bringing him to an American audience.

And I think we've also had some pretty good critical success with "Behind the Mask," our docu-series.

STELTER: So this looks like the cafeteria and maybe also a screening room?

KOH: Yes. So this space doubles up as a lunch meeting area for everyone as well as a place to hold employee screenings.

STELTER: Right. There's this giant screen up there.

KOH: Yes. It's really well done with great acoustics. We cut the lights and sometimes we're lucky enough to have the show creators come and do Q&As.

Seth Meyers and Mike Shoemaker came and they did Q&A for all the employees. Just really exciting because they seemed almost as excited to be with Hulu as the employees were to meet them.

STELTER: So how do you get all of those people on a Web series? How do you get Seth Meyers to even think about Hulu in the first place?

KOH: Well, I think, first, they don't think about it as a Web series. I think they think about it as an opportunity to be a part of the future of television. And for someone like Seth, and for Mike as well, those guys are experienced. And they know the world of television.

And I think they are excited by what on-demand and what online brings to them in terms of the audience that they can reach in a very different and personal way. STELTER: Take me back a couple of years and tell me why Hulu felt that it needed to have original series at all and not just shows that have already been on ABC, and NBC, and other networks.

KOH: Well, we're really lucky to have all those shows. I think we're very grateful to have all that great premium content from our media partners, and from other networks such as the CW and Univision.

STELTER: It probably brings people into the door for the first time, right?

KOH: That's right. It's that nice familiar thing that you're like, oh, I know what that is. It's sort of like the supermarket, you always go in because you know you're going to buy some milk, but you might try some new brand of cookies.

And so I think for us, part of it was the differentiation strategy, and part of it is also moving from being a pipe that carries other people's stuff, to a service that has a personality and more of a personal relationship with our end-user. I think that's an important evolution for us as a company.

STELTER: I think it would surprise some viewers that Hulu is now competing with channels like Comedy Central and MTV for shows.

KOH: Well, I think the landscape of buyers for, particularly half hour comedies, is not as wide as one would imagine. And everyone is looking for that next distinctive new comedic voice that's going to bring people to their channel.

So we're big admirers of those more established buyers. For example, we love "Key & Peele" and Amy Schumer on Comedy Central. We're big fans of "Louie" and "The League" that was on FX.

STELTER: Sounds like you're trying to get them to come over to Hulu.


KOH: I think -- but I think it's more to give people a sense of what makes cool comedies for us. And we really admire and want to follow in the footsteps of those buyers that have gone before and made great TV. I think it's supposed to be a feeling that the pie is getting bigger, particularly for the creative community, right?

STELTER: And for consumers as well, because there's more to watch than ever before.

KOH: There's more choice. That's right. We're definitely striving to have more choice and to have people feel that there is TV that is tailored to them.

STELTER: Netflix, of course, got so much attention for "House of Cards" and "Arrested Development." They even earned Emmy nominations for these shows. Does Hulu see itself as being like Netflix and like Amazon with streaming shows? KOH: I think all three of us are approaching it slightly differently, but the great thing is we're all doing it together at the same time. So I think that helps to shift consumer mindset about how to look at streaming.

STELTER: So now that Netflix has been nominated for Emmys, would Hulu like to be nominated this year?

KOH: Of course we would.

STELTER: I guess who doesn't want an Emmy?

KOH: Exactly.

STELTER: When Hulu's owner said they weren't going to sell the company, they were going to stay invested, they also said they were going to spend $750 million more.

KOH: Yes, very exciting.

STELTER: That must have been very motivating for people around here.

KOH: It's like winning the lottery.

STELTER: I guess it is, because it's going to be spent on lots of different things. But content is one of them, right?

KOH: Yes. Content will be a very key component of that spend, both what we acquire that's completed, and the in-house production that we'll make. I think we're in a really interesting stage of our growth where we want to try more robust and ambitious projects. And that includes doing hopefully one or two serialized dramas. And we've reordered second seasons of a lot of our shows.

So the idea is to put down deeper roots in the realm of originals and really use that as a way to catapult ourselves into the next level in terms of a differentiated service for consumers.

STELTER: Charlotte, thanks for joining us.

KOH: Oh, it has been a pleasure talking to you. Thanks for having me.


STELTER: In a few days Hulu will be announcing its programming lineup for the coming year and I'll have more details about that on

Coming up, my inner weather geek comes out.


STELTER: I learned a new phrase this week. It's a term that producers use for this: when a bunch of reporters are all standing outside of various live shot locations, getting blown around in the cold. It's called "a show the force." That's me in the upper right-hand corner. This week I helped out with CNN's coverage of the first blizzard of the new year. And it got me thinking about how television covers weather.

And, boy, does it cover weather.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Big Apple, frozen to the core.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's freezing. Listen to this baby.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm actually kind of leaning against this deck here just to brace myself so I don't lose footing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We could sit out here all day and stay cozy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can see, I have got the tears coming out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen to that. That's a banana. Try doing that in your warm studio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's so cold here that a lot this is just really frozen solid.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have got our measuring stick.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are workers here in this city that can help you with that.


STELTER: Now there's perfectly good reasons for all of this coverage, weather affects everybody, in this case a third of the population was affected by the storm.

Weather stories warn viewers and readers to get home and stay off the roads. And in big storms, that can save lives. Weather stories also show viewers what they're avoiding by staying home.

And that's one of the reasons why I was out there on Long Island turning into a human popsicle.

But let's acknowledge the other reasons too. This is good television. These stories have an obvious beginning, middle, and end. There's automatic drama and entertainment. I mean, that's kind of entertaining, I think.

And while it's hard for the crews that are standing out there shivering, it is easy for the networks, like CNN, to go wall-to-wall with weather, especially when the snow storm is hitting the Northeast, within a day's drive of New York.

And there's often a big ratings bounce when these stories happen. You might call it a "perfect storm" of elements. So it's best when television reporters and anchors are transparent about all of this, and have fun with the weather when it's appropriate.

Endless hype and exaggeration are the enemies of trust in journalism because the next time people won't trust you.

You know when you're freezing out there tethered to a camera waiting for your turn to talk? It feels like the producer in your ear has complete control over you. Even after your report, when you're still on, they'll say over and over again, you're not clear yet, you're not clear yet. That means the "show of force" is still on-screen, and you can't go inside.

But really it's the people who are standing out in the snow who have the power. They have the power to put the storm in perspective and to relay important information without taking it too, too seriously, or going over the top.

I left Long Island convinced that it is possible to create both good television and good journalism while being blown around in a blizzard.

And that's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, but our media coverage continues all the time on the RELIABLE SOURCES blog on We'll see you right back here next Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.