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Going Up Against FOX News; Breaking Up with Vladimir Putin; Pundits in the Enemy Camp

Aired March 9, 2014 - 11:00   ET


BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Brian Stelter, and I have a jam-packed RELIABLE SOURCES ahead for you.

Here's what's coming up:


STELTER (voice-over): When Vladimir Putin is your boss, it takes guts to say, "Take this job and shove it."

LIZ WAHL, FORMER RT CORRESPONDENT: I'm resigning. I probably won't be taking any trips to Russia any time soon.

STELTER: The real story of how Russia pumps propaganda into your living room.

And speaking of tough jobs, how would you like to be a Democrat working at FOX News? Or a Republican at MSNBC? Which is harder? Who's meaner? An insider's account.

Also, a cosmic cure for the science war. Climate deniers, evolution rejection, one man who may convince the unconvincible using TV.


STELTER: All that and much more ahead this morning.

But let me start with a big question for the media industry. Who in the world would want to take on Roger Ailes? The legendary king of FOX News sits on the throne of cable talk and information with killer ratings and a pretty clear right wing agenda.

Every successful business seems to spawn lots of imitators. But there's no credible competitor that's ever emerged for FOX. Maybe people are simply intimidated by the powerful Ailes and his boss Rupert Murdoch.

A few have tried and failed in the past, and recently, Glenn Beck has shown some success expanding his online network "The Blaze", but even that is not currently rated by Nielsen, and hasn't eaten into the market share of FOX very much, if at all.

But now, maybe there is someone who has a shot at doing this. The founder of the highly successful conservative Web site Newsmax, Christopher Ruddy, says he's ready to take on FOX. I hope he's got a helmet and body armor. Ruddy says he's launching Newsmax TV in June and he joins me now.

Chris, thanks for joining me.

CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, NEWSMAX: Brian, great to be on with you.

STELTER: Tell us what your plans are? What is it that you're hoping to do with Newsmax TV?

RUDDY: Well, perhaps saying that we are taking on FOX might be a bit of an overstatement. I think Newsmax wants to evolve its current Internet business and join the world of TV everywhere. Newsmax in many ways is bigger than FOX News online.

ComScore, which rates the 60 million people that read news politics, typically has us one, two or three. We had 11.5 million unique visitors last month. We were ahead of FOX News for politics. By June, we're hoping to have about 15 hours of live programming. By the end of the summer, we're hoping to be up to 18 or 21 hours.

STELTER: And you told "Businessweek" it will be a kinder, gentler version of FOX News. Tell me what you mean about that?

RUDDY: Well, I think FOX is great at what it does and it has a really powerful audience, powerful message and audience. I think when Rupert Murdoch launched FOX News in 1996, he was a genius for realizing that there was a huge market outside of the CNN world that was not being really addressed by the mainstream media, and that market is probably about 100 million conservative-leaning Americans.

And I think FOX News is taking in 3 million or 4 million of those. I think there's clearly a lot of room for Newsmax to come in where we're focused not just on politics, which FOX is focused on, but a lot of lifestyle issues, health, news and financials.

STELTER: So, that's what you want to do differently. You'd want to be more than politics.

RUDDY: Exactly. We'd like to be more informational.

STELTER: Why do you think nobody has been successful at doing this yet? It's been 15 or 16 years since FOX News launched and there hasn't been a complimentary channel like what you're describing.

RUDDY: Well, I think you should ask the guys that run Time Warner, your company, and a number of the other major media companies, Comcast and others.

When you see -- think about the statistics. The Pew study shows 39 percent of Americans say they're conservative, 37 percent say they're moderate. When you ask them on the issues what they believe. They're fairly conservative.

Only 23 percent of Americans say they're liberal. I mean, that's a very small number. You have most of the major media networks fighting over that very small market share.

STELTER: Speaking of FOX, we talked about what you like about FOX. What do you not like about FOX? What do you dislike or what do you think could be improved on?

RUDDY: Well, I think FOX by its over admission has changed programming and is trying to get back to its original mission of being fair and balanced. I think the last election people saw it was very, very polarizing.

If you look back at 1996 when FOX started, Pew says the Republican Party had a favorability rating of 65 percent. Today, I believe the Republican Party is actually fighting for its survival and its favorability rating is 35 percent.

Obama has around a 50 percent favorable rating. The Republicans in Congress have an unfavorable rating of around 80 percent.

So, during these years that FOX has dominated sort of the Republican side of the news equation, I think there's been an overall effect that's not been positive for the Republican Party.

STELTER: It sounds like you may agree with Gabriel Sherman's book about FOX News says that Roger Ailes has hurt the Republican Party.

RUDDY: Well, I think Roger has done an incredible business. I don't know if he's hurt the Republican Party. But I don't think that all the voices that could potentially be heard for the Republican Party are being heard.

People keep saying Roger is a far right or conservative. I've never felt that Roger Ailes is that conservative. I think he's an American exceptionalist. I think he fiercely believes in American values and wants to promote those.

I think some of the programming on FOX has come across to a certain degree polarizing. And I think the changes that they've made recently will actually help them. I think you're seeing in some of programming hours. The ratings are way up.

STELTER: I tell you the reason I'm somewhat skeptical of the venture (ph), because cable and satellite providers seem to be very reluctant to add new channels to their systems. They want to remove channels, not add them.

So, how will you go about convincing Comcast and DirecTV and other companies to carry Newsmax TV?

RUDDY: Well, I think we have a great brand, unlike a lot of people that come on television or cable, they oftentimes have no brand and no following. We already have 15 million people a month we're reaching, 49 million in our total reach online. So I think that gives us a powerful advantage.

I also think FOX has demonstrated there's a huge market. STELTER: And how will you pay for all of this? How will you finance this?

RUDDY: Well, Newsmax has a very -- we're a very profitable company. Our marketing budget this year is going to be in the area of about $70 million, so we have an ability to reach a lot of Americans to tell them about our Web site, to tell them our new television channel.

So, I don't think money is going to be an issue.

STELTER: One of the surprising lines in the "Businessweek" profile was that you're now friends or at least friendly with Bill and Hillary Clinton. Is that right? Tell me about that.

RUDDY: Well, I was introduced to Bill Clinton by our mutual friend Ed Koch, the late mayor in 2007, we have become friends. I've recently got to know Hillary Clinton.

I think she would make a good president. They asked me about that. I'm not saying I'm voting for her at this point. I did notice a recent "USA Today" poll said 25 percent of Republicans would favor her, potentially favor for her as president in the next election.

And I think that one of the things about the Clintons is that Americans admire them because of their commitment to keeping America strong and free.

STELTER: And we're coming off several days of the CPAC Conference. When you look out at the Republican field for 2016, possible challengers to Hillary Clinton if she runs, who do you like and not like as much?

RUDDY: Well, my favorite is Jeb Bush. I live in Florida. I saw how he operated as governor. He did an incredible job as governor. He's very different than his brother. He appeals to all the constituencies of the Republican Party.

But he's extremely forward thinking. He did a cover story for "Newsmax" magazine and the headline was "Growth is the Answer."

The Republican Party if it's to survive and that is a question in my mind, really has to become the party of opportunity and growth. We can't be again the party of no.

STELTER: Hearing you talk about the Republican Party this way makes me wonder could you support Hillary Clinton in 2016 instead?

RUDDY: Well, I think it's a little early to make that decision. She's not even the nominee of her party. She hasn't officially announced. I would certainly consider that but I would like to see who the Republicans nominate.

STELTER: And getting back to the (INAUDIBLE) I mentioned at the beginning -- do you think Roger Ailes is going to support your effort here? RUDDY: Well, I don't really think it's -- he should be supporting his network and what he does at FOX. I don't think we're looking for support. When I do Newsmax, we've never sought the support of FOX News for what we've done and we've been I think a fairly good success online. So I don't really see Roger Ailes being a major figure in what we do.

STELTER: Should a network like CNN be a little anxious about a start-up like this also?

RUDDY: Well, I think we will pull from all the networks including MSNBC. I want to have some really good, articulate liberals. Alan Dershowitz uses Newsmax right now as his home page for his blogs. Our readers don't agree with everything Alan says, but he's really interesting, he's fascinating, he's unpredictable.

I mean that's the type of thing I want to have on Newsmax, not predictability. Where people can tune in and learn something and hear opposing views that are not necessarily personally attacking each other in interviews.

STELTER: Christopher Ruddy, thank you so much for joining me today.

RUDDY: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: Time for a quick break here. But as soon as I come back, a story about breaking up with Vladimir Putin. It's hard to do. We'll tell you the inside story of just how hard when I return.

Back in two minutes.



So, listen to this. Right now, Vladimir Putin's government may be pumping propaganda into the homes of millions of Americans who have no idea they're watching Putin TV. I'm talking about Russia Today or RT. It's a cable channel that is available in a lot of homes including mine in New York and many here in Washington.

We're not exactly sure how many. I tried to figure out this week how many homes it's in, and there is no reliable number. But RT claims it reaches 85 million people in the United States. It's owned and operated by the Russian government.

But here in the U.S., a lot of its reporters and anchors are Americans. This week, there was a lot of new evidence that RT is something other thanes just an ordinary cable news channel. As the crisis between the United States and Russia grew ever more tense, the tone of RT was clearly pro-Russian and at times anti-American.

And as people began to notice, well, all hell broke loose at RT. On Tuesday, anchor Abby Martin decided to break ranks.


ABBY MARTIN, RT ANCHOR: Before we wrap up the show, I want to say something about from my heart about the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine and Russian's military occupation in Crimea. Just because I work here for RT doesn't mean I don't have editorial independence, and I can't stress enough how strongly I am against any state intervention in a sovereign nation's affairs. What Russia did is wrong.


STELTER: That went viral right away. One day after that statement, Washington correspondent Liz Wahl simply walked out of the job.


WAHL: I cannot be part of network funded by the Russian government. That whitewashes the actions of Putin. I'm proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth. And that is why after this newscast, I am resigning.


STELTER: Liz Wahl joins me now here in Washington.

Thank you for coming in.

WAHL: Thank you.

STELTER: When was the exact moment that you realized you had to leave Russia today?

WAHL: Wednesday was the turning point. I saw censorship like I've never seen it before and, you know, certain parts of my questions being edited out, stories that paint the opposition as strictly pro- fascist. The right wing parts of the -- characterizing the opposition as a whole like that, and I think that's dangerous and I think that throughout this conflict, that's the line that he wants or the picture that he wants to portray.

STELTER: You say he, you mean Putin.

WAHL: Yes, Vladimir Putin. Yes --

STELTER: It's not as if he was editing questions out. So, who was? What kind of actions are being taken out?

WAHL: The news director. The news director actually I had an interview with Congressman Ron Paul and the news director wrote very specifics questions. I have them here. Very loaded questions. I could read them, but I would have to go through my e-mail.

I didn't go by them because they were absolutely ludicrous but I did ask some of my own questions. One of the questions I asked used the words "Russian military intervention" and when it was played, they cut out that line because as we know, the Kremlin doesn't want us to see it as military intervention. They want to see their involvement in Ukraine as --


WAHL: -- as a humanitarian crisis.

STELTER: -- censorship on the part of the --


WAHL: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes.

STELTER: Take me back a few years. You had been at the channel almost three years. What was the pitch from RT when they offered to bring you on board?

WAHL: I mean, I was like -- I was a little curious. I was like, what's this RT about? And the way they pitched it to me, we tell -- they told me that this would be an opportunity to tell stories that the mainstream media ignores. And to me, that sounded as a journalist and I aspire to be a journalist and further my career, that sounded great to me. Their motto is question more.

And so, you know, obviously I knew that -- I knew the geopolitical stances of Russia. I knew kind of the conflict there. I knew it was state funded.

And -- but I didn't realize, perhaps I was a little bit naive, I didn't realize the extent to which it would actually be used as a propaganda machine.

STELTER: Did you notice it right away once you arrived?

WAHL: I think I noticed it in a way that they -- that the stories that are presented, that they're picked in a way that tend to be anti-West and pro-Kremlin to put it simply.

STELTER: I've seen you say in other interviews you've seen American bashing going on there. Let me play a clip from another -- one of your former colleagues, a segment called "Propaganda Watch" and let's discuss on the other side.

WAHL: Sure.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The general picture you get is that of the U.S. mainstream media jumping on anything, verified or unverified, to present Russia as an aggressor, without much or any knowledge of what's happening on the ground. And U.S. officials, well, they continue their self-righteous tirade while being engaged in actual active aggression around the world with innocent people dying every day. Drone strikes are from violence in countries that were destabilized by the U.S.


WAHL: This is a thing, I think it's absolutely -- you should be -- the motto is question more. You absolutely should be investigating things, corruption, things like that. But when it's done in a way to promote the -- the objectives, the foreign policy objectives of a dictatorial government, I think that's when it gets kind of troubling and I mean, there's been alarm bells all along but with this crisis in Crimea, the censorship and the propaganda was hyped up to a degree that I've never seen it before and at that point, for me, that was a red line.

STELTER: What did you do after that resignation? We see that at 5:30 p.m. It was up on YouTube immediately.

What did you do? Did you talk to your bosses? Did you clean out your desk? What happened?

WAHL: After that, my -- the news director said, Liz, can we talk. So, I went into the office and he said, why did you do that? I said I feel uncomfortable with -- I voiced my concerns many times. I was unhappy about censoring that interview. I feel this is a propaganda machine and this is not something that I want to be a part of.

STELTER: But it sounds like in this case, there haven't been repercussions since Wednesday?

WAHL: Repercussions in terms of -- I mean, RT has come out and I mean they're --

STELTER: Criticized you.

WAHL: Yes.

STELTER: Stay it was a stunt.


WAHL: It was a political stunt, is what they write?

STELTER: A self-promotional stunt.

WAHL: A self-promotional stunt. I mean, all I can say is that's not true. I mean I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't know what the fallout was going to be. I knew that it was something that I had to say.

I mean I think you go into journalism, I don't know if this is a naive of me to think journalists should try to remain as objective as possible. I think I -- you know, it's about disseminating the truth and certainly there's a discussion that can be had on all ends of the spectrum of journalistic objectivity.

But for me, when it was so, so skewed and so far from being objective, I think the viewers and the world needed to know what the truth is about this. STELTER: Thank you so much for being here.

WAHL: Thank you.

STELTER: It's time for a quick break here. But in just a moment, let's talk about the hardest job in television. Maybe the Republican who appears on MSNBC or is it the Democrat that appears on FOX News? Which one has it worse? Punditry in the enemy camp. You'll want to hear it. So, don't go away.


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

We who love TV news know, if you want a conservative point of view, you turn on FOX. If you're looking for liberals, you turn on MSNBC. It's all pretty simple, right?

Well, except you can find Democrats on FOX and you can find Republicans on MSNBC. Just in different ways.

It was really an interesting piece in the "Columbia Journalism Review" about this week. I want to read a quote from it.

"While the liberal hosts of MSNBC often skewer conservatives, those debates happen with villains who are not in the studio, lambasted by proxy in news clips. At FOX, they happen in person, with a real live liberal who is often on staff."

It's got us thinking about what it is like at FOX and MSNBC, when guests or commentators are in enemy territory.

So, I wanted to bring on two people who know a lot about that.

Sally Kohn is a left leaning community organizer, that job title used against you at FOX, right? And now here at CNN, she appeared on FOX until a few months ago.

And Ben Ferguson is a conservative talk radio show in Dallas with us today, who appears on CNN regularly as well. But in the past before signed at CNN, he repeatedly refused to appear on MSNBC.

Thank you both for being here.



STELTER: Ben, first to you. Back in the days when you weren't signed to any network, why not appear on MSNBC? They're entitled to their leftist points of view, right?

FERGUSON: It wasn't worth it, because it wasn't really close to a fair tight. It's usually three on one and at best you got cut off, they did not want your opinion to get out. They wanted to use you as a punching bag. And so, there's a certain point where you're saying, is it really worth it from a guy's perspective to get your hair done, put on makeup, talk for 30 seconds, and get yelled at?

And for me -- I mean, it better be worth my time if I'm going to put makeup on for goodness sakes. So, there's a certain point where I'm going, I'd rather sit around and watch sports than be their punching bag for a half hour.

STELTER: Sally, do you feel the same way Ben does when you were at FOX?

KOHN: I don't enjoy putting on makeup. I have to say, it was often three on one. My favorite was 15 on one in a Hannity panel he brought in a crowd of anti-Obamacare opponents --

STELTER: Focus groups, right?

KOHN: -- and me. So it was literally 15 against one.

And, you know, I mean look that time it felt a little bit absurd.

STELTER: What's the value, though, to being in that room at that time?

KOHN: In that exact moment, I'm not sure. I mean, it's certainly -- I think I got points -- you certainly get points for going into the fight but look, two points. One, someone has to be there in the conversation, right?

In a show like "Hannity", it is a partisan show, it is an explicitly partisan show, it's a conservative show. And from my perspective as a liberal, as a progressive, I want to be in the conversation. I don't want that to go unquestioned, unchallenged first of all, first and foremost.

Second of all, in the case of FOX, we know they have a tremendously large audience. They are not all strong right wing conservatives. There are a lot of moderate Republicans. There are a lot of moderate Democrats.

If my goal of being on television is to change people's hearts and minds, I want to reach those people.

STELTER: Ben, you hear that logic.


STELTER: It would apply to MSNBC also. Not every viewer of MSNBC is a hard core Democrat, a hard core liberal. What do you make of the idea you have to reach out to those people?

FERGUSON: Well, I think reaching out is one thing and having a grand debate -- I love having a great debate about the issues and truly having a fight over whatever the news that topic of the day is.

There's a difference between what Sally experienced and I think what MSNBC does. Most of the time, they don't have a Republican there. They just take a sound bite and destroy you with a sound bite sometimes taken out of context.

But if you do go over there as a conservative, you're not really welcome. I think other shows, even Sally would agree, at least people are nice to you, they're welcoming, they want you there, they appreciate you there and they want to hear your viewpoint.

Whereas at MSNBC, they don't like you. They almost feel like you're just a random person that we're going to destroy for a couple of minutes and we're going to shut you down and we're going to tell you to stop talking and don't interrupt me.

STELTER: Pretty terrible.

FERGUSON: That's one of the reasons -- yes. I mean, it's, you know, I'm OK with defending what I believe in. I'm not okay with being a punching bag where you automatically know going in, they really don't want you there. They just need you to fill the box on the screen and then you're the bad guy.

KOHN: The reality is both FOX and MSNBC struggle to get people who perceived to be from the other side of the ideological table. It is always a challenge.

My experience is very different from Ben's on both sides. I saw conservatives and liberals being treated nicely and appreciatively on both channels.

STELTER: This is a point Rachel Maddow has brought up. She can't get Republicans to come on even though she tries very hard to book them.

KOHN: Yes, I mean, look, I think there's some reality to that. I also think there's some reality to, you know, the sort of self interest of pundits, right, and where do they want to go.

You know, there isn't a lot of reputation of Tea Party voices, for instance, on MSNBC. So I think you're right, Ben, they become very caricaturized instead of really represented.

STETLER: And of course, they're accused of being fake Republicans when they're on MSNBC or fake Democrats when on they're on Fox?


But when you have hosts over there that use some of the vile language that some of their former hosts used to, for example, talk about Sarah Palin or some of the things that, you know, Chris Matthews has said about some conservative Tea Party people and then you're shocked that those same people won't come on your show, I mean there's your sign, you know.

I mean there's a difference between mean-spirited and just being -- or I should say being respectful but disagreeing or being just totally mean-spirited. And some of their hosts over there -- they're flat out mean-spirited towards Tea Party members, conservatives, whether they be congressmen or senators or pundits.

STETLER: Hearing what Ben is saying about Fox, do you hear nasty things about the president on Fox? Do you feel like the same kind language is used on Fox that's used on MSNNBC, but with different targets?

KOHN: I mean, look, we're going through a media moment right now where you have Republicans who are calling the president weak and feckless. So to suggest that the mean language is only coming from the liberal side of the ledger is just absurd, right.

And you know we can all pull our favorite examples of outrageous things that any host on any channel had ever said. I don't think it's that sort of simple and black and white.

STETLER: Ben, Sally thank you both for joining me. This is great.

KOHN: A pleasure.


STETLER: After a quick break I am talking to a wonderful guest. The one man who just may be able to fix what Tv news so often screws up: getting science right and replacing denial with facts, the wonder Neil deGrasse Tyson is here. You won't want to miss it.


STETLER: Welcome back to Reliable Sources.

We all we know we live in a politically divided country, where almost anything is fair game for snipers on both sides. But science, shouldn't science be immune from politics? After all, it's called scientific fact for a reason. And yet there are millions of climate deniers, evolution deniers, vaccine deniers out there.

Last year in a speech on climate change, President Obama summed up the war on science this way.


OBAMA: I don't have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real. We don't have time for a meeting of the flat earth society.


STETLER: Many Americans agree with him, but many other Americans see science as an attack, an attack on their values or on their religion or on what they believe to be true.

Which brings me to my next guest, I am so excited he's here today. He may just be the man who can end the war on science, at least he's got a better chance than you or I have. He's Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York. And tonight Fox will be premiering his new series Cosmos.

Can you imagine a prime time network television show all about science? Pretty amazing.

Neil, welcome to the program.


STETLER: I want to talk all about Cosmos in a moment. But I first want to ask you, do you think there is a war on science the way I'm describing? And if so, how do you think we can broker a peace?

TYSON: Our civilization, our civilization is built on the innovations of scientists and technologists and engineers who have shaped everything that we so take for granted today. So some of the science deniers or science haters -- these are people who are telling that to you, while they're on their mobile phone, they're saying, I don't like science. Science is -- oh, GPS just told us to go left. Yeah. OK.

So I don't -- so it's time for people to sort of sit back and reassess what role science has actually played in our lives and note and learn how to embrace that going forward, because without it we will just regress back into the cave.

STETLER: Cosmos seems like an example of using television, using the media for good when it comes to science.

I talked recently on this program about climate change and how there aren't two equal sides when it comes to climate change and yet sometimes the television and media pretends it is that way.

What responsibility do you think members of the media have to portray science correctly?

TYSON: I think the media has to sort of come out of this ethos that I think was in principle a good one, but doesn't really apply in science. The ethos was, whatever story you give, you have to give the opposing view, and then you can be viewed as balanced. In the clip that you showed of the president, you don't talk about the spherical earth with NASA and then say let's give equal time to the flat Earthers.

Plus, science is not there for you to cherry pick. You know, I said this once and it's gotten a lot of Internet play, I said the good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it, all right.

I guess you can decide whether or not to believe in it, but that doesn't change the reality of an emergent scientific truth.

STETLER: Give me an example of how you on this show tried to show the truth of science.

TYSON: Well, so -- no, I mean everything is the latest scientific understandings of everything. That's just a given. That's just a given. The real messages of the show is now that you see the what the science is, how does it matter? How and why does it matter to you? In what context?

So the science is contextualized if you will. So, for example, one of the most stunning visuals is the cosmic calendar where we take the 13.8 billion year history of the universe and lay it on to a football field sized year at a glance calendar and the value of that is, we all know what a calendar is. We know how far into the year June is, or July is, we have a sense of that. So, if I say the big bang was January 1 and it today is December 31 when was our galaxy formed, the Milky Way, that was formed on March 15.

STETLER: Let's actually play a clip from the calendar, because I love the special effects you use. Let's take a look.


TYSON: Let's go back as far as we can to the very first moment of the universe. January 1st, the Big Bang.


STELTER: When the original "Cosmos" came on the television 30- some years ago, we could have only dreamed about graphics like this. I'm wondering how you take advantage of technology to present scientific truths in the way that the original "Cosmos" couldn't?

TYSON: Well, first, that's a flameproof suit that I was wearing.


TYSON: Just so you know. And that is the only moment I don sunglasses, because if you have to do it for anything, the Big Bang would surely be it.

STELTER: That would be the thing.

TYSON: But the real takeaway is not just this how stunning the visual effects are, it's at the end and during each program, there's a thread that moves through it. And by the end of the program there's a tapestry woven. And that tapestry has you in the center of it.

STELTER: What sort of pressure do you feel, though, to make sure it's entertaining, to make sure people actually tune in for something like this?

TYSON: The very nature of that question presumes that the real science and real entertainment cannot be the same thing unless one compromises to the other.

STELTER: Ah, that's fair.

TYSON: That -- the question presumes that. But I can tell you that every night I look up at the universe, I'm entertained. Every time I see Saturn and imagine surfing its rings, I am entertained. Every time I think of the gruesome death of falling into a black hole, becoming spaghetti-fied, I'm entertained.

STELTER: I'm entertained just hearing you describe it, actually.


TYSON: So I don't think of them as, what do you have to give up for one to get the other? I think it's just maybe the story -- it hasn't been told the right way in the past.

STELTER: Do you think a program like this can heal the divide that exists in the country about science?

TYSON: I think what it will do is it will give people the proper understanding of what science is. There are people who already like science. We've got them. And power to them. Then the people who don't know that they like science, all right?

They have a little flame inside of them of curiosity in which we're going to fan that flame and it will rise up within them. But then there's another category of people, the people who know they don't like science. They've got no flame at all.

So we're going to go in there, light it, and just show them the majesty and the beauty and the glory of science and how it has come -- how people, searchers for cosmic truths over the centuries and millennia, have arrived at our understanding of our place in space and in time.

And this is glorious knowledge that we should celebrate and not shun.

STELTER: And I know I'm rooting for you. I think a lot of people on television are rooting for you because they want to see a program about science succeed in a mainstream way.

Neil, thank you so much for being here and sharing that with us.

TYSON: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: We have got a lot more ahead, so stay tuned.


STELTER: This next story is one that I wish we didn't have to cover again. We first talked on this program about the Al Jazeera reporters who have been imprisoned in Egypt back in January. And we covered it again in February with Christiane Amanpour.

The journalists should have been released by now, but instead they've been put on trial and accused of aiding terrorists. So this what is we're seeing: journalists in cages for using their cameras and microphones and notebooks. It's awful. It's simply awful.

Ever since they were detained, which was back in December, Al Jazeera and its competitors have been campaigning for the release of the men there. And now, in a new twist, CNN journalists are helping out by doing something that, frankly, I've never seen done before.

They've been doing live reports on Al Jazeera about the trial because Al Jazeera's own reporters aren't allowed in the country. Think about it this way, the journalists who would normally be covering the trial are the ones on trial.

CNN correspondent Sara Sidner told me about this remarkable arrangement.


STELTER: Sarah, thanks for joining me from Abu Dhabi.

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks for having me on the show, Brian.

STELTER: Typically CNN and Al Jazeera compete every day. So how did this arrangement come about where you were on their air telling their viewers about this trial?

SIDNER: They contacted CNN, they talked with a manager. It did go up the chain. It was a discussion. And then I was brought into the discussion. And ultimately, you know, I was told, look, this is up to you, you know what's going on, on the ground, you know certain things that we may not know, let's talk about this and see if this makes sense to do this, if there are any other concerns that you might have.

And I talked to the crew I was with. And, you know, we decided that it was the right thing to do. Of course, they identified me as a CNN correspondent on Al Jazeera air.

And was it a -- you know, was it a strange thing to have happened? I was surprised when I got the initial email saying that would you do a live report for Al Jazeera.

At first I thought it was a mistake and then realized what had happened and how this all sort of came about. And I was happy to do it.

STELTER: And one of our colleagues, Reza Sayah, was helping out again this week with reports as well. I guess this underscores the gravity of what's going on there, that I can't remember this happening before, with two networks helping each other out. Can you recall a time where this has happened?

SIDNER: No, I can't. I know that Lyse Doucet from the BBC also did a report before I did one as well, so I know that they also were asked and agreed. But I think what has happened is because of the situation and because the situation is so unusual, I certainly have never been in this position.

Many of the other journalists were surprised to see me popping up on Al Jazeera that I know in Egypt. But it just felt like for, I think, all of the different networks that have been doing straight reporting, telling the story what's happening there, competition is one thing, but they looked beyond that and thought that it was a fair thing to do at this point.

STELTER: The trial has been adjourned for several weeks now. What can we -- what do we know about what's being done to help the men that are being held there now for months?

SIDNER: Yeah, I had a conversation with Mr. Greste's brother, who is there. We know that the family members are there, some of them staying there at their own expense, and plan to stay throughout this entire ordeal.

Peter Greste's brother talked about just how difficult this has been for the family, sort of, tearing the family apart, seeing the conditions that he and the others are in right now.

But we know that the embassies are involved, the Australian embassy. Mohamed Fahmy is both a Canadian and Egyptian citizen, so the Canadian embassy is also involved. And they're saying we were able to talk to them; they were in cages in court, which is how it's done in Egypt. It takes people aback sometimes when they see that, but that is how trials unfold there. And you've seen, you know, the leaders of Egypt in those same kind of cages.

And they talked about the fact that they were getting help from their embassies, but they needed much more support from the government. Many people cannot understand why they are still in jail and will be in jail for so long now. It's been more than a month. Brian?

STELTER: It's such a disturbing thing for any journalist to see the pictures of fellow journalists in cages there. Thank you for informing us about it.

SIDNER: You're welcome. Thanks for having me on again.

STELTER: When I get back from this break, I'll tell you about a story I spent days trying to figure out this week. It's a fake story that made it onto major networks, including one that really should have known better. I'll tell you about it, next.


STELTER: And, finally, this morning, let me show you how a single press release about pot generated so many dead wrong news stories.

You may have seen these headlines on the web this week -- it seemed like they were everywhere -- claiming the first medical marijuana ad had aired on TV. This was supposed to happen in homes with Comcast Cable. By Thursday I was seeing it on television, too. It was mentioned on CNN once, and it was even a story on the "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams."


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: The spot has so far sparked some attention. So far, it's airing just in New Jersey. It's only applicable, of course, in the 20 states where it's legal.


STELTER: NBC is owned by Comcast. But Comcast says these ads have not aired. So what's happened here?

Well, a company called duped reporters with a very confident, very serious-sounding press release. It said that they had begun to air a television commercial that looks to be the first-ever marijuana commercial on a major network. The press release went on to say that Comcast had agreed to air these ads locally in New Jersey on A&E, Fox, ESPN, History, and even CNN.

So they put out this press release on Monday and Comcast messed up by not denying it right away, so lots of news organizations treated the press release as if it were fact, without doing any more digging, without realizing, for example, that ads for medicinal pot have been running in some local markets like out in California for years. I wrote about it in the New York Times back in 2009.

This, unfortunately, is the power of the press release in an age when lots of websites need all the clicks they can get. Comcast Corporate Headquarters eventually figured out what had gone wrong here. They told me, quote, "All commercials are subject to final review by Comcast Spotlight prior to airing, and during that process, it was determined that this spot did not meet our guidelines."

So basically thought its ads were going to run, but then they didn't. And a spokesman for the company got back to me on Friday and confirmed that.

And yet, if you Google "marijuana ads" right now, you'll still see dozens of these stories uncorrected, not to mention that "NBC Nightly News" segment. Sometimes news outlets even make mistakes in stories about their parent companies, it seems.

That's all for this televised edition of "Reliable Sources," but our media coverage continues all the time online. We've got a ton of stories on the "Reliable Sources" blog on this week. We'll see you right back here next Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time.