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Is Diane Sawyer Being Forced Out?; Obama is (Not) the Worst President Since WWII; Facebook Toys With Your Emotions

Aired July 6, 2014 - 11:00   ET


BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning from Washington. I'm Brian Stelter, and it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES.

We have a lot for you ahead on this holiday weekend, including how Facebook toys with your newsfeed and your emotions, and how the Hobby Lobby ruling was spawned by red and blue media outlets this week.

But let's begin with a brand-new reporting of Diane Sawyer and her replacement, David Muir. You've heard the story that ABC is telling about this big transition. Sawyer wants to step down, ABC says, from "World News" to focus on big interviews and specials.

So, Muir will take over in September, although frankly, it's sort of already taken over. Sawyer was on vacation all this week, so he was filling in.

And as for George Stephanopoulos, well, ABC's story is that he was not passed over for the top job. Rather, he will be the chief anchor for the whole network, coming in whenever there is big breaking news.

So, that's ABC's story, but I don't believe it, and neither do a number of my most reliability sources at ABC. For example, here's a big question that they are asking -- why isn't Diane being guaranteed a certain number of primetime special each year, or being given her own production unit like Ann Curry got after being booted from "The Today Show"?

Now, there are a lot more questions about this. So, let me bring in another reporter who has been digging around, Lloyd Grove. He's an editor at large at "The Daily Beast" and an authority on all things media.

Lloyd, thanks for joining me.


STELTER: Let me go straight at this first question. Do you think Diane Sawyer is leaving of her own choice?

GROVE: I think that these discussions have been going on for months. Diane is 68, so obviously, they had they needed to look at a generational change at some point. And, Diane is a realist. On the other hand, she's done very well for ABC News, she's beat Brian Williams in the all-important 25 to 54 age demo on which advertising is sold.

So, they're going to be very respectful to her. If they brought it up first, I'm sure she agreed, and if she agreed, I'm sure it was with a lot of sweeteners and her new gig is going to be pretty wonderful for her, I would suspect.

STELTER: Yes, that's where I'm skeptical because she doesn't seem to have a dedicated job. She'll have an anchor title, but she won't a staff, it seems like to work with her or things like that. Tom Brokaw, on the other hand, when he stepped down from "The Nightly News" chair 10 years ago, I think he had a 10-year contract and a special correspondent title.

So, are you as skeptical as I am that she will in fact have a clear role at ABC?

GROVE: I am not as skeptical as you are, but you might be right. Who knows, it's a crazy business.

She comes from the era of the Roone Arledge anchor monsters. She was one of three or four on-air people who were actually running the news division during Roone Arledge's tenure there. And she is not somebody that's to sort of take anything she doesn't like laying down. So -- plus, they have great respect for her. She's -- the last quarter, she beat Brian Williams in the demo for the first time in six years.


GROVE: So they're going to treat her with great respect and deference.

STELTER: Yes. And people at ABC say she's going to do the biggest interviews in the country, do the biggest specials. That those are going to be the goals for her going forward.

I want to play a sound byte from last week's RELIABLE SOURCES. I was sick. So, Jeffrey Toobin was thankfully filling in for me. He talked to Dan Rather about this idea of the evening news fading away. And here's what Dan Rather said.


DAN RATHER, FORMER ANCHOR, "CBS EVENING NEWS": What young Mr. Muir has inherited is an honor and a great opportunity, but in the great scheme of television and television news, it is now a diminished medallion, that the principal medallion goes to the main anchor of the morning news, which in this case is George Stephanopoulos.


STELTER: Another person close to ABC said to me that David Muir is a blank slate. Would you agree with that, Lloyd? GROVE: I don't think so. In terms of the numbers he draws when

he subs for Diane, he holds or sometimes improves on those numbers. His weekend news anchoring, he has healthy numbers. And this is obviously a business about numbers.

And he has, you know, he's a young guy. He's only 40, and he has a rather distinguished reporting career.

So, he's no Dan Rather. He doesn't have the sort of larger than life movie star personality that anchors like Dan and Diane have had. But, you know, he's a young guy, and it's a long game, and we'll see how it develops.

STELTER: I was struck by the fact that when you wrote about the transition announcement, your headline was about George Stephanopoulos. You wrote, "George Stephanopoulos Wins ABC's Chief Anchor Crown". You are focusing on that part of the news than the evening news. Why was that?

GROVE: Well, I just -- this is a whole new configuration. I mean, usually -- or always on these broadcasts the person who has the evening broadcast is the lead anchor of the news division and gets all the big interviews, anchors all the big news reports. Here's a case where they split the baby, essentially.

And David Muir gets the anchor of the evening news, and does I assume, some interviews, but George has first crack at everything. You know, interviews with President Obama, election night, inauguration, and breaking news stories. If there's another school shooting, George gets first crack. That's very unusual.

STELTER: Is there a rivalry do you think forming? Because my sense from the last ten days has been there's been a camp for George and there's a camp for David, each of them saying different things about how involved the other guy is going to be.

GROVE: I don't think there's a personal rivalry, at least not yet between George and David, certainly not the kind of personal rivalry as between Diane and Barbara Walters, but definitely the camps are working it hard. I mean, I've had heard from both camps myself, they think -- the Muir camp thinks that George's role has been exaggerated in the press and, you know, George's camp thinks that, yes, I'm the late anchor, or he's the lead anchor.

STELTER: What does that tell you about how ABC tried to split this baby? Is it something that's destined for failure?

GROVE: Oh, I wouldn't say it's destined for failure. It does create creative tension, but this was a condition of George's for a re-upping on his contract. He came with a position of strength. For the past two years, "Good Morning American," his principal job, he's -- and Robin Roberts have beat the "Today" show almost every week for the past two years.

So, they don't want to lose this guy. So, he -- I suspect that George wanted to have the David Muir slot, with all the trimmings, they didn't give him that. So, instead, he got this title and the first crack at all the breaking news.

STELTER: You mentioned personal rivalry between Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer. Now, we see both of them stepping aside, Barbara Walters officially retiring, although she recently came back with that interview of the father of the Santa Barbara shooter, and Diane Sawyer, we don't know exactly what she'll be doing at ABC going forward.

What about the new leadership at ABC, the new news president, James Goldston, and the new head of the whole division, Ben Sherwood, who was formerly the president.

Are these guys who come in and aren't as willing to -- or as interested in protecting the status quo and keeping around big stars who are there for a long time?

GROVE: You can't protect the status quo. You can't protect anything in this business. You have to be future forward and you have to sort of what are we going to be doing five years from now? And how are we going to win? Because in this business, a ratings point, say, on the morning shows, for instance, that could be worth $100 million in revenue.

So these guys are in a business and they're business people.

STELTER: There has been this exodus of talent from ABC. We saw several people from ABC come over here to CNN in the past year or two, and now, we see George Stephanopoulos and David Muir both basically having two jobs that David Muir will stay on "20/20", as well as "World News". I wonder if this just says something about the end of the star anchor, that maybe ABC believes it can make do with just a couple big heavy hitters in George and David?

GROVE: Yes, I think so. By the way, George has three jobs, because he also anchors the "This Week" program a Sundays.

STELTER: Right, right.

GROVE: Yes, it might say something about that, but you've got to say these people are getting star salaries. Everything I here is that George now has a one or one zero at least in front of his salary. And that's not bad from a guy I met 20 years ago when he was a young campaign aide for Bill Clinton.

STELTER: What do you think this says for the aspiring David Muirs of the world, the folks who are in television journalism, or in a local market today, who want to have that job in 20 years? Does this say something about the ladder and how it's going to change in the next 20 years?

GROVE: I don't know what things will look like. I don't know whether we're all going to be watching television news on our mobile devices, or maybe have devices implanted. So --

STELTER: That's a refreshingly honest answer. We don't know the path is anymore. GROVE: Yes, you're asking me an impossible question, Brian.

Shame on you.

STELTER: That's a perfect place to leave it, then. Lloyd Grove, thanks for joining me.

GROVE: A pleasure.

STELTER: One more note here, ABC's "World News" and NBC's "Nightly News" continue to battle for first place, as Lloyd just mentioned. And my contacts at ABC say that David Muir is even more competitive about this than Diane Sawyer, even more determined to beat NBC. So, I do think a new ratings war is about to kick off.

When we come back here on RELIABLE SOURCES, this week's horrible news for President Obama, but is he really the worst president we've seen since World War II? We're going to try to look at those polls, try to fix the wrong headlines and talk to historian who can really sort it out for us, next.


STELTER: Dramatic headlines about the president's popularity -- worst president since 1945, with an approval rating in the 30s. Oh, did you think I was talking about this week's poll? This is a headline from a 2006 story about a Quinnipiac poll judging George W. Bush. Yes, eerily similar to these headlines from this week's actual Quinnipiac poll judging Barack Obama.

Look at that, story after story, saying Obama is the worst president since World War II, even though 33 percent of the people surveyed said so.

I've got to say I think all the hyping of this poll was a big media foul this week. All these headlines seemed determined to get clicks, but not provide any context. And the press should know better.

So, here's our RELIABLE SOURCES policy question. With these polls, with these headlines, are we actually learning anything?

Let's get some historical context here. Let's bring in presidential historian to talk through it. Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton. He's in New York this morning.

Thank you for joining me.

JULIAN ZELIZER, PRINCETON: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: You know, Julian, I sometimes think headlines are too good to be true. And in this case, the headline was either too bad or too good to be true, depending on your view of the president. What effect do you think all these inflated stories have on the public?

ZELIZER: I think the biggest effect is right now. So, it fuels a conversation about the problems with President Obama and it will create some political problems for him potentially as people make these comparisons. But I don't think it tells us much about his presidency or how his presidency compares to those who came before him.

STELTER: Yes, here's a headline from "The New York Post". I hope you guys can read it on screen. It says, "Why America just voted Obama the worst president in 70 years". That's just factually inaccurate. That didn't happen.

I wonder if there's some response on the pollsters in this case to not ask the question in a way that's going to get warped by the press. Is that crazy? Is it all on the press? Or is it partly on the pollsters as well?

ZELIZER: I think both are accurate. In the end, the pollsters give them the material and know the media environment in which they're operating so they have to be very careful to explain both what they're asking and what the findings are.

Here it's a small percentage who answered it. Republicans are the ones who, not surprisingly, feel this way right now.

STELTER: What it says to me is presidents are judged so differently in the moment than they are later on. Has that always been true?

ZELIZER: Always true. So, the reputation of a president changes over time, very dramatically. There is no presidential reputation or presidential legacy. It will evolve.

But the way in which presidents leave office is very different from how we remember them. Harry Truman was very unpopular when he left office in 1952, now he's often considered one of the great presidents. Ronald Reagan was not doing so well during his lame duck period. Many conservatives thought he was doing a horrible job, but now, he's revered as one of the great presidents and one of the leaders of the right.

So, we see these kinds of changes all the time, and the way in which we make these comparisons is not static.

STELTER: What causes people to generally only remember the good and not the bad?

ZELIZER: Well, it can go the reverse, but I do think the more we learn about what happened during an administration from the archives, the more we have time to get away from the heat of the moment, sometimes we start to appreciate the difficult environment in which presidents governed, or we start to see the effect of some of their policies, which isn't clear at the moment, but takes some time.

And then, you know, there's nostalgia. That's the bad part. Sometimes we forget the bad stuff and we only remember the virtues. And the nostalgia in some ways down the line is as dangerous as these kinds of polls which we have at the moment. STELTER: Interesting. Tell me more about that. Why is that?

ZELIZER: Well, you know, even with Ronald Reagan, we remember how he made peace with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, but we forget the Iran-Contra hear hearings where there was discussion of the potential to impeach him.

And I think, you know, part of it is we're always looking for a better moment in politics. We're so frustrated with the gridlock. We're so frustrated with the partisanship. So, we try to tease out the best parts of the past.

We remember how Reagan and Tip O'Neill, the speaker of the House, liked to have a beer after work, because it reminds us maybe things could be a little better.

STELTER: I do wonder if this Quinnipiac poll -- by the way, an organization usually very well respected that I have relied on for years, I wonder if this poll does tell us something about our current political climate, because ABC News did a very similar poll back in the late 1990s, when Bill Clinton was in office, and when it did its survey of the worst presidents, it found Nixon to be number one, topping that chart, 23 percent, then Reagan, then Clinton at 16 percent. So, the sitting president was considered one of the worst, but not nearly to the extent that Obama is currently.

I guess the difference is about double. Obama is at 33 percent in the Quinnipiac poll. It's always dangerous to compare two different polls like this, but does it say something about our politics, that people are more polarized than they were in the '90s perhaps?

ZELIZER: Well, I think there's something to that. The fact he's rated worse than Richard Nixon who resigned from office in a scandal is very telling, and I do think there's something about this that indicates how polarize our judgments are about everything.

STELTER: Let me play a clip from FOX's coverage of this poll was across all the cable news channels this week, and here's how Ed Henry covered the news.


ED HENRY, FOX NEWS: What's devastating for the White House is this is a nonpartisan, highly respected poll in terms of Quinnipiac. Now, interesting, Quinnipiac also asked, what do you think if Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, had been elected instead of President Obama being reelected, 45 percent said in this poll, the nation would be better off.


STELTER: What that says to me, and tell me if I'm wrong, is Romney voters still prefer Romney. I mean, should we surprised by a finding like that? ZELIZER: Not at all. You know, we're in the final years of a

presidency. People are frustrated, even some of Obama supporters. The economy is weak.

So, it's not surprising. People who supported Romney would still want Romney in office. And even some others might at least wonder would things have been better. But it's not really a shocking piece of information to hear that at this point.

STELTER: Julian, thanks so much for joining me today.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

STELTER: So, my advice to reporters in 2022, don't fall for the poll that says President Clinton, or Warren, or Bush or Paul is the worst presidents since World War II.

As always, let me know what you think of the show today. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. My username is BrianStelter. And I'm reading your comments right after the show.

And speaking of Facebook, that site came under fire this week for its mood manipulation study. But the trust is, they're toying with us every day in all sorts of way. My next two guests tell us how right after this break.



Let's now turn to Facebook and the news this week that had users outraged. The social media giant revealed for one week back in January 2012, it allowed researchers to manipulate almost 700,000 newsfeeds. Some saw more positive news about their friends, other saw more negative, and the experiment worked. The people who saw more positive news seemed happier in their own Facebook posts.

Now, Facebook sort of apologized this week, but not totally. But the story is so much bigger than that one experiment. I'm intrigued by the larger, long-term implications when it comes to user behavior. Can Facebook impact who you vote for, for example? Or what kind of news you see during a big political decision?

Joining me now to discussing that in Austin, Texas, is Tal Yarkoni, a psychologist and research associate at the University of Texas in Austin.

And Zeynep Tufekci. She's an assistant professor at UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Information and Literary Science.

Welcome to you both.


STELTER: You two are the experts. So, I want to hear from both of you first. Were you outraged by this revelation this week? Were you surprised at all?

Zeynep, let me start with you.

TUFEKCI: Well, I wasn't because I've been following -- this is not the first study Facebook has published, showing its enormous power. It's one of many. And this is the first one that caught the imagination. I think this is the tip of the iceberg.

STELTER: Why do you think this is the one caught the public's imagination?

TUFEKCI: Because I think it was involved with emotions, the way the study abstract made it sound like it created, you know, emotional contagion, I think made a lot of people realize that Facebook is a primary way in which that they interact with their friends, a lot of people get news around the world.

And the idea that they're the product that Facebook is manipulating to make sure they come back to Facebook, this idea hadn't been very public before, I think this was the first realization that Facebook does experiment with them, and there's all thinks algorithms that filter what they say and what they don't see. I think it made people, you know, sort of step back and say, wait, what else is Facebook doing? What else I'm not seeing? And wait, why am I seeing that post and not the other one?

And those are very good questions.

STELTER: Tal, should we be more bothered by this than, for example, how advertisers manipulate emotions all the time?

TAL YARKONI, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS, AUSTIN: No, I don't think so. I think there are certainly legitimate concerns about what's going on here, and I agree with Zeynep, that you hear people talking about manipulating emotions, and it seems like a potential dangerous thing, but you have to remember that advertisers have been doing this kind of thing more or less for decades. You know, when you go to the supermarket, there's a reason why the chocolates are by the checkout and flowers are not and it's because, you know, you've been experimented on for decades.

TUFEKCI: But that's not as effective. That's not as effective. The advertiser doesn't come between you and your friends. And that advertiser that posted chocolate doesn't know that much about you.

Facebook knows so much about you. Facebook knows your personal type. Facebook knows whether you're a Republican or Democrat. Facebook knows which of your friends you like.

So, the kind of power it has, and also, when you see that chocolate so blatantly placed, you react against it. You know, that's why advertisements don't work that well in they're in mass media. Whereas, when there's stealth, when you don't really know to have your defenses up, that's when you're so vulnerable. And I think that's why, you know, Facebook -- and this isn't just Facebook, and this isn't just this study. That's why sort of the Internet platform's power to change how we

feel is very important. That voting study that Brian talked about, that's very important. It was actually a very interesting study. It showed that Facebook --


STELTER: Tell me what it found, because I --for viewers at home, tell me what that study found.

I will tell you. So, the study found that Facebook can make people vote. It had different voting messages, and one was a social message. It said, go vote for your friends. It was very neutral, it was partisan. And the other said, go vote more in informational sense.

And it has 300,000 more people show up in 2010 elections. And now, since Facebook knows whether you're a Republican or Democrat without even asking you, because it has so much information about you, it doesn't have to ask you to know they see things, you can imagine a scenario in which Facebook and other big Internet platforms could throw an election by nudging the right kind of people to go vote in those few swing states.

STELTER: Tal, is Zeynep overstating the situation here?

YARKONI: No, I think I more or less agree to that. I think, you know, I think there's two points to be made. One is there wasn't anything unusual about the study. So, I agree that it's potential useful as an awareness rate and exercise rate, in the sense that I was actually surprise with how many people were not aware that this kind of thing was going on. I kind of assume, well, everyone knows this is happening and apparently they don't care.

So, in some sense, it's actually relieving to see that people, you know, weren't aware and they do care, but I hope that the takeaway message is not, look, Facebook is one bad actor, let's go after Facebook, they'll change their terms of use, problem solved. I mean, agree that the broader issue here is, do we need new legislation to protect consumer data and what companies like Facebook can do?

STELTER: And Google and Twitter, and many others.

YARKONI: Exactly, yes.

TUFEKCI: I agreed that Facebook. I mean, we got the one study in Facebook in our crosshairs, but, you know, that is not the only question here. This really is a -- like if you as a person are worried about this one study, I read the study. I mean, it's OK, in the sense that, yes, there should have been better consent procedures, but it's likely that you didn't really see that much of a change. So, that's the good news.


TUFEKCI: The bad news is, this is the tip of the iceberg. This is the tip of the iceberg of what's called A/B testing, in which online platforms test you all the time to make sure you come back, because remember, you're the product they're selling to advertisers, your eyeballs is what's being sold.

STELTER: I want to read another quote from another who wrote about this topic this week, Dana Boyd. She wrote, "On a personal level, I hate the fact that Facebook thinks it's better than me at deciding which friends' posts I should see. I hate that I have no meaningful mechanism of control on the site."

She's getting on an issue that I think a lot of us experience on Facebook -- the idea that this newsfeed is supposed to be curated, just highlights of what your friends are posting when in reality, it's not that good a summary of the world.

Do you all think that's something --

TUFEKCI: It's curated -

STELTER: -- that Facebook is aware of and is working on?

TUFEKCI: It's curated to keep you engaged on Facebook. It's curated to keep you coming back to it. So, in the study that's the P&E (ph) study that we're talking about, there's a really interesting line. They found that neutral posts don't get as much other people posting. So, that might be why your Facebook feed is full of drama, because drama, good or bad, seems to keep people engaged.


TUFEKCI: And that's a finding that I thought was really interesting, that neutral posts are not getting people engaged and coming back to Facebook. Might be why they're suppressing some of the neutral stuff.

YARKONI: As a counterpoint to that, I think it's very easy to think -- it feels that way, right? It feels like, well, I would like to have all of these different settings I can adjust and play with and see what happens.

But in some sense, that's the whole point of A/B testing, right, is you give -- you vary things. You give in some cases people more options. You see what they like. And so ultimately you could argue that the reason that you end up where you end up is precisely because people do seem to like the settings they have, right? So, this...


YARKONI: ... not just on Facebook.

TUFEKCI: A billion people don't like the same thing. A billion people don't like the same thing.

STELTER: That's true.

TUFEKCI: And maybe what we like, even if what you say is true, it should be transparent and say we're showing you highly emotive content, is this what you want?

I would like as an adult a little more say into a platform that is so central to my life. I have family all over the world, and they're on Facebook. So, I would like to hear from my quieter relatives and friends...


TUFEKCI: ... hear baby news.

YARKONI: Well, you do have that control, actually. There are options on Facebook when you can explicitly say I want to see more of this.


TUFEKCI: I have tried. It's not transparent.

YARKONI: Yes, I'm not arguing that Facebook couldn't do better, but I do think that they test precisely this kind of stuff all the time.

And the reality is that these are adaptive algorithms, right? So, they adjust to your behavior. And you can actually -- for example, Facebook does allow you to view chronological postings. And most people don't seem to like that very much, because stuff doesn't update right.

I think certainly you could always argue, and I think reasonably, that there should be more transparency. At least, if nothing else, there should be the ability to opt out to see what people have doing in their data.

But the defaults I think are actually -- by and large, people don't actually mind, I find, the defaults. They actually like them. What they don't like is the realization after the fact that, hey, this is what's been going on.

And the question we have to ask ourselves I think is, it's a trade. Right? You kind of -- on some level, you accept that you're going to give up some control, and in return you're going to get a service. And the question is, where do we draw the line between, wait, I didn't know you were going to do this with my data, and, oh, I really like my shopping experience on Amazon, and I like the user interface on Facebook.

And I think getting that right is important.

TUFEKCI: And you have to keep in mind that Facebook's customers aren't us. It's the advertisers.


TUFEKCI: So, that's the important realization there, is that Facebook isn't necessarily giving us this power, because what if we don't do something and it's not as suitable to the advertisers? So that is I think a tension that Facebook has to come to terms

with more openly is that they're in the business of getting money from the advertisers and not from us.

STELTER: Before we do, Tal, since we have had a week of public debate about this, what's the worst possible outcome? What's the best possible outcome?

YARKONI: I think the worst possible outcome is, as I said earlier, I think people come away thinking this was a problem specifically with Facebook and now that there's an outcry, Facebook is going to address this by tweaking some of the terms in the data use policy and we will forget in a week, and nothing will happen, and six months later something will happen similar to this and the cycle will go on.

STELTER: Right. Right.

YARKONI: I think the best possibility outcome is -- I agree with Zeynep -- I think that there has been a conversation. And we have to say at some point, look, we need to decide collectively what we're comfortable with. How much our data do we want to give up control over?

Do we want to pass new laws that regulate this kind of stuff? Or do we want to trust Facebook to do the right thing? I think that's a conversation we need to have and I agree with Zeynep.

TUFEKCI: I completely agree.

The worst possible situation would be Facebook comes up and says, here, we teak tweaked the terms of service and stops publishing. So, all that happens, is they will keep doing this kind of study. They just won't tell us.

STELTER: Zeynep Tufekci and Tal Yarkoni, thank you both for joining me.

YARKONI: Thank you.

TUFEKCI: Thank you for inviting us.

STELTER: After the break here: The Supreme Court delivered one of its most controversial rulings this week.

I'm going to show you the huge difference in how that news was reported in my weekly look at "Red News/Blue News" right after this.


STELTER: Welcome back.

And welcome to "Red News/Blue News," my weekly look at how partisan media outlets spin the news you read and hear and see.

This week, I'm going to try to unspin Hobby Lobby. Let's set the scene Monday morning at the Supreme Court.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are demonstrators who support the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. They say that companies should be required to provide comprehensive health care coverage of birth control for its employees, and then you have the demonstrators here behind me who say religious liberty rights should trump that.


STELTER: Just a few minutes after that, the Supreme Court ruled that ruled that closely held companies like Hobby Lobby can't be required to pay for all contraception if they claim it violates their religious liberty.

Let's look at the blue news about this first. On MSNBC, the mood afterward was grim.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The context of this is an all-out assault on access to contraception and to other reproductive health care services.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: So doesn't it just put the government between you and your doctor if you're a woman? And doesn't -- isn't this just a huge issue of discrimination?


STELTER: Watching all this coverage, you probably would have missed a crucial piece of context.

Hobby Lobby was not resisting the government mandate to pay for condoms or the pill. It was objecting to only a few contraceptive drugs and devices, four out of 20 total, the ones that they say are tantamount to abortion. That's why some red news outlets were mocking blue reactions to the ruling.

Here's Deroy Murdock of "National Review" listing the forms of birth control that Hobby Lobby does cover, before writing this: "Liberals are living in a cartoon of their own making."

Some of the concern from the left of course is about future broader rulings that could further roll back access to health care.

On the right, meantime, there was a focus on one thing, one word, abortion.


BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": The Obama administration wants all corporations to fund things like the morning- after pill, which many religious Americans believe is an abortion- inducing medication.

Anyway, the very disturbing part of the Supreme Court's opinion is that the four liberal justices apparently believe that American taxpayers should fund abortions.


STELTER: When O'Reilly says abortions, what he's talking about is the medication known as Plan B, the morning-after pill.

Frankly, these are issues best left to scientists, not cable news pontificators. And I wish the coverage had given as much weight to the science behind Plan B as it did to the religious objections.

Now, I can't conclude this "Red News/Blue News" without a little sex ed. Let me show you a Rush Limbaugh sound bite from Wednesday afternoon. He apparently is still bothered by the 2011 contraception mandate.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Pregnancy is something that you have to do to cause. It doesn't just happen to you while you're walking down the street, except in the case of sexual abuse.

But, in the normal, everyday flow of events, pregnancy requires action that has consequences. And yet we treat it as a great imposition that women need to be protected from. It's a sickness, it's a disease, it's whatever, and there's got to be a pill for it. And yet they wouldn't have the problem if they didn't do a certain thing.


STELTER: If they didn't do a certain thing.

Rush, the word you're tiptoeing around is sex, S-E-X. And it takes two, buddy. It's not a they thing. It's a we thing.

I know I'm new to the broadcasting business, Rush, and I know you're a pro, but I just think you should tread lightly here. Yes, Americans are divided about abortion, but they're not divided about sex. I can't think of any bigger audience turnoff than sounding anti- sex.

So now that I'm turning a little red here, we will end "Red News/Blue News" there.

But stay with me, because I have a story you just have to hear to believe, an incredible story of a reporter assigned to cover raging epidemics of crime and drug use right here in Washington, D.C., who was too close to the story. He was addicted to drugs himself. He's here with me in studio next.



My next guest has a shocking story to tell. He was a national newspaper reporter who, for years, led a dangerous double life. His name is Ruben Castaneda. He covered D.C., for "The Washington Post" during the turbulence of the early '90s, when a crack cocaine epidemic plagued the city. Hundreds of people were murdered each year, as rival gangs fought over territory in the city's Shaw neighborhood, mere blocks from this studio.

Now, at the time, D.C. was run by the original crack-smoking mayor, Marion Barry, who was famously caught on camera using the drug in an FBI sting operation in 1990.

But, as Ruben reported on drugs and the carnage they caused, he was hiding a dark secret. He was a crack addict himself.

Ruben tells his story of addiction and redemption in a fascinating new book, "S Street Rising."

And he joins me here in studio now.

Ruben, welcome.


STELTER: You write about first trying the drug while on assignment. Tell me how that happened.


This was in September 1998, when I was working in Los Angeles for "The Herald Examiner." I was in a pretty rough neighborhood on the western edge of downtown for an assignment having to do with an immigration story. So I was out looking to interview Central American immigrants.

And a very attractive young lady who was standing under an awning in front of a motel smiled at me and kind of beckoned me. So I put my reporting on hold and crossed the street to flirt with her.

STELTER: And you say at this point you already had a substance abuse problem, the substance being alcohol, and that that went on for years as well.


I was -- at that point in my life, I was 27. I was already drinking heavily. And I had been for a couple of years.

STELTER: And at "The Post," you were coring the crack epidemic.

Tell me what happened in those years when you were both covering and using.

CASTANEDA: As I arrived -- I arrived in Washington in September 1989, and I really was determined to stop using, because I didn't think it would be a good idea for a "Post" crime reporter to take the chance of being caught by police...

STELTER: No. I would say no.

CASTANEDA: ... holding or buying crack. My pledge lasted about four days.

I got drunk on a Saturday, went out to explore in my neighborhood. And rather than being summoned by an attractive young lady, this time, I picked up an attractive lady who I just sensed was a crack user. It turned out I was right. She directed me to S Street Northwest. And developed a new routine wherein I would give her the money and she would make the buys to try to insulate myself from...


STELTER: And a good portion is about S Street and how it changed over the years.

Tell me how a person is able to do both. How were you able to function as a reporter day to day?

CASTANEDA: Well, I compartmentalized my life as best I could.

When I was at "The Post" and even -- when I was on my work shifts, and even when I wasn't working, as a young night crime reporter, you're always thinking about the job, and calling people, making contacts.

So I was very focused on doing as good a job as I could, and I rationalized to myself that what I did during my off-hours, on my weekends, going out for a couple hours, getting drunk, making crack buys, using crack with these, you know, young women who traded sex for crack was recreational.

STELTER: Your editors started to get involved in 1991. And at one point, one of them took you to rehab. Is that right?

CASTANEDA: That's right.

It was four days before Christmas 1991. Milton Coleman, who at the time was "The Post"'s AME, assistant managing editor, for the metro staff, the man who had hired me, he and an EAP counselor, an employee assistance program counselor, confronted me when I came in for my work shift.

And they told me they had made arrangements for me to go to the rehab unit at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. Milton drove me in his black Toyota SUV. We made a quick stop at my apartment, so that I could get a few things, change of clothes, toothbrush, and then he drove me to Suburban Hospital.

STELTER: About as generous as I can imagine a boss being.

CASTANEDA: Yes. Milton -- I'm convinced that my life would have been at risk if I

had been left out on my own for another week or two. I was just using more and more and using at unpredictable times.

At that point, I was no longer just using on my weekends. I was using on days I was supposed to work before work.

STELTER: So it was affecting work?

CASTANEDA: Oh, yes, by -- it's a progressive condition, addiction.

STELTER: Do you think you ever betrayed your audience then?

CASTANEDA: Only in the sense that, by the summer of 1991, I began missing days of work.

I probably called in sick more than a dozen times before I went to rehab. And then there were other nights where I came in for my shift where I wasn't -- where I was already impaired because I had used drugs, crack, and, in some instances, drank alcohol before I started my shift. So there were some instances where I showed up for work and I wasn't at my best.

But I can't say that I ever made an error or failed to cover a story because of my addiction.

STELTER: I know it's awkward to ask, but I do wonder if the experience made you a better reporter in some way. Does it help a reporter when they have a life experience like the one you're describing?

CASTANEDA: Well, assuming you survive it, I would say yes.

I think that I have a much greater understanding of what happens in certain distressed city neighborhoods and streets than a typical reporter. I'm not saying that makes me a better journalist, but -- than the others, but I think it certainly gives me insights that other people may not have.

STELTER: The book is titled "S Street Rising."

Ruben, thanks for being here.

CASTANEDA: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: Now, don't go anywhere, because I have a story that you probably thought you would never hear, especially right here on CNN. It's about what the owner of FOX News may have in store for us.

Stay tuned.


STELTER: And, finally this morning, could FOX News owner Rupert Murdoch some day own CNN? It's a wild thought, but it's being talked about because Murdoch

is in hunting mode again, possibly looking to acquire a big content company like Time Warner, which is the parent of CNN.

I'll tell you about why you might hear more about this in the days ahead. But, first, let's take a step back. We're in the middle of a wave of TV-distributor consolidation. Comcast is merging with Time Warner Cable, and AT&T is buying DirecTV.

And this will give distributors more muscle in their dealings with so-called content companies like Time Warner and Murdoch's 21st Century Fox. Those are the companies that actually make the TV shows and movies you watch, as opposed to the companies that distribute them to your living room or your smartphone.

So, how might the content guys respond? Well, naturally, they might want more muscle, too. Wall Street analysts think more consolidation is coming, this time on the content side. See this Wall Street headline just two weeks ago, "Entertainment Companies Scout for Mergers."

Now, a lot of this is speculative, because these companies don't like to tip their hands. But the speculation is heating up because media mogul summer camp is coming up this week, yes, summer camp. There's an annual conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, that attracts men like Murdoch and the CEO of Time Warner, Jeffrey Bewkes.

Reuters teed up the conference a few days ago with this story describing Murdoch's interest in Time Warner -- quote -- "He still covets the owner of HBO, among other potential targets, according to a former News Corp. employee told by executives recently about Murdoch's interest. The source did not know if Murdoch had made an approach."

Can you imagine that, the owner of FOX News and the "Wall Street Journal" and "The New York Post" owning this news channel, the empire that Ted Turner built?

Now, I know many people shudder at that thought. On the other hand, many people, myself included, admire Murdoch's business judgment and his ability to surprise and survive in this cutthroat media world.

For what it's worth, Time Warner and FOX are declining to comment on this or any other potential merger or consolidation scenarios. And even if Murdoch took control of Time Warner, a very big, big if, I think he would have to divest CNN as a part of any deal.

In fact, I will eat my remote control -- no, better, I will eat my copy of "The New York Post" if Murdoch becomes the owner of CNN.

Now, that's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, but our media coverage continues all time on the RELIABLE SOURCES blog on So, check out my stories there about the record World Cup ratings and much more.

We will see you right back here next week, next Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time. And if you can't join us live, make sure you set your DVR and catch up with us later in the week.