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Reporter Speaks from Ebola Quarantine; Media Treatment of Ebola: Going Too Far?

Aired October 5, 2014 - 11:00   ET


BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Brian Stelter. It's Sunday, October 5th, and it is time for RELIABLE SOURCES.

And we begin with Ebola. A reporter in a self-imposed quarantine after returning from the frontlines of the deadly disease. He tells his story of covering an enemy you can't see.

Plus, how the plague is bringing out the best and the worst in TV news.

And, sex scandals and politics. Is the tabloidization of political reporting getting in the way of uncovering what really matters?

And a resignation at the top of the Secret Service. Did gender play a role in both who got the job and why they lost it?

Journalists like to tell you the news. They do not like to be the news. And that is especially true this weekend.

This morning, my thoughts are with Ashoka Mokpo, the freelance NBC cameraman who tested positive for Ebola while working in Liberia. He's now the fourth American who has been stricken by the disease while spending time in that country. He is scheduled to return to the U.S. for medical treatment.

So, you might be wondering, what are journalists doing to protect themselves? I mean, we know that journalists can cover wars and disasters and take certain precautions when they're doing that. But covering the fight against Ebola is different. It is an invisible enemy.

NBC medical correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman was working with the cameraman when he contracted the disease, and here is how she described it on Friday morning on the "Today" show.


DR. NANCY SNYDERMAN, NBC MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: When he realized he had a fever and was feeling achy in this environment, the word Ebola popped to the top of everyone's mind. He self quarantined overnight 48 hours ago, got his test. It turned out to be positive. He's at Doctors Without Borders and he will be airlifted out to a medical center in the United States.


STELTER: First, I want to bring in, in Washington "The Washington Post" reporter Lenny Bernstein, because he has also been in Liberia recently and he has been spending time at home in a sort self quarantine ever since. He joins me now.

Lenny, good morning.


STELTER: I'm well. And thank you for being here. Originally, this segment was going to be from the Washington bureau of CNN but you're at home on Skype instead. Tell me what happened.

BERNSTEIN: So, there's advice in a general sense that you should stay home, keep away from crowds, keep your distance from folks even in your own home for anywhere between two and 21 days. The virus can incubate for 21 days. Most people who start to show symptoms start to show them between 7 and 10, 7 and 11 days. This is my 8th day home, so I thought you know what? I'm going to be prudent about it.

STELTER: Were you feeling sick at all this morning?

BERNSTEIN: No, just a little, you know, little not myself so I figured I'll just take -- I'll just be super cautious.

STELTER: So, what have you been doing? Have you been taking your temperature? Other sorts of things like that to check on yourself?

BERNSTEIN: Right. I have an infrared thermometer and you just take your temperature. I have no fever. And, you know, you watch out for other symptoms, severe headache, cramps, achiness, like Ashoka got. Obviously, vomiting would be a very strong sign that you're infected.

STELTER: I mean, I have to admit, I was a little worried when you said you were preferring to stay home this morning but it sounds like it's just out of a precaution. It's not because you believe that you are sick.

BERNSTEIN: No, no, no. Just being very cautious.

STELTER: I was really struck by what you wrote for "The Washington Post" Web site. You wrote about the rules of reporting, you know, about Ebola. That's why I was hoping to have you here this morning. What is the number one rule so to speak when you are actually covering an outbreak in an area where so many might be infected?

BERNSTEIN: So for us in the press, in the media, and pretty much everybody else over there, the number one rule is you don't touch anyone. You try not to touch anything that you don't know about, but you don't touch anyone. You don't know where the virus is. Your odds are very good, particularly if you're not around a lot of sick people.

But in an abundance of caution as you go around Monrovia, no one is shaking hands or hugging or high fiving. No one is putting their arms around each other. You know, every once in a while you will see somebody do the Liberian handshake which is just an elbow bump usually with long sleeves over those elbows. You just don't touch anything you don't have to.

STELTER: Hearing you describing this, I'm thinking of myself -- your family probably didn't want you to head over there.

BERNSTEIN: My wife was OK with it. She was somewhat wary. She understood why I wanted to go. She gave me her blessing. I wouldn't have gone if she didn't want me to go.

My daughter was fine with it. She also understood why I wanted to cover it.

Pretty much everybody else thought I was crazy.

STELTER: And now that you're back, do you agree with them? Was it crazy or was it worth doing?

BERNSTEIN: It was absolutely worth doing. I would go back in a heartbeat. The story is very important, and the risk is manageable.

Now, I say that, the numbers are growing and they're growing fast and if things get completely out of control over there and the numbers got very, very large, I would have to think about that.

But the risk is manageable. There are many people from the media there right now doing exactly what I did for 12 days --


BERNSTEIN: -- taking -- you know, they're taking a manageable risk in return for reporting what I think is the most important health story in the world right now.

STELTER: I'm glad you brought that up because I know that on Twitter, on Facebook, I have seen viewers say why are journalists over there in these countries in Africa putting themselves at risk? I think you're answering it very effectively. It is our job to be there even though there's a certain amount of risk. You're saying manageable risk that comes from doing this.

BERNSTEIN: Absolutely. It is our jobs. Somebody had to be there. "The Washington Post" wasn't there. I felt very -- it was very important for "The Washington Post" to be writing about this, for our readership to be seeing reports from the ground, what it was like for people to be outside treatment center gates and not be able to get in, for pregnant women not to be able to get anybody to assist them in their labor.

You know, that's not to belittle any of the work that "The New York Times" is doing, it's been fantastic. CNN, you guys, NPR, everybody -- the major media is over there. The foreign press is over there. But I felt like "The Washington Post" needed to be there.

STELTER: And, of course, the big story obviously is the people that are hurting, that are dying. The big story is not the journalists but here on RELIABLE SOURCES, it is important to hear how journalists do their work. So, I'm really interested in hearing these rules that you're describing them for reporting on Ebola. When you got back, what happened then? I guess you didn't hug or kiss your wife when you arrived home?

BERNSTEIN: A quick peck on the cheek. Again, as everybody has been saying over and over again, if you don't have symptoms, you can't hurt anybody. I didn't have any symptoms when I came back, no fever, no vomiting, no diarrhea. There is no threat anyone unless you are showing symptoms.

Now, having said that if I hugged my wife and the next day spiked a big fever, I'd be pretty upset. So, yes, we're keeping our distance in the house and I'm monitoring myself and we'll just see what happens.

STELTER: What you're doing is what Nancy Snyderman and her team at NBC will be doing once they return to the U.S. their cameraman will be going to the medical facilities while they will be self quarantining for up to 21 days.

So, let me also bring in another doctor while I keep you here, Lenny, Dr. Gavin MacGregor-Skinner. He's an expert on Ebola and recently returned from Nigeria where he was treating patients there.

Doctor, thank you for being here.

And tell me -- did you take some of the same precautions that you're hearing Lenny talked about once you got back from Nigeria?

DR. GAVIN MACGREGOR-SKINNER, GLOBAL PROJECTS MANAGER, ELIZABETH R. GRIFFIN FOUNDATION: I agree with Lenny 100 percent. Everything I said is exactly what we do on the ground. The other thing we do in our training with our doctors and nurses is not to raise your arms above your shoulders and touch your face. And that's really -- that's a human behavior challenge. It's difficult to do but something we put into our training.

STELTER: What sorts of advice would you give to journalists who are maybe preparing now to go to these countries in Africa to cover this?

MACGREGOR-SKINNER: That's a great question.

When I worked at CDC as a disease detective and I went to do outbreak investigations, journalists often came out with me to do the outbreak with me, to see what the conditions were in the field. So, I would say right now with the public health people, the CDC people, the DOD people and all the other doctors and nurses we have from the U.S. on the ground, let's start forming a team through a buddy system and get the journalists to come out and work with us, see what we do, do exactly as we do, keep them safe -- but report the stories that need to be reported.

STELTER: Let me broaden out a little bit and ask you about the media coverage of this situation. Both outside of our country and here in the U.S. what is your impression overall about how the press has been treating this topic? Has there been too much fear-mongering do you think?

MACGREGOR-SKINNER: We have to be very careful. The stigmatization of the patients, of the family, of friends, of contacts, we've got to be really careful within the media. We don't cause more grief, more stress for those people.

And what we saw in Africa, we saw a whole community approach where they had been dealing with years and years and years of HIV-AIDS patients and they know what happens when stigmatization happen.

So, they actually flipped the paradigm and tried to make these people within the community to be heroes.

STELTER: Lenny Bernstein, let me ask you the same thing. I bet you have had a lot of time to watch TV and read online coverage of the Ebola scare in Dallas this week. What's been your impression of how the press has approached this topic?

BERNSTEIN: I'm pretty happy with the way the press has approached the topic. I thought it was very important that very quickly the media focused on the mistakes that were made in Dallas. We reported the story but if you notice today everybody was carrying two themes and one was that they didn't burn that guy's sheets and towels or dispose of them in a responsible way. I thought that was a big error.

In Monrovia, they learned that the painful way. That you get rid of that stuff, burn it. All the PPEs are burned at the end of the day, the moon suits, the protective garments the doctors wear inside the treatment centers.

And the other thing, of course, was that glitch where it was never communicated to the doctors themselves that this fellow had been in Liberia. You know, the nurse knew it and she wrote it down in the computerized file, but it somehow never got to the doctor. That cannot happen. We need to be better than that.

STELTER: As we wrap up, Dr. MacGregor-Skinner, what should Lenny Bernstein here do? How many more days should he stay at home, for example?

MACGREGOR-SKINNER: He needs to stay there for 21 days. That is the World Health Organization and also the CDC guidance. That's what we do when we're in Nigeria. We weren't able to quarantine people in their homes, so we used cell phone SMS text messaging to stay with contact.

And we actually sent SMS text messages to all the contact people we were tracing and saying, how do you feel today and what is your temperature? If we didn't hear from them, we'd go look for them. And if we heard from them, then we knew everything was OK.

STELTER: Very different situation here, of course.

Lenny, I'm guessing you're still filing stories with "The Washington Post" from home.

BERNSTEIN: I am. I filed that first person story from home. Just wrote another one today. I don't know when it's going to run. We have another story coming out on Sunday that I was participating in. You can do all your work from kitchen table and it's not a problem.

STELTER: Lenny Bernstein and Dr. Gavin MacGregor-Skinner, thank you both for being here this morning.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you very much.


STELTER: We have a lot more to discuss about Ebola and about the situation both in those countries in Africa and here closer at home. We're going to take a look at some of the best and some of the worst media coverage from the past few days and talk about that with Miles O'Brien, right after this quick break.


STELTER: Now, more on our big story this morning, Ebola. The very word Ebola sparks fear because, quite frankly, there is still a lot of questions about how serious this outbreak is and what the authorities are doing about it.

In some ways, it's a mystery and it's the sort of mystery that brings out the best and the worst in the mainstream news media. We right here on TV and online can either heighten people's fears or help to contain those fears.

Just as an aside, that's why I have been impressed by all the explainers on the Internet and the q & as that CNN and other news outlets have been doing taking viewers' questions and answering them.

But if that's the best of this journalism, well, let's take a look at the worst with Miles O'Brien, the science correspondent for PBS "NewsHour" and a former reporter and anchor here at CNN. He's in Boston this morning.

Let me play a couple clips for you from the coverage in the past few days. First, this one from FOX News and Elisabeth Hasselbeck.


ELISABETH HASSELBECK, FOX NEWS: You have a very calm tone. I think it must calm by nature with what you do professionally, Doctor. But I think the rest of us are saying, wait a minute, there's a lot of panic when it comes to flu, to lice. You know, as a parent, I'm thinking, well, there should be a little bit of justification for worry here. Am I wrong?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The viruses behave a little different and flu virus is something contagious through the air, through droplet. It's a little bit easier. This carries another layer because it requires bodily fluids.

HASSELBECK: But it's here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is here but we're not in the same infrastructures as other area where this has taken off.


STELTER: We've heard the words "Ebola in America", a lot the past few days. To me, that kind of feels like an exaggeration. It's technically true. There is a case of Ebola here in America. But to say Ebola is here, doesn't that sort of inflame people's fears?

MILES O'BRIEN, SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT, PBS: It sure does, Brian. There's no question about it. I wish everybody could take a deep breath and take a break from trying to pull viewers in by scaring them. And that's what we're seeing here.

It borders on irresponsibility when people get on television and start talking that way when they should know better. They should do their homework and they should report in a responsible manner.

Unfortunately, it's a very competitive business, the business we're in, and there is a perception that by hyping up this threat, you draw people's attention. That's a shame to even say that and I get embarrassed for our brethren in journalism.

STELTER: I do give credit to FOX for having a doctor in that segment.

Let me play one more clip from FOX. This is Andrea Tantaros, when she mentioned witch doctors, I know I had to play up this clip.


ANDREA TANTAROS, FOX NEWS: We are not equipped to habitual this and at the time when we should be preparing, the president was dancing in Martha's Vineyard and assuring us that would never happen. I said it before, I'll say it again, in these countries they do not believe in traditional medical care, so someone could get off a flight and seek treatment from a witch doctor that practices Santeria. This is a bigger fear. We're hoping that they come to the hospitals in the U.S., they might not.


STELTER: Miles, not much to say here but witch doctors?

O'BRIEN: Well, I mean, we could digress into what motivated that and perhaps the racial component of all this, the arrogance, the first world versus third world statements and implications of just that. It's offensive on several levels and it reflects, frankly, a level of ignorance which we should not allow in our media and in our discourse.

STELTER: What is for you as a science correspondent for so many years, what is -- what is your biggest wish when it comes to the audience at home? Is it what you just said, that they will seek out more authoritative sources than they sometimes do?

O'BRIEN: My biggest wish for the audience is that the mainstream media, the big outlets, CNN included, realize that science coverage is important and they should have people on staff who have a certain amount of expertise who study this beat. You would never run CNN without a political reporter, would you? Why is it in this world where climate change is a big issue, Ebola is a big issue, missing airliners, all kinds of science and technological implications, why is it that big entities don't maintain science specialized units anymore? They're gone.

And that's a shame because we live in a world with a lot of things that sound very scary and it requires a little bit of digging to get to the bottom of things and put things in perspective.

STELTER: As I mentioned, a former reporter for us at CNN. You used to have a specialized unit like that a number of years ago.

Let me play a bite from CNN, because I mentioned at the top that Q&A thing I really like that we've been doing, EbolaQandA. But there was one question I don't know, I was a little skeptical of.


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Here is somebody concerned about the ability for our pets to get Ebola and then pass it on. Is that even a concern, Sanjay?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, not in the case of dogs, for example. You know, I have dogs. You know, a lot of people ask this question. Dogs we know can actually have the virus in their bodies, but they don't get sick from it.


STELTER: Now, I like that Michaela said, is that even a concern? She was acknowledging that it might not be a question that's legitimate to ask. In a case like this, having covered a lot of science stories in the past, Miles, is there such a thing as a dumb question?

O'BRIEN: No. There's no dumb questions. You know there are people out there thinking just that thing. I think that's a reasonable thing to put in play.

And, you know, let's give credit. CNN has the best medical correspondent on the planet in Sanjay Gupta and a unit to support him that is extraordinary, and that should be heralded, and he's done a great job doing just what we're talking about, putting things into perspective. STELTER: I have to say there has been some very strong

journalism and I want to close the segment by playing one of those clips. This is Dr. Richard Besser of ABC News in Liberia. We'll watch what happens. It's shocking.


DR. RICHARD BESSER, ABC NEWS: Here in the street of Monrovia, there's a body here. Maybe Ebola, maybe something else, but the burial team has come. They're busy spraying down the area where the person is. They're going to wrap him in plastic and take him away.

He's not dead. He's not dead. They were wrapping him up to take him away but he's alive. He's moving his arm. They almost took him away to the crematorium.


STELTER: Just a stunning moment and it reminds me that Dr. Besser, Dr. Gupta are doing solid reporting, real education in these segments.

Miles, thanks for being here and going over the best and the worst with me.

O'BRIEN: You're welcome, Brian.

STELTER: When we come back, we will try to answer these provocative questions: is the political press just too focus on the sensational and not enough on the substance? And maybe more importantly, is that hurt you and me by keeping the best and the brightest from entering government? A big question when we come back.


STELTER: Welcome back.

CNN will stay on top of the Ebola cases in the U.S. and abroad but now let me turn to politics.

With just a month to go before the midterm elections, reporters are trailing candidates looking for inconsistencies and flip-flops and the most tantalizing news nuggets of all, any hint of a character deficiency, an affair, a secret child, a crime, a cover-up.

Think about this, if you're a political reporter, what's the brass ring? What's a career maker? Why are Woodward and Bernstein etched into memory? It's because, as legend has it, their reporting brought down a president, and that set the bar for every journalism student since.

My next guest has thought a lot about that and he has a lot of problems with it. He's got a message that we should all here. So, let's bring him in. He's Matt Bai of Yahoo. He's the author of a new book, "All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid." That week he says is when rumors of Gary Hart's marital infidelity sink his campaign back in 1987.

Matt joins me from D.C. this morning.

Matt, tell me why it was that one week that politics went tabloid?

MATT BAI, YAHOO: Sure. And thanks for having me on, Brian. It's nice to talk to you again.

You know, I mean, if you think back in the 20th century where the standards we set for Roosevelt, Johnson, Kennedy, you know, obviously personal morality and behaviors were not really considered relevant to or essential to public integrity.

And then flash forward to this bizarre moment in 1987 that's mostly forgotten ands what's remembered is misremembered, where you have Gary Hart, the Hillary Clinton of his day, the presumed nominee of the Democratic Party, literally backed up against a brick wall, penned in by four reporters who are asking him, is there a woman in your house? Did you have sex with her? Have you cheated on your wife?

And no presidential candidate had been asked this before, and it's a moment I think in that alley, in that moment, the ground of American politics is shifting. The rules for politics and political journalism changed forever.

STELTER: I think partly what you're saying through the book is that something has gone wrong, that political journalists are too focused on the trivial, on the tabloid. Am I expressing that correctly?

BAI: Yes, I think you are. I mean, it's not even -- it's not just sex. As you point out in your opening, it's -- were you tired and said something stupid that can be used against you? Did you get caught changing your mind?

The whole ethos of political journalism after 1987 shifts away from the illumination of agendas and world views, and shifts much more toward, you're a hypocrite, you're a fraud, you're lying about something. Everybody is lying about something. If we can find something about that, that is our primary directive.

When he got out of the race, Gary Hart, he was given a speech to read by his aides to read and it was very contrite speech, and he ripped it up. He wasn't -- he couldn't sleep and he wasn't feeling very contrite and he goes out and speaks from a heart.

And he gives this very defiant speech, Brian, and he says, "You know, mark my words, if we go down this path, politics will become a spectator sport with the hunters and the hunted." And he said, "I tremble for my country", to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, "when I say I fear we will get the leaders we deserve."

And, you know, the press mocked that speech roundly because it wasn't contrite and he seemed to be blaming everyone else and couldn't take responsibility -- you know, but here we are 27 years later, there aren't too many Americans that would laugh at the notion we are getting the leaders we deserve by the process we created.

STELTER: Is it really better back then than it is now? I remember you quoted in the book, Lyndon Johnson telling a group of reporters, "One more thing, boys, you may see me coming in out of a few women's bedrooms while I'm in the White House, but that is none of your business."

We're -- you're really saying that we're -- we were better off then potentially than we are now?

BAI: Well, I don't think I -- you know, I didn't write a manifesto, and I don't make a judgment about what is better and worse, because that wasn't perfect and there were issues of character that probably went unexplored

STELTER: By the way, you point out in the book that Bob Woodward's couch was where Gary Hart sometimes slept when he was in Washington.

BAI: Yes. I mean, the point is, Hart grows up in a different world politically. He's been in public life since 1972.


STELTER: And there was a coziness between reporters and politicians that would seem unfathomable now.

BAI: Right. And he separated from his wife twice. So, he sleeps on Woodward couch for a while.

He doesn't think anybody is going to go looking for this. And the way we remember this, Brian -- it's really important because it's wrong -- just about everybody we remember from this is wrong.

And one of the articles of faith about this incident is that Hart said, "Follow me around," and in doing so he challenged the media and they came into his bedroom, and then he set a new standard and they came into everybody's bedroom, and so we have Gary Hart to blame.

The truth is that there was a lot going on in the culture at that time churning, this tendency toward entertainment, the new satellite culture, changing attitudes toward adultery, the ghosts of Watergate. All of this was coming together in that moment. Hart did give that quote, but it was not public. It was not known when "The Miami Herald" started their surveillance on him. It did not cause the press to change their standard of scrutiny for him.

And, in fact, you know, we misremember who changed the rules and the boundaries. It was us in the media, and I think we have to reckon with that.

STELTER: And perhaps change them again.

I would end, Matt, with one more thing I noticed in "The New York Times" this week. It was Mark Leibovich's column talking about Mitt Romney.

BAI: Yes.

STELTER: Romney is quoted in the column saying: "If I ever run again, I want a camera to follow me the whole time. I want a camera on me at all times because then I will remember that I'm always on."

And that's the extreme of what you're describing started about 25, 30 years ago.

BAI: That was a remarkable interview Mark did. You saw Romney said, this is the end of spontaneity in politics.

STELTER: Matt, thanks for being here.

BAI: Oh, thanks for having me, Brian. It's nice to be on.

STELTER: I want to hear how this all sounds to another reporter, actually a famous investigative reporter, Michael Isikoff. He recently joined Yahoo News after four years at NBC and the better part of 20 years at "Newsweek."

And just this week, he broke the news that the Obama administration has decided not to apply its strict targeting standard to the current airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. That means when it comes to civilian deaths, a looser policy in effect.

But Isikoff is best known for his work uncovering President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. He joins me in D.C. as well.

So, Michael, if we buy into the conceit that the trivialization of American political reporting really began in earnest with the Gary Hart story in 1987, where are we now? Is it so much worse today?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, YAHOO NEWS: There's no question that political reporting, perhaps all reporting, has become more and more trivial, in part, I think, sort of driven by the way media has evolved, with Twitter and Facebook. Attention spans are shorter. News bites are shorter.


STELTER: Does that mean it becomes more entertaining as a result? What do you mean by the short...


ISIKOFF: I think there's no question that people's attention spans are shorter.

And to break through and grab people's attention, you need something catchy, you need something grabby. And that tends towards the trivial, rather than the in-depth and substantive.

But, that said, look, these are very complex issues, particularly the ones that Matt is focusing on in terms of, when does private conduct become public business? And, you know, it's very hard to draw hard and fast rules.

STELTER: Sure. Sure.

ISIKOFF: We have seen over the years, whether it be John Edwards or Mark Sanford or Eliot Spitzer, you know, multiple occasions in which what seems like private conduct can very much become the public's business and affect public figures.

So, you know, where I come down is, it's important to know as much as possible. What you end up publishing or airing, you know, is going to depend on the circumstances, but, you know, when somebody is running for high office, running for president of the United States, you know, they have to know that almost everything about their life is going to be inspected by the news media.

STELTER: But, as Matt points out, and I know you and your colleagues now, as he points out, maybe that hasn't always been the case.

Has there ever been a time you ever held something back, Michael, some information you had about a candidate or a politician, because you thought it wasn't actually necessary for the public to know?

ISIKOFF: Absolutely, many times, in fact, more times than not.

But that said, let's go back to the...


STELTER: Hey, what do you mean more times than not? So, there's many times you have held back...

ISIKOFF: Held back stuff that just didn't seem to be relevant and was not -- it didn't seem to have any public justification for airing or printing.

And I discussed with editors. We debated and concluded, look, there's no reason this has to be known to people, but...


STELTER: Do you think the bar is lower now, though? I know in 1997 with the Lewinsky story, you had your story ready. Your editors wanted more work done on it, and that's when Matt Drudge of course famously published the fact that you were working on the story.

Is the bar lower now than it was, say, in the '90s?

ISIKOFF: I think probably in some cases, but, look, in that case, the story in particular was the Ken Starr investigation of Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

And there was no question that was going to be bombshell news, and we had it. But let me just take you back to a few years before the Gary Hart incident. I think a turning point was the Church Committee in 1977, when it disclosed John F. Kennedy's relationship with one woman, Judith Exner, who happened to be the girlfriend of Sam Giancana, a Chicago mobster who the CIA had hired to try to assassinate Fidel Castro.

Back during Kennedy's time, reporters didn't delve into who he was having affairs with. We learned from the Church Committee there are instances in which that could -- can matter and it could very much become the public's business. And I think that, combined with not just Watergate, but that kind of information, showed there are instances where what seems like private conduct can very much be the public's business.

STELTER: Michael Isikoff, I could talk with you all day about this, but I have got to wrap up. Thank you for joining me this morning.

ISIKOFF: Thank you.

STELTER: Time for a break here, but when we come back, what role did gender play in the most recent Washington scandal? That's the hiring and then the resignation of the head of the Secret Service. We will take a look at that through the prism of "Red News/Blue News" in just a moment.


STELTER: Now it's time for "Red News/Blue News," my weekly look at partisan media misbehavior.

And the topic I have chosen this week is one that a lot of people have strong feelings about, and for good reason. It is about the safety of our commander in chief, the security breaches that we have all been hearing about, whether it's the fence jumper at the White House, literally in the White House, or new details about that 2011 spree of gunfire at the White House, or the revelation that an armed man rode in an elevator with President Obama without the Secret Service knowing.

All of these are fundamentally about our bipartisan fears for his safety.

I will tell you where I stand right now. This Twitter message from former U.S. Army officer Andrew Exum channels how I feel. He wrote: "If the Secret Service needs an extra fence to keep a dude from running riot through the White House, we need a new Secret Service, not a new fence."

And on Wednesday, we got a new Secret Service director, well, acting director, Joe Clancy. But attention was focused on the director who had resigned, Julia Pierson. We kept hearing this question. Was Pierson appointed because of her gender? Was political correctness to blame?

Mind you, the commentators who were asking those questions didn't really have proof of that, but they -- they did not let that ever stop them.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Remember, when he appointed this director, he was under fire for liberal groups -- from liberal groups for not having enough women in his administration. So can't let a crisis go to waste. Got to score political points.

So, what did he do? He appointed a woman, who probably, looking at her background, wasn't the best person for the job. She didn't have the experience. She's a glorified H.R. director, was not equipped to fill that role. But to appease women voters and fill a quota, he put her in charge of this department. And, frankly, she wasn't qualified from day one.


STELTER: She checked all of the boxes with that one, right?

I think part of the assertion is that Pierson got the job after that prostitution scandal involving Secret Service agents in Cartagena, and putting a woman in charge was part of a rebranding effort.

Here is how "Morning Joe" brought that up. This was the morning before Pierson resigned.


MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC: I'm going to go further. I want to know why she has that job as the first woman to lead the agency, and I want to know why she still has it.

Still ahead, we're going to ask that question.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that was soft. You did that softly.

BRZEZINSKI: That was soft?



JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: Mika, what are you suggesting?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did she get the job because she's a woman?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, she's the first woman to lead the agency. And I just -- I want to -- I don't understand it. Do you? Do any of you get it at this point?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coming off the prostitute scandal, OK, yes, woman on top makes sense, good for the brand, if you will, but the brand doesn't work if it's not competent. And, you know, we -- in positions of national security, quota second, competency first. And it's a delicate subject, but... (END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: And talk about it, they did. They talked and talked.

And what I just want to underline here is that all of this talk is rooted in speculating, not in reporting. Maybe, some day, a dogged reporting will discover that, yes, indeed, the Obama administration was determined to put a woman in that job just for gender's sake. But there's been no discovery like that.

Over at "The New Republic" -- this is interesting -- Bryce Covert linked what happened to Pierson to academic theory. She wrote this: "It's probably not pure chance that Pierson, who held that position for just a year-and-a-half, was a woman. Time and again, women are put in charge only when there's a mess, and if they can't engineer a quick cleanup, they're shoved out the door. The academics Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam even coined a term for this phenomenon. They call this getting pushed over the glass cliff."

A lot of times in "Red News/Blue News," it seems like different outlets are occupying different planets. With this story, at least, there was a kind of shared outrage, an immediate outrage as well.

And this was in large part thanks to the strictly nonpartisan reporting of "The Washington Post." But that's the kind of reporting that takes a lot of time. True answers to the question about why Pierson was appointed in the first place cannot be obtained nearly as fast as guesses can be made up.

It's fine to be asking, it's fine to be guessing, but we should look for reporting that can actually answer these questions.

Well, that is my "Red News/Blue News" note for this week.

Coming up, a very different kind of political story to share with you. We are going to go halfway around the world to Hong Kong to the Occupy protests there to hear from a journalist-turned-activist. She's standing by, so don't go away.


STELTER: Welcome back.

This next story is something that I have been captivated by all week, and maybe you have been, too. It is the protest movement in Hong Kong. Borrowing language and tactics from protests here in the U.S. and all around the world, it is known, at least in the English language, as Occupy Central or Occupy Hong Kong. It is a remarkable call for democracy in a city administered by China.

The protesters largely cannot get their message out through the China's government-run media. So how are they communicating?

I have been looking forward to talking to this next guest, Claudia Mo. She's a former journalist and local politician who agreed to stay up very late for us there in Hong Kong. Claudia, thank you for joining me.


STELTER: Tell me what happened with you on Friday, because, on Friday, you were speaking at one of the protest sites, and you ended up breaking down and crying, I believe. Tell me what happened.

MO: Well, I was rather upset, I suppose.

Thanks to this Hong Kong thuggish government, they certainly gave Hong Kong people the impression that the local police would actually work with thugs and goons to disperse the Occupy crowds in Hong Kong. And that is what happened.

And I was in Mong Kok, in that particular neighborhood, for days on end -- well, four days altogether. And I had mothers with young toddlers and babies, all saying that, all we are doing is trying to fight for what we deserve, to turn Hong Kong into a better society for our children.

And, at that point, I was slightly upset, and I sort of snapped a tiny bit, yes.

STELTER: And tell me how you are getting your message out and your other -- the other protesters are getting their message out, because a lot of what we have heard about here in the U.S. is that there has been a lot of censorship in China, that these protests have been portrayed very negatively by the government-run media there.

MO: Well, there is nothing unusual about that. I mean, the way that -- well, how a free press is lacking in China.

STELTER: Right, right.

MO: That is universal knowledge, right? And they always portray us as unpatriotic.

But I hope the Chinese will finally understand, for anyone to be a real patriot, you actually need to protect your country against the government, right? If a regime that is controlling the country is not doing its best or is actually harming the country, we need to speak up, and we need to speak out.

STELTER: Is it happening on Facebook instead? Is it happening on Instagram instead? Are you using those tools to get around the controls on the main media there?

MO: Oh, yes.

We are going online, indeed. We are going online. Even the conventional media in Hong Kong, they are conducting that much self- censorship, to the point that you realize all the media tycoons in Hong Kong, almost every one of them, not every one, but almost, right, are either members of the Chinese National People's Congress or the Parliament. So you know where your boss stands. And all journalists know how

they should write their stories, so we are all going online. We trust the fifth estate more than the local -- the conventional mainstream media.

STELTER: The fifth estate, that is a very interesting term. We all know the fourth estate is a term for the news media around the world, but the fifth estate, I think you mean social media and the Internet.

There have been reports, though, that Instagram has been blocked...

MO: Exactly.

STELTER: ... that other social networking sites have been blocked. Are there other tools that you use?

MO: That is correct.

And, apparently, once or twice, the government actually tried to cut down the Wi-Fi or something. I'm I.T.-slow myself, not I.T.-savvy at all.


MO: But I'm trying my best to learn. And so are many people in my generation, I'm sure.


Well, I'm glad the cameras are there showing what is happening. And I'm glad the fifth estate, as you put it, is also getting the word out.

Claudia Mo, thank you for joining me.

MO: Thank you.

STELTER: Time for one more break here on RELIABLE SOURCES, but stay with me. I will be back in just a moment.


STELTER: And finally this morning, a big media business story.

It has been a very tough season for NFL, but, this week, some very good and very lucrative news for the league. It renewed its billion-dollar-a-year deal with DirecTV for Sunday Ticket. That is the package I and lots of other people subscribe for out-of-market football games that's available all fall via satellite and the Internet.

Now, this new deal a whole lot more than the existing deal, an average of $1.5 billion for each of the next eight years. That's a 50 percent raise from where it is right now. No wonder the spokesman for the NFL picked up the phone right away when I called to ask him about it.

No doubt there are still many important questions surrounding the league and its handling of domestic violence. The commissioner, Roger Goodell, continues to be sought after for serious interviews. But this deal about DirecTV, it is a reminder about how popular and how incredibly profitable football remains.

That is all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, but our media coverage keeps going seven days a week on You can read my story there about that DirecTV deal and a really interesting diversity study at BuzzFeed.

We will see you back here next week Sunday 11:00 a.m. Eastern time. Jeremy Renner will be here talking about his new movie, where he plays a journalist. He's very interesting on that.

So, if you can't join us live, make sure you set your DVR.