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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Bad Ebola Coverage: Are You Scared Yet?; How NBC Quarantined Snyderman Story; The Scary Ratings Power of Nielsen
Aired October 19, 2014 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Brian Stelter. It's Sunday, October 19th, and it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES.
Fear of Ebola spreading faster than Ebola. This morning, we are examining some of the unreliable sources out there in the media.
Plus, wanted posters for a TV medical correspondent after she breaks her quarantine. I'll talk to the woman who broke the story.
And later, what is the most powerful media company of all? It's probably Nielsen, the ratings monopoly. Now, a software bug has some wondering whether we can really trust the ratings. A former president of this network, CNN, is here to tell me what he thinks.
I am going to be up front with you this morning. I don't have a perfect answer to the questions I'm about to ask. They are about Ebola and the almost wall-to-wall coverage we have seen in the past couple weeks.
It is clearly a huge story, but are media outlets being irresponsible with this full-court press? Are they creating hysteria and fear in communities across the country? Are they scaring people to death?
Or are they, we, doing our jobs? Holding the government and private hospitals accountable, raising life and death issues? Will all the coverage stop other hospitals from making the same terrible mistakes that were made at the Dallas Presbyterian Hospital?
I think there are elements of truth to both of these sides. That's how the answers to big questions usually are, all of the above.
So, this hour, you'll hear from journalists on the front lines who have been thinking about these things just like I have. But let's start by recapping some of the events this week that may have been driven by irrational fear.
Local officials canceled school in parts of Ohio and Texas because children at those schools may have come into contact with one of the Ebola patients. A number of flights were quarantined, diverted, and delayed due to sick passengers who were just sick, not Ebola carriers, and an L.A. bus driver was monitored for symptoms after a passenger shouted, "Don't mess with me, I have Ebola!" Now, that passenger was an idiot. He didn't have Ebola. Neither
do I. Neither do you. But a "Washington Post" poll this week showed nearly two-thirds of Americans are worried about a possible outbreak here in the U.S.
I understand why, but I'd like to do a reality check this morning because there are a lot of unreliable sources out there.
Chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, joins me now for that.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Brian. Thanks for having me.
STELTER: Do you think there is irrational fear across the country? And if so, is it because of all of this media attention?
GUPTA: I think there is a lot of irrational fear, and I think in part it's because there's been a lot of attention to this.
There's also been a lot of confusing messages that have come from higher ups, you know, people who say one thing and then a couple weeks later modify those statements. I think it leads to a challenging of your faith in some of the systems, and that breeds some of this fear.
I also think -- look, we hear about individuals who, you know, when you develop a symptom, your mind starts to go to the worst place in terms of what could be driving that symptom. Individuals do that and societies do it as well.
And finally, you know, all we've known of Ebola, Brian, is some exotic disease in a far away land that kills people in a very gruesome way. There have been books and movies made about it. That's all we knew about this, most Americans did, until just a couple months ago.
So, it's going to take some time to reset some of that thinking, Brian.
STELTER: Let's look at a few of the unreliable sources that I have noticed. This is a clip from Glenn Beck, you know, the network he has called "The Blaze". He was talking about how dangerous this really is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLENN BECK, CEO AND HOST, THE BLAZE TV: All of our lives are at stake. The entire future of human kind could be at stake, for the love of Pete. Nobody realizes what a pandemic means. This could wipe out a third or half the population if it would go airborne like the flu.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So, that's where I want to hit right there at the end, the part about the flu. That's a pretty big if he's expressing, is it not?
GUPTA: Yes. He's enjoyable to listen to.
STELTER: He is.
GUPTA: I mean, he's definitely got a showman-like quality about him, but he's not right. And the thing is that there's no evidence that this has gone airborne, and, you know, this whole notion about what it could do, I mean, starting -- talk about irrational fears. Then the next step of that is then baseless speculation to make those irrational fears even worse.
STELTER: Baseless speculation, BS.
GUPTA: There you go.
STELTER: You know, it's an election year, of course. We've been hearing so much ahead of the midterms about Ebola as a political issue.
So, let me play Laura Ingraham talking about CDC chief, Dr. Thomas Frieden.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO HOST: He's trying to minimize concern and shrug off any common sense understanding about how to stop this. Is this a health care expert or is this someone who is in the Obama spin room?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Is there any reason to think he's spinning for political gain?
GUPTA: No, I don't think so at all. You know, look, the one luxury I think sometimes that the guys in the medical and science community have is that they have data, facts, science to sort of back them up in terms of what they're saying.
Again, you know, it goes without saying that there have been some missteps with what happened in Dallas. There's been some changing in terms of some of the guidance and guidelines from the CDC, and that hasn't helped at all. I mean, I think Laura is obviously reading a lot into this, but I don't think he's in the spin room.
But, you know, I bet you he does wish that this had gone a lot smoother this first patient. They have been prepping for so long and it just -- you know, I wish -- they probably wish they could have gotten a do-over on that patient.
STELTER: And it's because of those mistakes that other conspiracies -- big conspiracy theories take root. I have seen conspiratorial thinking on the right and left. Naomi Wolf has called Ebola an excuse for mass lockdowns?
Why do you think people sometimes want to believe the worst and buy into these theories?
GUPTA: You know, I think -- I think, again, it's true for individuals when they develop some symptoms. I think, you know, whether it's sort of a hypochondria sort of thing among individuals and that sort of -- this is the manifestation of that in broader societies.
You know, if there's no specific treatment for something as well, that doesn't help this whole situation.
STELTER: Right, right.
You know, Sanjay, we have seen the R&B musician Chris Brown saying on Twitter, I think the Ebola epidemic is a way of population control.
I wonder if sometimes people just want to believe these things that we see, you know, in entertainment as if they could be nonfiction instead of fiction.
GUPTA: You know, part of this as well, Brian, you may be better equipped to answer this than me, is that it is -- people like putting provocative things out there like that to get a response. Sometimes I'm not even sure that the people that are saying this with Laura Ingraham, for example, or Glenn Beck, or tweeting this in the case of Chris Brown, whether they believe this themselves.
GUPTA: I think it's an easy topic to sort of provocative people, you know, to provoke people rather in terms of eliciting this response.
GUPTA: So, it's obviously not true, population control. I mean, it's just -- it's ridiculous, the fact that some people might believe this in any way is a little bit frightening, but I know that it happens.
STELTER: What's the theory you're finding yourself having to shoot down the most?
GUPTA: The airborne one is big. You know, the idea that this is airborne somehow, that's not true.
Also, this idea that people who are not sick could somehow be transmitting this.
Now, there are diseases out there where you yourself are not sick and you can still transmit the virus, transmit the pathogen. Typhoid was something like that and that's where the Typhoid Mary story came from.
She was a cook. She was never sick. She was a carrier of typhoid but she infected a lot of people and she ended up getting quarantined for a very long time as a result of that. But this is not -- that's not what Ebola is.
Also, Brian, we may have a pandemic some day. I mean, that's happened before in the history of our world. It could happen again. But that pandemic is not Ebola, and I think that should be a little bit comforting to people, you know, as we think about this going forward.
STELTER: Sanjay, thank you for being here.
GUPTA: You got it, Brian. Anytime. Thank you.
STELTER: Let me play one more clip before I go. It's of Shep Smith on FOX News. I was very struck by this on Wednesday. He delivered a three-minute rejoinder to all the overheated coverage. I actually uploaded it to YouTube to share with people and it got more than a million views.
So, here's a clip from it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS: Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio and television, or read the fear-provoking words online. The people who say and write hysterical things are being very irresponsible.
Suggestions have been made publicly that leaders and medical professionals may be lying to us. Those suggestions are completely without basis in fact. The panic that has tanked the stock market and left people fearful that their children will get sick at school is counterproductive and lacks basis in fact or reason.
There is no Ebola spreading in America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Shep Smith with a drop the mic moment there. It all reminds me of a Twitter hashtag that should be our mantra -- facts over fear.
Time for a quick break here, but I have an important question, what is a medical correspondent have if they don't have credibility? Anything at all?
You've probably heard about Dr. Nancy Snyderman violating her self-quarantine, but how exactly do we know it happened? I've got a great story for you about that, right after this.
STELTER: Welcome back.
It is critically important that we trust our medical correspondents. After all, they are on the life and death beat. But what happens when a reporter does not follow their own advice? What happens when a reporter breaks that trust? After NBC's freelance photographer Ashoka Mukpo tested positive
for Ebola while covering the outbreak in Liberia, Dr. Nancy Snyderman said she and the other crew members would take all the appropriate precautions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. NANCY SNYDERMAN, NBC NEWS: We'll approach this very cautiously and probably more judiciously than other people because we want to send the right message that (INAUDIBLE) but we will self- quarantine on our own, take our temperature twice a day. If we have a fever, we will then obviously get tested.
Even though I was in an Ebola isolation unit, I was wearing protective gear, I disrobed according to protocol. We have recognized and observed universal precautions here and we're going to extend that for 21 days out of courtesy and respect to our colleagues and to the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Twenty-one days. That would have been admirable if she had kept her word, but apparently, she did not and now the quarantine is mandatory by the state of New Jersey.
Former NBC medical correspondent, Dr. Bob Arnot, is standing by to react.
But first, let's hear the story from the source. Krystal Knapp is the editor of the local news site "Planet Princeton". She's the one who revealed Dr. Nancy had been seen out in public.
Krystal, thanks for being here.
KRYSTAL KNAPP, FOUNDING EDITOR, PLANET PRINCETON: Thank you, Brian.
STELTER: Tell me how you got this news. It was a tip in a comment on your site?
KNAPP: I received an e-mail from a reliable source a very credible source, and she gave me all the proper details. She described the black Mercedes, who was sitting where. So --
STELTER: Right. She had apparently been going out with someone else for takeout or something.
KNAPP: She was double parked in front of a restaurant in her black Mercedes. So, that by itself drew attention to the vehicle.
STELTER: Right. So, Eric Wimple of "The Washington Post" has written about what happened. He called you as best example of hyper (ph) local journalism, reporters knowing their communities, reading the comments on the Web site, it's really valuable.
That's a journalistic story. What we've seen now happen is that there seems to be real community unrest about this, even flyers or signs put up in the town warning people that she's nearby?
KNAPP: Yes. There's a lot of anxiety. So, yesterday in the kiosks in downtown Princeton there were posters almost like wanted posters with a picture of her and her address and saying if you see this woman --
STELTER: (INAUDIBLE) seems pretty disturbing.
KNAPP: If you see this woman, call the police. Even some of the comments on my site, I have had to do a lot of comment moderation since the story broke. You know, a lot of anxiety. A lot of -- you know, a few readers have accused me of "congratulations on your successful witch hunt."
STELTER: Right. So, there's different sides of this. Many people very concerned about her being in the community, others saying people are overreacting.
KNAPP: That's right, that's right. I think the majority of people, I'd say 99 percent of the residents of Princeton, the issue is she's a doctor and a journalist, she had a responsibility to society. She made this promise that she was going to go into voluntary quarantine, and now, it turns out what that was, an optional quarantine? I mean, the average person know what is a quarantine is.
STELTER: So, do you feel for her? Do you feel some sympathy for her?
KNAPP: No, I don't feel sympathy for her because she's a journalist and a doctor. And I also don't feel the situation has been handled well since then.
STELTER: Yes, tell me about that because about a day after your story was published, the state of New Jersey put a mandatory quarantine in effect. And we haven't heard a lot since then. Apparently, there's been police checking on her once in a while, making sure she's at home.
How (INAUDIBLE) handle well in your estimation?
KNAPP: Well, she has a Facebook page. She has a Twitter page. Hundreds of comments, I think it's up to 1,200 now. She's not responded on Twitter or Facebook and the news cycle churned for three days before a statement was released.
KNAPP: A lot of my readers felt it was a non-apology apology.
STELTER: Right, right.
KNAPP: It's like mistakes were made.
STELTER: Yes, we're going to show that in just a moment. I do want to point out, though, the head of the CDC said on "THE
SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer that if she was not sick, she was not putting others at risk by being out and about in town.
You know, that seems to be kind of I think something we can all agree on, that she wasn't actually endangering people.
KNAPP: Yes, that's an important to make.
STELTER: Well, Krystal, thanks for being here and sharing your story with us.
KNAPP: Thank you.
STELTER: As she just mentioned, a few days after this was reported online and after that mandatory quarantine went into effect in New Jersey, Dr. Nancy did issue a statement via Brian Williams on "The NBC Nightly News". Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS: And our chief medical editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, has been in the news herself the past few days.
We spoke with Nancy earlier today during which time she said, quote, "While under voluntary quarantine guidelines, which called for our team to avoid public contact for 21 days, member of our group violated those guidelines and understand that our quarantine is now mandatory until 21 days have passed. We remain healthy and our temperatures are normal. As a health professional, I know we have no symptoms and pose no risk to the public, but I am deeply sorry for the concerns this episode caused. We are thrilled that Ashoka is getting better and our thoughts continue to be with the thousands affected by Ebola whose stories we all went to cover."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: No further comment from NBC since that on Monday.
I want to bring in Dr. Bob Arnot, who used to work at NBC. He's worked as a chief medical correspondent for both NBC and CBS News.
Bob, how did you react when you heard about this violation?
DR. BOB ARNOT, FORMER MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: So, Brian, you know, sort of no harm done in the sense that, you know, she didn't have a temperature. Although, 13 percent of patients with Ebola don't have a temperature, and, you know, theoretically, she wasn't going to infect anybody.
But the big problem now in journalism, Brian, is when you become the story, and this team became the story. There are thousands of people covering it but why did they have to become the story and sort of posturing as they put their suits on and off and, you know, scrubbed and whatnot out in West Africa as if they were actually treating patients. So, by coming back and sort of grandstanding and saying, look, we
are self-quarantining, they really put a target on their back. So, that's first.
And then secondly, of course, it kind of sets a bad example. If you're going to be a doctor on television and you're going to give medical advice, you would expect that you'd follow that advice.
STELTER: Do you think she should lose her job as a result?
ARNOT: No, I don't think so. I think she does a great job, you know, and it's a mistake any of us could make. She went out to get some soup. She probably thought it wasn't such a big deal.
But, again, you know, the lesson is increasingly, Brian, with medical journalism, the correspondents are trying to be too much part of the story. When I was in the Rwanda genocide, actually, I got cholera but we'd turn the cameras off. We didn't make a big deal out of it. We treated lots of patients.
STELTER: You turned the cameras off.
ARNOT: We always turned off so we weren't -- we turned the cameras off. We believed that if we were going to treat a patient, we wouldn't grandstand. We would turn the cameras off and we would become -- we would devote our full attention to that particular patient.
So -- and I don't blame Nancy. It's across the board. There's a lot of pressure from the executive suites here for, you know, doctors to become more involved in the story, and it does make it more interesting.
But keep in mind, you've got, you know, thousands of print and radio journalists out there who aren't getting their face on television, who aren't famous and getting $1 million salaries. And as soon as they see somebody grandstanding or sort of making a big deal of -- or becoming part of the story, you're going to get a lot of arrows coming your way really quickly.
But, also, Brian, the public is terrified by this. The public is alarmed and, you know, if they see this medical correspondent coming back, you know, in contact with somebody who had Ebola, you know, I think it's kind of unfair because it does raises the anxiety quotient even more because they're saying, here if a medical doctors are not paying attention to the embargo, who else is?
STELTER: Great insights. Dr. Bob Arnot, thanks for being here.
Some critics say cable news is overplaying Ebola just for ratings. I think it's more complex than that. When we come back, we're going to spend some time on that issue of ratings and talk about an embarrassing Nielsen ratings that should actually affected the evening news wars.
So, who really is number one and how can we be sure? For the answers, stay tuned.
STELTER: Welcome back.
This next segment is not about Ebola, although it kind of is, because Ebola is the kind of story that drives viewers to news channels like CNN.
Here is one small example. When we covered a CDC press conference during RELIABLE SOURCES last Sunday, our ratings were up 50 percent over a normal Sunday.
Ebola has been the big story here and elsewhere all week -- and I don't want to stretch this next analogy very far, but I can see why some people have compared the coverage to MH370, the massing plane. Back in the spring that, too, was a mystery which a lot of viewers wanted solved. More viewers means more coverage means viewers, et cetera.
All of which brings up a very important point -- ratings rule television. So, really, it's Nielsen that rules television.
Nielsen is the measurement company that tells us how many viewers watch each and every show every hour of the day. The ratings help networks decide what's working and what's not, whether anchors like me are well-liked by viewers like you. And, most importantly, how much to charge advertisers to be a part of it all.
But Nielsen recently admitted to a glitch, a software bug that affected broadcast ratings for months. Brian Williams and David Muir were both affected in ways that I'll tell you about in a moment.
Nielsen says the glitch is gone now, but the incident just deepened the TV industry's mistrust of the company.
So, joining me to unpack all of this is Jonathan Klein, who lives and dies by the ratings as president of CNN from 2004 to 2010. He's now the CEO of a digital media company TAPP.
Good to see you. Thanks for being here.
JON KLEIN, FORMER PRESIDENT, CNN: You, too, Brian. Thanks for having me.
STELTER: When you were the president of CNN, did you trust the daily ratings you received?
KLEIN: Only when they were great.
STELTER: And therein lies the rub, right?
KLEIN: Everybody is living and dying by the same numbers. And so, you know, you could quibble around the corner.
My problem was always they didn't tell us enough. They didn't offer enough insight. They were a very narrow snapshot of one type of behavior, how many people are sitting in front of a couch watching TV when, in fact, we know that it's really a panorama. You know, media consumption is about squeezing it in amidst a lot of other things, tweeting, cooking, reading, putting your kids to bed, waking them up, whatever.
And so, they never felt reliable and never told us the most important piece of information which is --
STELTER: Which is?
KLEIN: -- who is watching, and what else are they watching, and what else are they doing, and where else could we find those people, and that's the advantage of digital media over the old obsolete Nielsen ratings.
STELTER: On a normal day, about 450,000 people watch RELIABLE SOURCES according to the Nielsen company, and that's calculated with a sample of 25,000 homes. That's the part that I scratch my head at. How is it possible to know that the whole audience of the whole country is watching based on 25,000 homes? Do you ever have those head scratching moments, too?
KLEIN: What bothered me is when journalist would try to make coverage decisions based on it because of the imposition of the numbers.
STELTER: Tell me what you mean? Journalists at CNN?
KLEIN: Hey, this story is tracking for us. Hey, we did a great number last night. We got a bump last night when we covered such and such a story. And you'd say that bump, given the tininess of the sample size, the relative small size of any one network's audience could just be an anomaly. There could have been a power outage in Greensboro, North Carolina, and that might have accounted for it.
But you can't blame talent and producers for sort of living off of it and looking at those numbers --
STELTER: Because it's --
KLEIN: -- because they are the report card.
STELTER: In my experience, people don't worry about the ratings until the ratings are low.
KLEIN: It can become an obsession to the exclusion of doing outstanding work.
STELTER: You probably, Nielsen is not sitting here at the table. I did ask them to come on the program and the executives instead decided to get on the phone and brief me on background. But I ask them for a couple of comments and let me put them on screen.
They say, "Today, the ratings are very reliable for the day-to- day national networks." What they're trying to say is as the audience fragments more and more, the numbers become less reliable, the smaller they get, you know, for lower rated channels. And then, they also said, "We take this job of being the ratings provider very seriously and we strive for transparency."
Let's talk about that glitch that happened, because this was a baffling moment. It was relatively minor. It wasn't as if they were miscounting a lot of people, but it caused the evening news ratings to be affected so dramatically.
ABC thought that David Muir had beat Brian Williams for the first time in five years in total viewers. Then the actual accurate ratings came out and it turned out Brian Williams is still winning among total se viewers.
When you saw that, what was your reaction?
KLEIN: Once again, everybody is obsessing over the wrong thing, when they ought to be focused on quality of those shows. How good is the journalism that's going on those shows.
STELTER: But you know they want to have a commercial that says we are the number one evening newscast.
KLEIN: I know, but it's silly and it's wasteful. And part of the reason they do it and I'll mention it here because this is a show about the media and how the media covers the media, too.
KLEIN: TV writers obsess over those numbers to the exclusion of anything else. You know, CNN can win Peabodys and Emmys and nobody will write about that. They just love to write about ratings, and that's a vicious cycle that breeds, I think, poorer work and isn't a service to the viewers at the end of the day.
STELTER: By the way, one more question, I got this e-mail from a 70-year-old viewer at home who asked, people like me always talk about the key demo, the 25- to 54-year-old demographic that advertisers care about.
Is that Nielsen's fault?
KLEIN: No, that's the advertisers fault. They say they want to buy, quote, unquote, "younger people" because their habits, their consumers habits are not ingrained yet. Older people already know what toothpaste they buy, what hair conditioner or whatever, but younger people are more apt -- so that's theoretically why you want to do that.
STELTER: The key word being theoretically.
STELTER: A lot of us don't believe that.
KLEIN: Sure. Look at how well CBS does with an very old demographic --
STELTER: And also the most popular overall.
KLEIN: That's it. So why wouldn't you want to be there?
STELTER: A lot of young people, a lot of old people as well.
KLEIN: That's it. I always used to want to get more 50-year olds to watch CNN. That would have been fine with us.
STELTER: Jon, thanks for being here.
KLEIN: Thank you.
STELTER: Time for a quick break.
But when we come back, is the spread of Ebola really the president's fault?
It depends on which network you're watching. Ebola through the glasses of "Red News/Blue News" right after this.
STELTER: Back to our big story of the week, and that's the response to scattered cases of Ebola here in the U.S. The red news and the blue news on this one is mind bending. Let's start with a sound bite I showed you earlier. This is radio and TV star Glenn Beck.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLENN BECK, RADIO AND TV HOST: This is all of us, all of our lives are at stake. The entire future of humankind could be at stake for the love of Pete. Nobody realizes what a pandemic means. This could wipe out a third or half the population if it would go airborne like the flu.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: We talked earlier about that big if, the biggest if I have ever heard, if it were to mutate and become like the flu. Scientists have been pretty clear that is very, very unlikely.
But Beck is right that this is fundamentally not a red, blue, Left, Right story. It's a health story. That's why it has been amazing and frustrating to see the story become a red and blue battle over flights from West Africa and over the government's incompetence.
Rush Limbaugh, who is not an infectious disease specialist, said stop the flights and then he said on his radio show that the Democratic administration won't do that because, well, he thinks that they think we all deserve to get infected.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: People at the highest levels of our government say why, why shouldn't we get it?
Why should only those three nations in Africa get it?
We're no better than they are. And they have this attitude, well, if they have it in Africa, by God, we deserve to get it because they're in Africa because of us and because of slavery.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
STELTER: So now we are atoning for colonialism?
That's what this is about?
On the Far Right there have even been suggestions that President Obama, the president specifically wants an Ebola outbreak here in the U.S., even though a lot of political analysts think that this entire situation is actually helping Republicans in the midterms and hurting Democrats.
Some people have taken to call the president O-bola. Look at this graphic that's been making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter.
"He lied about Ebola," it says. "Close the border, stop the flights."
One of FOX News channel's favorite doctors, a psychiatrist, Keith Ablow, tried to get into Obama's head, as he does too often, and he suggested on FOX News Radio this week that the president is against the travel ban because Obama fancies himself the president of the world and just isn't that fond of America.
Quote, "How can you protect a country you don't like? Why would you?"
Well, the liberal group that monitors FOX, Media Matters, picked up on this and here is the audio.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
KEITH ABLOW, TV PSYCHIATRIST: His affinities, his affiliations are with them, not us. That's what people seem unwilling to accept. He's their leader.
JOHN GIBSON, RADIO HOST: Is -- what are you thinking --
ABLOW: We don't have a president.
GIBSON: We don't have a president? We have somebody else's -- ?
ABLOW: We don't have a president who has the American people as his primary interest.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
STELTER: I think that the host, John Gibson, was stumped. He didn't know what to say.
Now when Alex Wagner at MSNBC heard that, this is blue news now, she heard racism. She played the clip on her own show and then Joy Reid and Ezra Klein reacted to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: That stuff is incredible.
He is their president, Joy. I mean it's thinly veiled racism at this point.
JOY REID, MANAGING EDITOR, THEGRIO.COM: No, I'm glad you called it a racial stew because it is kind of like the perfect storm.
WAGNER: And, Ezra, as Joy said, this is the perfect storm. And it goes to the very heart of liberalism versus some corners of conservatism, which there is a fear and a paranoia that has come to color the far right wing of the Republican Party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: And that gave some red news sites some blue news comments to condemn and on and on we go.
So where do we end up? Well, we end up so far from the health story where we started but for some partisan outlets, that's the point. If you're a Left or a right-wing talk show host, your audience is not tuning in to hear about Ebola prevention protocols. They're tuning in for politics. They're tuning in just for the red news or just for the blue news.
So that's why I think it's useful here on this show to hear both.
So that's how Ebola is playing on the national stage, the political stage.
But what happens when it is your local story?
What happens when it's in your neighborhood?
We're going to head to Dallas to get a first-hand account of the coverage there and the fears there when we come back.
STELTER: Dallas, Texas, is at the center of this country's fears about Ebola. Lately the two words are inextricably linked in the news media, Dallas and Ebola, Dallas and Ebola. So it's certainly natural if you're a resident there to be a little freaked out by all the headlines.
And local journalists have had to figure out how to tell these stories responsibly despite maybe some personal concerns. So what is it like to be a journalist covering Ebola in Dallas?
Let's ask the perfect person, Seema Yasmin. A former disease detective for the CDC, she's now a reporter for The Dallas Morning News.
Seema, you have heard journalists calling Dallas the ground zero of the Ebola epidemic. I saw a National Journal headline saying "Should Obama go to the Ebola ground zero?".
What has been your reaction to that?
DR. SEEMA YASMIN, FORMER CDC DISEASE DETECTIVE: So for me it has been really important to provide Dallas Morning News readers with perspective that, yes, we did have an imported case of Ebola here, sadly we had it spread to two nurses, but that the ground zero for Ebola really is West Africa.
And we have to remember that. That has to stay the focus because as long as the epidemic continues there, we will continue to see imported cases to Dallas, to Texas, and to other parts of the world.
STELTER: So we need perspective here about where the outbreak is truly severe. What about personal fears? Have people come to you with personal fears as well?
YASMIN: Somewhat they have. Of course, it's understandable when Ebola is in your hometown. But, you know, journalists assimilate information very quickly. They have a measured approach to things.
So we still have a collective responsibility to reassure the public, but reassure them responsibly. Give them accurate information so they can make up their own mind.
STELTER: What has been has it been like for you, when you go home at night or when you're around town? Do you think people are overreacting in Dallas about these concerns?
YASMIN: It's very normal of human beings to be scared, to have this kind of reaction, but we're trying to remind people to have perspective. So, yes, Ebola is a scary...
STELTER: So that sounds like a yes. That sounds like a yes, people are overreacting.
YASMIN: In some regards they are. But there's not panic in Dallas. Life is going on as usual. Business continues as usual.
STELTER: Right, right.
YASMIN: Of course, some people are scared, but it's not widespread fear. And so we think that information is key at a time like this. And if people have that information that Ebola sounds scary, but it's actually not as contagious as some other illnesses, then they can be reassured and have that information to have to make up their own mind.
STELTER: Does this story make you want to be back at the CDC right now or are you happy to be where you are right now?
YASMIN: I think ever since this epidemic started in West Africa, I did feel a twinge of, I should be there helping. So it's interesting being in this position right now where I'm helping but in a different way. I'm providing information.
STELTER: That's the ultimate sort of journalistic tension, you know, being the observer versus the active participant.
YASMIN: Absolutely. And we had many discussions about that in journalism class when I studied at the University of Toronto, about journalism ethics, being the observer and then being the person that's writing about it. It's an interesting situation to be in.
STELTER: The more facts, the better in this situation, whether they're coming from you or from government entities, for sure.
Seema, thanks for being here.
YASMIN: Thank you.
STELTER: Coming up, we're going to switch gears and dive into a growing conflict between top government officials and the journalist at the center of it all, a former colleague of mine. I want to tell you about his case and what it could mean for press freedom and the future of investigative journalism. A very important discussion we're going to have right after this quick break.
STELTER: Welcome back. "Freedom of the Press" is fundamental, and my next guest is at the center of one of the most important press freedom cases in this country. Jim Risen is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning investigative reporter for the New York Times who is facing potential prison time for refusing to identify his sources.
This case involves a book he wrote, and in the book he revealed a botched secret CIA operation involving Iran. This case has been going on for years. Risen has been fighting off subpoenas trying to get him to testify at the trial of a former CIA officer accused of giving him the classified information.
Risen is adamant that he will not reveal his sources. The government, for its part, said this is not about press freedom at all. It didn't try to stop him from publishing his book. It just wants to prosecute his alleged source.
Risen is now on a book tour. He wrote the new book "Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War," partly, he says, as a response to the government's efforts about his prior book. His message is that he will keep writing, keep reporting, no matter what.
Earlier, I asked him about the absolutely vital importance of having anonymous sources.
RISEN: I think, for reporters, investigative reporting can't be done in the modern world, in particular in the war on terror, without confidential sources. Because there's no way to investigate the war on terror without them because the entire war on terror has been classified. It's the first war -- it's the first war in American history that's been virtually entirely classified, and so to find out any of the truths -- any of the truths that have come out about the war on terror in the last 13 years, we've had to conduct investigations that rely on confidential sources. And without confidential sources, aggressive investigative reporting can't take place. Without aggressive investigative reporting, I don't think we can have a real democracy.
STELTER: But, I guess, what I'm getting at is are journalistic rules absolute?
You know, are there times where you have learned classified information that you have chosen not to publish?
RISEN: Oh, sure. Every reporter who covers national security has found out things that they don't publish. And -- but I think, in general, I think you could look back throughout, you know, the last 13 years of the war in terror, and I would argue that there has been nothing that's been in the press from any reporter or any news organization that has really harmed national security. It's -- the government likes to cry wolf about this all the time, and yet, in the end, they have never been -- they never are able to show any serious problems as a result.
STELTER: You write in your book that "Crazy is the new normal when it comes to the war on terror," and that politicians and the press both dramatically overstate the risks to America from terrorists.
If that's the case, why do we not hear that more on television? Why do we not read that more in newspapers and online?
RISEN: Oh, I think fear sells. And I think, unfortunately, it's easy to do a lot of the fear-mongering and get ahead politically in the United States. You know, terrorism is a real threat, but we shouldn't be overstating it. People worry about these groups, but they're not 10 feet tall. They're not marching down Broadway. They are -- you know, we can deal with them without transforming our society.
That's what bothers me the most is we have allowed ourselves to become terrorized and we have done that to ourselves. We have transformed American society in ways that were not necessary to deal with this threat.
STELTER: Let me ask you, as I wrap up, about your case. I know you don't want to get into the legal arguments, but I want to read from page 270 in your book. You talk about the personal toll you have taken.
You write, "I became convinced that I was fighting to protect press freedom in the post-9/11 age, but in the process I discovered that I was no longer merely a journalist and author covering the war on terror. I had joined the many people whose lives have been upended by its excesses.
Tell me what it's been like for you personally. How has your life been upended?
RISEN: Well, it's taken a toll on me and my family. And luckily, my wife and my three sons have been very supportive of me, which has made a huge difference. But it's -- you know, it's something that I have had to get used to over the last six or seven years, that it's now part of my life. It's like the background noise to my life. And at first, it was -- it made me nervous, but now I have, kind of, gotten used to it, and I have realized that it's just something that I have to, kind of, always remember is in the background.
STELTER: The background noise being jail time, potentially. Do you think it will come to that?
RISEN: I don't know. I mean, I really don't know what the government is thinking now, and it's really, kind of, up to them at this point.
STELTER: Hm. And in the meantime, has that had a chilling effect on your reporting? Is it harder for you to find and talk to sources and get stories published as a result?
RISEN: You know, I have talked to a lot of other national security reporters, and we all agree it's, kind of, a mixed blessing. You know, you get some people who are more -- who don't return your phone calls, but you get other people now who say, "Look, these are serious issues; we've got to talk and we have got to speak out."
And some people have come to me and said, "You know, I recognize the fact that you are willing to protect sources, so I am willing to talk to you." So there's some benefits and some, you know, negative aspects of it.
STELTER: Jim, thanks for joining me, and best of luck with the book.
RISEN: Thanks very much.
STELTER: We will stay on Jim's case and let you know what happens in it.
Finally, this morning I want to tell you about two unseemingly unrelated stories and what they tell us about the future of media.
Here was my headline about the first one, "Turner to Reduces Head Count by Ten Percent." Turner includes channels like TNT, TBS and this one, CNN. And this week was a very painful week here. There were about 150 layoffs, spread across CNN and our sister channel HLN and CNN.com.
Several shows will be going away, including "Unguarded" on Fridays, "CNN Money" on Saturdays and Jane Velez-Mitchell's talk show on HLN.
Another 130 people are leaving voluntarily through buyouts, for a total of about 8 percent of CNN's 3,500 employees.
Why? The answers are numerous, but CNN's parent company Time Warner has been under Wall Street pressure to pump up its stock price, especially Time Warner rejected a lucrative bid from Rupert Murdoch's over the summer.
The same day people were being laid off here, Time Warner executives were telling investors about a long-term plan for the company, one that involves more dramas, more comedies and more documentaries across all the channels to keep people watching. In order to pay for those, Time Warner needs to keep employee costs down. That's what the executives told investors.
But that doesn't stop the whispering around here that it may be Time Warner is slimming down CNN and Turner to prepare it for a sale to Murdoch or to someone else.
But the biggest headline from Time Warner's investors event was this one, actually, "HBO to Sell Subscriptions via the Internet." Right now, you can watch HBO online but only if you subscribe through a cable or satellite company. You can't sign up o line, but that's going to change starting next year. HBO wants to make sure it can reach the growing number of people who want to stream TV the new way, not just watch it the old-fashioned way.
And CBS does, too. It announced a new streaming service one day after HBO.
Now, right now, these aren't really announcements about replacing cable, but they could some day, and that's the important context for whenever you hear about cutbacks at a media company. It is unfortunately happening all over the place. Conde Nast, the publisher of Vogue and (inaudible) is laying off 70 to 80 people this fall. My former employer the New York Times is cutting 100 from the newsroom, and yet they, like CNN, have been hiring people, too, lots of people, mainly for online jobs. That's for new apps, for new web sites, for new ventures/
Now, there is some overall shrinking going on, but the better word for what's happening in media today is "reshaping," through layoffs, through cuts, through new investments, reshaping for the digital future that really feels more like the digital present. It's already here.
None of this context makes it any easier to say good-bye to our colleagues. In fact, it may make it even harder, because the fact of media, the fact of media in 2014 is that reshaping of all kinds is going to continue. That's all for this televised edition of "Reliable Sources," but
if you missed any part of the show, you can catch up any time using the "CNNGo" app. Our media coverage does keep going seven days a week online. To check out my interview there with CBS CEO Les Moonves about that new streaming service I mentioned, you can read it at CNNMoney.com/media.
I'll see you right back here next week, next Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern time. And if you can't join us live, make sure you set your DVR. Also, send me a tweet and let me know what you thought of the show today.