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Cosby Accuser Tells Her Story; Ferguson on Edge: Reporting in a Tinderbox

Aired November 16, 2014 - 11:00   ET


BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Brian Stelter. It's Sunday, November 16th.

And it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES.

Ferguson, Missouri, on edge today waiting to find out if Darren Wilson will be indicted.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fake media is not allowed in Ferguson.


STELTER: It's the media versus the protesters. You will see the confrontation and hear from both sides.

And an American correspondent in China speaking truth to power and then being ignored. See why President Obama says he was impressed.

And later millions of citizens wrote messages to an obscure government agency. I'll tell you why John Olive is getting the credit.

We begin this morning with this: Bill Cosby is an American icon, one of the most popular television stars in the history of the media. For many people, it's almost impossible to believe that Bill Cosby or Cliff Huxtable, the lovable dad on "The Cosby Show", could possibly be accused of sexual assault.

But this week, there was a firestorm surrounding allegations that he did sexual assault several women. These charges themselves are not new. They were first brought up in 2005.

One woman sued and another one public on "The Today Show" with allegations.

But Cosby was never charged with any crime. His representative says he does not want to address old allegations, but through his attorneys he has emphatically denied these charges in the past.

This latest chapter began on Monday on Twitter when Cosby posted a comical picture of himself and invited comment on it. Well, hundreds of people did comment and retweet about it, some of them with disturbing references to rape.

And then on Thursday this, an editorial in "The Washington Post" by one of the women who says Cosby assaulted her.

Barbara Bowman tells what is an awful story of abuse at the hands of Cosby. She says it began when she was just 17 years old. She has gone to reporters repeatedly through the years to get her story out.

So did the media, at least up until now, bury this story? Or were journalists being properly cautious about inflammatory charges against a beloved entertainer?


STELTER (voice-over): Amid all the new press coverage, NPR host Scott Simon could not ignore the allegations. So, while he was interviewing Cosby about other topics, Simon asked about the charges and then Cosby refused to say a word. This happened on Saturday. Listen.


SCOTT SIMON, NPR: This question gives me no pleasure, Mr. Cosby, but there have been serious allegations raised about you in recent days.

You're shaking your head no.

I'm in the news business. I have to ask the question. Do you have any response to those charges?

You're shaking your head no.

There are people who love you who might like to hear from you about this. I want to give you the chance. All right.


STELTER: For now at least, Cosby's strategy is no comment. So, let's hear from Barbara Bowman about how the media has been handling her story.


STELTER: Barbara is joining me now here in the studio.

Thank you for being here.


STELTER: I'm interested in this for so many reasons, and horrified by what you say you've gone through with this man. I'm really interested in hearing your impressions of the media coverage, because you're now experiencing something people rarely ever experience, the attention that no one would ever want to experience. Why do you think for many years more journalists did not take your allegations seriously?

BOWMAN: That is such a good question and not asked enough. I'm really glad we're going to touch on that because I think you touched on some of the issues in your opening. I think it's a little bit of all of that. I think that journalists feel that they do have an obligation to kind of take caution when they are reporting.

I also think there's --

STELTER: Caution, but maybe too much caution?

BOWMAN: Yes, I would say too much caution. The fact that he has a show coming out perhaps this summer in my opinion is a little bit on the irresponsible side of a network to be endorsing.

STELTER: So you think NBC needs to back away from the program they're developing?

BOWMAN: I think they need to take a good, hard look at what is important to them, and with the allegations, it's not that it's just me. There's 13 of us on record that were going to testify in a court of law. There are others. It is a big deal.

What happens is victims don't come out. They don't talk. They're ashamed, they're embarrassed. They're scared, they're intimidated, they're pushed into darkness in shame and fear by the perpetrator. Especially when we're dealing with someone like Bill Cosby who has this reputation of being the straight, wonderful, awesome, honest, loving, wise dad figure that everybody wants to snuggle up with. My dad, my dad, my dad.

The media -- I wish that there were more gutsy journalists to take that on, but I also -- I have to have a somewhat -- some empathy for the journalists because I think sometimes there are situations when they feel their hands are tied.

STELTER: Tied, why is that? What have you heard from them?

BOWMAN: I -- because I know that journalists don't want to make enemies. This is a small, small world in this industry, and to directly attack something like this can be a little bit hard. I don't agree with it, but I do believe that that happens.

STELTER: I would expect it would be more than a little bit hard. I think you're probably underestimating it.

BOWMAN: Perhaps I am. I would -- I'm very, very pleased that this has come out this harsh, this heavy, this much so quickly. It's been --

STELTER: I have to say when I hear you say this harsh, this heavy, are you out to get him?

BOWMAN: Oh, I am not out to get him anymore. I will say this is not about me being a victim. I am a victim's advocate.

Back then, it was about fear, darkness, shame. The people that I did tell didn't believe me, did nothing about it, and made me feel dirty and scared and it was not a subject that you touched. When I went to an attorney in 1989, he literally laughed at me. He was the second person that did that to me.

STELTER: I can imagine them not wanting to go to the press if even a lawyer is laughing at you.

BOWMAN: I was afraid to go to the police let alone the press. You know, when I was 18, 19, my agenda was stop this man.

When I realized that wasn't happening, in 2004, when a woman did file charges and we were testified -- excuse me, we were slated to testify on her behalf, my agenda then is what it is today, support. Support for the survivors, support for the victims, because when she came out, her name was being dragged through the mud. No one believed her. He was good old Cosby, good old Dr. Huxtable and they called her terrible names.

And I said when I read that, I said I believe her because it happened to me and I'm going to stand by her because I want her story -- she had the ability to get it in front of the media. She had the ability to have a team of people to take it to a court of law. I didn't. My statute of limitations was long gone.

So, I had no monetary incentive to do anything. So if I talk until the day I die, I cannot have this man prosecuted for the crimes that he committed against me. However, I can be a voice and I can be a pioneer to pave the way, to shatter the silence for other women, and that's always been my agenda and that's what I continue to hope for.

STELTER: Barbara, thank you for being here this morning.

BOWMAN: Thank you very much.

STELTER: Thanks.

BOWMAN: I appreciate it.

STELTER: There are lots of follow-ups to come here and I think one of them is going to be about NBC, but what they decide to do with that program that's in development with Cosby.

I have to take a quick break. When I come back, there is dread in Ferguson, Missouri. It's a racial tinderbox of sorts as everyone awaits a grand jury decision.

I'm gong to show what you some citizen journalists who call themselves live streamers are doing to bring attention to their troubling situations there. It is some disturbing video you will see when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) STELTER: This morning and every morning these days, Ferguson,

Missouri, is on edge. In fact, the whole St. Louis metropolitan area is on edge, awaiting news about whether Officer Darren Wilson will be indicted in the death of Michael Brown.

It almost -- looking at the news accounts, it almost looks like preparations for a hurricane, with stores being boarded up and residents being urged to be prepared at home with bottled water and plenty of food.

Now, if hurricane is our metaphor, members of the media are the ones standing on the beach waiting for the storm. And some residents do not want the media there. Ferguson activists in particular feel that the media is out to get them, out to be against them.

So, they're making their own media instead. They're writing blog posts and they're posting live videos to the Internet with their cell phones.

These live streamers are sometimes competing with professional journalists like CNN's own Sara Sidner. Sometimes what they do is impressive and it adds to the story, but other times, it's openly hostile to the professional media.

Look what happened here when tensions boiled over at one point.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fake media is not allowed in Ferguson. Fake media got to go. We're holding you all accountable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: CNN told me that the protesters were violent and that they ended officers who were equipped with riot gear and their weapon of choice was (EXPLETIVE DELETED) a water bottle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if you all keep lying, we're going to come shut you all down in Atlanta, too.


STELTER: Even if I didn't work with Sara, I would say that's pretty scary stuff. It's disturbing to watch.

Things are somewhat more peaceful there now and Sara is standing by to tell me about tensions with protesters.

I want you to hear from one of them directly, in fact that man you just saw there helping lead that protests against Sara, all while recording it on his phone. His name is Bassem Masri and he joins me from Ferguson this morning.

Bassem, thanks for being here.


STELTER: Tell me about that confrontation the night that Sara Sidner was shouted down by a group of protesters. What happened from your point of view?

MASRI: Now, Sara, she's a great reporter. It was nothing personal against her. But, you know, it was against basically just the whole entity of the mainstream media.

You know, we're not going for that no more. As a citizen journalist, we have a duty to let people know that there's a problem with stuff and we're going to address that from now on. You know, we're not going to be just laying back and letting anybody paint whatever narrative they want when it comes to our community.

STELTER: What is it that the mainstream media has been reporting and saying that you think is wrong?

MASRI: Well, every time I hear a protest, I hear violent. I don't hear nothing else but that, when it's been nothing but peaceful.

We haven't hurt a cop. We haven't touched any of them. We haven't made any aggression towards them. It's been vice versa. We haven't heard of that.

We just heard the narrative of the state's office and the police. When it comes to the street, you have to go online or on social media to get that.

STELTER: Take me back to August, because before then, you weren't on Twitter, you weren't live streaming. Why did you decide to become a citizen journalist?

MASRI: Because, you know, I'm a Palestinian. I know what the media can do. It can demonize a people for something that me being from both cultures. I was born and raised in St. Louis, in the Ferguson Florissant area, along with North St. Louis, and I saw something on TV that I didn't see reflected on the streets.

So, you know, I was -- you know, felt obligated to report what the people are thinking and saying, you know, it's because there's corporations, media, everybody has an agenda. Me, I don't have an agenda. I just want this to stop. You know, I have been victimized personally by police, so I can know what they can do.

STELTER: But I got to ask you -- what do you think an agenda of a media company like CNN is?

MASRI: To get news. To keep getting views, whatever that is. You know what I'm saying? To keep it relevant, to keep that entity relevant. You know, to keep -- to make sure that everybody has got to rely on them for what's going on. All their reporting for -- whoever like most people, before a story is even ran, they have their mind made up. So, it's really just appeasing people for what they want.

STELTER: Bu I get the sense that your --

MASRI: The media empowers violence and empowers that stuff, you know? So, you know, when it comes down to it, if the QuikTrip didn't burn down, nobody would have been there. STELTER: Show me briefly how you do it? Is it just your cell

phone? Is that all it is?

MASRI: Yes, this is all you need right here. You just need your cell phone, the charger and a battery pack. You got whatever app you like to use. There's a few of them, you know? Livestream, Ustream, Bambuser. You just download it, you connect it to your social media and it's one just button away from broadcasting live. That's going to help you make spread your message, you know, of course.

STELTER: I agree with you. But I do wonder if sometimes you're trying to provoke.

Let me play a sound bite from your live stream, from one of the times where it did seem to get very tense.



MASRI: What are you doing here, bro? The (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of here, man, with your coward ass bullies.

REPORTER: That's the voice of Bassem Masri, who streamed this video live at a time.

MASRI: Coward. Straight pig out here. Straight (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You got to go. Your life is in danger, homey. You better go.

REPORTER: Another officer faced this.


REPORTER: Citizens surround him and chant.

CROWD: Shoot, shoot, shoot.

MASRI: I'm praying for your death. I'm praying for your death and your death and your death.


STELTER: That's from a local news package.

MASRI: You know --

STELTER: Tell me about that. Aren't you trying to provoke the police there? Trying to get more views, maybe?

MASRI: I'm just a citizen, you know? I'm a citizen journalist or whatever you want to call it. I didn't ask for none of this. When I put my live stream up, I did it to protect us, whoever is watching or observing, you know what I'm saying? Don't mean any of the stuff I say. And we're not trying to provoke violence, nothing like that happen. If they were to go and watch that particular live stream, me,

myself, I have stopped a couple things from happening. You know what I'm saying? I try to keep --

STELTER: OK. I suppose --

MASRI: I try to keep them focused on the police.

STELTER: Bassem Masri, thanks so much for being here. I really appreciate hearing your perspective.

MASRI: All right. Thanks.

STELTER: Bassem is not the only live streamer out at protests in Ferguson. Some nights, there are seven or eight of them and there may be more in the days to come.

Let me bring in Sara Sidner now. She's also in Ferguson.

What are the protesters' main complaints to you about the media coverage? Because you've been there for at least a month, right?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, two actually, and we hear a lot of things. A lot of times it's on social media with people haranguing us in any way they can.


STELTER: Boy, the Twitter wars get really ugly, don't they?

SIDNER: Yes. They do. I'm used to it and I think most journalists who are here are used to it.

You know, look, one of the big complaints, there are a couple. But one of the big complaints is that whenever the mainstream media talks about these protests, they always bring up the violence. They talk about the riots. They talk about the tear gas. They talk about the looting, on a wheel almost, constantly.

And over the past 90 or so days, there really hasn't been any of that. That happened a few times, and, yes, we had to report that. Of course, we did, and, of course, we're not going to not report something like that.

But over the past 90-plus days, that has not been the case. Have there been scuffles? Yes. Have people gotten arrested for standing in the street and refusing to leave? Yes.

But they've also done plenty of days of peaceful protests where they are loud, but they are not violent. And that is one of the things.

Another thing is something very specific. They complain that when the police put out, for example, a press release about what happened the night before, which they do daily, that sometimes the media will only report what the police say and not report what the protesters say.

STELTER: Sara, given all the time you have spent in war zones in the past, are there similarities now in Ferguson?

SIDNER: Brian, I'm so glad you asked that. And I know some people will -- I'll be criticized for this as well.

STELTER: It's an awkward thing to even ask.

SIDNER: It's because -- it is awkward. It is awkward.

But, you know, there are lots of similarities on the feeling here, and that is, you know, I covered the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and for every word you said, you were condemned by one side or the other, and people would say, well, you're pro this or you're pro that.

The same exact thing is happening here on a daily basis. People are listening to every single word we say. Anyone that is focusing in on Ferguson, whether it's folks who live here or folks who live outside of here who are looking at what's happening here.

And so, what you'll notice on Twitter is I'm getting some of the same "You're biased about this" or "You're biased about that" -- both sides saying the same thing coming at journalists.

Does it look the same? Are there ak-47s in the streets? No. But the feeling is very similar on how people see us covering the story, Brian.

STELTER: Sara, thanks. Talk to you soon.

Basically, what we're seeing here is the democratization of media, the good, the bad, but also sometimes the ugly.

There are some similarity between that and my next story. Coming up, it's an outrageous one. You probably haven't heard about it. It's about one local TV station and why they should be embarrassed by their coverage of this picture. That's the Minneapolis mayor.

I'll tell you why that's become controversial and try to untangle it, right after this.


STELTER: Now to something I think is truly an example of shoddy journalism and it begins with this question. Did the mayor of Minneapolis really flash a gang sign on camera?

You might think so if you had watched this newscast from ABC affiliate KSTP last week.


FEMALE TV ANCHOR: Law enforcement sources alerted us to a photo that has them fuming over the actions of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges.

MALE TV ANCHOR: They want to know why the mayor would take a picture with a convicted criminal while he and the mayor flash gang signs? 5 Eyewitness News reporter Jay Coles obtains that photo and explains why officials think the mayor has put the public and police at risk.

It's a story you will see only on 5.


STELTER: It's a story you'll see only on 5 because I'd argue it's not a story at all. But that did no stop a reporter. Here is part of his report.


REPORTER: This is a photo of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges arm in arm with a man flashing what law enforcement agencies tell us is a known gang sign for a north side gang.

Court records show the man with the mayor has several recent convictions, including two felonies for selling and possessing drugs and illegal possession of a gun. He's currently sentenced to five years in prison but won't serve that time if he stays out of trouble for the next three years.

Law enforcement sources tell us they found this photo on the man's Facebook page while they were doing investigative work. They say there's in evidence he belongs to a gang, but they say he has connections to gang members.

A spokesperson concludes by saying, quote, "She and the man in the photo are just pointing at one another", to which the head of the police union says.

JOHN DELMONICO, MINNEAPOLIS POLICE FEDERATION PRESIDENT: She's been around long enough, she knows better.

REPORTER: John Delmonico is the president of the Minneapolis Police Federation.

DELMONICO: When you have the mayor of a major city with a known criminal throwing up gang signs, that's terrible.

REPORTER: He says it crosses a line and puts police in a bad spot.

DELMONICO: I mean, is this something that could incite gang violence in the city? And for as critical as she can be with the cops, is she going to support gangs in the city or cops?


STELTER: So, here is the key part. They were just pointing at each other. And it's obvious. When you look at this, this is video that shows the pair snapping a quick picture together, awkwardly posing together as they walked the streets for a get out the vote campaign, which Coles only mentioned late in the piece.

Now, here is the man in the photo, Navell Gordon, on that day.


NAVELL GORDON: I promise you we want you to get out and vote. Get more people in your community involved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do you come out to get out the vote?

GORDON: I made some mistakes in life, you know? I can't vote, I'm not ashamed to say that, but I'm working on fixing that right now so I can be able to vote for my next president.


STELTER: So, a couple things here. Gordon does have a criminal record but says he's not in a gang and that the two were just pointing.

Here is what this story is really about. The mayor and the police in that city seem to be at war, and it's been true for a while. The mayor says she thinks the head of the police union is trying to discredit her reforms.

Now, KSTP is not backing down. They say they spend days properly vetting the story, and accurately reported what they were told by the police.

Now, this has become known on the web as pointer gate. Look at this pointing parody. One Twitter user wrote, to Dalai Lama. And then you keep going here, this one shows a picture of Vice President Biden with a caption, unite (ph) gangsters. And another one writes, just look at these two thugs flashing gang signs at one another. This was the start of all our problems.

But all laughs aside, what happened here is serious. It's about reporting and also about race.

And I have two CNN contributors here to analyze it all. Errol Louis is the host on New York 1 and the director Urban Reporting Program at the City University of New York's Journalism School. And Marc Lamont Hill is a host on "HuffPost Live" and a professor of African-American study at Morehouse College.

And the three of us are sitting here watching these clips and, you know, I don't even know where to start, Errol. You work in a local TV station newsroom. How do you think this happened?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think part of what happens is people get a story in their head, and if they're going to be lazy about it, and, you know, laziness is basically a species of unprofessional behavior, you just go ahead and run with it, take your source and say, well, it's an official source, the police are -- STELTER: Right. We'll just report what they told us.


LOUIS: We'll report the controversy. And, you know, they just couldn't have been more wrong. Off camera, by the way, if you do a little bit more reporting on it, the police chief was standing next to the mayor. The police chief and the mayor there with this guy, Navell Gordon.

I thought it was comedy, frankly. I thought it was a Dave Chappelle skit come back to life.


STELTER: But, Marc, is this also deliberate, do you think?

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't know if it's deliberate.

I mean, I think that's part of the problem is when you look at race and racism in media, we often reduce it to the level of intentionality, whether or not they meant to misrepresent something, were they meant to tell the wrong story? That's not the point.

The point is that it was so easy to believe this story. The fact is they wouldn't even feel the need to investigate a story like this. It speaks to the problem as well.

This isn't the first time it's happened. In Ferguson, when they brought in the black officer to help reduce some of the tension, he threw up his fraternity sign and they said he was posing with gang signs. That was a few months ago. You'd think we'd learn from that mistake.

But instead, no matter who you are, no matter how you're framed, there's still this tendency to find the lowest common denominator when we speak about certain types of people in the media.

STELTER: And then the station has -- has doubled down, tripled down, defended itself for days afterwards. I wonder if that's actually the even worse sin.

LOUIS: That is the worse sin, I think, because, you know, anybody can get a story wrong.

You can get spun. Your source takes you in a different direction. Maybe you didn't get it right. But the trust with the viewers is broken when you don't, when confronted with an obvious problem, an obvious flaw, sort of go reexamine it, go from scratch, apologize, just say, look, it's a busy newsroom, we got it wrong, we're not afraid to say it. All that matters to us is the truth.

Something other than the truth is the primary consideration in that newsroom, and that is the problem.

STELTER: Anyway, Marc Lamont Hill, Errol Louis, thank you for breaking it down for us and explaining what went wrong.

HILL: You're welcome.


STELTER: Yes, to you too.


STELTER: So, here, I'm going to take a break, but when I come back, "Red News/Blue News" for what may be the biggest story of the week. It becomes two totally different stories when the left and right media have a tug of war over it. You are going to see what they're saying, so don't go away.

And as we go to break, check out the list of the top songs on Spotify this week. Notice Taylor Swift missing.


STELTER: Welcome back.

You know, sometimes, the stories told by left- and right-leaning news sources are so different, so contradictory, that they sound like two totally separate stories.

Well, that's what our segment "Red News/Blue News" is for.

And this morning it's about breaking news on immigration. Take a look at this. From MSNBC on Thursday afternoon, there it says, the graphic, "Breaking News: Gop Immigration Outrage." But, wait, no, that's not breaking news. In fact, that's the opposite of breaking. That's persistent news.

Let's fast-forward the tape a couple of hours to MSNBC's Al Sharpton. Let's see if this is breaking news.


AL SHARPTON, MSNBC: We begin with breaking news, bold action planned by the president to reform our broken immigration system.

"The New York Times" reports President Obama could protect up to five million undocumented immigrants from getting deported, and he may announce his plan as soon as next week.


STELTER: Now, there it is. That is serious breaking news. Washington is waiting. The whole country is waiting for Obama's executive actions on this, but partisans in the media are not waiting to react.

The biggest red news outlet of them all, FOX News, actually broke some news about this. FOX got ahold of Obama's plan ahead of time and that's what Megyn Kelly led her show with on Wednesday night. She had Republican Senator Jeff Sessions standing by to condemn it.


SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: And every one of these individuals are going to be given a photo I.D., a Social Security number, and the right to take a job in America, jobs that too few exist and too many Americans are looking for. It's just the wrong policy and it will incentivize more illegality in the future.


STELTER: Notice what the banner on the screen said. It said, "Plan May Let Millions of Illegals Stay," illegals.

And when "The New York Times" confirmed FOX's scoop in advance on Thursday, "The Times" headline said, plans may allow millions of immigrants to stay and work, immigrants.

See, it's not really the numbers that are in dispute here. It's not the facts or the figures. It's the language, it's the narrative. By Thursday, the FOX narrative was about lawlessness, President Obama acting unlawfully.

Let's go back to Megyn Kelly. This next clip is from Thursday night. It has her setting up Charles Krauthammer to talk about the I- word.


MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: We're in new and unchartered waters here, and that's why some say that Republicans have no choice but to call out that perceived lawlessness and do something as politically unpopular as impeach him.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS: Look, I believe it is an impeachable offense.


STELTER: There it is, the I-word, impeachment.

Check out this Friday morning headline from with a crown illustration. It says, "His executiveness, Barack Obama, will decree an imperial amnesty."

That's the red news narrative. We have heard it before on Obamacare. Now we're hearing it once again on immigration. What you will almost never hear on FOX, though, what you're unlikely to see on red state is the blue news narrative. That's a very different one. That narrative is about families being wrecked by deportations and about a president standing up for what's right and delivering on a campaign promise.

Check out these two sound bites from MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So following the precedent of previous

presidents, the president is taking unilateral action that is going to burnish his legacy and live for a very long time.

Remember, you can toss around abstractions like amnesty. We're talking about 500 -- five million real people, real families who either have to live in the shadows -- they're not all going to be deported -- that's impossible -- or have their lives legalized and regularized in some way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are American families that are being torn apart by a policy that doesn't work.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: So why can't a story like that move conservatives?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't understand how anyone couldn't see the pro-family aspects of what we're talking about here.


STELTER: And I will try to answer that question for you. It's because red news and blue news are talking about two separate things.

In this case, MSNBC is talking about what they would say is morality, while FOX is talking about what they would say is legality. Morality and legality.

Now, I hope it's not a preview of the debate to come once Obama takes his action, but I'm afraid it is.

So, that's all for "Red News/Blue News" this week.

But let me know what you think and send me your suggestions for next week. My username on Twitter and Facebook is Brian Stelter.

I have got a very big interview coming up. I want to show it to you. It's about one of the world's most powerful men. He almost never answers questions, but this week one reporter get to stand face- to-face with him. And what happened next will shock you. In fact, it earned the reporter a round of applause from his colleagues. I'm talking about China's President Xi Jinping .

And that reporter, "New York Times"' Mark Landler, will join me in just a moment.


STELTER: Welcome back.

This week, one reporter got to do something that very few people have ever done before, stand face-to-face with one of the world's most powerful men, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and ask a question.

Now, here in the U.S., we watch the press pepper President Obama with questions pretty much all the time, but, in China, where the press is far from free, that almost never happens. And that's why this week was extraordinary.

And it happened thanks in part to the White House, which pressured the Chinese leader to take just one question during a joint news conference.

The lucky reporter was my former colleague from "The New York Times," Mark Landler. And maybe there's some irony here, because China does not much like "The Times" for its critical reporting about the country. It's even forced one of the "Times" reporters to leave the country, and it's making it very hard for others to enter.

So, obviously, that's one of the things that Mark asked about. Watch.


MARK LANDLER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Several news organizations from the United States have had issues with residency permits in China being denied. Isn't it time to extend that sort of right to foreign correspondents who seek to cover your country?


STELTER: So there it is.

And, at first, the Chinese leader completely ignored the question. Then, eventually, he circled back to it.

There is quite a backstory here.

So I caught up with Mark right after he left China to hear the story behind the story. He joined me earlier from Obama's next stop, Myanmar.

Mark, thanks so much for joining me.


LANDLER: Pleasure, Brian.

STELTER: Take me into the room, maybe things that we couldn't see in the television coverage. Did the Chinese president look uncomfortable at all taking your question or answering your question?

LANDLER: I would say, candidly, Brian, he just looked irritated. He looked like a kind of a guy who's not used to having people talk back to him.

And, you know, I thought to some extent, the fact that he blew it off initially was a nice way of saying, look, I will get to you, you know, when I'm ready for you. And, meantime, I'm going to talk to my own friendlier journalists.

STELTER: Take me through the chain of events, because at first it seemed like you weren't going to get an answer to the key question about visas for journalists. LANDLER: Yes, that's right, Brian.

What happened is, I asked a question first of President Obama and then of President Xi. President Obama answered, put in his earpiece to hear the translation, and turned to President Xi. And President Xi basically gestured to get the next question.

And a reporter from the "People's Daily" asked a question, and he gave a very lengthy, pre-scripted answer. You knew it was pre- scripted because he was reading from notes. As he did that, President Obama kind of made this brief face to the audience. He sort of shrugged his shoulders and had a slight smile on his face to say, well, that didn't work out too well.

And I had a split-second where I thought of protesting and raising my hand and saying, I'm sorry, sir, you didn't answer my question.

But that's where I felt like, I'm in this president's country. It's a very unusual set of circumstances. And I just sort of decided on the spur of the moment to not protest and see what happened. And, indeed, what did happen is, after he was finished giving the lengthy answer to the Chinese journalist, he then circled back to my question, and wound up not only answering it, but answering it in fairly strong and complete terms.

So, you know, I certainly got my question answered, just not quite in the traditional order.

STELTER: And he did seem somewhat dismissive of the question or of the topic, I mean, saying that essentially it's the newspapers or the news organizations' problem that they have to deal with.

How did you react as a journalist at "The New York Times" hearing his answer?

LANDLER: I was a bit surprised by how blunt he was in the context of that news conference, with the president of the United States standing next to him.

So, for President Xi to answer it as dismissively as he did really shows you where he's coming from on press freedom issues.

STELTER: Mark, wrapping up here, is this the kind of moment, this question to the Chinese president, that you're going to tell your kids about, your grandkids come day? Is this the kind of thing you are going to remember for the rest of your life?

LANDLER: Yes, there's no question, Brian.

And you have had this experience, too. You have a few career moments, things that happen. You know, sometimes, they happen all at once, like this. Other times, it's something you have worked on for a long time.

But, yes, certainly, this was high on my list. And particularly as someone who has written about China and lived in Hong Kong and come into China a great deal, it was especially meaningful that it happened there and not somewhere else.

STELTER: Mark Landler, thanks so much for being here.

LANDLER: Happy to, Brian.


STELTER: And just one postscript here.

A couple days after all of that, President Obama said he was impressed that Landler got that answer, even though it wasn't the answer "The Times" wanted to hear. He urged American journalists to just keep chipping away and -- quote -- "see if we can make progress."

Well, ahead here on "RELIABLE SOURCES," I'm going to explain why John Oliver deserves some credit for a big announcement President Obama made while in China. It's funny, but it's also very important to your future, and it's coming up next.



Professors and comedians maybe don't have much in common, but here is something that they accomplished together. They made net neutrality into a story so big, so important that President Obama supported it this week.

The father of net neutrality is here with me here in the studio.

But, first, what is net neutrality? We need to sum it up here in one sentence. Net neutrality is the notion that all content on the Internet, all the articles and video and sites, they should all be treated equally or neutrally, so big companies don't get to take advantage of fast lanes and start-ups don't get stuck in slow lanes.

There we go, one sentence. So, that is the way the Web right now. And advocates like Obama want to keep it that way. The debate is about how to keep it that way.

It is a debate that has never gotten all that much attention from the mainstream news media, but it has gotten a lot of attention from the men who make fun of the news.

This is a remarkable poll I want you to see. It's from the University of Delaware. It shows that regular John Oliver, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert watchers are a lot more familiar with net neutrality than newspaper readers or the cable news watchers.

Yes, their jokes have sometimes been, I don't know, downright journalistic. Watch .


neutrality. The only two words that promise more boredom in the English language are "featuring Sting."

But here is the thing. Net neutrality is actually hugely important.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Every site on the Internet has to be equally assessable to the user, whether it be a huge behemoth like Google or some obscure little mom and pop site like Bing.


COLBERT: But, folks, this court ruling, this recent court ruling ends all of that.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Kind of like creating a carpool lane on the Internet, except, instead of high- occupancy vehicles, only rich (EXPLETIVE DELETED) will be able to drive in it.



STELTER: So, we're sitting here laughing.

Let me bring in Tim Wu. He's the Columbia law professor who coined the term net neutrality back in 2002.

Tim, how much credit should these comedians get for taking the ball that you created and running it down the field, all the way to the point where President Obama has now come out on this?

TIM WU, PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL: I give them a lot of credit, honestly.

Obviously, got to give some credit to voters and consumers who cared about this, but they put the issue kind of out there by making it hilarious, something that is really hard to explain and just kind of making it funny.

STELTER: And John Oliver in particular called on his viewers on HBO to write to the FCC and to publish comments. How many comments ended up coming in?

WU: A big event is usually 100 comments. They got four million comments. And it swamped the entire system.

STELTER: How many of those would you attribute to Oliver?

WU: Maybe -- it's hard to say, but these things have snowballed, so maybe at least a million. It is hard to say exactly.

STELTER: Well, but the server did crash because of Oliver, so we know he had that kind of impact.

WU: Yes.

No one knows exactly how much, but it just snowballed. And he really started something. Look, I like to think that our fascinating speeches make a difference, but sometimes comedians are more effective.

STELTER: I think the point is that both make a difference. But with Oliver, it is a reminder that he's doing what is kind of investigative comedy, as some people have called it. He actually is covering important issues, but making fun of it too.

WU: Yes. No, I agree.

And he really got into deeply into net neutrality in particular in a way other people hadn't yet. Most of the jokes have been just, this is boring or something, but he really got into it, Colbert too. And I think it really made a difference. People are like, what is going on?

STELTER: Tim Wu, thanks for being here.

WU: Pleasure.

STELTER: Well, now it's time for the reliable "Three to See," three media things you have got to see.

And the first is about the king of cable news, Bill O'Reilly.

Bill does not like me very much. This is him talking about me recently.


STELTER: Thank you, Bill O'Reilly, for demonstrating how to conduct a smear campaign against a military family.

BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": Now, we expect that from that guy, a notorious far left zealot who has masqueraded as a journalist for years.


STELTER: Well, I am left-handed, so maybe that is what he meant.

But, seriously, Bill and I have actually have something in common. We both love our college newspapers. I worked at "The Towerlight" at Towson University and he worked at "The Daily Free Press" at Boston University.

And Bill deserves a lot of credit because this week he helped to save "The Daily Free Press" by donating $10,000, paying off part of a $70,000 debt they have. The paper is now going to be able to keep publishing. I was just actually at B.U. a couple weeks ago. They have a

great journalism department there, and thanks to Bill and the other donors, the paper will remain a great laboratory for writers and editors.

Now, my second item is also about a FOX host, Mike Huckabee. Is he about to leave the network? Well, he is getting ready to run for president, or at least he is sure acting like he's getting ready to run for president. And he would have to give his Saturday night show to do that before he forms an exploratory committee.

So here is what a FOX News executive told me this week. "We are taking a serious look at Governor Huckabee's recent activity in the political arena and are evaluating his current status."

Here's the context for that. A week ago, FOX severed ties with another conservative contributor, Ben Carson. That's because Carson is also thinking about a presidential bid. That is why I think Huckabee is probably not far behind. I think his show probably won't be on much longer.

And, lastly, you have got to see this, NBC's Al Roker finishing up his 34-hour weather broadcast on Friday, earning him a new Guinness World Record.

I was so captivated by the marathon broadcast, I had to walk by his street-side studio on Thursday night. And he actually snapped a selfie of us. Look at this. If you saw our segment about Pointergate earlier, I can assure you, that is not a gang sign.


STELTER: Anyway, congratulations to Al.

And that is all for this televised edition of "RELIABLE SOURCES." But catch any time using CNNgo. That's

And read our media stories online seven days a week. I have got a Huckabee story up there right now, actually.

I will see you right back here next week, next Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time.