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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Did "Washington Post" Get Secret Service Story Wrong?; Why Conservative Media Outlets Fear FOX News? Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired March 22, 2015 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:08] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Brian Stelter, and it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES. Thanks for tuning in this morning.
We have a lot for you this hour.
Robert Durst's lawyer lashing out at the makers of HBO's "The Jinx".
Plus, we have a scoop coming up about the ongoing investigation into "Rolling Stone's" explosive but disputed rape on campus story.
That is all coming up.
But let's begin with a journalistic mystery and this is a big one, because it involves the agency that protects the presidents and some of the biggest news outlets in the country. It all started with this headline and the story in "The Washington Post" on March 11, "Secret Service investigated for late night car accident at the White House."
The story was written by Carol Leonnig, a dogged reporter who has exposed other examples of Secret Service misbehaving in the past. In fact, just last month, she won a Polk Award for her coverage.
But her most recent story has been heavily scrutinized. Let me read to you part of what it said. It said, "The Obama administration is investigating allegations that two senior Secret Service agents drove a government car into White House security barricades after drinking at a late night party last week." It went on to say, "An agency official said Wednesday the vehicle ran through security tape before hitting the barricades."
Now, the article also said that one officer on duty wanted to arrest the agent and perform sobriety tests, but a supervisor ordered them to be sent home.
One of "The Post's" online headlines said a crash had occurred, pretty dramatic stuff, and the story broke just in time for the nightly news. So, you know what happened next. TV amped this up even more. Here's what I mean.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TV ANCHOR: Breaking news from the White House: two Secret
Service now under investigation, facing allegations they were driving under the influence in a government vehicle and hit a barrier outside the White House.
TV ANCHOR: Developing story this morning, there's a black eye for the Secret Service.
TV ANCHOR: News alert, while you were sleeping two Secret Service agents, including a top member of the president's detail, now under investigation for drinking and driving. They allegedly crashed a government car into a White House barricade after a night of partying.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: At one point, "Good Morning America" made it sound like the car actually hit the White House.
But the story started to change. "The Post" changed its headline, softened it a bit. It now reads, "Secret Service agents investigated after car hits White House barricade." So, not a car accident.
And then sources started telling other reporters that "The Washington Post's" reporting was way overblown. Here is what CNN's Michelle Kosinski reported two days after the original story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: These sources say they were going one mile an hour. And that they nudged a plastic barrier out of the way a few feet. They are also casting some major doubts about the story that first emerged that a supervisor let them go home even though officers at the scene thought they should be tested to see if they were drunk. From what these sources are saying, there's nobody in their view who can corroborate that story and that is seriously in question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: This is sort of like a snowball, rolling down the hill, you know? This controversy made its way to Capitol Hill. That's where Secret Service Director Joe Clancy was unsparing in his media critique.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE CLANCY, SECRET SERVICE DIRECTOR: There was no crash. The video shows a vehicle entering White House complex at a speed of one to two miles per hour, and pushing aside a plastic barrel. There was no damage to the vehicle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: One prominent journalist Marc Ambinder actually came out and apologized for his role in exaggerating the story. Marc is standing by in L.A.
But I want to get to the bottom of this, beginning with the original source, who's joining me from Washington.
Carol Leonnig, thank you for being here.
I know this story is complicated. I know the Secret Service is trying to spin things in their favor. But is it fair to say that your initial story overstated what happened?
CAROL LEONNIG, THE WASHINGTON POST (via telephone): No. Director Clancy on Tuesday on the Hill told members of Congress exactly what we wrote in our story, that his initial reports when he learned about this event on March 9th were allegations on the ground, that there had been some sort of -- in fact, he used the word crash, in his Tuesday testimony, there had been some sort of hitting of barricades and the allegation -- again, the one that he received and was investigating was that there was suspicion the agents had been drinking.
Our story is completely accurate. In fact, the only thing I quibbled with at the time was headline and I asked for the word "crash" to be taken out of the headline. And they did immediately, in fact, in 19 minutes.
So, I -- you know, I can't be responsible for a bunch of people then later reporting, citing their own sources, that the crash happened. We wrote that he was investigating allegations on the ground of exactly what we wrote.
[11:05:01] And I find it kind of interesting, Brian, truly, that everyone is quibbling with our word choices about something -- you know, barricade, barricades. all this focus and misrepresentation of our reporting. Five different -- four or five, forgive me, I've lost track, media organizations have now corrected their reporting on our reporting.
So, I guess it's just sort of amusing in a way and also troubling. A lot of people took this as fact. But the fact was this, the Secret Service got a fairly significant and serious allegation and they were investigating it, and we reported what was alleged.
STELTER: The reason why I'm concentrating on it, words do matter, word like crash. I've been exactly where you are when an editor puts a headline on a story that goes further than what the story says. Just seems to me in this case, the story got so far ahead of what the facts were. You know, for example, your initial story didn't mention the idea this car was only going one to two miles per hour.
LEONNIG: So, we were among the most -- I hear what you're saying. We were among the most cautious of all media organizations in how we described what happened, and we broke the story. We were also on the second day reporting that it and in real-time that people who were reviewing the video had seen something that most likely was going near the -- we reported that. In our first story we reported, in reviewing the tape, they
thought it could be this, it could be that. As soon as they said they determine it, we reported that.
So, I find it interesting so much pushback against the idea that this might have been a serious incident because Director Clancy has said it's a serious incident. He has said he's really troubled that this wasn't reported to him. In fact, he said the other day not everything comes onto my desk but this one certainly should have. And he's going to hold people accountable for not reporting to him.
STELTER: You mentioned pushback. Obviously, the administration has a reason to push back on reporting if they don't want Secret Service to appear to, you know, having bad behavior or being in serious trouble.
I'm curious about your previous reporting as well, because we've seen stories questioning some of that. You once reported president's elevator ride to CDC was with an armed felon, when it turned out that he never had been convicted of a crime. I know that you then were the one to follow up and report, no, he was not an armed felon after all.
But do you think -- do you think there's some legitimacy to the idea that some of your sources have tried to lead you astray and try to paint a picture of a very troubled Secret Service?
LEONNIG: I think if you talk to Director Clancy and if you listen to his own testimony on Capitol Hill, he'll tell you every single one of the incidents we reported and broke exclusively is very troubling to him. It was a violation of security protocol in that incident. We did correct it before anybody else -- before it was ever publicly, we were asked about that. We corrected it as soon as we found out.
STELTER: Yes. Do you find yourself needing to challenge those sources?
LEONNIG: Forgive me, I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you.
You said something interesting which is about the pushback. I just want to say, many agents and officials inside the Secret Service who are sources of mine say they feel as though "The Washington Post" reporting is flagging kind of security vulnerabilities that ultimately are going to make the president safer. And one thing that's odd is why is there all this pushback against reporting that would make the president safer? I would assume the administration wants that, too.
STELTER: That's a very interesting question for us to leave it on, I think, Carol. Thank you for calling in this morning. I greatly appreciate it.
LEONNIG: Of course, Brian. Thanks for having me.
STELTER: Thank you. You know, the initial "Washington Post" story, one of the many
reporters who followed up was Marc Ambinder. I mentioned March a little earlier. He had heard the crash story, he heard the word "crash". And he wrote an opinion piece for "Politico" magazine about this headline, "Hi, I'm the Secret Service, and I'm an alcoholic."
But now, Ambinder is deeply regretting what he wrote. He says the story all appears greatly exaggerated.
Now, let's quote what he wrought other day. He said, "I have no excuse other than what I was basing my opinion on the facts, that other news outlets had reported. The problem with stories like these, the initial impressions stick and the corrections don't. The press can report something fantastic, blast out a bunch of inaccuracies and slowly walk it over a few days until the original story no longer even resembles current version. All I can really do is to write about my mistake."
And so, let's hear what Marc thinks about this. He's the contributing editor for "The Week" and "The Atlantic", and he joins me now from Los Angeles.
Marc, what you're describing in that paragraph from your follow- up essay is something I see all the time in the media.
[11:10:00] A story comes out, it's overstated, but people don't see follow-up stories that try to correct the record.
Is that what happened here, you think?
MARC AMBINDER, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, THE WEEK: That is what happened. And there's one particular aspect of this story that disturbs me and prompted by essay. And it was the suggestion that these two agents, which were named, had been drunk, that they left a party and had somehow gone over to the White House and crashed into a barrier and were under the influence, because what that triggered to me was this sense of heartbreaking, this sense that the Secret Service is in some ways victimizing itself from within. And I reacted emotionally to it.
And, you know, I wrote that there were a bunch of high- functioning alcoholics surrounding the president, all of which was based on the details that other news organizations, a number of them, have reported.
STELTER: We should say, by the way, Marc, not just "Washington Post" here. We played those clips earlier.
AMBINDER: Yes, absolutely.
STELTER: CNN and other outlets repeated this stuff.
AMBINDER: You're right. I think the television --
STELTER: It led ABC's "World News Tonight" on the new it came out -- on the day it came out. AMBINDER: Yes, I agree. I think -- I think -- I think that's
what happens. I mean, that's the way our modern age --
STELTER: But we should not accept that, though.
AMBINDER: I agree.
STELTER: It happens. But we've got to find a better way in --
AMBINDER: We have to find a way -- we have to find a way, particularly when individuals are maligned unfairly to redress that. That's to me the biggest issue. The Secret Service can really speak for itself. I think in general, we want aggressive reporting, including reporting that makes mistakes rather than having a timid press corps and timid reporters.
But there has to be some middle ground. There has to be some way for us to be able to not just apologize but somehow change the record of history. I mean, I almost had in my head this fanciful idea of teams sitting down at the search engines of Bing and Yahoo! and Google, going back and reconfiguring algorithms so that the corrections in media age are somehow contextualized and placed onto the sort of global historical record that they are writing even better.
The correction policies that many newspapers and news organizations have are for a news cycle that doesn't exist anymore. We really have to figure out a better way.
STELTER: Part of it is on the audience as well. We all have to know that sometimes we're reading our first drafts, and there's going to be changes, there's going to be more information later. But some of it on the news media, for sure. Sometimes, it's about how we phrase the headlines, how we phrase the banners and things like that.
And this feels like an opportunity for lessons learned even though, as Carol was saying, there are systemic problems at the Secret Service. I think everybody agrees on that.
AMBINDER: Absolutely. I have written, based on "The Post" reporting and based on my own reporting for years, that there's an alcohol problem at Secret Service. I don't certainly retract that. I think the headline I wrote was provocative.
But what I feel really, really bad about is maligning these two individuals and then really having no way to go back and do anything about it. We just have to --
STELTER: Marc, I've only got a few seconds left. I'm curious, you apologized but "Politico", which published your column, said it didn't feel the need to. What do you make of that?
AMBINDER: You know, I will leave "Politico" and "The Washington Post" and other news organizations to speak for themselves. I think my essay speaks for themselves -- speaks for itself. And I think their decision speaks to their own -- I think their decision speaks generally to their own impression of the matter. It just wouldn't be fair for me to talk to that.
STELTER: Marc, I'll speak to that. I think apologies make us stronger. Thanks for being here this morning.
AMBINDER: Thank you.
STELTER: We're going to take a quick break here, but there's a lot more news ahead this morning, including this -- why does popular blogger Mickey Kaus say everyone on the right is scared of FOX News, everyone other than himself, I suppose, because he'll join me to explain why he quit his job over a no trashing FOX rule.
And later in the hour, all sorts of ethical questions about "The Jinx". That's the astonishing HBO documentary about Robert Durst. Did the producers somehow collude with police? Will their taped interview hold up in court?
Famous defense attorney Mark Geragos is here.
We'll be right back.
[11:18:30] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
The FOX News Channel's political slant gets a lot of attention, because it's the country's most popular cable news channel. And when I say slant, I do mean to the right. Obviously some shows are exceptions. But usually when I watch FOX, I'm watching to hear a conservative view of the news, even if Bill O'Reilly is in denial about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Liberal news organizations are going to play down liberal screw ups. FOX News is going to play down conservative screw ups.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: See, I disagree with you that. And let me tell you why.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Bernie Goldberg there speaking some truth to power. You know, common critique of FOX is that it misleads its audience being too conservative while pretending not to be. What happens when FOX is criticized for not being conservative enough?
My next guest says any right word criticism of the news channel is in no-go zone, after his column titled "How FOX News channel makes it easy for amnesty" was remove by Tucker Carlson's conservative Web site, "The Daily Caller". Why? Because Carlson's other job at FOX News, as a weekend host of "Fox and Friends". Now, to Carlson's credit here, he was up front with Kaus about
why the column came down. Kaus says Carlson told him, "We can't trash FOX on the site, I work there."
So, Kaus quit. You got to give him credit for that, too. Fox can't be off limits, he says. It's too big a part of GOP politics.
But he also says something else. He says everyone is scared of FOX. What exactly does he mean?
Well, he's joining me now from Los Angeles for his first television interview about this.
[11:20:01] Mickey, thanks for being here.
MICKEY KAUS, FORMER COLUMNIST, "THE DAILY CALLER": Thanks, Brian.
STELTER: It must have been strange for you. You wake up one morning. You see your column taken off line after pretty happy four- year time with "The Daily Caller".
KAUS: Well, that's right. I had no problems with them before. But I posted this piece on the web early in the morning Monday morning, very early. I stayed up all night doing it.
And I went to sleep and I got up and it disappeared. There's a note from Tucker saying, "Can't trash FOX on the site. Sorry, I work there." So, I wrote back saying, "Is that really the rule? Because if it is, I have to quit."
You know, he has a right to have a rule like that, but I don't have to -- I don't have to be nice to the people that he has to be nice to. So, he said, "Well, I'm sorry but it's a hard and fast rule." So think about it for a day. I thought about it for a day and then I quit.
STELTER: And there we are. Now, you republished your column over on your own Web site. I've asked Carlson for comment, he hasn't gotten back to me. But he told "Politico" he was sorry to see you guy. He said you're one of the few independent thinkers out there.
Does it mean it's not possible for someone like Carlson to run a Web site and while employed at FOX?
KAUS: Well, he can run a Web site -- if he wants, he can run a Web site saying that Roger Ailes is the most handsome man in the world. But at some point, it stops being journalism.
Now, I think people there do good work. But keep in mind, it's not a no-go zone. I was wrong when I said it's a go no-zone. They write about FOX all the time. They just can't write nasty things about FOX.
So, it's a little deceptive for their readers. Do their readers know there's this hard and fast rule they can't say anything nasty about FOX? I don't think so. I don't even think their reporters really know it.
STELTER: Now, there's been some pushback against you and against this idea. You know, people say, there's no media outlet that can talk about itself. Now, I disagree with that. I was just talking about CNN covering Secret Service in the last block.
How do you respond to that kind of pushback?
KAUS: Well, in this case, they're not -- it's not that he can't say anything nasty about its owners, he owns the site. It's an independent conflict of interest he has because he happens to work at FOX. FOX doesn't own the site. So he's imposing his conflict on the rest of his staff. That happens all the time.
But in this case, FOX is a big part of the story I was trying to cover, which was immigration. There's a big issue, which is will FOX betray the right because Rupert Murdoch believes in immigration reform tamp down controversy. That's exactly what I thought they were doing.
And this is the bigger issue. It's not just about Tucker. It's about, will the entire right-hand side of the political spectrum not have a voice in the immigration debate. Will there be opposition? If FOX goes to the left, then there's no opposition. And then we have a stifling consensus where half the electorate doesn't have the voice. That's the issue.
STELTER: So, that's what we're getting at, when you say everyone scared of FOX, you're saying there are lots of writers, bloggers, up and coming stars in conservative media who don't take on FOX, who don't want to be critical of FOX because then it won't get on the air. Is that right?
KAUS: Well, that's right. I mean, FOX is basically the only means or the main means, the dominant means of upward mobility for a whole bunch of pundits and writers and wannabe pundits. Even if you don't have a show on FOX like Tucker does, you want to have a show on FOX. If you're an author, if FOX promotes your book, your book is going to be a success. And the roots to success outside of TV, by saying being mid-list book author without any TV exposure, those have dried up.
So, TV is dominant and FOX is dominant on the right.
STELTER: You know, it's an interesting issue because, you know, in a capitalistic environment, you want competition. You'd want to have other conservative-leaning television channels or media outlets in order to compete with FOX. There really isn't one that strong right now, though. They essentially have a monopoly on this marketplace.
KAUS: Well, that's right. There's a bunch of competing liberal outlets but FOX has a monopoly. And there's a huge opening for competitor to FOX on the right that's righter than FOX, because FOX does wuss out on a bunch of issues, immigration is the most obvious one.
STELTER: Mickey, thanks for being here this morning and sharing your story with us.
KAUS: Thanks, Brian.
STELTER: Coming up here after the break, HBO's "The Jinx" is getting a lot of attention. I binge watched it yesterday because there's some many questions surrounding the timing of Robert Durst's confession. That's what some are calling -- a confession.
Up next, another documentary maker who faces similar conundrum like the filmmakers of the Durst, of "The Jinx". Well, this one came to a very different decision. We'll tell you about it after this.
[11:28:40] STELTER: It was a bombshell finale for HBO's "The Jinx." I would go a step further, actually. I would call it a breathtaking moment in documentary history.
Robert Durst, the millionaire suspected of three murders but never convicted of any of them is caught on tape in a bathroom seemingly unaware he was being recorded. That's when Durst finally says what so many people have long believed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT DURST: What the hell did I do? Kill them all, of course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Now, just before that final episode aired, a made for TV coincidence, or was it? News broke that Durst had been arrested in New Orleans, charged with the murder of Susan Berman. I don't think it's a coincidence. The ratings went up for the finale on Sunday night.
But the media's attention soon turned to the filmmakers and all of the ethical questions surrounding the film. Here is the director Andrew Jarecki addressing that handwriting evidence that he presented to Durst, suggesting he was involved in Berman's murder. He also talked about the inconsistencies with the film's time line on "CBS This Morning".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW JARECKI, DIRECTOR: Well, we actually interviewed Bob Durst two times. The first time was for about three days back in 2010. And then we went back to him again a couple of years later, to show him this new evidence we had discovered. And we thought we were done at the end of the interview. He reacted in a strong way to the material we showed him and then he got up and said goodbye and we thought that was the end.
But his microphone kept recording. We always leave the microphone on him. He knows that. And he went to the bathroom while it was recording. And it wasn't until months later that we had an editor listening to material that we had just sort of left behind, thinking, well, now we have got to listen to everything we have got. We're about to finish the series. And we discover that we have this shocking piece of audio.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "The New York Times" said two years. You said it was months later when you found it.
JARECKI: Many months. I mean, it was, obviously, for us a shock, because it was many months since we had sat down with him. And then after sitting down with him, we thought, well, we have got this sort of revelation, which is, he was unable to determine which of the two handwritings that we were showing him was his own. In fact, we think both of them were his own.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So, then after that, Jarecki canceled the rest of his scheduled interviews.
Now, this is not the first time a documentarian has come into contact with potential evidence that could change the course of an investigation.
Joe Berlinger faced a very similar ethical question in his documentary "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hill." He's also director of the upcoming short film for CNN Films "Ubah!" about the Somalian supermodel. And he joins me now.
Did I mispronounce your name?
JOE BERLINGER, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: No, you said it right, Joe Berlinger.
STELTER: I was trying to practice that during the commercial.
I wanted to have you here this morning because I'm really interested in this question that documentarians face when they're investigating crimes that the police had done years before, might have missed.
In your case, in your documentary about three teenagers accused of grisly child murders, you had come into contact with a knife before investigators had. So, how do filmmakers handle these situations?
First of all, I want to say that I think "The Jinx" is a triumph of television on every level. So, I'm not here to criticize "The Jinx." I think it's an incredible piece of journalism and television.
And it differs depending on the situation. We received a bloody knife. It was given to us under strange circumstances. We went back to the hotel room. We opened up the knife. There was blood in the hinge. These children had been stabbed in the West Memphis case repeatedly with a serrated knife that was consistent with this knife. So, we felt we had a moral obligation to turn this knife over so as to not impede with the ongoing investigation.
You know, I don't want the responsibility of a potential killer being out there and us withholding evidence that might bring that person to justice. So, we met -- we immediately went back to New York. We actually thought it was going to shut our film down, because so much of a filmmaker-subject relationship is based on trust. And if that trust is eroded, we thought the whole film would start to crumble.
But, very quickly, we huddled with HBO and their representatives and we decided that good citizenship trumps any filmmaking need and that we had an obligation to turn it over.
STELTER: So, how do you react to the idea that "The Jinx" producers and directors held back their handwriting evidence for months or maybe even years?
BERLINGER: Well, you know, I don't know the circumstances, but if it means it leaves a killer on the streets longer, because if we think Durst might have been responsible for killings, and there's some evidence that could bring him in earlier and get him off the streets, then I think there's a question there.
But I don't know what the circumstances are, so I don't want to cast aspersions.
STELTER: What we see at the end of the series -- and we just played it -- that moment where he says "killed them all," we call that a hot mike moment in the television industry.
STELTER: Would you have aired that audio from that hot mike moment if you had found it months or years later, as the director said they did?
BERLINGER: I probably would have.
Earlier in the series, he was warned of having a hot mike. I know that I warn my subjects all the time that they have a hot mike. Where I might have differed -- and, again, I don't want to -- I don't know what their decision-making process was -- I probably would have given Durst or his representatives an opportunity at some point before the show was finalized to comment on that confession.
STELTER: Unfortunately, they are not talking, as you know.
They say that: "Given as we are likely to be called as witnesses in any case law enforcement may decide to bring against Robert Durst, it's not appropriate for us to comment further on these pending matters."
Did you ever find yourself in a similar situation, where you couldn't talk about your film because you might have to be called to the stand?
BERLINGER: I haven't found myself in that exact kind of a situation, but who knows what pressures these guys are under?
STELTER: You have said that any documentarian that doesn't bury the lede is lying to you. So, in other words, you would never play that audio sound bite in the first episode or the second episode.
Real life does not conform to the narrative structure of good drama. And you can't put every moment in your documentary right at the beginning. So, as long as you -- the compression of chronology to me is OK, as long as you don't change the chronology.
And it's also very important to allow -- you know, allow a story to unfold so that the audience can be interested in it, you know?
STELTER: The lines between documentaries and journalism and television, that's where it's so complicated.
BERLINGER: And increasingly complicated.
STELTER: What do you mean increasingly?
BERLINGER: Well, I think we're all focusing on "The Jinx" as this great moment in documentary history.
[11:35:05] But for the last 20 years, we have increasingly seen the lines between journalism and news and entertainment get increasingly blurred. And I think this is a natural result of this kind of tension.
STELTER: Joe, thanks for being here this morning and sharing with us.
BERLINGER: Thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
STELTER: Appreciate it.
Last night, actually, Robert Durst's attorney spoke for the first time since that supposed confession was broadcast. He spoke on CBS' "48 Hours" and said he thinks Durst was arrested basically for ratings and not because of facts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: What was your reaction when you heard that?
DICK DEGUERIN, ATTORNEY FOR ROBERT DURST: My first reaction was, what in the world are these guys doing to send somebody into the bathroom? There's not a more private place. And they know that Bob talks to himself. And that's just one of his quirks.
QUESTION: When you listen to that, didn't Bob Durst confess to murder?
QUESTION: How else could you interpret that?
DEGUERIN: Well, there's 100 ways of interpreting it, one of them being very Shakespearian.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: There's one person I want to hear from on this and it's criminal defense lawyer Mark Geragos. He joins me now from Los Angeles.
Mark, thanks for being here.
MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Thank you for having me.
STELTER: I wanted to hear your reaction to what the attorney said on "48 Hours" last night. Is that the sort of positioning you would take with this as well?
GERAGOS: Absolutely, spot on. Dick DeGuerin has, I think, articulated what any lawyer who is defending a client in this situation would be saying is, number one, there's 100 different, maybe 500 different interpretations for what happened. And, yes, it is very Shakespearian, King Lear-esque, so to speak.
But, more importantly, there is something very troubling about the way this unfolded. I agree with Joe, your previous guest, that this is a triumph of a documentary. Who I would fault here is our local police department, if you will, for waiting, if you will, to arrest kind of on the heels of the last episode to boost the ratings. And it looks like exactly what Dick said, a made-for-TV spectacular and a made-for-TV prosecution.
STELTER: Do you think the audio from Durst audio in the bathroom will be admissible in court?
Unfortunately, I don't think the mother of the judge has been born that is going to exclude that from evidence. Then that forces the defense to have to explain it. And, as Mr. DeGuerin said, there are so many different explanations for it.
But you have a different situation here because, unless you can show that the documentarians were working hand in glove with the prosecution -- and I don't think that that's going to be the case, I don't think that took place until later on, at least from what's been publicly reported.
GERAGOS: So, if there's no state action, then it probably will come in.
STELTER: You said you think "The Jinx" will make it harder to prosecute the case. Why is that? GERAGOS: I think it definitely will make it harder to prosecute
the case. I think you are going to have the specter hanging over this prosecution that for some reason it was kind of made for TV, that it was engineered, that this was not something where it was a direct answer to a direct question, but instead tried to take out of context.
And who knows whether or not you sliced and diced? And, remember, it was somebody, the editor who was listening to this later on. And the handwriting, I have real problems with that as well. And I think that that's actually more problematic to Mr. Durst than the statements on the audio itself.
The whole idea -- and I was in New York before he was arrested, and everybody knew it. It was kind of an unspoken little secret that he was going to be arrested in conjunction with the finale. And so that was already out there. And that's I think going to come to the fore during prosecution if and when they ever get him out there to Los Angeles.
STELTER: Why was it an open secret? Is it because the prosecutors didn't want to be embarrassed to have this air on HBO and then have him free on the streets?
GERAGOS: I think that's exactly right. I think that it was going to be an enormous embarrassment if that had played and he was out.
They are saying now that they didn't want him to flee. Well, the question remains, if they had possession of this evidence well before, then why didn't they get a warrant four episodes ago or before it even aired or anything else? I think almost anybody who has got a couple of neurons firing is going to say to themselves, I don't think it's just a coincidence that he's arrested in connection with the finale of these six episodes. I just think that life does not present itself that way.
STELTER: CNN legal analyst Mark Geragos, thanks for being here. I appreciate it.
GERAGOS: Thank you.
STELTER: A reminder here that HBO and CNN are both owned by the same company Time Warner.
[11:40:04] And up next, the runaway hit of the TV season "Empire," it's being hailed as a platinum example of prime-time diversity. But is it actually hurting stereotypes? We will take a closer look at that when we come back.
STELTER: The television industry has never seen anything like "Empire." And I mean that literally. The musical drama on FOX is maybe best described as a prime-time soap opera.
It has an entirely black cast for the most part, I mean, almost entirely black cast. That matters for reasons we're about to get into.
Every Wednesday since January, a new episode of "Empire" aired, leading up to the finale a few days ago. And every Thursday, executives at FOX rejoiced when those ratings went up, yes, every week. The show was like a rocket rising every week, which simply doesn't happen in this splintered TV world anymore.
To celebrate, FOX bought the cast Rolex watches. Now, you know the old line with great power comes great responsibility. Well, here is a twist. With great ratings comes great responsibility. And some people feel that "Empire" failed. Early in the season, professor and cultural commentator Boyce Watkins called the show a "ghettofied hood drama."
And this has become the subject of a great debate. I want to you hear both sides of it.
Watkins joins me now from Sacramento. And UCLA professor and media expert Darnell Hunt joins me from Los Angeles.
Thank you both for being here.
BOYCE WATKINS, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: Thank you.
DARNELL HUNT, UCLA: Thank you.
STELTER: Boyce, you used those phrases earlier in the season. "Coonery" is phrase you used to describe "Empire." Do you stand by that description of the show, now that we have seen the whole first season?
WATKINS: Yes, I stand by it.
I didn't -- sometimes, the words may come off harsher than they are. But I think that it really depends on the lens through which you're looking. I have been a black man for most of my life now. And one of the things I know about being black male is that black men are the most incarcerated group of people on the entire planet. And the reason that we are so heavily incarcerated is because, in many cases, it's very easy to convince a jury, say, an all-white jury, that the black man standing in front of them is a thug.
[11:45:13] Well, it's interesting because, if you consider that many of these all-white jurors may not even have any black friends, you have to ask yourself, why is it so easy to convince people that this black male is a thug? Why would they be so ready to accept that stereotype? Well, they get it from media.
We have been inundated with media in music and television that constantly perpetuates this myth of black men as being criminal, as being dangerous, as being violent. And, unfortunately, it just bothers me. It doesn't mean I can't enjoy the show and it's not a good show. It just means, we have got to think about what we're watching.
STELTER: Let me play an example from the show and then have you react, Darnell. Here is a clip from one of the earlier episodes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "EMPIRE")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: You are going down. I'm not going to let you take my company with you. Seventeen years, bitch. Get off of me. Everybody is just waiting for you to die, Lucious. You going to die a lonely man, just like you deserve. You going to need Cookie. Watch what I say.
I built this. This is my company.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Darnell, do you ever worry this show just reinforces stereotypes, the way that Boyce is describing?
HUNT: Well, you know, I agree with Dr. Watkins the media are very important in terms of shaping the way that we see others, particularly when we don't have face-to-face experiences with those people.
However, this show, I believe, is a little bit more complex. Stereotypes, we have to remember, are simplified representations of a group. They tend to be one-dimensional. They tend to flatten an individual out into like one to two characteristics.
Most of the characters in this show are quite complex. The humanity of a number of the characters is shown. We have themes that we don't typically see in melodrama featuring African-Americans, like homophobia, et cetera, that I think are dealt with in commendable ways on the show.
STELTER: Shonda Rhimes recently spoke about normalizing TV. That's her phrase for diversity on television. And we have seen a wonderful increase in the amount of diversity on network television this season.
Boyce, do you think that this is something that can be improved on "Empire" in season two? The issues you have with show, the reason why you have described it the way you have, are there things you would like to see the producers do in season two to address it?
WATKINS: You know, I'm not going to tell them how to run their show.
I'm just going to say, let's just be thoughtful about what we're viewing and also what we're portraying. The thing that makes "Empire" original and amazing is the extraordinary cinematography. And it's a very exciting show. I watched a couple episodes. And I could see why people would feel like this is a good show, because it is.
But just because something is good to you doesn't mean it's good for you. And so my argument is that, while the cinematography makes the show amazing and original, the way it's cast, the story it tells, there's nothing original about that. It's really kind of a scripted version of what we see already on "Love & Hip Hop," what we see on some of these "Real Housewives" shows.
And I can say, as a member of a community that is most affected by these stereotypes, I can't really sleep at night without at least saying that maybe we can do better than this. Maybe black actors don't have to be restricted to the entertainment ghetto like this.
STELTER: Darnell, do you disagree?
HUNT: Well, I wouldn't call this the entertainment ghetto. We're talking about one of the top shows on television. It's broken new ground.
What's also unique about it, when we look at what typically happens in TV, we don't find people of color behind the camera. A number of the episodes have been directed by African-Americans, written by African-Americans. The show was created by an African- American.
And, again, I think the characters are a lot more complex. After all, we're talking about a genre. We're talking about prime-time soap opera. it's very similar to, I don't know, a "Dallas," to a "Dynasty," but with a black cast, and with hip-hop flavor. So, it really does cut across and is appealing to multiple generations within African-American communities.
STELTER: I appreciate the conversation today.
Boyce, Darnell, thank you both for being here.
HUNT: Thank you.
WATKINS: Thank you.
STELTER: Really important stuff. "Empire" is breaking ratings records. So, what it shows, what it doesn't show really doesn't matter.
We need to take another break, but when we come back, some brand- new developments I have just picked up this morning about the investigation into "Rolling Stone"'s botched University of Virginia rape story -- all the details after this.
[11:53:33] STELTER: Welcome back.
We are about to learn a lot more about "Rolling Stone" magazine's disputed college rape article. It made news for all the wrong reasons back in December, when the article titled "A Rape on Campus" began to fall apart.
You may remember what happened. You remember the article alleged a horrific gang rape by seven attackers at a University of Virginia frat party. The victim was a freshman named Jackie. The writer of the article, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, interviewed Jackie and some of her friends, but Jackie asked her not to interview the alleged attackers, and Erdely agreed.
It turned out that was just one of the many flaws in the article. News outlets like CNN and "The Washington Post" turned up various contradictions and discrepancies. The frat in question said there was no party on the weekend of the alleged attack. "Rolling Stone" backed away from the article and apologized.
And then exactly three months ago today, it did something that news outlets almost never do. It looked outside for help. "Rolling Stone" publisher Jann Wenner asked Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism to do an independent review of the magazine's editorial process.
Columbia's journalism dean, Steve Coll, told me he couldn't remember when a journalism school got involved like this. And now, since then, there's been no new information. But, tomorrow, local police are holding a press conference to announce the results of their investigation into Jackie's case.
And this morning, I can report that Columbia has almost finished with the "Rolling Stone" investigation, too. A source says it will be published in early April and published in the magazine.
And Wenner just confirmed that in an e-mail to me. Here's what he says: "Expecting it in about two weeks, and will be publishing shortly thereafter in full."
[11:55:06] He says he has no comment on what he might do editorially because he hasn't read the report yet.
So, one other unanswered question is, will we hear from Erdely? She hasn't said anything since her article was first challenged.
Activists who are fighting what they call an epidemic of rape culture on college campuses says the article has done real damage to their cause by sowing doubt in people's minds.
I think "Rolling Stone" should get some credit for doing this investigation, for having it done independently and for agreeing to publish the findings.
Meanwhile, there is another investigation of journalistic trouble ongoing, and that's inside NBC. It's the internal fact-checking of Brian Williams, still under way, according to my sources. And NBC has made no such pledge to share it with the public.
I will be right back in a moment with more RELIABLE SOURCES.
STELTER: Now, that's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. But send me a tweet. Let me know what you thought of today's show. My handle is Brian Stelter.