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New Details About Germanwings Flight's Last Moments; How Reporters Navigate the Language of Live. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2015 - 11:00   ET


FRANK SESNO, GUEST HOST: And good morning. I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in for Brian Stelter, who is off this morning. Thanks for joining us.


Today, a look at some of the biggest stories, in the world, from the plane crash in the Alps, to nuclear talks in Iran, and a new documentary on Scientology.

But first, the story that has dominated media coverage everywhere, the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 and we start with breaking news on the final moments of the flight. New details from the cockpit voice recorder.

Joining us now from Cologne, Germany, is CNN's Fred Pleitgen.

Fred, what can you tell us?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Frank. Well, excerpts from that transcript from the cockpit voice recording have been made public by a German newspaper which is a large tabloid called "The Bild."

In the beginning stages of that transcript, it seems as though this is a normal flight. However, you're at that point the captain of the flight tells the co-pilot, the man who would later crash the plane he forgot to go to the bathroom before taking off in Barcelona. Now, this is key because the moment that the captain went to the bathroom was when he was locked out by the co-pilot and that plane crashed into the mountainside.

It appears as though the co-pilot at several times along the early stages of the flight keeps reminding the captain, didn't you want to do to the bathroom? You can go now any time. And then at some point the captain does indeed leave the cockpit.

It happens after that, Frank, is absolutely chilling according to the transcript that of course we can't verify but which what published in this newspaper early this morning. At 10:29 local time, air traffic radar detects the plane is beginning descend. Three minutes later, air traffic control tries to make contact with this plane, but gets no response by the man in the cockpit. Shortly after that, a loud bang is heard on the door. The

captain can be heard saying "For God's sake, open the door." It's the first time passengers can be heard screaming.

At 10:35, a loud metallic bang can be heard on the door at this point. The plane is at 7,000 meters, 90 seconds later, another alarm goes off saying, "Terrain pull up". At this point the plane is at 5,000 meters and the captain can be heard screaming "Open the door".

At 10:38 the plane is descending very close to the French Alps. The pilot can be heard breathing normally. The plane is at 4,000 meters at this point, it's already very close to the terrain because remember we're in a mountainous area.

At 10:40, the plane's right wing scrapes a mountain top and the investigators say that screams can be heard for one more time and then the recording breaks off.

So, absolutely chilling detail that we're getting there, Frank, from that transcript that the "Bild" newspaper of Germany published today, Frank.

SESNO: Now, Frank, I want to ask about the newspaper report, that's coming from the tabloid "Bild." Who are they attributing this to? Are they giving an indication where they've gotten this? Do we know that this is for real?

PLEITGEN: It's unnamed sources they are attributing this to. They say they got the transcript and putting part of the transcript out there.

There is no real sourcing and as far as being able to verify it -- of course, it's impossible at this point in time this is however, I have to say, a newspaper that's very well connected into German security services. One that is obviously considered a tabloid here but certainly one that does put a lot of muscle, a lot of resources into the stories that it does. The front page story just today they had more than ten writers work on that story alone, Frank.

SESNO: OK. Fred, stay with us.

I want to bring in CNN's business and aviation correspondent Richard Quest, who joins us now by telephone.

Richard, I want to ask you what you make of this, and in particular, disturbing, I must say, if "Bild" isn't offering any attributions to where it got this.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS AND AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): No, and what is disturbing in some ways about this is the cockpit voice recorder transcripts are almost never released until the final report or one of the reports. They will always release in the context of an analysis from the official investigating authority. The reason for that is because they are amongst the most private and most important part of an air accident investigation. Here we have an occasion where clearly, somebody who heard it and

let's remember, this thing was only brought out on Wednesday, was only listened to and revealed on Thursday. Somebody who has heard it has now revealed further details of it.

[11:05:00] One other thing, Frank, there is nothing new in this transcript. We knew the moment the prosecutor in Marseille spoke on Thursday morning. All this is doing if you like is adding the tittle- tattle of detail to what we've already known.

SESNO: Well, do you consider this, Richard, some kind of breach of protocol in investigations such as this or stories such as this?

QUEST: Oh, there is no question in my mind, it's a breach. Absolutely.

SESNO: Should "Bild" not have reported it?

QUEST: We didn't need to have this leaked. And, you know, look, I'm an aviation journalist and for me to say something shouldn't be leaked is perhaps, I can see the irony of that.

But cockpit voice recorders are amongst the most private parts of investigation of life because they show what people were doing when they were struggling to prevent death and that's why this is so significant. Somebody in the investigation and remember, the French pilot's union, Frank, is complaining about the fact that a senior French military official leaked the original thing, that there was a co-pilot that crashed the plane.

Now, there is a difference between leaking the core fact and leaking the individual document which has the detail, details that frankly the families don't need to know yet and we don't need to know.

SESNO: All right. Richard Quest, thanks very much.

We're going to look at more of this and a number of issues as we carry on in our conversation here.

But, Fred, I want to come back to you. Bring us up to speed on what else is taking place in the investigation because that's unfolding in real time, as well -- Fred.

I'm sorry, I think Fred is, has gone on to cover on other parts of the story now.

So when we look at stories like this, and when stories unfold in real terms like this, like the Germanwings plane crash, every news organization rushes to break the story first both online and on the air, whether it's the voice cockpit recorder or other elements, but it's critical to get the story right.

So, when developments unfold before our very eyes, how can reporters and anchors get it right, avoid uninformed speculation, and in this real time world, speak what I refer to is the language of live? Here's how the news broke on CNN's "NEW DAY" Tuesday morning.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Four, five or six job offer as for every new college graduate, sounds like a great promise. Fact check, President Obama has seen robust job growth on his watch, 2014 the best year for job growth since.


SESNO: Well, joining me now is Michaela Pereira, an anchor on CNN's "NEW DAY" and been covering this story since it broke from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. every day.

Michaela, thanks so much for coming in. Appreciate your time.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN'S "NEW DAY" ANCHOR: I'm really glad to speak with you, Frank, as always.

SESNO: Well, it's my pleasure.

So, take us onset. You're in the middle of an event, somebody is talking, suddenly you hear in your ear something terrible has happened and you're off to the races here and trying to navigate what you know, what you hear and what you can confirm. How difficult is that?

PEREIRA: It is a really difficult task, and there are so many things, frank, as you well know that you have to balance. The great thing about our show on "NEW DAY" is that it's a three-anchor team.

So, I think I was in the middle of doing a hit with Christine Romans and the news broke. They were able to inform the other two anchors what was happening while I was doing the report with her. They were brought up to speed, so they broke the news. While that was happening, they brought me up to speed.

And again, up to speed, what does that mean? At that point, as you'll recall, we only know a plane had gone off radar and they were not sure where it was.

And so, a lot of things happen in those critical moments. You've got people behind the scenes. It takes a huge team of people to put on any broadcast, just as your broadcast, our morning show. So, the people in our control room are feverishly working to find out from their sources and from our reporters overseas, because you have a challenge here. Not only is this breaking now but it's breaking in another country. So you have language barriers, et cetera, you have time delay differences. They were trying to figure out where this was going on.

So, you have them feverishly working with our international desk trying to verify the information they have, decide what we feel comfortable going with, because there will be a lot of people, as you mentioned, they want to get to the news first, they want to be the ones to break it. It's really important for us here at CNN to get it right. We want to make sure we get it right.

SESNO: So, how do you navigate between what you hear and what you know and confirm because that is the most dangerous part of the story like this --

PEREIRA: Well, and that's --

SESNO: And the media often takes its lumps.

PEREIRA: Look, we take our lumps here, too. It's a really tricky proposition, because you know the relationship between producer and reporters or the talent, reporters and anchors and correspondents is such an important one.

[11:10:07] It is so important that we trust one another and respect one another because in times like this the chips are down, you have to rely on one another. It is a tough thing to do. If anything, we'll wait to make sure that we get confirmation of something before we go with it, and that is always hard because you know that you're trying to inform. You don't want to leave dead air, but at the same time, especially when there is emotion and tragedy and mass casualties and deaths involved, you don't want to get that wrong. You really don't want to get that wrong.

SESNO: Michaela, I talk about this thing, this language of live and it's where you aren't getting information but you know that that information may change. If you --


SESNO: -- state it categorically and prove to be wrong, you lose your audience, you get tremendous criticism. You also have as you mentioned, potential victims, people who have died, families who have not yet heard, they may hear something first from you on the media. How do you navigate that murky place, that language --

PEREIRA: Well, one of the things we try to do is we try to reset, frequently. This is what we know, and we try to keep each other honest on the air of this is what we do not know. We'll check in with our correspondents. Fred Pleitgen is a perfect example. He is there.

We have a bevy of correspondents overseas that had been working this story non-stop. We will have one of them, one of our producers will often get on the phone or e-mail and find out if they can confirm something that we heard reports of.

So, we try to keep each other honest as best we can. In fact, we had an incident the other day. We found ourselves -- you sort of get yourselves going with the information, and then some of the details being not leaked out that were being released were really grisly and really horrifying, and it goes beyond the sensitivities -- our own sensitivities and taking into consideration the potential families.

At this point, we didn't know where the people who were in the crash, where they were from, what parts of the world but we knew those were human beings.


SESNO: Michaela, did you report the grizzly details?

PEREIRA: Well, at one point we talked about the fact there were screams and I'll leave it at that. We found ourselves saying, OK, let's go back to what we do know. Let's go back to what we do know. Let's recount the facts as they stand at this hour. This is what we know -- a plane has crashed. They believe it's crashed somewhere between Barcelona and Dusseldorf, we know that was the route. We believe it went off radar around this time.

So, it's interesting how you can -- you know how it is. You can get caught up in the moment and you have to -- this is why and you understand this, too, Frank, it is important to have seasoned veterans in the seat when you're doing something like this. You have to rely on your years of experience. You can't just be caught up in the moment and sort of going off half caught.

You have to have experience to know we have gone too far. Your colleagues will bring you back in. You'll bring yourself in. You have sort of an internal compass.

SESNO: Michaela, what's been the hardest part of this story for you when you've been on the air so far?

PEREIRA: There are so many parts of it. I mean, I can't get beyond thinking -- I was an exchange student when I -- after my high school year and I went abroad and I remember how hard it was for me to say good-bye to my parents and my parents saying good-bye when I flew to Brazil to, you know, expand my world. I think about those 16 kids and their families, about how they're allowing them to go see the world and to have the unthinkable happen.

I think about the grief of that pilot's family who tried in vain to get into the cockpit. I think about that a lot. There are so many aspects of this when you have such a tragedy.

I also know for many of us, it was those moments when we didn't know why, what the intent was and what -- who was responsible. This wasn't an act of God. Was it deliberate? We didn't know those things.

That big terrorism fear. I mean, we live in a world where terror is a reality and I think so many people were concerned, is this a situation like that?

There are so many aspects of a story like this, Frank, that are hard.

SESNO: Exactly. And weaving those together and in real time, you're on the air live, there is no place to run and sometimes no way to stop it and just kind of catch yourself. You got to do it on the fly.


SESNO: Michaela, thanks so much, it's been really terrific watching your work, as difficult and challenging as it has been.

Plenty more on --

PEREIRA: Thanks for having me today.

SESNO: Thanks for have -- for being with us.

PEREIRA: Plenty more on this ahead this Sunday morning, on how we're in the media doing when it comes to covering the tragedy.

Plus, later in the hour, a new scientology document is out and the church isn't happy about it. Just how far will they go to silence the critics? We'll hear one journalist's harrowing detail.


[11:18:41] SESNO: The crash of this Germanwings flight is unfathomable and there is never a real way to understand the why behind it, never mind to convey this through the reporting and the media stories as they unfold. As we reported earlier, German authorities say co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was treated for depression, police found antidepressants in his home, and there are reports of a possible psychosomatic illness. It now seems clear that Lubitz was suffering from some kind of mental illness at the time of the crash.

This is how the media reported on that news.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The co-pilot who crashed Flight 9525 into the Alps killing 149 and himself had a mental illness that he apparently hid from his employer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looks, given his background, history of depression, correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think. German media reported that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There may be that and the stigma does play into it because maybe you would hide it because you don't want to lose your job.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we see is a mental issue here and the question going forward is, is the screening being done for mental and psychological issues enough?


SESNO: A sampling of some of the media coverage and there is more even in the "New York Times" today.

Does that kind of coverage paint with too broad a brush or stigmatize people with a mental illness?

Here to discuss the question is Dr. Gail Saltz, psychiatrist, best-selling author.

[11:20:00] Gail, what do you think?

DR. GAIL SALTZ, PSYCHIATRIST: I think it does unfortunately. It's understandable that people want to get to the bottom of what went on here, and correct if there are things that need to be corrected. Because we only tend to talk about mental illness when there is some sort of a tragedy that has been a violent perpetration by somebody who has been ill, it does stigmatize mental illness. There are huge numbers of people with mental illness that never do anything violent. In fact, they are more likely to be a victim of violence.

And there are huge numbers of people with mental illness that frankly just -- you know, are neither a victim or a perpetrator and go on to do wonderful things, and in between episodes of suffering, are extremely functional and productive.

SESNO: But, Gail, clearly, this is a very big part of this story and understanding the story and understanding what may have happened up there requires knowing where this co-pilot was coming from and what he may have been dealing with.

So, you're not suggesting that this should not be reported, are you?

SALTZ: I'm not suggesting that. What I am saying is there is a tremendous amount of conjecture going on because we don't -- we are missing so many facts, and that to say, for instance, depression and mental illness is really to be talking about a wide range of things. So there are many people who struggle with depression who really have, you know, quiet suffering and are yet highly, highly functional people.

Some of our most functional people and then there is the other end of the spectrum of depression where you can have psychotic depression or really extreme depression that can lead to suicide and, you know, that's what we need to know about. The way the media presents it, it all sounds the same. I guess --


SESNO: Let me cite "The New York Times" piece I mentioned a moment ago. This is in today's "New York Times." Germanwings crash raises questions about shifting ideas of pilot finesses, the headline. It points out that they are taking a good, hard look at this and says the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 has raised questions about how the policies to safeguard against pilots who have had mental illness are behind the controls or not, whether those policies work and airlines and regulators are doing enough to detect pilots too mentally ill to fly.

Are you concerned this coverage is somehow getting ahead because it looks like people making the decisions are doing that irrespective of the stories that are being reported?

SALTZ: Yes, I do think that there is a legitimate question as to whether there needs to be more psychiatric evaluation as part of the medical evaluation that pilots undergo. And I think that's something that will need to be looked at.

But I wish that we would think about how to make change in a very strategic way and not sort of jump the gun, you know, now there is a question of psychosomatic illness, which is a whole other kettle of fish so to speak, and is a very real thing and it needs to be understood, and whether that had an impact.

But I think what people are forgetting is honestly, this is a person who was hiding what was going on, whatever was going on and it might have been a medical issue, might have been a psychiatric issue, but this is a person no matter what the changes are that are made, may never have come to attention.

SESNO: Yes, let me show you a couple of headlines and the audience a couple headlines that really are probably well over the top. Headlines that scream things like madman in the cockpit and crazed rookie pilot murdered 149.

Now, tabloids are tabloids.

SALTZ: Right.

SESNO: What do you think of headlines like that? What impact does that have on the reading public?

SALTZ: A real impact. When you use words like "mad" and "crazy", you know, it really affects how people already view, that's the problem. We're trying to make positive change. This really sets us back in term of how we view mental illness.

A lot of people think if you did something like this, you must by definition be mentally ill and that really is not the case. Many people that have perpetrated mass murders are evil people, are people who are lacking a moral compass and they enjoy the pain and suffering of others and they want to go out in infamy, and they are not necessarily mentally ill, and we equate those two which I think, again, further stigmatizes.

And the reason that I care about that, to be honest, is that the people who do need to come to treatment. So, for instance, you know, the pilots as a group, which came out of the military, tends to be a group that, you know, is maybe even a step behind in terms of stigmatizing mental illness --


SESNO: Let me ask you this last question, if you were on the editor's desk, if you were the producer of the broadcast, what story and how would you be reporting it now?

SALTZ: I would certainly leave, you know, pejorative words out of it. I would say that this is a question of what's going on, but that we are still missing these details that tell us specifically.

[11:25:06] And that we have to realize that this person who kept it a secret means that changing systems may have to be systems, for instance, bringing another person into the cockpit at all times, that are protected in that way, but I would also agree that we want to look at -- are there psychiatric as part of medical checkups going on? And should that be in place?

SESNO: OK. Gail, thank you very much. Appreciate your input on a very difficult, very sensitive topic, how you report something highly specialized when the information is so scant and so -- well, still emerging.


SESNO: We'll turn an analytical eye on ourselves in just a moment. Do we in the media spend too much time covering plane crashes? A big question, when we come back.


SESNO: Each day brings new developments surrounding the doomed Germanwings airliner that crashed into the French Alps. And no matter where you go on the media map, everyone is covering the story. It led all the broadcast network evening newscasts on Tuesday, and most of the week, four out of four nights on CBS and NBC, three out of four nights on ABC. It made the front page of "The Wall Street Journal" Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. And it got near wall-to-wall coverage on this network, CNN.

Despite the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 a year ago, the downing of Malaysia Flight 17 in Ukraine, and AirAsia Flight 8501, the one that crashed into the Java Sea this past December, all of these stories got enormous coverage.

It might surprise you to know that, according to the Aviation Safety Network, 2014 -- I'm quoting here -- "is the safest year in modern aviation history" as judged by the actual number of crashes.

It's hard to argue that tragedies like these don't deserve news coverage and a lot of it. Clearly, they do. But it's also about proportionality and how to balance the information that is released with, say, the privacy and dignity of those who were lost in the crash and their families. And is there special horror and fascination when a plane filled with people, every one of them a story, goes down?

Joining me now to discuss this is Jeff Greenfield.

Jeff, it's really about proportionality here and the tone of the coverage, but this notion of airplane crashes being somehow in a category all their own, interested in your thoughts on that.

JEFF GREENFIELD, VETERAN JOURNALIST: Yes, because -- I think it is the same example where people will tell you that, when a plane lands, the pilot will often say, you just finished the safest part of your journey. Be careful on the drive home. Statistically, it's much more dangerous to be in a car than it is

to be on an airplane. But what happens, I think, to all of us when you hear about a plane crash is the absolute loss of control, the absolute certainty of which you're doomed. You can survive a car accident.

And it gets a -- it creates a picture in our mind. We're there, or parts of us are there lying dead on a mountaintop. Anybody who has been on a plane can understand what that feels like. And it's like any other kind of story where a sudden horrible thought enters your mind. Post-9/11 is the most dramatic example. You can picture yourself in that situation. And it sort of remains, I think, with powerful force.

And it often does create, not just in the coverage, but in the response, a loss of proportionality.

SESNO: What we're seeing now, it's very interesting. We have talked about it some in this discussion so far today -- Lufthansa asking the media to back off to give the families their privacy and their space, these headlines that I was just speaking about in terms -- invoking a madman in the cockpit.

Getting carried away with this story and reporting out what the public is fascinated in is a very difficult balance.

GREENFIELD: It's one of the many difficulties in covering a story like this.

And it often, to be very blunt, leads to real problems, particularly in a network that is all news and feels impelled to stay with a story constantly, even when you don't know anything, which is another example of a loss of proportionality.

The worst moments, I think, many of the worst moments in CNN's history have come when it has felt itself forced to stay on the air in a story of clear importance, but about which little or nothing is known, and so...

SESNO: Are you saying, Jeff, to be just direct about it, that CNN has gone overboard with this?

GREENFIELD: I think there have been times -- I think this particular story, no, actually because it unfolded in a relatively quick amount of time.

I'm thinking of stories like the Washington Navy Yard story, the Boston Marathon story, certainly the Malaysian 370 story, where there is a drive to tell people something we know people want to know. If in the middle of a crisis coverage, for instance, you will say, we don't know anything, so we're going away from the story until we learn more, you run the fear of losing the audience.

And so you're stuck in a story like that, unless you exert real willpower, with being on the air, with people who are forced to say things that they -- that don't mean anything, like... (CROSSTALK)

SESNO: Well, I think that's really the big -- that's the big difference with this one, isn't it, really, that there have been officials who have been quite accessible to the press, that they have come out with great regularity.

And they have actually had real information that they have said officially from the podium, whereas, for example, with the Malaysian airliner,there were days when time went by and there was actually nothing from officials because they didn't have anything.

GREENFIELD: Yes. And what has been useful or why this story, in my view, doesn't enter that category is, about every 12 hours, new information came out.

Why was there a controlled descent? We didn't spend a month speculating. We learned why, because this co-pilot took the plane down. And, in those circumstances, we're providing real information. The danger of rolling crisis coverage is, the fundamental editorial function is abandoned. Check. Wait if you don't know.

[11:35:07] It's just very hard. I sympathize with any network. And, by the way, this is not confined to CNN. In '81, when Ronald Reagan was shot, there was a stream of misinformation coming out in real time. And I remember Frank Reynolds, the ABC anchor, slamming his fist down and saying, let's get this right.


SESNO: Let's get this right. Let's get this right.


SESNO: That is the most important thing and certainly what the audience expects. Hard to do when the news is happening in real time, as we have said.

Well, Jeff, always a pleasure. Great to see you.


SESNO: Stay with CNN throughout the day for the latest on the investigation into the Germanwings crash.

When we come back, we shift gears.

The Church of Scientology doesn't talk much to the media, but when they don't like the story, they are quick to the attack the messenger. One reporter's story about that when we come back.


SESNO: And welcome back. I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in for Brian Stelter today.

[11:40:00] Tonight, HBO premieres the documentary that Scientology doesn't want you to see.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They sell it in the beginning as something quite logical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You take on a matrix of thought that is not your own.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's so strong that it sticks you like glue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very suggestible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just don't see it happening to you. You justify so much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no logical explanation, other than faith.


SESNO: The Church of Scientology is in all-out attack mode. It's bombarding social media with targeted paid content slamming filmmaker Alex Gibney and his sources.

Here is one tweet from their Freedom Media Ethics account, one of the milder ones. "Which Alex Gibney 'Going Clear" source admits he and another source beat people up?"

Nobody understands Gibney's position better than journalist Richard Behar. He and "TIME" magazine were targeted by the Church of Scientology after he published this 1991 cover story, "Scientology: The Cult of Greed: How the Growing Dianetics Empire Squeezes Millions From Believers Worldwide."

Scientology sued "TIME" and Behar. In the end, the case was dismissed, but, according to Behar, the church also spent millions going after him personally.

Well, he joins us now to talk about what he has experienced and what is taking place now. You're an editor for "Forbes" magazine. You join us from New York.

Richard, thanks for coming in.

What is going on here?

RICHARD BEHAR, "FORBES": Well, look, I think, to a large degree, Scientology is following the same script and playbook that they followed with us almost 25 years ago, taking out ads.

This time, it's in "The New York Times" against these guys. For us, it was "USA Today," including -- I brought an artifact, booklets that they put. They spent $3 million with "USA Today." They claimed at the time that all of my sources were thrown out of the church for malfeasance, same thing they are doing with Larry and Alex. It really is deja vu.

SESNO: And you say they came after you personally as well. What was that all about?

BEHAR: Yes. They put private eyes after us, me and others at "TIME."

I counted 12 at one point. Litigation for 10 years up to the Supreme Court. I was deposed for 28 days, even though the church declined to speak with me, and I think the same thing has happened to the Alex in his documentary. And this went on.

We had to actually hire our own spies at Time Inc. in order to follow their spies. It got pretty comical at a certain point.

SESNO: Spy v. spy.

BEHAR: But they did some pretty nasty stuff to me, pretty nasty stuff.

SESNO: And why -- Richard, what is the explanation? Is there an explanation from the Church of Scientology as to why top officials from the church won't go out and take this on?

I should point out that Anderson Cooper had a four-part series in 2010 on this network, and was not able to speak to anybody from the top tiers of the church itself. The last interview that David Miscavige gave, the leader of the Church of Scientology, was in 1992 to Ted Koppel on ABC.

BEHAR: Yes. And, actually, in that interview, he said that I am a kidnapper. He said that...


SESNO: That you're a kidnapper?

BEHAR: Yes. Yes. I was laughing so hard when I heard that.

SESNO: And who were you supposed to have kidnapped?

BEHAR: Well, he said that I was a confessed kidnapper, or that I never went through with it, though.

But I really had referred a cult victim to a cult organization filled with psychiatrists and doctors and rabbis and priests because I couldn't help the person. And, apparently, there was a deprogrammer who was once involved with the group who got somebody out of the church, so that made me a kidnapper.

But to answer your question, I think it's pretty clear. The church has told so many lies for so long. What is David Miscavige really going to say? He's petrified. He's a coward. He's afraid to talk to people directly. The stars in the church are cowards. '

And more than that, they are afraid to be deposed. They are afraid to be forced to testify. And that's, I think, why no media outlets have been sued since me and "TIME" magazine almost 25 years ago.

SESNO: And this documentary that is on the air tonight is going to try to peel back the onion a little bit more on Scientology. They are attacking, but one wonders whether their attacks through the media may be driving more attention than an explanation.

BEHAR: Yes, that's very interesting.

I don't think they intend it, but I do think, from the "TIME" cover story, I was told that it's probably the best thing that ever happened to them. It will draw more attention to them. But I think the church, from what I gather from major defectors, is really in trouble. They don't have as many members as they once did. The Internet is killing them. People are coming public with all kinds of stuff they can't keep hidden any longer.

[11:45:01] They do use private eyes, but I don't think to the extent they did with me. They spent about $25 million 25 years ago on me in terms of private eyes and litigation, according to one of their top defectors who was in charge of the operation. That's real money.

SESNO: Real money.

Richard Behar, thanks so much for being here. Appreciate it.

BEHAR: Thanks for having me, Frank.

SESNO: Well, much is being made in the U.S. and global media about another big story, a diplomatic dance with Iran, a complicated chessboard, from the nuclear talks in Switzerland this weekend to the battlefields in Iraq, Syria, and increasingly Yemen. How is all this being reported back in Iran? Is it still Iran vs. the great Satan? What are the Iranian people being told?

We will find out when we come back.


SESNO: Talk about a complicated, challenging story.

Iran is getting more than its fair share of media attention this weekend, with talks under way in Switzerland over Tehran's nuclear program, and in Egypt, where Gulf leaders gathered to call for a united front against Iran, Iran-backed Houthi rebel forces in war-torn Yemen anyway.

America's diplomatic dance with Iran may be the most important and complicated political dynamic in the world just now.

Few people understand Iran better than our guests today, Thomas Erdbrink, Tehran bureau chief for "The New York Times," and he's joining us from Tehran by phone. And Trita Parsi, the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, an advocate for U.S.-Iranian engagement, he joins us from Lausanne, Switzerland, where those delegate talks are under way.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

There has never been a more critical time to have reporters on the ground in Iran.

So let's start with you, Thomas. You have reported from Tehran for more than a decade. You're hosting this new video series at, "Our Man in Tehran." In the first episode, you say it took four years to get permission from the Iranian government to do this series. Why now? And is this a coincidence, with all else that is going on?

[11:50:09] THOMAS ERDBRINK, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I don't think it's a coincidence, but, of course, we must establish that Iran is changing.

And it's changing in such a way that the Iranians massively elected a new president in 2013, Hassan Rouhani. He and his foreign minister, Zarif, have been the figureheads of this outreach through the West, the nuclear outreach that we are talking about today, but also sort of an attempt to create a new image of Iran abroad.

Now, please don't think I am a tool of the Iranian government. I had tried and tried and tried under Ahmadinejad to make this documentary series because I really wanted to show what life in Iran was like and how Iranians sort of interact in daily life.

I didn't get the permits. But with this change, I was allowed to make this new video series that's on

SESNO: Well, Thomas, I want to take a clip of that and let people take a look, and specifically a clip where you are basically out on the street talking to people about this nuclear deal that's under discussion right now in Switzerland.


ERDBRINK: I like being amongst Iranians. Every now and then, I buy a card from the man with the little bird. It will give you a poem that will predict your future and has an answer to all your questions, even the political ones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (through translator): What's the biggest question for you as far as the future is concerned?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): What will be the outcome of the nuclear negotiations?


SESNO: There you are on the street with a bird trying to talk to people pulling a cart about the nuclear negotiations.

But I want to ask you a serious question about how the Iranian media are now reporting on these nuclear negotiations, because we know in the West that it is very contentious. We know the Israelis and others are objecting to elements of it because they think the West may cave to Iran.

Is any of that getting through to the Iranian people through the Iranian media?

ERDBRINK: Oh, absolutely.

It's been a very long time that Iran has no longer been this isolated country that we expect it is. Of course, there's Internet here. And there's satellite TV. But even the domestic media has been following this very critically.

It doesn't mean that they have all the space they want to write, but they can go really very far. And one prime example is the conservative newspaper "Kayhan." This is a state-owned newspaper. It is headed by a hard-line editor who is very much against the talks.

And not a week goes by that he writes a poisonous editorial in which he says that these talks will fail, that he predicts that these talks will not go anywhere. Well, this is in stark contrast to many of the other newspapers that are more open and willing to discuss the talks.

At this moment, there are many Iranian journalists in Lausanne following those talks also for the Iranian media.

SESNO: Trita Parsi, I want to turn to you. Your organization is in favor of engagement with Iran, U.S. and Iranian engagement.

And, of course, the images that most Americans have of Iran is of demonstrations, anti-American demonstrations, "Death to the great Satan" and all that kind of thing. How are the Iranian media, influential voices in Iranian media preparing, if they are, the Iranians for some kind of new equation, if they are, with the West?

TRITA PARSI, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL IRANIAN AMERICAN COUNCIL: Well, I think, frankly, they're preparing themselves more so than the public.

The public is overwhelmingly in favor of resolving this issue. They want to break out of their isolation. They want to be able to engage with the rest of the world. And they are also, according to all the polls that I have seen, quite favorable to the terms that are being negotiated, in the sense that they would give up certain elements in return for lifting of sanctions.

But what is happening now that I think is very interesting, Thomas is quite correct in pointing out that "Kayhan" has been very, very critical and negative towards this and at times even very insulting to the negotiators.

You are starting to see that the hard-liners are trying to prepare a way to not only sell this at home, but to sell it as a win for themselves. And I think that's quite fascinating, because, as the Iranian hard-liners are trying to find a way to frame this as a win, hard-liners in Washington are continuing to waste no moment to try to sabotage this deal.

SESNO: Well, let me -- Trita, before we run out of time here, though, I want to ask you this very direct question. Is anybody in the Iranian media saying, look, if there's going to be a serious realignment in the world and with the West, not only do we have to do a nuclear deal, but we have to quit meddling in all these places around the world, to include Yemen, as we have just discussed, where the Gulf states are preparing to go in to push back?

PARSI: Well, in the Iranian narrative, first of all, this is just a negotiation over the nuclear matter. It is not addressing these other issues. It is not part of the negotiations. But, in the Iranian narrative, they way they present it, it is the United States that is meddling in the Middle East.

[11:55:04] The United States is not a Middle Eastern country, though it has heavy military involvement there. So, they're not viewing it in the sense that there would be any meddling. But I think there is a realization that if they are integrated in the world in the global economic and political system, there are going to have to be changes in the way that they conduct foreign policy.

SESNO: Thomas, quickly to you.

Are you seeing in Iranian media coverage any place laying the groundwork for a reexamination of Iran's role in the world?

ERDBRINK: Well, no, absolutely not.

Iran has a very firm ideology, in which they see themselves as a country with principles, a country that's against double standards, as they call it. And, as Mr. Parsi just pointed out, Iran thinks that the presence of the United States in the region is a double standard. And Iran also is convinced that the last 10 years of pressures against the country have been an example of a double standard, because, as they always like to point out, why is the world so incredibly worried about Iran, that doesn't even have a nuclear weapon, while Israel, Iran -- the U.S.' main ally in the region, most probably has over 150?

So they feel that this will be a win for them, even though they might lose. We don't know yet, of course. But they feel that, no matter what happens, this will be a victory.


Thomas Erdbrink and Trita Parsi, thanks to you both.

We have to take a quick break, but we will be right back with more RELIABLE SOURCES.