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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Is Media Biased Against Christianity?; "Rolling Stone" to Release Investigations Results. Aired 11-12:00p ET

Aired April 5, 2015 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:10] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning. Happy Easter and happy Passover. I'm Brian Stelter, and it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES.

And there is so much to cover this morning, including a Sunday morning exclusive. New information about "Rolling Stone" magazine and what it is doing now that Columbia University is about to release a damning report about the article you see on screen, its error-filled UVA rape investigation.

Plus, a story of a well-known journalist who says his editor, a friend of Harry Reid's, spiked a column that was wasn't nice enough to Harry Reid. That is a pretty serious charge. So, we're going to get into that.

And on a lighter note, we know who is replacing Jon Stewart. But he really is an unknown, Trevor Noah. Bold choice or bad decision?

That is all coming up.

But perhaps the biggest news story of the religious week is the battle over religious freedom. That's the phrase used for controversial laws in a number of states and most recently in Indiana that give individuals a defense in court if they feel their religious rights have been violated.

By now, I'm sure you have your own opinion. You've been debating it with friends and family.

But this morning, we have two guests here who have unique perspectives about it. Maybe voices you haven't heard, including perhaps the most influential journalist in the whole state of Indiana, the editor of "The Indy Star", because the big question is whether major media outlets have really given the law and the supporters a fair shake. You know, conservative media heavyweights say no. Some are even depicting this as a war on Christianity.

Here is Rush Limbaugh talking about Democrats' response to the law.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW: They view Christianity as the evil majority. They hate Christianity just in it of itself, they hate what Christianity is.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

STELTER: They hate it, he says.

On the same day, Bill O'Reilly tied together the Indiana law backlash with the awful terror attack in Kenya.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Link everything together. We just heard about the terror attack in Kenya on Christians. You've get two things in play. You've got the Muslim extremists, jihadists. They want to kill Christians and they're doing it all over the world. And then in the United States and Western Europe, you have a civil war between the secular progressive movement and the traditional religious people. So, in both cases, Christians are targets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: That is one frame for the story. And the other frame, frankly, the dominant frame everywhere from CNN to MSNBC to the broadcast networks was about gay rights and about the potential for discrimination.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: Governor Pence has simultaneously been busy turning the state government's attention to the pressing need of making sure that it is legal to discriminate against gay people in the state of Indiana.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: To say the law is not discriminatory is disingenuous, at the very least.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: When you break it down, it's a whole bunch of discrimination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: This story is fraught with complications. And Mollie Hemingway says the media just couldn't handle all the complexity. She's a senior editor at the conservative web magazine, "The Federalist". She focuses on media criticism sometimes. She said this week, there was a whole lot to criticize.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: Mollie, thanks for joining me.

MOLLIE HEMMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: It's great to be here.

STELTER: You said the other day there's an inquisition going on. That the media is hunting for people who don't agree with it. So, who are those people? HEMINGWAY: First off, what a disappointing week it has been for

media coverage for an important issue. Religious is one of the topics that the media struggled to cover accurately or without bias. But this week was unlike anything we've seen before, hysteria.

STELTER: But why is that? Let me ask you about that more broadly. Why is that you think that the media struggles to cover religion?

HEMINGWAY: You know, I don't -- there are many reasons, I'm sure. Newsrooms do tend to be less religious than the general population. Religious people tend to be on an opposing side in the culture wars than many media people tend to be. But there's really -- you know, also newsroom cuts make it hard to have devoted religious reporters and whatnot. There are also sorts of reason.

STELTER: That's an interesting point. We don't have full-time religious correspondents in lots of big papers and television networks, to the extent that we used to.

HEMINGWAY: Right. And that does it crops out there's a problem at times like this when you have witch hunts going on and almost like a complete adoption of the framing used by the most strident opponents of religious freedom legislation.

STELTER: So, there's an issue about amount of coverage. There's an issue about the tone of coverage. And you're seeing a witch hunt happens that a lot of journalists just don't believe in what religious people believe. Is that what you're saying?

HEMINGWAY: I actually think that the big problem was that there was hysteria based on ignorance. I mean, religious freedom legislation is not long. It doesn't take that much to understand. But there is no way that the media accurately understood how it works if they were going to cover this issue the way they did.

The big problem with it was they never explained that religious freedom bills only allow you to raise religion as a defense if you're accused by the government of having done something wrong or if your property is seized by the government, or if some government enabled action harms the religious person.

[11:05:06] They made it seem like it was an aggressive posture from religious people. There's no way they could have covered the story that way if they actually understood how the legislation works. And further --

STELTER: So, you're saying they just didn't read the bill.

HEMINGWAY: Well, they clearly didn't understand the legislation. And they also didn't understand it because you raise the defense in no way means that you're actually going win the case. Plenty of people raise religious freedom defenses and still lose.

STELTER: You wrote an article about Americans helped by these kinds of law. Quote, "The whole point of religious freedom is that it's extended to the people who are from at least someone's perspective completely wrong. If everyone in society agreed on religion, there would be no need to protect it."

HEMINGWAY: Exactly. The point of religious freedom is that it protects people who you disagree with. There was this obsessive focus on imaginary situations, pretend situations, make believe situations.

STELTER: We've all heard about the bakery and now the pizzeria.

HEMINGWAY: Right. Those are not religious freedom cases in play.

The actual people who benefit from religious freedom legislation are people like Robert Soto, the Native American who is the most recent winner of a religious freedom case. He got his sacred eagle feathers back from the government when they seized them.

A woman like Kawal Tagore, she is a Sikh woman who the IRS fired because she carried a small ceremonial dagger. She was able to use the religious freedom bill to fight back. Those are the actual people who benefit from religious freedom legislation, not these sort of pretend hypothetical people.

STELTER: This is where I wonder if there's a disagreement. There's a truth you're getting at, which is the language of the law. But then there's so many people a larger truth here, which is legislation like this presses all the right buttons, says all the right things for conservatives who are concerned about let's take, for example, polling that shows Americans supportive of gay marriage or polling that shows more Americans the same sex rights.

Don't you think laws on this hit on the larger truth, and they're reacting to that larger truth?

HEMINGWAY: Well, certainly, the government has laws, regulations, rules that intersect with people and all sorts of different places. And so, you know, for the Sikh woman, it's one thing. For the evangelical Christian, it might be another. At different points in time, it will affect different people.

The beauty of clear religious freedom legislation is that it protects everybody.

STELTER: So, where did it come from? If you believe the framing was all wrong. Is it because in your mind, journalists are just inherently pro-gay marriage and pro-gay rights and aren't able to put on the frame of pro-religious rights? These are inherently in conflict?

HEMINGWAY: There's almost certain religious like zeal with which the media have taken one side on that topic. And that certainly does --

STELTER: Religious like zeal?

HEMINGWAY: I mean, you're not allowed to have any doctrinal disagreement on this topic and receive any semblance of fair coverage.

STELTER: What I find telling is I keep mentioning gay rights, you keep mentioning religious freedom. You're not engaging on whether the press, for example, should advocate for same-sex marriages or for equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans.

HEMINGWAY: Well, I think that they should cover the story fairly. It is absolutely true that there are going to be competing sides on religious freedom legislation. There's a massive coordinated campaign right now to cast doubt on religious freedom legislation. And the media actually took part in that.

But, you know, it's not that shouldn't be covered. It should. It's that the other side should also be covered. It should be covered fairly.

STELTER: You're saying media, I'm saying media. Surely you think there's some outlets done have a better job and others. Are there certain outlets you would say were more fair of this issue this week?

HEMINGWAY: I actually thought that sort of across the board when you're looking at mainstream media, we did not see good coverage.

STELTER: So, even from FOX News, even from conservative media outlets?

HEMINGWAY: I did not sense any media outlet told the stories of actual people who benefit from religious freedom legislation. I didn't actually get a sense that a lot of people understood the legislation.

STELTER: It's not the most positive conversation to have on Easter morning, but it's an important one. Thank you for being here and having it.

HEMINGWAY: You, too.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: I do think Molly is on to something, that we didn't hear enough from ordinary citizens during all this coverage. And just look what happened when a local TV station tried to change that, tried to go out looking for the voices, looking to do good work. They found this pizza shop. Whose owner said they would, in fact, choose not to cater a gay wedding.

And you know what happened next. It became overrun with reporters. And now, the owners are avoiding all press. They declined our interview request this weekend. They said they have had enough of it.

But local point of view the local perspective is critical. I mean, just look how the state's big paper, "The Indianapolis Star" got everybody's attention with the print newspaper cover on Tuesday. It says, "Fix This Now". A rare example of when an editorial becomes a front page.

The image spread all over social media. It made national news.

And Jeff Taylor is the editor of "The Star". He joins me this morning from Indianapolis.

Thanks for being here.

JEFF TAYLOR, THE INDIANAPOLIS STAR: God morning.

STELTER: I'd love to hear about that decision to put that on the front page. But it was also an editorial statement as opposed to normal news coverage.

TAYLOR: Yes, it's not a typical move for us to publish a front page editorial.

[11:10:04] We had a lot of discussions about what we thought was important for us to do in helping to move or community forward, move our state forward, our publisher Karen Ferguson and I talked about this for, really, almost a couple of days. And deciding what we wanted to do and what direction we wanted to go.

We brought in Tim Swarens, our opinion director, and other top editors as we decided ultimately that we thought it was important for our community, for the state, and us in a leadership position to publish this on the front page.

STELTER: There must have been some blow back?

TAYLOR: There was some blowback, but there was an enormous amount of positive response, much more so on that side than the other.

We heard from people in our community who are in our state who are conservative Republicans who appreciated the fact that we tried to say in a moment of crisis for our state, it's time for us to act now to send the message that this is a welcoming state that is -- that embraces equality for all.

STELTER: A moment of crisis, pretty strong words.

I want to play what the governor said at his press conference, which was broadcast live by all the cable news channels. It was pretty critical of the media and here's a bit of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: The gross mischaracterization about this bill early on and some of the reckless reporting by some in the media about what the bill was about was deeply disappointing to me and millions of Hoosiers. I don't want to let the Indiana press off the hook here. But I will anyway. I think the Indiana press has had this right from early on. Some of the national reporting has been ridiculous.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: Jeff, is Governor Pence right? Has the national

reporting been ridiculous? What specifically is he referring to?

TAYLOR: Well, I'm not in a position to comment on the national reporting on this issue. I was really focused in this last week and the week prior to that -- focused on our newsroom and the coverage we were doing locally. We produced coverage that was fair and accurate and presented all sides of the discussion, brought the voices of real people into this. We tried to cut through the noise and get people information that they could use to understand what the law is, what it says, and what it means. And what the attack --

STELTER: But you must be frustrated to see all these reporters parachuting in, sometimes, you know, clouding over what the actual story is and summarizing it too much.

TAYLOR: Well, there's always going to be an enormous amount of coverage around any kind of big issue like this. You'll get varying degrees of accurate reporting. But as I say, on a local level, we focused on trying to make sure that we gave people information about what the law actually says and what it means.

STELTER: A few months ago governor pence got a lot of bad press because he wanted to launch the government controlled news entity in the state. I know "The Indy Star" was covering that back then? Is this why? Is this because he always thinks, as governors might tend to do, that the press is out to get him in miscovering stories?

TAYLOR: I don't know that I would say that's the case. I don't think that the state news agency and this issue were really interrelated. The issue here for us in the moment with the religious freedom debate was really focused on trying to explain to people what the impact would be, and helping people understand that laws that were in place in places like Indianapolis that had local human right ordinances would have been severely eroded and maybe even stripped.

STELTER: I know a lot of people were concerned about that whole idea that state run news outlet. It's been pretty much bagged, right? Not going to happen.

TAYLOR: Right. The governor made the decision not move forward with that.

STELTER: Well, Jeff, thanks for being here and sharing the local advantage point this morning.

TAYLOR: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: Time for a quick break here. But there's going to be big news tonight in the media world. That's when the internal investigation -- actually, the external investigation into "Rolling Stone's" UVA rape story comes out. It comes out at 8:00 p.m.

But I've been working the phones. I can already give you a preview of it. So, I'll tell you what my reporting is revealing, right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:17:45] STELTER: Today is the day. The day we finally get some answers about what happened at "Rolling Stone" magazine with its rape on campus story.

Columbia University has been investigating for months and its report comes out tonight at 8:00 p.m. Bu I've been digging around and I have a preview of it coming up in just a moment.

The editors of "Rolling Stone" -- let's be honest -- they committed one of the worst journalistic sins in recent mystery by publishing a shocking story about a gang rape story that appears to be have been partly made up. The police can find no evidence that the rape actually happened.

But like I said, now, we're finally going to hear what went wrong at "Rolling Stone" and we're going it hear from the story's author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

This is what she said about her story back in November. This is before it started to be challenged.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SABRINA RUBIN ERDELY, ROLLING STONE: I met a young woman named Jackie. She's a junior now. And she told me that when she was a freshman, she was invited on a date to a fraternity house where there was a party, and while she was there, she was lured upstairs into a bedroom where she was gang raped by seven men while two other men, including her date, watched and gave encouragement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: But Erdely never spoke to any of the alleged attackers. She said Jackie asked her not to.

Now, once the story began to unravel, once people at CNN and "The Washington Post" and elsewhere started to pointing out contradictions in it, and once "Rolling Stone" apologized for it and then called in Columbia to investigate, Erdely disappeared. She has been invisible ever since.

But my sources say that she will break her silence tonight. She will be issuing a statement and formally apologizing for her errors. And "Rolling Stone" will be fessing up, too. Columbia's investigation has concluded that there was a systemic failure at the magazine. In other words, everybody was at fault. And my sources say the magazine will be taking down the discredited story from the web.

So the story will be gone. Columbia's report will take its place. So, are these the right steps and are they enough?

Geneva Overholser is exactly the right person to ask, a longtime editor and journalist and professor who once served as the ombudsman for "The Washington Post". Thanks for being here this morning.

GENEVA OVERHOLSER, FORMER WASHINGTON POST OMBUDSMAN: Great to be with you, Brian.

STELTER: There's a lot to unpack about what went wrong with this story and maybe finally some closure coming with this report coming out tonight. You and I have not been able to see it yet. It's being held by embargo by Columbia until 8:00 p.m.

OVERHOLSER: Exactly.

[05:00:01] STELTER: What do we need to know? What do we need to find out?

OVERHOLSER: Well, first of all, I think we can be glad that it's an external review unlike NBC with Brian Williams. "Rolling Stone" went to Columbia and said, please do it. No holds barred.

STELTER: With NBC, they're doing this internal fact checking of Brian Williams. Apparently, it's still going. But they didn't bring in outsiders.

OVERHOLSER: Precisely.

STELTER: You're saying it was better for "Rolling Stone" to bring an outsider.

OVERHOLSER: A much more credible thing.

So, we'll see what Columbia thinks happen. We'll see how well the "Rolling Stone" own it is.

I understand it, it's going to be published at the "CJ" article, "Columbia Journalism Review" and "Rolling Stone" magazine.

STELTER: And "Rolling Stone" magazine, yes.

OVERHOLSER: So, that's good.

I think it will be very interesting to see if anyone sort of takes a hit, as you suggest, a staff was all sort of all implicit.

STELTER: Right. So, you mean the editors or any fact checkers are going to lose their job or be disciplined.

OVERHOLSER: Yes. I wonder if anyone will, because this was really egregious journalism. There were all kinds of problems with it, as you suggest.

STELTER: Well, it starts with the writer. It starts with the writer and some people suggested she was trying to go out and find the most extreme case she could, the most extreme allegations. That can seem troubling on the face, because sometimes, you know, if you start out with a headline before you have the story, that can get you in trouble as a journalist. OVERHOLSER: Absolutely. And that seems to be what she did,

although I think it's absolutely essential that we keep in mind that this is a terrible plague really -- sexual assault on the campus and that this article --

STELTER: Right, all across the country.

OVERHOLSER: Absolutely. Some 100 campuses being investigated under civil rights by the administration. It's a very serious thing, and I think "Rolling Stone" thought we've got this story. It's a hell of story, and it broke with great power.

STELTER: It did.

OVERHOLSER: In part because of the personal narrative. The personal narrative, though, with a not fully named individual and no corroboration from police, from friends, from witnesses, nothing.

STELTER: One of the questions tonight is whether there was real deception on the part of the source. You know, it's so dangerous to get into that territory, because it starts to sound like blaming the victim. But if she was not, in fact, a victim, as the police say, they can't find evidence of the rape occurring, then you have to ask why "Rolling Stone's" editors and fact checkers didn't do more to actually protect her.

OVERHOLSER: Absolutely.

STELTER: And the issue about sources. Is it our job as journalists to protect our sources by keeping them out of their own harm's way? Well, if it's an unanimous student who claims they were raped, maybe it is our job to go the extra mile and try to protect themselves from themselves. Do you get what I mean?

OVERHOLSER: I think our primary job as journalists and the best way to protect our sources is to be sure we abide by our ethics. One of the fundamental ethics is verifiability. It's really naming names enforcer of truth. That's how the public can figure out whether something is true. And --

STELTER: Should we be granting anonymity to the most vulnerable in our society, which includes rape victims?

OVERHOLSER: Well, I hold a position on this, which is certainly not very common. But I have for 25 years since the paper I edited won a Pulitzer, with the woman who wanted to be named who had been raped. And that is -- that while there has been a gentleman's agreement for many years that we won't name adults and only this one case --

(CROSSTALK)

OVERHOLSER: Only crime is, that's the exception because we want to protect them for understandable reasons, a horrible crime, the worst sort of crime. Violent, invasive in every way because we wanted to protect them we won't name names. I believe this has resulted in underreported. It's robbed our reporting of credibility. And I think it lead directly into what the "Rolling Stone" did.

They did a completely unsourced, essentially, piece, and the editor suspended her best journalist judgment and said, we're going to go along with this, we're going to go along with Jackie's request that we not talk to the assailants? That creates an unbelievable situation which fights the claims of people who say women are making this stuff up.

STELTER: Right. It was a 9,000 word story. The report is a 12,000-word story. So, it's even longer than the original report. We're going to learn a lot about what went wrong.

Speaking to student Alex Pinkleton (ph), we had her on the program here in December. She is a survivor of sexual assault at UVA. And she said her concern now is that people's impressions are still that when they think about rape, they still think about the rape that Jackie alleged, which is a horrific gang rape over a course of hours, you know, covered up by the university, seven people, as opposed to what's much more common, which is date rape, which is date by an acquaintance, someone the person who already knows, by one individual. She said there's still damage done in other words by this article.

So, what more can be done to fix that?

OVERHOLSER: Well, my view is that we should follow the league of the very brave young men who are writing about their rapes. There's a piece in the Sunday review of "The New York Times": this morning in their own words naming themselves, obviously, and that we in journalism should be at least as brave.

[11:25:03] I think the "Rolling Stone's" best move would be to say we're not going to go along with this waiving of journalistic ethics in which most journalists have been participating. We are going to ensure that we report on rape according to our best standards, which means we name names and we make sure that our reporting is credible.

That is the way journalism will bring this to the public attention. It's the public that has to solve the stigma and this violent crimes prevalence.

STELTER: Geneva, thanks for being here in person with us, I appreciate it.

OVERHOLSER: Thanks for having me, Brian. I enjoyed it.

STELTER: And I mentioned to NBC at the beginning of this -- their internal investigation still going on with Brian Williams. Well, tomorrow, that man, Andy Lack, will be taking over NBC. He'll be the chair of NBC News and MSNBC. One of his first decisions has to be about what to do with Brian Williams, whether to disclose that internal investigation. I'm working on a story about this on CNNMoney.com. You can read later today.

Coming up here on RELIABLE SOURCES: a very important, very interesting journalistic question out of Nevada. Can one of the state's top newspapers, one of the publishers, kill a columnist story because it was too critical of one of his friends who happened to be Senator Harry Reid? The columnist will join me with his story, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:30:30] STELTER: Did one of Nevada's top newspapers spike a column to protect the state's powerful senator?

Well, here's the backstory. This week, outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said he had no regrets about attacking Mitt Romney months before the 2012 presidential election. Remember how he claimed that Romney didn't pay taxes for 10 years?

Well, Jon Ralston had heard enough. He's one of Nevada's top political reporters. When I went there in 2010 to write a political story, he's the first guy I e-mailed. Now, he wrote a critical column about Reid's tactics around that time the Mitt Romney tax accusations were in the news.

And now a couple of years later, he's accusing the paper he worked for, "The Las Vegas Sun," of pulling his column because of the editor's close ties with Reid.

Jon joins me now from Sparks, Nevada.

Good morning. Thanks for being here.

JON RALSTON, NEVADA POLITICAL REPORTER: Hi, Brian.

STELTER: You have said, Jon, that you were motivated to speak out now because of what Reid had said to CNN's Dana Bash in an interview earlier this week. Let's take a look at that. I want to hear your reaction to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So no regrets about Mitt Romney, about the Koch brothers? Because some people have even called it McCarthyite.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: Well, they can call it whatever they want. Romney didn't win, did he?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: That was enough, huh? You were so frustrated by that, you have decided to speak out?

RALSTON: Well, I had already reported on my own site, Brian, after I left "The Sun" that Brian Greenspun had killed the column. I just had never published the column before on my own site.

I had thought about it. I was kind of waiting for the right time. I saw that interview and I had two reactions. One, that was classic Harry Reid just being totally unrepentant about one of his Machiavellian tactics to hurt somebody in politics. But, second, I was just absolutely outraged. And I said, you

know what? It is time to really show what I said back then, not because I wanted to look like I had been prescient, but just to show what that column said and then that Brian Greenspun was willing to kill that column to protect his friend.

STELTER: You mentioned Greenspun. And this has gained a lot of attention this week. We have been trying to get ahold of him. We finally got ahold of him yesterday. Let me put his statement up on screen.

He says: "I absolutely did not kill the column. I did not, nor would I kill it because of my relationship with Harry Reid."

He mentioned the other channels that have been covering the story hadn't gotten ahold of him for comment, which I found a little bit curious. I would love to hear more of his side of the story. Why is he able to charge and say that, no, he did not kill the column?

RALSTON: Well, of course he is never going to come out and say, yes, I did this for my friend Harry Reid.

And I will just go into some brief part of the backstory here, if I could, Brian. It was well known even before I went work for "The Las Vegas Sun" in 2000 that Harry Reid was a sacred cow at "The Las Vegas Sun." His mentor used to be the executive editor.

Brian Greenspun had consistently tried to protect him. He changed a headline on a column that I wrote in 2010 during the race with Sharron Angle when I said Reid lost the debate. I then got a call from inside the room saying Brian Greenspun had changed the headline. It was totally innocuous. I let that go. I was upset.

He had come to me in 2010 and asked what he could do to help Harry Reid in that campaign. I had a very contentious phone call with him after that column was killed. Let me say, Brian, out of the hundreds of columns I have written for "The Las Vegas Sun" up until that point, this was the toughest one I had ever written about Harry Reid, and suddenly Brian Greenspun is holding a column, which had never happened, and saying it was because it was too harsh in it tone.

STELTER: I guess what I'm sitting here thinking about is, is this is how it works? Are there are really cases like this, where political influence can get a story canned? Because viewers at home, you know, this is the last thing we want to hear.

RALSTON: Yes, of course it's absolutely outrageous. But I knew what I was getting into.

"The Sun" is a family-owned newspaper. Brian Greenspun protects his friends there all the time. There are plenty of instances of this. I actually had a conversation before I went to work for him and I said, I know what you do. I know what you have done in the past. If you kill one of my columns, that will be the last column I ever write. That's indeed what happened. To his credit, he didn't interfere

with me really at all. He called me when I wrote critical things about his friends. He made me meet with a couple of his friends when I wrote critical columns about them, but he had never spiked a column before this one. That's how it works at "The Las Vegas Sun." This is not a secret. It's just that I was the first person, really, to speak out about it.

STELTER: And you now write a column for a competing paper, we should mention.

[11:35:00] I guess I'm sitting here wondering, do you think this is a broader problem in politics and media?

RALSTON: Listen, I can only speak to my experience.

When I worked for "The Review-Journal," which was the other newspaper in Las Vegas -- as you mentioned, I now write a column for the Reno newspaper -- there were clearly -- the editor had friends. I never had a column killed at "The Review-Journal" for any reason, even though I knew the editor had friends.

But you have to know, it doesn't matter whether it's "The Washington Post," "The New York Times," "The L.A. Times," or "The Las Vegas Sun." People who are at the publisher or editor level have friends in the political world. The question is, what do they do when their friendship comes up against journalistic imperatives? That's what makes great editors.

STELTER: Less about the friendships and more about how they're handled, is what you're saying. Yes.

RALSTON: Exactly.

STELTER: Well, Jon, thanks for being here. I appreciate the time this morning.

RALSTON: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: We sort of have a semi-related case I want to tell you about.

You might remember a couple weeks ago, we covered the story of Tucker Carlson accused of pulling a column, this one from his Daily Caller Web site. Writer Mickey Kaus said on this show that Carlson, who is also a host on FOX News, had pulled down a piece of his because it criticized FOX News, and that just wasn't acceptable.

Well, this week, we actually heard from Tucker Carlson on the topic. And he says it's true. Listen to this. This is from "Changing Lanes." It's an interview show that happens to be shot inside a car.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: I have two rules. One is, you can't criticize the families of the people who work here. And the other rule is you can't go after FOX, only for one reason, not because they're conservative or we agree with them, because they're doing the lord's work, nothing like that. It's because I work there. I'm an anchor on FOX.

And so I had a couple of my employees say, well, isn't that a conflict? To which I said, yes, it's a conflict, for sure. It's a conflict that I'm the owner of the Daily Caller. My business partner and I own it, and I'm an employee of FOX. That's a conflicted situation. But I don't know what to do about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Maybe he gets points for honesty and transparency now that he has talked about it publicly.

Time for a break here, but when we come back, there's been a lot of head-scratching this week over the changing of the guard at "The Daily Show." When we come back, I will tell you about some of the internal drama about when Stewart is leaving and when Trevor Noah is taking over.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:40:20] STELTER: Just imagine having to follow Jon Stewart. That's what Trevor Noah will be up against. That's what he will be doing.

This week, Comedy Central said the quick-witted 31-year-old comedian from South Africa will take the reins of "The Daily Show" once Stewart steps away. Now, Noah has been touring overseas. But he's about to land back here in the States. And he's already found a lot of humor in coming to America.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TREVOR NOAH, COMEDIAN: But since apartheid ended, they're now also being killed by black police. Progress. (SPEAKING SPANISH)

(LAUGHTER)

NOAH: Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. No. No. I didn't know this, but apparently I'm Mexican.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Now, within hours of that big promotion he got, he did get a taste of what comes with such a highly coveted gig.

A handful of his Noah's old tweets were dug up, tweets that offended a lot of people and then caused a backlash and then a backlash to the backlash. That's how it work these days. "The Daily Show" is one of the premier satire shows out there. I think it's a real home for media criticism, thanks to Stewart.

So, the question is, was it a bad choice for Comedy Central to cast a virtual unknown or was it a bold decision?

Let's welcome back political comedian and host of "Tell Me Everything" on SiriusXM Radio, John Fugelsang.

Thanks for being here.

JOHN FUGELSANG, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thanks for being here.

Happy Easter and Passover, everybody.

STELTER: Absolutely.

Now, bold decision, bad choice?

FUGELSANG: It's both a bold decision and a practical one. You are not get a major headliner, a big celebrity to come in and give 12 hours a day on a daily news show.

It's just not going to happen. You're not going to get a C.K. or a Chris Rock to give up their entire life to come and do it. So, on that level, you couldn't go with a big star. Jon Stewart was better known when he got the gig than Trevor Noah is. And it does sort of seem a bit like the John Roberts Supreme Court. Oh, we got this new guy. Let's make him in charge.

(LAUGHTER)

FUGELSANG: But I think it's a good choice. He's a funny guy. He's going have a different perspective.

I think the trials he's already endured will make him a better comedian. The real question remains, will it be a great truth-telling show or a great joke-telling show?

STELTER: Yes, I wanted to bring that up because when you were on the program in February, that's exactly what you said. Take a look.

FUGELSANG: Yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FUGELSANG: If they hire someone who is just a great joke-teller, it will still be a funny show. It will lose its social relevance. I want to see them still be a media watchdog, as well as a watchdog of the two-party system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Your hair looks even better today, John.

FUGELSANG: Oh, God. What are you doing to me?

(CROSSTALK) STELTER: But that's the point, isn't it? That's the unanswered

question.

FUGELSANG: It's not just about having cunning one-liners about politicians. They have got to take on you and all you all here and everybody at the other places.

And I think that that's the great gift "The Daily Show" has given us. It was a good show when Jon Stewart took over. He kept the staff and writers there at first during his transition, before he began to make it his own. I think we will see the same thing there. Most of the writing staff -- and those are great men and women -- are going to be staying, as far as I know.

STELTER: Yes, that's what I have heard as well. I have been hearing that most of the staff will be intact. Trevor Noah knows them. He's been on the show a few times.

FUGELSANG: Interesting. We're already hearing our friends at FOX, for example, say, who is this outsider with a funny accent criticizing our politics?

But they didn't say it when John Oliver, who is an outsider with a funny accent, began criticizing our politics as well. I think he's already stirring the pot and making the right people uncomfortable.

STELTER: The tweets got a lot of attention earlier in the week.

Let's put one of them on screen. One of them said, "South Africans know how to recycle, like Israel knows how to be peaceful."

There were several others that were pointed to.

(CROSSTALK)

FUGELSANG: That's one of the mild ones.

STELTER: It is one of the mild ones. Several others got attention as well. He came out and said that: "A few out-of-context tweets doesn't show my evolution as a comedian."

But you were saying you think this is actually going to help him in terms of being prepared for this big stage.

FUGELSANG: I think we as a people are capable of mentally walking and chewing gum at the same time on this and saying that we don't have to judge someone's entire career, talent, and character based on a few old tweets.

You can not like some of the bad jokes he told on Twitter. I don't think a lot of them are very good. But you can also say he's a funny guy and if you're going judge every media figure by the dumbest things they have said, half of this town will be out of business.

STELTER: That is a very good point. Here was his response, by the way. He says: "It's not a reflection of my character or my evolution

as a comedian."

And now the issue is when he's going to take over. Comedy Central supported him after this Twitter storm earlier in the week.

FUGELSANG: As well they should.

STELTER: I'm told Stewart wants to leave sooner, rather than later, more like July. Maybe Comedy Central wants him to stay a little longer, more like November.

So, at some point in the summer or fall, we will see Noah take over. I guess I'm wondering if it's better for him to get started as soon as possible or have some lag time in between, you know, because we saw Letterman announce he's stepping down this spring. But Colbert won't take over until the fall.

FUGELSANG: Indeed.

All the hype will help the ratings for the beginning. But I think at the end of the day, we have to realize whether he begins it now or begins it in six months, the show he does for the first week is not the show it's going to be six months later. He's going need time to find it and make it his own. I have no doubt that he and the staff will be able to do that.

[11:45:02] And it looks -- you know, I'm hoping it will continue to be a place that will take on the media as well as the politicians.

STELTER: I am, too.

FUGELSANG: I don't want to see "Weekend Update" five nights a week.

STELTER: Well, there's lots of places for that. And the late- night landscape is more complicated than ever. It would seem to me that having a niche, owning a niche is the way to go in late night.

FUGELSANG: That's what I think the best talents do. And that which makes you a freak as a child is what is going to make you unique as a grownup. That's the story of his stand-up act. I think he will be able to bring a nice international perspective to it.

STELTER: John, thanks for being here.

FUGELSANG: What a pleasure.

STELTER: Great seeing you.

FUGELSANG: Thank you.

STELTER: It is a new mantra among Republicans, among potential 2016ers, that is, and I'm pretty fired up about it. I will tell you what it is when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: There is a new litmus test for Republican presidential candidates, but it's not about religious freedom laws or Obamacare or taxes.

It's about "The New York Times." I'm going pretend to be a political adviser here in a minute. And I even have handouts. I will mail this to every candidate who wants one, Republican or Democrat.

But in order to explain what is going on, we have got to go back in time a few years, back to what was, for some journalists, one of the saddest moments of the 2008 campaign. That was the moment when Sarah Palin would not name any news sources that she reads.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2008)

KATIE COURIC, HOST, "CBS EVENING NEWS": And when it comes to establishing your world view, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?

[11:50:13] GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: I have read most of them again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.

COURIC: But like what ones specifically, I'm curious, that you...

(CROSSTALK)

PALIN: All of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years.

COURIC: Can you name...

(CROSSTALK)

PALIN: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: That was a frustrating answer for a lot of journalists, because, well, we like to think of ourselves and our news stories as helping to inform politicians and the people who vote for them.

That's part of the whole idea of a democratic society. But forget about journalist' feelings for a moment. As voters, don't we want our representatives to be exposed to lots of news, lots and lots of sources, ones that they agree with, ones that they disagree with, but, you know, especially ones that they disagree with?

That's why this latest litmus test is ridiculous. Have you noticed how GOP candidates talk about "The New York Times"? Here is a great example.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: ISIS actually quoted me

accurately, composed to -- compared to "The New York Times," which is sort of a remarkable comment on the state of the media today.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: You know, it's mildly amusing and we're sort of all in on the joke, right? Politicians have been trashing the press for as long as there's been politicians and there's been a press.

And the whole "newspaper is worse than ISIS" thing, it appeals to conservatives who strongly believe that "The New York Times" and other major papers are hopelessly biased, just automatically always liberal.

Now, of course, I used to work at "The Times," so I see it somewhat differently. Some reporters at "The Times" are left-of- center. Personally, some are not left-of-center. But, no matter what, that doesn't automatically disqualify everything they write, which is why this from Chris Christie back in February is ridiculous.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I don't care what they write about me in "The New York Times." They can keep it. I don't subscribe, by the way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Now, "The Times" is one of the biggest papers in the state that Chris Christie governs. A lot of news media picked up on what Christie said right there.

And now other potential candidates are also being asked about "The New York Times." Here's Jeb Bush.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: I don't read "The New York Times," to be honest with you.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

STELTER: Well, here's where I break out my "SNL" impression. Really? Really?

Even if you think "The Times" is out to get you, you don't ever read it?

There was just another example this week, Ted Cruz. Listen to what he called "The Times."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: "The New York Times" and other leftist rags, they give their advice to Republicans on who we should nominate, and it is almost always the Republican who is most like a Democrat.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

STELTER: Well, it sounds like at least he sometimes reads it.

You know, my CNN colleague Michael Smerconish was interviewing Mike Huckabee this week, another prospective candidate. So, I asked him to bring up "The Times." And here's what Huckabee said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Governor, there is an emerging litmus test for Republican candidates for the presidency, so now I would like to put it to you. "The New York Times," are you a daily reader?

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: No. I don't read "The New York Times" every day.

SMERCONISH: You're not?

HUCKABEE: No. I read it occasionally. Depends on what the article is, but I don't pick it up and read it every day. I read "The Wall Street Journal." I read my local newspapers.

I read a number of other online publications, but I try to get the best information I can. And that doesn't always mean that "The New York Times" is going to deliver that for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Now, here's why I respect what Huckabee said. Sure, he took a shot at "The Times," but he said, "I try to get the best information I can."

He said he reads a lot. And that's why it's silly at best and dishonest at worst for candidates to say they don't even read the nation's paper of record. Whatever its faults are -- and it's got faults -- "The New York Times"' reporting is vital for our country. It is one of the handful of major newsrooms that makes news, that breaks news, that holds people in power accountable, including Democrats, as we were recently reminded when "The Times" broke the news about Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server.

So when a candidate says they ignore "The Times," it comes awfully close to sounding like they're proud to be uninformed, like they can't even admit to even glancing at a news source that might challenge their beliefs or merely just give them some new information.

Maybe reporters should start ask something Democratic candidates if they refuse to read "The Wall Street Journal" or if they refuse to watch FOX News. If they do, and if anyone asks any other Republican possible candidates about their media habits, I have taken the liberty of writing an all-purpose response.

I have even printed it out, so it will fit in a wallet. OK? Here it is.

"Yes, I read 'The New York Times,' because I also read 'The Wall Street Journal' and 'the Economist' and 'the Weekly Standard" and Red State and 'The Daily Caller' and The Huffington Post and Salon and 'Mother Jones' and BuzzFeed and sometimes even TMZ. I read as much as I possibly can, so I represent every citizen, even the ones who will never vote for me."

[11:55:00] Now, I know, it's not a very satisfying primary season response, but at least it's honest.

I am biased. I'm biased and in favor of a more informed pool of candidates, ones that read as much as they can.

So anyway, that's my suggestion for all the candidates out there.

And coming up, a quick turn here, because the proposed deal to limit Iran's nuclear program could benefit several Americans who are being held in the country. I will tell you what the family of the jailed "Washington Post" reporter there has to say about it next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: This week, a major breakthrough in the talks to limit Iran's nuclear program.

But what about the Americans who are being detained there? Here at RELIABLE SOURCES, we want to make sure people stay aware of the plight of Jason Rezaian, a "Washington Post" reporter who would have been covering this week's news from Tehran, but he has been sitting in a jail cell for the past eight months with little information being shared about the charges against him.

This case keeps getting more and more frustrating. I checked in with "The Washington Post" this morning. They have heard nothing new in the past few days, which, of course, is bad news. And Jason's family weighed in this week as well.

Here's what they said: "Now that the framework agreement is in place, we call on the Iranian leadership to review the evidence their underlings claim to have against Jason. If they do, we are certain they will see that Jason has done no harm to Iran."

I just spoke with Jason's brother Ali. He says the lawyer has still not been able to meet with Jason, but they are hopeful that he will be able to soon.

We will stay on this case.

But that's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.