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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Brian Williams Emerges from Exile; Anthony Weiner on Clinton Campaign Coverage. Aired 11-12:00p ET

Aired April 19, 2015 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Brian Stelter. And it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES.

And it's been a busy, messy, controversial week for media types full of gaffes, and outcries, rewrites and even suspensions. A lot for us to talk about this morning.

We've got new information on Brian Williams' suspension. Now that he's approaching his third month, he's sort of emerged from exile this week with a puppy in hand. It made the cover of "The New York Post." Could this be the start of an image rehab?

And another TV star on the news this week, Dr. Oz, under the microscope again for the medicine he prescribes on his show. Now, he's getting ready to respond to doctors who are trying to have his university credentials revoked. We have new information about his plans.

And, you know, the most viral moment for media this week came from an unlikely place -- a tow truck lot. That's where ESPN reporter Britt McHenry memorably lost her cool on a security camera.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRITT MCHENRY, ESPN REPORTER: I'm in the news, sweetheart, I (EXPLETIVE DELETED) sue this place.

Do you feel good about your job? So, I could be a college dropout and do the same thing? Why, because I have a brain and you don't? Maybe if I was missing some teeth, they would hire me, huh?

Oh, like yours, cause they look so stunning. Because I'm on television and you're in a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) trailer, honey. Lose some weight, baby girl.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Now, McHenry later apologized on Twitter, saying she will learn from this mistake. Her one-week suspension will end in a few days. And at the moment, I'm told ESPN is not considering extending that suspension. So, she will be back to work soon.

But let's begin with Brian Williams and that puppy, because that might sound funny, but this NBC crisis is really reaching a boiling point.

A new boss is in charge at NBC News, Andy Lack. He took over two weeks ago and everyone in the TV business is now wondering what he's going to do about Williams and the NBC "Nightly News" and when he's going to do it, because right now, this seems like a lose-lose-lose scenario. Williams' six month suspension for embellishing his story about an Iraq war mission and possibly exaggerating other stories also has gone on for two months. And the uncertainty about his future is hurting everyone involved.

According to my sources, Williams is increasingly frustrated by NBC's inaction. He wants to come back to work and he wants NBC to say he's coming back to take that uncertainty away.

Meanwhile, fill-in host Lester Holt is just trying to do his job, just trying to stay removed from all the speculation.

But NBC's ratings are taking a real hit. The "Nightly News" has fallen to second place behind ABC's "World News Tonight with David Muir".

And now for the first time, the dean of NBC, Tom Brokaw, is weighing in. Take a listen to what he said this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: This is a really, really serious case obviously. There's a process under way. And the important thing is that the process is very carefully constructed, and we owe it to everybody, including Brian and his family and certainly the people who work at NBC News and risk their lives every day and to the integrity of what NBC News has stood for all these years. So, let the process play out, to hear what the final conclusions are, and then deal with it at that point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: The process he is talking about is the internal investigation into Williams.

So what has it found? Well, NBC's not telling, not yet, but maybe soon.

My next guest has strong feelings about NBC should do here. He's Michael Wolff, columnist for "Vanity Fair" and "USA Today", one of the most read and most feared media columnists in the country.

Thanks for being here.

MICHAEL WOLFF, COLUMNIST, USA TODAY: Hey, thanks for having me.

STELTER: You believe this is clear -- NBC should bring Williams back and get this over with.

WOLFF: Let me -- let me try to change this discussion a little bit. I wasn't born yesterday. I have known the great and the good in this business. Are they all full of baloney? Pretty much. It's the television business. You want to say this is a business of phonies, it is.

Let's -- and we all know that.

STELTER: But are you saying other anchors are out there exaggerating stories in the way Williams did?

WOLFF: Totally, come on.

I mean, let's -- I mean, I think we have to as a community -- remember, this is a story that comes from our community, our little circle, and what I'm saying, it's a circle of functional hypocrisy. We've made this about us. We've made it about -- we've made it about a naval gazing condition instead of the thing that it ought to be.

What does the audience feel? What's the audience doing out there? Does the audience want Brian Williams to go away?

No. And we can go beyond that. Does the audience -- do they see any significance in this story at all?

STELTER: We actually have three viewers coming up. We wanted to talk to Brian Williams' fans. So, we'll have that in a couple minutes.

But you're essentially saying the journalism doesn't matter on the "Nightly News", that what matters is his performing skills?

[11:05:03] WOLFF: You are not asking me this in a serious way, are you? I mean --

STELTER: I'm trying to be serious.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: When I watch Brian Williams, I'm watching him for his reporting, as well as his performance.

WOLFF: First thing, that's not true. You know it's not true.

I mean, I think we have to say this. We've created a condition in which this is -- this is what we have to say.

But think of this from the point of view of the audience. This is television. These are television performers. These are people who do what television does.

They're familiar. They're -- we've known them, we've grown up with them. Again, all of this.

You can go down -- make the analysis of why television is television, but is there an aspect of these are journalists and these are the keepers of the truth and the keepers of the flame? Come on. Come on, Brian. Come on.

STELTER: I'm trying to push through your cynicism here.

WOLFF: I'm not being cynical.

STELTER: Because they're facing a tough decision at NBC about whether viewers are going to keep watching "Nightly News with Brian Williams."

WOLFF: I'm not being cynical. I'm saying this is television. This is the way television works. I mean, we can go forward and say it shouldn't be, this is wrong, let's get rid of the television news, let's get rid of the star system, let's change the culture.

Let's assume we're not going to do that, and let's say this is television. It is exactly what people want. So -- and I think the interesting thing is to look at FOX News. A lot of the same thing has happened there.

STELTER: A lot of controversy about Bill O'Reilly and his exaggerations.

WOLFF: Totally, a fabulous of -- of fabulous proportions. Nothing happens there. Why doesn't it happen there? It doesn't because Roger Ailes is a remarkably good boss because he has his eye focused on what the audience wants, and he doesn't allow the kind of eating of itself that we tend to do in this business.

STELTER: With months now NBC, there has been uncertainty. You saw the picture of Brian and the dog. Did you think it was partly an attempted image rehab, him out walking the dog with his wife and his daughter?

WOLFF: Dogs are always an attempt at image rehab. You see a dog, you see a rehab.

STELTER: That's another cynical question but you think so, huh? You think NBC is going to come out and announce this soon? Are they going to stick with Brian Williams?

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFF: I think that NBC wants Brian Williams to come back. They want him to come back because he's of enormous value. It's very hard, maybe even impossible, to create another television anchor of the television anchor age. That's an age that's over.

So, if you have it, I think -- I think you want to keep it. I also think part of this is about NBC itself.

What happened here, this is -- you can look at it as a civil war inside of NBC. Comcast came in, Steve Burke didn't want to have anything to do with managing talent, which is, by the way, his central job.

STELTER: Right.

WOLFF: So, he put in a lot of people between him and the talent who knew nothing about managing talent. The talent said basically, OK, we're in charge because we're the talent and you can't manage us.

So then the managers suddenly seen an opportunity, turned against the talent. I mean, why is Brian Williams different at NBC from what's happened with Bill O'Reilly at FOX? Basically because NBC, the managers at NBC, began briefing against him.

STELTER: So it's a strong charge. You think it's true, huh? Briefing against him?

WOLFF: I know it's true.

STELTER: This is against the conventional wisdom. I would say a lot of people in the industry say he can't come back, he's too wounded, that his credibility can't recover. I have noticed in the past few weeks a shift in the wind.

WOLFF: A, the credibility is damaged with us, our small circle, not with the audience.

B, it is without question to NBC's advantage to have a person with this television stature, let's not say whether right, wrong, good, bad, just think of it as an asset. It is obviously key to them and to their shareholders not to waste that asset.

STELTER: Michael, thanks for being here with your sharing your insight this morning. Appreciate it.

WOLFF: Thanks.

STELTER: I mentioned talking to a few viewers and I think this is so interesting because we rarely see on television the voices of ordinary viewers, people like you at home rather than experts.

So we wanted to talk to three people, three women, who are actually active on Facebook. They're in a group demanding that NBC bring Brian Williams back and they're joining me now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[11:10:02] STELTER: Jackie Wright joins me from Phoenix, Kelsey Willis from Atlanta, and Susan Angellis from Albuquerque.

Thank you all for being here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for having us.

STELTER: Jackie, you're the founder of a bring Brian Williams back Facebook page. Tell me why you have decided to campaign for Brian Williams.

JACKIE WRIGHT, FOUNDER, BRING BACK BRIAN WILLIAMS' FACEBOOK PAGE: I'm a huge fan. I have been a fan for years. Brian is kind of like a beacon of hope and a positivity if you will in a space that's very negative and has a lot of noise going on, and he's the guy that I look forward to watching every night, and to hear that he was dismissed after something that I feel was not that huge of a deal kind of broke my heart, and seeing all the comments from people on the various news feeds, a lot of people had the same sentiment, so I started this page to show some solidarity for him.

BERMAN: Susan, I have noticed that as well activity on Facebook about this -- I know you have commented on Facebook -- the slogan I have seen is BBB, for bring Brian back.

SUSAN ANGELLIS, BRIAN WILLIAMS SUPPORTER: Correct.

BERMAN: Why do you believe NBC should reinstate him?

SUSAN ANGELLIS, BRIAN WILLIAMS SUPPORTER: I, like Jackie, think he was dismissed unfairly. He told a story that was totally personal. He didn't make up a news story.

BERMAN: Kelsey, we were talking about this Iraq war mission and the story that changed over time. Your husband, he serves in the U.S. military. So I was curious whether you or he were offended by the shifting story from Brian Williams.

KELSEY WILLIS, BRIAN WILLIAMS SUPPORTER: No, we are not. I think it's safe to say that everybody makes mistakes, everyone does. I don't think there's a person in this world that doesn't make a mistake, and he made it, and I think he's paid his dues. And at the end of the day, he is a part of my family. He was the only constant thing in my life.

STELTER: Susan, I wanted to ask you about your viewing habits, because most viewers of Brian Williams have stuck around for Lester Holt. But there's been some erosion in the ratings. Are you now choosing David Muir at NBC instead or Scott Pelley at CBS?

ANGELLIS: I'm watching David instead. I'm really fond of Lester. I think he does a really good job. It was what he does, but he's not Brian.

STELTER: Jackie, let me bring you back in, since you are PR executive. What advice would you be giving to NBC about how to handle this. I mean, there's an August timeline where the suspension will end. But I'm thinking NBC is going to say something about the situation soon and much before August. What would you advise them to do?

WRIGHT: Yes. Well, I think a lot is really going to depend on this internal investigation. Right now we just know what we've heard through the media and hearsay. You know, I hope that he has not been lying to us all this time. I hope it's just kind of been some human error and oversights, but if it does come back and there have been some major inaccuracies to his fault, then, you know, I think it probably makes sense for them to let him go.

However, I don't think we've seen the last of Brian Williams. I mean, even if he doesn't come back as our nightly news anchor, he will resurface again. You know, Americans are quick to judge but we're also very quick to forgive.

STELTER: All three of you, thank you for being here. I really appreciate your time, Susan, Kelsey, and Jackie. Thanks for being with us.

ANGELLIS: Thank you for having us.

WILLIS: Thank you.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: Voices we don't normally hear on TV.

And for the record, fans of Lester Holt have started their own page on Facebook to lobby NBC to give Lester the chair full time. This may, I say may, be resolved soon.

Time for a quick break here, but here it is, the chase. One week into Hillary Clinton's campaign, the media is tailing her like she's already president, and my next guest knows exactly what this feels like. A man literally chased by the press, and a man with a direct connection to candidate Clinton, former Congressman Anthony Weiner is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:17:42] STELTER: Welcome back.

So here is a question, what do reporters do if they're covering the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president but they get no access and no new information? They scramble for bread crumbs like this tweet and, of course, they get critiqued by Jon Stewart.

Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, DAILY SHOW: For Monday's Chipotle Tex-Mexxurection to Tuesday's oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, that's her car.

REPORTER: You can see the media running behind me here to chase the Scooby van.

STEWART: Holy (EXPLETIVE DELETED): They're racing to her car? Last time anyone in Iowa was this excited about a wheeled vehicle, the Wells Fargo wagon was bringing musical instruments they'd ordered from a charismatic stranger. What are we doing here, people?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Joining us now for some unique insight into the media's relationship to the emerging Clinton campaign, this is Jon Stewart's ex-roommate, former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who as you probably know is married to a top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, and has had some experience with a tough press corps.

I wanted to have you here, Anthony, because I'm really interested to hear your perspective on what this first week was like. I mean, I was part of CNN's coverage. We went for 80 minutes nonstop covering the release of her video this time last week. And now, everybody is looking for campaign trail stop for Mrs. Clinton.

Do you think this is just exactly what you would have expected when it comes to over the top campaign coverage?

ANTHONY WEINER, FORMER DEMOCRATIC U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Yes. I suppose it is. Look, let's stipulate to a couple things. One, there's a giant imbalance of supply of news in general about politics and the demand of so many people writing about it, so many people blogging about it. So many shows like this. You look around CNN, there's hours and hours of time to fill.

So, there's always going to be that imbalance.

STELTER: So, fundamentally, the supply and demand.

WEINER: Fundamentally, so you wind up having news created about things that probably aren't, and it was exacerbated in this case that you kind of had the run up to the run up to the run up of her announcement that you guys have been doing around here and in your business for months, so it really --

STELTER: Right.

WEINER: But I think we have to stipulate it one other thing. I think that last Sunday was a gorgeous day in New York, I'm sure around the country, I'm sure that almost no one was staring at their screen watching the Twitter feed and refreshing the Twitter feed on Hillary Clinton.com besides people who are deep insiders like you and me.

So, when the campaign in as much as it is began that way, you can't look at it through the lens, oh, they disappointed us in how they haven't provided us more information.

[11:20:07] She's doing what feels comfortable. She wanted to go out and have this experience where she saw voters first before she was sat in a set like this one. I can't -- I don't think you begrudge that.

STELTER: But I think the drum beat is going to continue to get louder about why she hasn't done the big sit-down interviews the way that Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and other candidates on the Republican side have. What the Clinton campaign would say is, well, she answered a few questions from the press and she's not in any hurry to do these interviews. She'll get to them eventually.

Don't you think that's going to hurt her in the coverage if she's not willing to talk it all to journalists. WEINER: Look, I don't -- first of all, I don't think there's any

chance she's not going to talk to all journalists. I mean, just a couple months ago she did a wide book tour --

STELTER: Oh, it was a while ago.

WEINER: OK, a few months ago, and she's been around a long time answering a lot of questions. I think people have a sense that they know her.

But I think to some degree this is just the way it appears a she wanted to have a campaign that began a way that was most comfortable to her. And if you look at the coverage that arguably matters the most, the things people are writing about in Iowa, they seem to have really appreciated -- they really don't care the guy in the orange pants couldn't catch up with the truck. I don't think they care all that much.

And I'll tell you something else, no one is ever standing on a stage during an Iowa debate and a reporters says, I want to talk to you about how late you entered the race and the video you produced and why it took so long to do sit downs.

No. This -- I think the campaign is beginning the way I would hope my president would behave, which is let's try to figure out the right thing to do to be in touch with what Americans care about, the issues they want, how I'm going to resolve the solutions. That's the way I want my president to think as well as a candidate.

STELTER: Your wife was in the Scooby-Doo van. Do you have a laugh about how the coverage was so intense, the visit to Chipotle for example.

WEINER: Well, let me just think, like we could make it a point like we talk about just about everything except the campaign. I don't think she even knows I'm here today, except that she's alone with Jordan.

STELTER: Really?

WEINER: Look --

STELTER: Why wouldn't you want to talk to her about how this is going?

WEINER: Well, we talk about things, but I also am very careful to give very wide berth to the idea that she's got a very difficult job to do and her boss has a very difficult job to do.

STELTER: Can I show you something kind of ridiculous?

This is Andrea Tantaros on FOX the other day speculating about the Chipotle trip. This is wild. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA TANTAROS, FOX NEWS: Was it maybe Hispanic outreach? She heard Rubio was announcing so she thought, let's go to a Chipotle?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe you're hitting the nail on the head.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Hispanic outreach.

WEINER: Talk about imbalances. The imbalance of idiotic statements on FOX and our ability to keep up with them is widely out of whack.

Look, I think everything that I have heard which is similar to what your viewers have, this was Hillary's idea and it was interesting that they were going out, having conversations with voters, and then notifying the press after the fact, but then they had some open conversations, as much as you can have them in front of a bank of cameras. They had some open conversations with some undecided voters.

I think it's perfectly -- you know, I kind of like the idea to some degree that we don't see a campaign that is entirely doing exactly the things you'd expect them to do. Right now I think there's much more cynicism around seeing these staged photographs than there is anything else, and if you really want to have a campaign and one of the four pillars of her campaign is to fix a broken political system, one of the things she can help do is chip away at some of the cynicism that maybe conversations like this are trying to chip away at also.

STELTER: Fair point. Thanks for being here and sharing it.

WEINER: It's my pleasure. Thanks.

STELTER: Great talking with you.

And we're going to explore some of the moves on the GOP side of the 2016 campaign a little bit later.

Plus this, America's best known celebrity dock being called a quack. The question is, is Dr. Oz's TV career at odds with his Hippocratic Oath? Hear from a long time medical correspondent when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Hey, welcome back.

He's America's most popular doctor, but Dr. Oz is taking fire from a group of his peers for medical claims he's made on his TV show. That is medical claims like these.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. OZ: Today is all about miracles, revolutionary items big and small that could change your life.

This little bean has scientists saying they found a magic weight loss cure.

You want to look younger, live longer, and be stronger.

Got the number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: This week, a group of 10 physicians wrote to Columbia University and demanded it drop Dr. Oz as faculty member. They slammed him for promoting quack treatments.

This is not the first time he's taken heat over his role as a medical doctor turned TV host. Last June, Dr. Oz was publicly scolded by a group of U.S. senators by describing a group of diet supplements as magic pills.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: I don't know why you need to say this stuff because you know it's not true. Why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?

DR. OZ: My job, I feel, on the show is to be a cheerleader for the audience. When they don't think they have hope, when they don't think they can make it happen, I want to look and I do look everywhere, including at alternative healing traditions for any evidence that might be supportive to them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe there's a miracle pill out there?

DR. OZ: There's not a pill that will help you long term lose weight and live the best life without diet and exercise.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Dr. Oz does a lot of good but some of his critics think he does a lot of harm as well. And he's now planning on answering his critics on the air, maybe turning the bad PR into a ratings boost.

There's a scoop we can tell you about this morning, he's planning basically an entire show this week on his syndicated show called "Dr. Oz" to address his critics and he's going to do it directly, talking about the physicians he says are discredited.

Joining me now to talk more about it is former NBC News chief medical correspondent, Dr. Bob Arnot.

Thanks for being here, Dr. Bob.

BOB ARNOT, AUTHOR, "THE AZTEC DIET": Sure, Brian.

STELTER: I'm expecting a very aggressive response by Dr. Oz in the days to come. We'll also share his statement coming up here. But I wanted to get your take on how serious this is for his credibility.

ARNOT: So, two super interesting parts of this in terms of a media story.

Sure. You know, "The British Medical Journal" took him to task, saying, look it, 46 percent of what you say on the air is correct or supported, 15 percent is outright contradicted, and the other 39 percent, there is no evidence at all.

So there's no question that there's real room for criticism here that on his show there are unsupported segments there. But, Brian, the most interesting part of this is this letter. First of all, it's not from the Columbia faculty. It's from 10 physicians, all of whom have industry ties.

And if you look carefully at the letter, what it's really about is that industry is furious that he has taken on genetically modified crops.

STELTER: Right.

ARNOT: So, you basically have industry henchmen who are after Dr. Oz here. One of them, in fact, head of this American Council on Science and Health, spent time in federal prison for Medicaid fraud. I would be very careful about who has written this letter.

STELTER: So perhaps you're saying that the initial media coverage of this story, really came up on Friday, became bigger here over the weekend, is being misleading because it's not addressing exactly who these physicians are.

ARNOT: It is.

You know, and they do this kind of thing all the time. They're called Astroturf groups. That is, they appear to be grassroots groups who are representing real consumers, but in fact they're the henchmen of industry here and that's what you're looking at with this letter. I think be careful. The media often gets swept up by this.

They say, this is a great story. They get swept up by it, they report it, but they don't look at who wrote that letter. Important...

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Dr. Oz's statement is that: "I bring the public information that will help them on their path to be their best selves. We provide multiple points of view, including mine, which is offered without conflict of interest." He went on to say, "That doesn't sit well with certain agendas which distort the facts." He's saying that these 10 physicians are among there.

Here is what I wonder, Dr. Bob. Is it possible where someone like Dr. Oz, to have a TV show, he does more than 100 of these episodes a year, to do it and to do it that often and not go down the road into some scientifically unsound territories, just because he has to fill so much time?

ARNOT: So, Brian, it's so interesting. I don't think it's filling the time so much. It's that people

have always grappled with having a popular medical show. All the networks have tried it and they have often failed. They try and do these -- serious illness, as an example, and try to report the news. So going this more populist weight loss route and looking at popular supplements is a way to sort of build up the audience.

Now, he has excellent production. I really credit them for having pulled in a tremendous audience here. And I think they do a lot of good, but it's my view that they don't need to go down this road of promoting products that really are unproven and to basically -- you know, if this show were on CNN, it would be like a Brian Williams scandal in the sense that he would say things that are not...

STELTER: Really?

ARNOT: Oh, sure.

Look at this. You look at what happened to Brian Williams or Nancy Snyderman. There are certain sort of rules here, and that is, it has to be -- you have a wonderful correspondent there, Sanjay Gupta. When he reports something, it is going to be in the medical literature, it's going to be the strongest part of academic medicine and it's going to be evidence-based.

And that's not true for all of the segments on Dr. Oz's show. So, sure, if this were on a network, it would be a scandal.

STELTER: Well, Dr. Bob Arnot, thank you for being here this morning and sharing your point of view with us.

ARNOT: Thank you so much, Brian. Really appreciate it.

And coming up here on RELIABLE SOURCES: It's 10:00 p.m. Do you know where your Republican presidential candidate is? I will give you one guess. I will explain the FOX News primary when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:37:42]

STELTER: Welcome back.

It's time to bring back a segment we call "The FOX News Primary," yes, looking at the role of those two men, FOX News president Roger Ailes and his boss, Rupert Murdoch, in picking your next president.

It may sound like a liberal conspiracy theory of cable news competitiveness, but there really is no disputing FOX's power in influencing the GOP. So far, every Republican candidate to declare, that's Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio, they have immediately made FOX's Sean Hannity their first TV pit stop on their road to the White House.

And in a rather bizarre twist on Friday, we saw Mike Huckabee announce that he's planning to announce something about the presidency on "SPECIAL REPORT WITH BRET BAIER." Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: It's decision time. Where are you?

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: I will announce on May the 5th in my hometown of Hope, Arkansas, what my plans are going to be and I will let everybody just say come to Hope on May the 5th. You will find out what's going to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: The question for us as we enter the real primary season is, how has this development rejiggered the landscape of both American politics and the media?

Joining me now from Washington, Politico reporter Hadas Gold, who recently wrote about the talk show primary.

Hadas, thanks for having me.

HADAS GOLD, POLITICO: Thanks for having me, Brian.

STELTER: You pointed out that there's interesting research from the Pew Research Center about how Republicans, how conservatives get their news from a narrower number of sources than progressives or people in the middle.

GOLD: Right.

STELTER: How does that relate to this issue of the FOX primary?

GOLD: It's actually really important because if you're looking at where conservatives get their news from, it's a lot fewer outlets.

They really gather around either certain radio shows such as "Rush Limbaugh" or FOX News, whereas liberals really spread out all over the place. They will go to CNN, they will go to MSNBC, they will go to NPR, they will go to different newspapers.

So that shows how important FOX News is, just because that's the central place where all the conservatives are going to, so they have a huge influence. Whoever they put on the screen more than others is going to have a higher name recognition amongst conservatives and is going to get a better reliability, relatability to all of these voters, especially in those important primary states.

STELTER: What's the early sense of which candidates are being favored?

GOLD: Definitely, I have seen a lot of Ted Cruz is a big popular one. Scott Walker got a lot of attention recently from both the radio show hosts and from FOX News.

[11:40:06] But actually Marco Rubio recently is starting to gain a little

bit more favor. Rush Limbaugh last week was saying we need to keep an eye on him. And I think that a lot of conservative radio show hosts and TV show hosts are seeing that he would have a little bit more of a general electability. He might have a harder time in a primary, but when it comes to appealing to a broad swathe of the American electorate, that he's maybe a better person to look to.

STELTER: Do you get pushback from FOX News or Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or others when you talk about their influence?

GOLD: A lot of times, when I reach out to them to try and talk to them about who are you looking at, who are you favoring, they don't want to talk about it. They say, I want to be impartial. I want to help my listeners and my viewers make an informed decision.

But they definitely show a preference based on who they talk to the most and they will let their preference known in various ways. They will say, I want this type of candidate, I want this type of candidate, and then they will interview somebody with those types of views and talk about their amazing record.

Let's say -- Scott Walker gets this a lot. They will talk about, you have such an amazing record in Wisconsin. And that's how you can tell who they're really thinking of. And actually from my reporting, if you really want to see who those FOX News chiefs really care about, Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch, I have been told to watch Sean Hannity, and that a lot of what they care about, you can see it come through Sean Hannity's show.

STELTER: Thank you is very interesting.

Hadas, thanks for being here this morning.

GOLD: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: Let's go straight to the source on this, the GOP, the Republican Party, and let's go to Sean Spicer, the chief strategist and communications director for the RNC, this morning.

Sean, thanks for joining me.

SEAN SPICER, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: You bet. Good morning.

STELTER: I don't know if you agree with everything that Hadas said, but I'm curious for your take on this Hannity primary in particular, because we have seen the three declared candidates so far all sit down with Hannity for the whole hour right after their announcements. Why do you think it is Hannity in particular that they're going to first?

SPICER: Well, because it's smart.

I think if you didn't go to Hannity, you would be sued for political malpractice. Sean has given folks an hour of time to sit there and have an informed, intelligent discussion about key issues that voters want to talk about. And then you look at the size of his audience, he has got on average 1.2 million to 1.5 million viewers every night on his TV station, on his TV program alone. That's more than the other stations combined.

So when it comes to absolute reach, you know, you can't beat Hannity. No one out there is offering an hour to sit down and have a back and forth in a substantive, long-form manner, where it's not just a bunch of gotcha questions over a three-second sound bite.

So, I think it's actually really smart politics for candidates to do this. And again then you factor in the additional piece that Sean has got a radio show with 14 million listeners that furthers that reach, I mean, it actually just comes down to marketing 101. That's where you're going to get the biggest bang for your buck.

STELTER: Do you think more moderate candidates that may declare, people like Jeb Bush that are described as being more moderate on the Republican side, will also go to Hannity? Do you think we might see -- or Chris Christie, for example?

SPICER: I don't know entirely what their plan is or -- but I know that each one, as you noted, have gone forward. They have all gone on "Hannity" right after they have announced. It's up to each campaign to make their decision, but I think it would be smart.

And you saw -- speaking of Jeb Bush, he went toe to toe with Sean at CPAC, where Sean played an instrumental role kind of doing a lot of Q&A there. It has nothing to do with moderate or anything. I think, again, it's a largely marketing business decision. Sean has the numbers. He's going to have a tough, informative discussion with you about key issues.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Somewhat soft-gloved, wouldn't you say?

SPICER: What's that?

STELTER: Somewhat soft-gloved, though, with these interviews.

SPICER: Oh, actually, I would dispute that entirely.

You look at the conversation he had with Jeb Bush on Common Core, the questions he's asked on immigration, on education. Sean Hannity is going to be fair and he's going to give you a chance to answer the question, but he is going to ask you tough questions that are on the minds GOP voters.

I dispute that, whether it's CPAC or the questions that he's asked on those shows. He is not going to give you a free ride. He's going to make sure that he's asking you questions that are on the minds of people that are out there.

But, Brian, the bigger thing that's interesting in my mind, obviously from the Republican National Committee, is each one of these candidates, whether it's CPAC or on Sean's shows or on Sean's radio show, are going on there for a long time, taking these tough questions, having to answer and account for their record, and yet you look at the other side of the aisle, where Hillary Clinton is running around having stagecrafted events with vetted people.

It is literally out of Hollywood, what's going on, on the other side, and I think it's a huge contrast of what's going on, on our side. We're sitting down. And it's not just Sean Hannity. Right? They all have done his show, but then they're going on "Good Morning America," "The Today Show," CNN "NEW DAY," on other shows to continue threat discussions.

STELTER: That's right.

SPICER: This isn't a limited deal. They're just smart by making a first stop on "Hannity" and taking advantage of the size and scope of his audience.

But on the other side of the aisle, Hillary Clinton won't talk to a college newspaper. She hasn't talked to a single reporter since she announced for president. She hasn't talked to a "real" -- quote, unquote -- person.

[11:45:09]

Everything down to the dinner napkins has been scripted. So I like to see the fact that our side is out there having a really intelligent, engaged conversation with American voters. The other side is having a coronation that's completely scripted.

STELTER: Well, I was going to ask you about Clinton, so I'm glad you brought it up. I and many others, I think, are waiting for those interviews to happen. The Clinton campaign says it's not going to happen very soon, but down the road it will.

SPICER: I don't doubt it.

STELTER: Sean, thanks for being here this morning. I appreciate it.

SPICER: You bet, Brian. Thank you.

STELTER: After the break here, it's known as nerd prom. We are going to take a more critical look at next weekend's White House Correspondents Dinner right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: How did the White House Correspondents Dinner become an event that's barely about the correspondents at all?

[11:50:02]

That's one question posed by the new documentary "Nerd Prom" made by Patrick Gavin, a former political reporter. The annual dinner's coming up this Saturday. And it's one of the biggest nights of the year in Washington, one of the most star-studded as well.

But to some outsiders, it's exhibit A of the coziness between insiders that infects journalism like a virus. Every year at the dinner, a comedian makes some jokes. And this year, it's "SNL"'s Cecily Strong. But, to me, Stephen Colbert's 2006 appearance is hard to beat because he took a bat to that coziness and just kept swinging. Look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: Let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions. And you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put them through a spell-check and go home.

Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you have got kicking around in your head, you know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration, you know, fiction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: I was there in that room there that year and you can see in this video here the discomfort in the room. It's a room not used to being uncomfortable.

So, Patrick Gavin, he used to be one of the gawkers interviewing celebrities, gossiping with sources, but in this film, he decided to step back and take a more critical look and he joins me now from Washington.

Thanks for being here.

PATRICK GAVIN, "NERD PROM: INSIDE WASHINGTON'S WILDEST WEEK": Hey, Brian. Thanks for having me.

STELTER: I remember seeing you at some of these dinners. So tell me why you wanted to take a more critical look at this thing.

GAVIN: I have either been at or observed or covered this dinner for about a decade and really saw it grow in star power and size and events.

Now it's not just a dinner. It's now about five days of parties, about two dozen of them that can really shut this place down.

STELTER: Right.

GAVIN: And it sort of hit me that this really was the biggest event in Washington every year. It was the event that people in Washington, especially the powerful reporters and politicians, get most excited about.

And that struck me as very, very odd and something that I didn't think that most Americans knew about, the fact that in a town like Washington, which is really supposed to be about serving others, our biggest moment every year is kind of like a big celebration of us.

And I don't know that most Americans know about that and I kind of felt that they should. And so that's why I decided to do this movie.

STELTER: I know you don't completely buy the argument that dinner is too cozy. You say the town is cozy all year round. It's just not usually on C-SPAN and CNN.

GAVIN: Yes.

The dinner might very well show that in fact reporters can be cozy with the powerful. But, of course, that does happen 364 more days of the year. So I think to pin all the blame on this actual dinner would be totally disingenuous.

I think the reality is, is that both reporters and politicians alike, you know, both have approval ratings in this town of -- in the teens on good days. And so for us to sort of -- for us to not care about the kind of image that our biggest moment every year projects, that's bad.

And I think that you're certainly not going to do -- you're not going to yourselves any favors with the American public and you're not going to get that approval rating up if your biggest moment every year kind of looks like this.

STELTER: Let me play you one clip from the film. My favorite part is when you talk to celebrities, ask them -- well, let's actually play it. Here's the question you asked some of them.

GAVIN: Yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "NERD PROM")

GAVIN: Who is your favorite White House correspondent?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I'm not up to speed on that stuff.

GAVIN: Who's your favorite White House correspondent?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh. Who's my favorite White House correspondent? I don't know yet. I will -- ask me after.

GAVIN: Who is your favorite White House correspondent?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Not a White House correspondent.

So, Patrick, I think one of your overarching points is, this should be more about the reporters and not about the celebrities there. I just have to ask you, are you going to go to the dinner next Saturday?

GAVIN: I'm not invited, as you might not be surprised to hear.

(LAUGHTER)

GAVIN: The reality is, is that, as I try to make the case at the end of this, at the end of this movie, it's really not about White House correspondents anymore, as you saw in that clip. But it really should be.

It's probably too long for this clip, but there's about eight or nine really good reasons why people should be concerned about White House correspondents and how difficult it is for them to get access out of this administration, be it the proliferation of social media or the prosecution of leaks or freedom of information requests being more expensive, all stuff you that talk about on your show.

STELTER: Right.

GAVIN: We really should support White House correspondents. I know it's not probably a terribly sexy thing, but if we could turn this weekend, which is now really a week, into really being about supporting White House correspondents and trying to shine a spotlight on the important work that they do and the struggles that they face, I think this would be a much better week.

STELTER: Patrick, thanks for being here.

The film is online, nerdpromthemovie.com. Thanks for joining me.

GAVIN: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: ABC News rarely spends two prime-time hours on anything, but this week they're making an exception. We will tell you about it right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:58:46]

STELTER: ABC hoping to make big news and get big ratings this Friday for Diane Sawyer's exclusive interview with Bruce Jenner.

Bruce has not spoken in months, but the entertainment media has been talking about him nonstop. There's a widespread belief and at this point a widespread assumption that Jenner is undergoing a gender transition, becoming a transgender woman.

So, now it is Jenner's turn to speak. Sawyer interviewed Jenner way back in February. Here's how ABC's promoting it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE JENNER, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL WINNER: My whole life has been getting me ready for this.

NARRATOR: Bruce Jenner, the interview, the journey, the decisions, the future. The Diane Sawyer exclusive. (END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Now, when you watch that, is that exploitative? I'm not going to claim that any television executive would be doing this much differently.

ABC knows they have got a big story here. If Jenner does indeed identify as transgender, the news will be a really significant moment for transgender equality. Jenner's a household name, a former Olympian and, slightly less impressively, a star of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."

I would just ask this question. When is the last time ABC dedicated two hours of prime time to a news anchor's special report? Sawyer's last special was about women in prison. It only merited one hour. ABC's coverage of the State of the Union address only lasted 90 minutes.

I asked ABC for comment, and they declined this morning.

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