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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
ABC Anchor Scrutinized for Clinton Donations. Aired 11-12:00p ET
Aired May 17, 2015 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:09] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: A network anchor under fire. And this time, it's not Brian Williams. Is saying sorry enough for George Stephanopoulos now that we all know about his donations to the Clinton Foundation?
Plus, a famed investigative journalist challenges what we were told about the killing of Osama bin Laden. How can we know what's really true here?
And, a war of words between President Obama and FOX News about the war on poverty.
Good morning and welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.
And we're starting with brand-new information about this ethical controversy that's really encircled ABC's George Stephanopoulos. This morning, he is apologizing again for donating to Bill and Hillary Clinton's charitable foundation. What his colleagues and his rivals are wondering is whether that's going to be enough.
Let me back up and tell you the story from the beginning. Stephanopoulos was one of Bill Clinton's closest aides in the '90s, and pretty much ever since then, he has been distancing himself from those roots. He has turned into one of the biggest stars of television news, co-host of America's most-watched morning show, skilled political interview and ABC's chief news anchor.
Well, now it turns out that ABC's chief news anchor gave $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation. This might sound like a wonderful act of charity. The man makes millions of dollars a year and donates a lot of it.
But Stephanopoulos has been reporting on the foundation without telling viewers or his bosses about the donations. That is a journalistic lapse.
And let's keep this in mind: the Clinton Foundation is no ordinary charity. It is one of a kind, created by former President Bill Clinton that expanded to include potential future president, Hillary Clinton. The foundation is controversial for all sorts of reasons. It is sometimes hard to tell where the good works end and where the politics begin. So, when "The Washington Free Beacon", a conservative news site,
discovered the donations earlier this week, Stephanopoulos apologized profusely, first in a statement to "Politico", then in phone interviews with me and others, then on TV on his morning show, and again today on his other show, ABC's "This Week."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Over the last several years, I've made substantial donations to dozens of charities including the Clinton Global Foundation. Those donations were a matter of public record, but I should have made additional disclosures on air when we covered the foundation. And I now believe that directing personal donations to that foundation was a mistake, even though I made them strictly to support work done to stop the spread of AIDS, help children and protect the environment in poor countries, I should have gone the extra mile to avoid even the appearance of a conflict. I apologize to all of you for failing to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: ABC's support of Stephanopoulos is unwavering, and they are hoping this story will now fade away.
But some people are going to have long memories. The most glaring example about why this is a story right now is that Stephanopoulos interviewed the book author who has made claims against the Clinton Foundation, Peter Schweizer, without disclosing that conflict of interest. This interview happened just a couple of weeks ago. I'm about to show you clips from it.
You know, we had Schweizer here on the program last week, so we asked him back this week to hear how he feels about these new developments.
STELTER: Thanks for joining me.
PETER SCHWEIZER, AUTHOR, "CLINTON CASH": Thanks for having me.
STELTER: I wanted to start by going back a few weeks to your appearance on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." Here's a sample of some of the questions you received.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: The Clinton campaign says you haven't produced a shred of evidence that there was any official action as secretary that supported the interest of donors. We've done investigative work here at ABC News, found no proof of any kind of direct action.
SCHWEIZER: You either have to come to the conclusion that these are all coincidence or that something else is afoot.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The Clintons do say it's coincidence and as they say you have produced no evidence and I still haven't heard any direct evidence and you just said you have no evidence.
SCHWEIZER: And I'd be glad to brief Democrats before May 5th when the book comes out.
STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, the Democrats have said this is -- this is indication of your partisan interest. They say you used to work for President Bush as a speechwriter, you're funded by the Koch brothers. How do you respond to that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: He asked you to respond to allegations of partisanship. Why didn't you put him on the defensive there and bring up allegations against his partisanship?
SCHWEIZER: Well, you know, I obviously didn't know about the donations to the Clinton Foundation or the fact that he's given multiple speeches and served on panels for them. But honestly --
STELTER: But you knew about his long history.
SCHWEIZER: Yes, I knew about the fact that he had worked for the Clintons, but honestly, I sort of believed and assumed that he had sort of put that in the past. And I thought he was simply asking tough questions.
Now I think the revelations that have come out put the interview at least in my mind in a totally different context. I don't mind tough questions, but you wonder what's the motivation: is it the search for truth, or is it because he's trying to, in a sense, do something to benefit the Clinton Foundation which he obviously has some affinity for?
STELTER: You're the kind of guy who said what you did in the past doesn't affect your current work. Isn't that sort of Stephanopoulos' defense -- what is in his past is in his past, it's behind him, it doesn't affect his reporting work today?
[11:05:06] SCHWEIZER: Well, I was operating under that assumption. I have no problem with people bringing up my past. I have no problem with people knowing Stephanopoulos' past. But I very much figure we need to judge him based on his journalism, except for the fact that we now know he has these entangling relationships with the Clintons, which doesn't make it in the past, it makes it in the present. And that is, I think, a very, very different context for which to evaluate all of this.
STELTER: Earlier this week, you told Sean Hannity that you think a rematch is in order. Have you heard from ABC "This Week"?
SCHWEIZER: I've had no contact from ABC News. I have to also say, you know, the comment that he made about ABC News has looked into this and has found no direct action, ABC News's investigative division has reported on findings in the book, and they talk about the troubling patterns. So, I don't know where he's getting that report from. But it
puts everything that occurred in that interview in a very different context. I would welcome the opportunity to come and share with the audience what I uncovered in the book and have, you know, even an aggressive conversation with somebody there about it.
STELTER: It sounds like that's a publicity ploy.
SCHWEIZER: No, it's not a publicity ploy. Part of the frustration there was I never really got a chance to explain or describe what is in the book. So, it was a very stuttered conversation. That's what was very frustrating to me about it.
And now, I think it's incumbent upon them to allow their audience to hear the evidence that's in the book.
STELTER: Do you think a follow-up interview is actually likely or even possible?
SCHWEIZER: I think, you know, a follow-up interview in a sense would be an admission on the part of managers there that they've made a mistake. So I think it's probably unlikely. I think it's the fair thing to do. But I think there right now seem to be in cover-up mode.
STELTER: Cover-up mode, that's a strong way to call it.
SCHWEIZER: Yes. I mean, I think it is because there's no discussion about the larger extensive relationships that he has. I mean, he's been on panels with Chelsea Clinton at Clinton Foundation events. He's moderated debates and discussions at Clinton Foundation events. How can you do that and cover that same political family in the political season?
I mean, to me, it's mindboggling. I can't imagine that CNN or other news organizations would tolerate that. And I think there's embarrassment and a desire to just hope that this is going to go away, but I don't think it is.
STELTER: I think to talk about ABC and Stephanopoulos is crucial here because the moment this was disclosed, ABC put out a statement saying they would stand by him. That has not changed in the past few days. It makes me wonder whether they'll just be able to have this blow over.
SCHWEIZER: Yes. I mean, it's hard to say. And of course, now you've got other reporters that are coming out. I think that Geraldo Rivera came out and said well, I was let go of ABC because of a donation or a contribution or something for far less than this.
So, I think there's frustration. And the question is, are journalists, in general, going to be held to the same standard at networks, or are you going to have superstars that are allowed to do things that, you know, regular reporters are not allowed to do? And if that's the case, I think that's very troublesome.
STELTER: That would suggest to me you think he's going to go ahead and skate by.
SCHWEIZER: Well, it suggests to me that history suggests that perhaps he might as well. But I think the bottom line is there should not be double standards. I focus on the fact that I don't think we should have double standards for politicians, and I think that applies in the media as well. I mean, it's just inherently unfair.
STELTER: One thing I did wonder when this came out earlier in the week is whether your investigators ever came across this. How is it that you all did not notice when working on your book that Stephanopoulos had made these donations?
SCHWEIZER: That's a great question. You know, I think if during the midst of our research a researcher had come to me and said, you know, I'm going to look on the Clinton Foundation database and see if George Stephanopoulos is a contributor, I would have laughed at them, honestly. I would have laughed at them because I thought it would be so sort of over the top that I couldn't imagine that it took place.
So when this came out, I just -- I was dumbfounded. I was absolutely dumbfounded. I never would have imagined that those donations had existed and would have, you know, laughed if my researchers had suggested we look into this.
STELTER: There was attention in the last few days about some corrections that are being made to the next edition of your book. Obviously, the Clinton camp wants that to be pointed out. Some liberal bloggers have been pointing it out as well.
What's your reaction to this issue of the corrections that have to be made?
SCHWEIZER: Oh, yes. I mean, the corrections are very straightforward and very simple. There's a couple of dates that we got conflated instead of something in 2011, it was in 2010. Probably the most changes -- I think there's two of them -- is in a section on Haiti.
So, you know, these changes are very minor. They don't go at all to the core of what's in the book. And they don't really change at all the details of the timing of the flow of funds and beneficial actions that she took as secretary of state.
STELTER: Peter, thanks for being here. I appreciate it.
SCHWEIZER: Thank you for having me.
[11:10:00] STELTER: In the hour since I spoke with Schweizer, he has been in touch of ABC, but there's no indication that he'll be appearing on "This Week" again.
ABC, obviously, disagrees that it's in cover-up mode, but Schweizer is not the only one criticizing the network. My next guest is one of several who say the donations taint Stephanopoulos' ability to cover the 2016 election at all.
Jim Gilmore is a former RNC chairman and former Virginia governor, and he joins me now from Richmond.
JIM GILMORE (R), FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: Thank you, Brian.
STELTER: When this story broke on Thursday, ABC right away said it supported Stephanopoulos. Here's what it said in a statement, "He should have taken the extra step to notify us and our viewers during the recent news reports about the foundation. He's admitted to an honest mistake and apologized for that omission." And the most important words are at the end, "We stand behind him."
What more do you want to hear from ABC about this?
GILMORE: Well, first of all, Brian, my position and what I believe is that George Stephanopoulos not only is disqualified from moderating a Republican debate, I think he's disqualified from moderating a Democratic debate.
Furthermore, I think he's disqualified completely from covering as a newsman the 2016 race. He should not be doing that. He's tied into the Clintons. He may have tried to separate himself out from that, but now with these donation revolutions, it's very clear that he is not an unbiased person. So, he can't do that.
And this follows right along with a statement I made several weeks ago when I had the gumption to say that Hillary Clinton should withdraw from the race, because she's disqualified. Because of her scandal, she's not able to get the central issue in the 20 -- one of the central issues in the 2016 race. And that is going to be, who can instill and restore confidence of the American people and the honesty and trustworthiness of their candidates to be president of the United States? Hillary Clinton is disqualified from that. She cannot do that.
And now likewise, this gentleman tied to her, George Stephanopoulos, he can't objectively cover the race. And who does ABC News think they are to come out here and say, well, we stand by this, it was an honest mistake? They have a public obligation as ABC News if they're going to offer the news to the American people to be able to themselves instill confidence in the American people.
STELTER: Let me ask you a two-part question. You've talked about possibly running in 2016. Are you running for president?
GILMORE: I have been considering running for president. I've been in New Hampshire five times this year, and I'm having a great time listening to the people of New Hampshire and talking to what their concerns are. But --
STELTER: So, if you run -- if you run, will you go on with Stephanopoulos? Will you be interviewed by him? GILMORE: Sure. As long as I can make it clear and ABC News
makes it clear that he is an opinion guy. He's a commentator. He's not a newsman. He cannot cover --
STELTER: But they're not going to do that. I mean, they're clearly supporting him and standing by him. They're not going to do that.
GILMORE: Yes, but if I go on --
STELTER: I haven't seen any real Republican boycott of him in recent days.
GILMORE: Yes, but if I go on "This Week," I'd make it clear that I'd consider him to be in the pocket of the Clintons. So, that's OK.
STELTER: What do you make of the idea that, you know, everybody does make mistakes -- we're talking about charity here -- and most importantly, you and I don't get to decide who anchors ABC's election coverage?
GILMORE: Well, that's all right. But this is a free country, and I get the chance to have the microphone, too, like I'm doing here right now. The name of your show is RELIABLE SOURCES. And I think that what you're trying to do here is to underscore the fact that the American people are entitled to reliable sources, whether it's a newsman with high profile and great wealth like George Stephanopoulos who has made great wealth because of his connections to the Clintons over the years, or whether it's a candidate for president of the United States. You have to be able to instill confidence -- the American people are distrustful right now their major establishment institutions.
GILMORE: -- or candidates for president, the major news people. We have to be able to re-instill that for the American people. George Stephanopoulos cannot do it as a newsman, and Hillary Clinton cannot do it as a candidate for president of the United States.
STELTER: Governor Gilmore, thanks for being here this morning. I appreciate it.
GILMORE: Good. Thank you.
STELTER: And we're going to stay on this story because the case is against George Stephanopoulos and Brian Williams, we've talked about him a lot here. They are very different, but the result may be the same. Another blow to the credibility of big network anchors. We're talking about that right after this quick break.
[11:18:00] STELTER: Welcome back.
Maybe I should be welcoming you back to anchor on the rocks, because when this week started, we thought maybe this would be the week NBC would announce something about Brian Williams. It's been a long time since he was suspended from his "Nightly News" chair.
But instead the media was diverted to ABC and George Stephanopoulos, thanks to his failure to close money to the Clinton Foundation.
In the last segment, we heard from two critics of Stephanopoulos, but there are also some defenders, especially inside ABC. He has a lot of goodwill built up there, and that might be very important in this case.
Joining me to discuss this are two former ABC journalists, Carole Simpson and Jeff Greenfield.
Welcome to you both.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CONTRIBUTOR, PBS NEWSHOUR: Hi.
CAROLE SIMPSON, FORMER ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Thank you.
STELTER: Carole, when you heard about these donations, how did you react? I mean, I was dumbfounded by it. How did you react to it?
SIMPSON: I was dumbfounded, too. I like George. I worked with him and have great respect for him.
But I wanted to just take him by the neck and say, George, what were you thinking?
And clearly, he was not thinking. I thought it was outrageous, and I am sorry that, again, the public's trust in the media is being challenged and frayed because of the actions of some of the top people in the business.
STELTER: That is ultimately what this always comes down to. And yet, Jeff, what we have not seen is a coordinated GOP boycott, the leading contenders for the GOP nomination come out against Stephanopoulos. We've heard from Rand Paul. We've heard from Ted Cruz. But the rest have been noticeably quiet.
Do you think this suggests that this will be a short-lived story, not a long-lived story for Stephanopoulos?
GREENFIELD: What I think is --
SIMPSON: Are you asking Carole?
GREENFIELD: -- that you are seeing -- I'm sorry.
STELTER: I'm sorry, Jeff. Go ahead.
GREENFIELD: What you are seeing is a concerted attack from conservative outlets, from "The National Review", from "The Weekly Standard", from people like that. [11:20:01] But what I think is, in some sense, they are -- they
meaning the Republican Party -- is in a really good position vis-a-vis ABC because of this embarrassment.
STELTER: Oh, interesting.
GREENFIELD: You know, the -- yes, because one of the reasons I think Stephanopoulos immediately recused himself from the one primary debate that's scheduled between the Republicans and ABC is that I think a lot of the Republican candidates were threatening or would have threatened to boycott. And what it also means is, I think, they can raise questions about him -- you heard it from Governor Gilmore -- you're going to cover a Democratic debate with Hillary Clinton? Are you going to cover our conventions? You're going to analyze the debates given this situation?
And this is why I call this a self-inflicted wound.
GREENFIELD: ABC has said now, George Stephanopoulos can't moderate a Republican debate. Well, what else are they going to say he's not going to be able to do?
Like Carole, I was completely dumbfounded, particularly in the interview with Schweizer. I couldn't believe as he was making a whole conversation about the foundation, that it didn't occur to him to say, maybe I should disclose that I've given them a lot of money and participated in a lot of their events.
It simply is an indication that very smart people can sometimes be very foolish.
STELTER: Carole, let me ask you about the behind-the-scenes machinations here because when it was discovered by a conservative news site, "Washington Free Beacon", ABC then apparently went to "Politico" and leaked the information. "Politico" then broke the news.
Then, "The Free Beacon" pointed out that the PR person for George Stephanopoulos used to work at the Clinton White House. They didn't overlap, but she used to work for the Clinton White House, Heather Riley. She then worked at CNN, a bunch of other places and is now at ABC.
My full disclosure that she helped me interview George Stephanopoulos for my book about morning TV.
My big question here is -- is this all an example of the troubling coziness that sometimes exist in this bubble of the media business?
SIMPSON: Well, you heard it talked about at the White House correspondents' dinner where all of the politicians in Washington and so on gather with the reporters that cover them.
SIMPSON: Yes, there's a coziness that George cannot escape the association. He was press secretary for President Clinton. That's pretty close.
And while he did try to separate himself from his political background to become a journalist, he really is not a journalist. Yet, ABC has made him the face of ABC News, the chief anchor. And I think they're really caught in a quandary here.
And one other thing I want to tell you, Brian, is that while ABC said this was an honest mistake --
SIMPSON: -- they don't feel that way.
Secretly, they are hopping mad, I am sure, because the worst thing that could happen to a network and to its celebrities is to have bad publicity.
So, I don't know if he may be having a suspension within ABC. We don't know what is going on and what they're telling him. They have to put this face out for the public, but George may be in some hot water within ABC.
STELTER: The official word, of course, is that they have unwavering support for him. I wonder, this is going to be a four-day story for most people but a forever story for people that want to use this against them, Republican commentators, for example, and others.
Let me ask you this, Jeff, as well, before we go -- we need to put on screen the corporate donations to the Clinton Foundation, because there are a lot of media companies that are on this list, including the parent company of CNN, Time Warner, and the division CNN is in, Turner. We also see most of the other media companies in the U.S. that have given big donations to the Clinton Foundation.
As we roll through these on screen, Jeff, I just am curious if you think this is also a problem going forward for the media, in general?
GREENFIELD: I do. In fact, in thinking back on this, of all the foundations -- and no question that the foundation is going to allow -- but of all the foundations that media outlets should probably have figured out how to stay away from, it would have in this one, unless you believed that Hillary Clinton was going to leave the State Department and then retire to an academic life.
STELTER: Hmm, right, right.
GREENFIELD: I mean, anyone who didn't realize that they were talking about a potential president of the United States -- I have a 6-year-old grandson. I believe he knows Hillary Clinton is running for president. I'm not sure about the 4-year-old, but the 6-year-old, definitely. STELTER: Right.
GREENFIELD: And I don't know what's in their minds. I even think, you wonder to what extent Stephanopoulos was trying to repair relations with the Clintons because the book he wrote in 1999, "All Too Human," really put him on the outs with the Clintons, and not many people raised doubts about him covering Hillary Clinton in 2008.
So, I don't want to go into motivations now, but the idea of a media -- big media company partnering with this kind of weird mix of charitable, political and financial interests that I think Peter Schweizer's book demonstrates is really a problem.
[11:25:09] And, you know, the White House correspondents' dinner, which I am proud to say I have never attended and will only attend if I'm ever someday president of the United States, is a perfect example of what I'm talking about.
STELTER: You know, there are good reasons why some journalists, including some from CNN have agreed to moderate events at the Clinton Foundation's various events, the Clinton Global Initiative. But I do wonder in the wake of this story if some will be rethinking that.
I've got to go, unfortunately. But Carole, Jeff, thank you both for being here this morning.
GREENFIELD: Thank you.
SIMPSON: Thank you for having us.
STELTER: Coming up, the question for you all, did you hear that the president attacked FOX News this week, that he accused FOX of bashing poor people? I'm going to show you what almost everybody missed in a special "Red News/Blue News", next.
STELTER: This week, we're bringing back "Red News/Blue News", because this week, our country's big red news channel, FOX News, seemed absolutely positively shocked that our blue president criticized it again. The reactions were wild.
And I want to show you what everybody at FOX and everybody else, I think, missed in the aftermath.
Now, President Obama's aides always say that he rarely, if ever, watches any cable news. And yet the president had a very specific critique of FOX when he was speaking at a Georgetown University panel discussion about poverty. Obama was talking about class divisions and how it's sometimes politically expedient to stir up resentment toward poor people.
Here is what came next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the effort
to suggest that the poor are sponges, leeches, are -- don't want to work, are lazy, you know, are undeserving got traction.
And, look, it's still being propagated. I mean, I have to say that, you know, if you watch FOX News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu. They will find, like, folks who make me mad. I don't know where they find them, right?
OBAMA: They're all, like -- like, I don't want to work. I just want a free Obama phone or whatever.
OBAMA: And that becomes an entire narrative, right, that gets worked up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: He kept talking, but maybe FOX stopped listening, because it dialed its outrage meter up to 10.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS: It's extraordinary that the president of the United States, in his waning years, has decided that his policies for the last six years aren't to blame. It's some little cable outfit. That's causing the problems in America.
STUART VARNEY, FOX NEWS: Look, I think the president is spinning the failure of his own policies. And I think he is blaming us, and I think we are an honest messenger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Did you catch what Steve Doocy said there? FOX is a little cable outwork.
It's funny how the channel usually brags about how popular it is, except when it's convenient to act small.
Now, for the blue news in the story, we have to turn not to MSNBC, but to Jon Stewart, whose staff went searching all throughout FOX's archive for evidence that Obama was right.
Now, "The Daily Show" obviously takes cheap shots sometimes, but take a look at these clips they pulled together.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART")
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": We have conditioned people to look to the government to be their answer for every problem they have and take zero responsibility.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The moocher class.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Subsidized freeloaders.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me these goodies. Give me a cell phone. Pay my rent.
NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS: Bailouts from cradle to grave.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nation of moochers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freeloaders in America.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Entitlement mentality.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sitting on the couch eating bonbons.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People who sleep until noon sucking off the nipple of the government.
JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": How (EXPLETIVE DELETED) removed from reality is FOX's perception of their own coverage on poverty?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Here's the thing. After Obama's original comment about FOX pushing a narrative about poor people mooching off the government, FOX News commentators basically all agreed that the president has thin skin.
Meantime, Jon Stewart argued that FOX has thin skin. And, on Saturday, day number four of the story, Neil Cavuto on FOX agreed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAVUTO: I expect us to be thin-skinned and pay attention when it's about us. I kind of have a different standard for my president, whether Republican or Democrat, and I know these latest remarks were in the context of, what, an hour-and-a-half speech talking about poverty or whatever, but it immediately glommed to us and a discussion about us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Cavuto, that's because you made it about yourself.
Here's what almost everybody missed about the panel discussion. The president was talking about what he called a 40-year effort to stir up class divisions. FOX, of course, has only been around 15 years. Let's go back to the original video, but let's let it keep playing, so Obama finishes his thought.
FOX only played this part of the clip once. It was in a news report by Howie Kurtz. Notice that Obama is talking about the whole news media's responsibility to make sure the middle class and poor Americans know -- I'm sorry -- what middle class and rich Americans know what it's like to be poor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And that becomes an entire narrative, right, that gets worked up. And very rarely do you hear an interview of a waitress, which is much more typical, who's raising a couple of kids and is doing everything right, but still can't pay the bills.
And so if we're going to change how John Boehner and Mitch McConnell think, we're going to have to change how our body politic thinks, which means we're going to have to change how the media reports on these issues and how people's impressions of what it's like to struggle in this economy looks like and how budgets connect to that.
And that's a -- it's a hard process, because that requires a much broader conversation than typically we have on the nightly news.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: He called for a broader conversation, but FOX ended up having a very small conversation.
Anyway, that's "Red News/Blue News" for this week.
Up next here, two questions I wanted to ask all week. Could the narrative that the Obama administration told us about the killing of Osama bin Laden be a lie? And how can we tell?
The difficulty of reporting on covert ops -- when we come back.
STELTER: Welcome back.
This weekend, we learned of the death of a man who we're told was a leading figure in the terror group ISIS. How do we know? Because that's what they're telling us, they meaning U.S. government officials.
How we learn this and other news about covert ops came into question earlier this week when legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh caused a media explosion. His article in "The London Review of Books" alleges that many of the official details we have been told about the raid to kill Osama bin Laden are false.
Much of the article relies on a single unnamed source. But, then again, so do some other news stories. There has been widespread criticism of some of the details in his stories. Some reporters have been refuting it altogether. Other reporters have been saying parts seem to be true, other parts don't seem to be true. What's unusual here is that Hersh is oftentimes published by "The
New Yorker" magazine, but instead this article showed up in "The London Review of Books." People are curious about that too.
So, I thought it would be useful here to explore exactly how this kind of story gets transmitted to the press and the public.
And who better to ask than the man who wrote an article that ruffled a lot of feathers about what we thought we knew about Iraq, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
He joins me now from Santa Fe.
Thanks for being here.
JOSEPH WILSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: Nice to be with you.
STELTER: I wanted to bring up the reporting about ISIS because it's a very recent example of something we also saw in the coverage of the bin Laden killing several years ago.
And that is a reliance right away in the early hours of the story on U.S. government sources. Of course, it's very hard to corroborate what the government is telling us in cases like this.
So what should the lesson be for our viewers at home?
WILSON: Well, I think the lesson is to understand that the government is always going to give you one side of the story, their side.
And if you're going to do serious investigative reporting, you have got to go out and talk to all your other sources. I have no -- really no knowledge about the Hersh article. I have read it, like a lot of other people have. I have a lot of knowledge about the article I wrote for "The New York Times" and about the brouhaha that resulted from that, in which a large number of journalists decided that they would take the bait offered by the U.S. government and make the whole story about my wife and myself, rather than about the 16 words in the State of the Union address, and the lies and falsehoods that the Bush administration told the American people about the rationale for going into war in Iraq.
STELTER: We're talking about attacking the messenger, as opposed to investigating the message. You experienced it, you're saying, with the Bush administration.
Do you sense that the Obama administration has engaged in the same tactics here?
WILSON: Well, I think there's a tendency -- and it may be inherent in the American psyche -- that if you don't want to talk about the facts, you attack the character of the person presenting the facts. I believe that's one of the principles of trial law, that -- so
it may well be something that anybody is going to resort to if they have to. And it then becomes the responsibility of the journalist to ferret out the difference between the attacks on the messenger and whether the message that is being put out is accurate or not.
STELTER: Sometimes, the attacks on the messenger are completely worthwhile, because the messenger is wrong and there are grievous errors in an article.
It seems to me that oftentimes in the initial hours or days after a story comes out, we just don't know. It's very, very hard to know. And that makes these stories very challenging. I mean, we're talking about maybe the single most difficult type of journalism.
WILSON: Well, I think that's exactly right. But if the messenger is wrong, then his message is wrong. And if you go and you look at the message, rather than focusing on the messenger, then perhaps you can figure out whether the message that the messenger is giving is correct or not, rather than focusing on who the messenger is or what he is, or he or she is.
STELTER: This notion, though, of one main anonymous source, I mean, you know how the U.S. government works, how a bureaucracy works. Can a story hold up when it's based mostly on a single anonymous source who perhaps has an axe to grind?
WILSON: I have no idea. I'm not in the journalism business.
I know what editors require. I'm familiar with what editors require before they post a story.
STELTER: No, but I mean, as a former U.S. diplomat, you know how large, how complicated a U.S. government sort of organization can be, and how many different interests, different competing interests are at play.
WILSON: And how many stories there are.
And, so, again, I would go back to what I said earlier. In the past week, there's been a lot of talk about the messenger. In my case, a decade ago, there was a lot of talk about the messenger. And it took a lot longer for investigative reporters to actually ferret out what the true message was and whether the message was accurate or not.
We now know, for example, that the 16 words in the State of the Union address were just fabrication. We now know that the propaganda that we couldn't afford to wait for the mushroom -- or for the smoking gun to come in the form of a mushroom cloud was absolute hooey.
And I would point out, in the article I wrote for Talking Points Memo yesterday, that Mr. Bush, Jeb Bush, who's running for president now, has that same cast of characters who provided these lies and fabrications to the American people a decade ago on his foreign policy advisory staff. STELTER: I was about to say, what has been so wild and revealing
about this week is how Iraq dominated the political news narrative. Here we are, more than a decade later, hearing all of the Republican candidates being asked those questions.
Joe Wilson, thank you for being here this morning. I appreciate it.
WILSON: Thanks very much.
STELTER: Coming up here: A journalist aboard the crashed Amtrak train in Philadelphia becomes part of the story. Hear about the decisions he made that night and how he says it changed how he would cover tragedies in the future. Don't go away.
STELTER: This week, a normal -- usually a normal commute from D.C. to New York put 238 people on board a derailed Amtrak train at the center of a national disaster.
There were at least five journalists on board. In some ways, these Northeast Corridor trains are like a media express. And some of the journalists immediately started reporting from the wreckage, like my next guest, Paul Cheung. He took these dramatic photos for the Associated Press.
But this disaster also put those journalists at the center of a media frenzy, since they all became part of the story.
Paul joins me now here on the set. He's the director of interactive and digital news production for the AP.
Thanks for being here.
PAUL CHEUNG, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Thank you.
STELTER: How are you doing personally? Were you injured at all?
CHEUNG: Minor scrapes and bruises.
You know, I think now, coming off my adrenaline, so I'm processing everything that has happened.
STELTER: Yes. But you were able to pretty quickly help other people off the train. And then at what point did you transition into taking photos, into reporting?
CHEUNG: Well, the minute I jump off the train, you know, I fell pretty hard.
CHEUNG: And then people were just screaming at me. And I was completely disoriented.
And once I kind of get my bearings and saw the wreckage, that's when I knew, wow, this is major. And, immediately, I sent an e-mail to my newsroom, saying, hey, my train just crashed and derailed. Give me a call.
And then, after that, I just kind of lent my phone to a couple other passengers who needed to call their loved one. And once I, again, processed a little bit more, that's when I kick into my journalist mode.
STELTER: In retrospect, do you feel you turned toward journalism at the right moment? That must be a hard decision to process.
CHEUNG: I think the instinct was to turn immediately.
CHEUNG: But since I'm not a front-line journalist, there's -- just the plain idea of, hey, I might die was really frightening.
CHEUNG: I want to take pictures inside the train, but I smell smoke. So I jumped out.
You know, once I got up and saw passengers were crawling out the window, my instinct was, let me go take some photos. And I saw sparks coming out. And, at that moment, I thought something might explode, and I have to run the other way for safety, just in case.
So I think those were the decisions that I was struggling with.
STELTER: I wonder what it's like to be bombarded by media requests after something traumatic like this. Did you hear from dozens of media outlets trying to interview you, the way you're being interviewed now?
CHEUNG: Yes. And, you know, you grow a new appreciation for our craft to see how hard...
STELTER: Do you?
STELTER: See, because some people would say it's tacky, the way journalists are all like vultures, trying to reach the victims, trying to reach the survivors.
CHEUNG: I mean, I think working on the front line on a developing story is never easy. So I have really grown a new appreciation for all the photographers, TV and reporters who are really going out there to find out what's going on, you know? And I understand that primary sourcing -- primary sourcing is
important. And me being a primary source at that moment was the easiest asset for them.
STELTER: What happens when you do get all these media requests? Do you just kind of throw up your hands and not respond to any of them? How does it work?
CHEUNG: For me, since I wok for the AP, I was just kind of like, hey, you need to coordinate everything with the AP.
STELTER: Yes. OK. You let them call your bosses, yes, yes.
CHEUNG: Yes. Yes.
I mean, once I got off, I was thinking, do I need to tweet this out, Periscope it? And I just kind of kept it simple, right? Coordinate with my news desk.
CHEUNG: Send all the photos and video I have to the news desk. And I figured, I would let the AP kind of handle how the news evolved.
STELTER: Yes. It's just so uncommon to have a journalist actually affected by the story. It's one thing to witness a plane maybe crash-land or a train derail, but to actually be on the train, a whole other level.
Let me ask you one more thing. You tweeted. You said: "Message me if you were on board the train. All of us have a unique shared experience, and I would like to find a way for us to connect."
Have you heard from any other survivors, and are you all going to connect?
CHEUNG: I heard from a few survivors.
And, you know, I really want to connect with them, because I think this is such a unique experience that all of us share. And I'm finding that there's weird connections through this experience, where, you know, a passenger that I lent my phone to helped someone else that I knew on the train, you know, out of the train.
CHEUNG: And so -- and I could see these different connection points starting to form. And I just really wanted, you know, to get together with these folks and share our knowledge.
STELTER: I would imagine.
Paul, thanks for being here.
CHEUNG: Thank you.
STELTER: Great talking with you.
We have to note that one of the eight passengers on the train that lost their lives was a colleague at the Associated Press, Jim Gaines. He was a video software architect. He was 48 years old, a husband and a father of two. And our thoughts go out to his family today, and to you and your co-workers, Paul, at the Associated Press.
We will be right back here with more RELIABLE SOURCES in just a few minutes.
STELTER: Welcome back.
Before we go this morning, what a big week it's going to be for goodbyes in television, David Letterman signing off "The Late Show" on Wednesday night, everybody wondering who his final guest will be and what he will say in his final top 10 list.
You know, Letterman is truly the end of an era. He says he's not retiring entirely, just retiring from "The Late Show." But people will all be tuning in Wednesday night, as he actually says goodbye to the show. Stephen Colbert is ready to take over. He will actually not take over until September. But he's already starting to talk to advertisers, warm up for his takeover of "The Late Show."
And he made a very funny joke at the CBS up-front presentation for advertisers this week. He said, "I'm going to strive to honor Letterman by occasionally making CBS very mad at me." That was Colbert's preparation to take over for Letterman. But that's on Wednesday.
There's another big TV finale tonight, and that's the end of "Mad Men," the pioneering AMC drama that actually really put AMC on the map and was, among other things, the most influential show about advertising in the history of the medium.
Earlier, I spoke with the president of AMC, Charlie Collier. He told me he has watched the finale and he thinks we're going to be impressed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLIE COLLIER, PRESIDENT, AMC: I have seen it.
And the beauty of the show, for years, it's not just a great hour, but this is, you know, 90-plus amazing pieces of art. And the consistency that they have brought to the set from start to finish is remarkable. And I think you will see that the finale just is as beautiful as you would hope it would be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: You can check out more of my interview with Collier on CNNMoney.com. He told me all of AMC's other channels, like IFC and BBC America, they're actually going to go dark tonight. That is a way that AMC's going to try to honor the show by actually having people refer over to AMC to watch it.
They are really trying to make this a piece of art, trying to lift it into the hall of fame, is what Collier said.
Well, that's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. But our media coverage keeps going all the time on CNN.com. Check out our stories there about Letterman and all the rest of the week's media news. And if you can't join us live next Sunday at 11:00 a.m., make sure you set your DVR.