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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Sources: NBC Looks at New Role for Williams; John Kerry Hospitalized After Bike Accident; The Media Primary: Covering a Crowded 2016 Field; Dennis Hastert's Criminal Indictment Sends Shockwaves; Patriot Act Up for Vote. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired May 31, 2015 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:07] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Brian Stelter and it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES.
It's a big news day. And we're beginning with the news story the whole TV business cannot stop talking about. It's about the man over my shoulder, Brian Williams, and what's going to happen with the suspended newsman.
It's been almost four months since he was suspended and most people have been assuming he will either come back to "Nightly News" at the end of the suspension, or he will be leaving NBC entirely, frankly tarnished or disgraced after that exaggeration scandal.
But this morning, my sources are pointing to a third option, a new role for Williams. Not necessarily at "Nightly News," but somewhere else at NBC.
Now, these talks are still top secret inside the network and anything could happen, but NBC News's new chairman Andy Lack is said to be advocating for this third option, this new role that would keep Williams in the fold. Now, presumably, that would keep Lester Holt at the "Nightly News" anchor desk for the foreseeable future.
Brian Williams has called NBC home for over 20 years, but it's still quite possible two sides will not agree on this new role. Some of my sources think he is on the way out, but others see a way for him to stay in. These negotiations have been going on for weeks and several times along the way, it's seemed there is imminent news. But I'm at the moment told there's been no official decision about whether he will stay or whether he will go.
So, we have all the angles covered this morning beginning with Bryan Burrough, a correspondent with "Vanity Fair", who wrote an exclusive article about what happened inside NBC when all this happened in February.
Bryan, thanks for being here this morning.
BRYAN BURROUGH, CORRESPONDENT, VANITY FAIR: Pleasure.
STELTER: Your story was a tick tock explaining how we got to this point where Williams was suspended. Do you think it makes sense for him to return in some way?
BURROUGH: I actually think for all parties concerned, it makes perfect sense. If you're NBC why get rid of a very valuable asset? If you bring him back in the fold, let him do some documentaries, stand-ups, heck, let him do something in MSNBC, what's the worst that could happen? And that doesn't work out and there's pushback, you can part ways then.
And for Brian, it's very clear he knows what the future holds for him out there if he leaves NBC. It's called Dan Rather. I don't think he wants that.
STELTER: Tell me what you mean by that? You don't think there's a lot of other possible jobs for Williams outside NBC.
BURROUGH: I think there's going to be possible jobs. I don't think any of them possess the luster or the prestige of anything that he could do at NBC News. I've always thought that NBC remains his last best chance to stay in the news business. That if he leaves he would almost certainly go into a talk show role which I think may ultimately make the most sense.
STELTER: When we talk about this new role, the sources that I have been talking to don't say it's necessarily within NBC News. For all we know, it could be somewhere else in the company like MSNBC or NBC Entertainment.
BURROUGH: You bring him on. Who is not going to watch the first thing Brian Williams does? Let's say he does a one-our documentary on his own plight. Let's see that leads to stand-ups or specials on MSNBC or a talk show on MSNBC. And if none of that works out, then they let -- then they part ways.
I mean, I think from Andy's point of view, Brian is too valuable just to throw out the door. We also know that the men have long, strong social connections.
STELTER: Right. They were said to be friends and when Lack was hired two months ago, people said, oh, this means Brian Williams is coming back to the "NBC Nightly News" anchor chair. Maybe it's just more complicated than that.
BURROUGH: I think that's the least likely scenario, is that Brian --
STELTER: You mean him going back to "Nightly News"?
BURROUGH: I don't see him coming back to "Nightly." I mean, you have to remember, to most of America, to most viewers, he's just the man on the screen. But at NBC, he has to be the top news executive. He's a manager and a symbol.
And it's very clear that down in the ranks, there's not a lot of support for having Brian come back and there is a lot of support for Lester Holt who remains terribly popular with NBC and whose ratings are holding up. STELTER: Yes, he's held onto almost all of Brian Williams' audience.
Not quite all of it. It's been a closer competition with ABC then it had been before. But I have been surprised that Holt has done as well as he has, given all the drama and uncertainty right now.
BURROUGH: Lester Holt is no one's idea of a buzzy star, but he's a workman-like professional, popular newsman who brings the credibility to that news desk that NBC badly needs.
STELTER: I'm told that when he was out in California recently accepting an honorary degree, Andy Lack and Deborah Turness, the head of NBC News, came with him. They wanted to be there and be with him.
They had a meeting at the L.A. bureau with the staff and perhaps that was a show of support for Holt, because one of the weird things is they're not promoting Holt. They're not saying he's the anchor. He's just the fill-in.
BURROUGH: No, I think everyone involved realizes that Lester is taking one for the team right now. He's in not an untenable situation, but an unpleasant situation. He's in limbo and I think they want to do everything possible to show their support for him, not just to show the support but also because he is so popular in the ranks.
STELTER: You dive down so deep into the story for "Vanity Fair." Wrote one of the definitive stories about what went wrong.
Are you surprised now months later that we're still talking about this, that there hasn't been an announcement by NBC?
[11:05:02] BURROUGH: No, I'm not. From the beginning, I felt that NBC was going to take as long as possible to come up with a solution. They need to keep their finger in the wind. They need to get a sense how people like you and other media critics are going to react to all the potential roles.
I always anticipated and I think we're just now getting to see a series of trial balloons about what Brian might be, and they want to see I think how the public and how the media react to that.
STELTER: There's one thing this story has in common with the Duggars in "19 Kids and Counting" scandal, only one thing in common, and that is NBC doesn't have to do anything right now, and TLC doesn't have to do anything about the Duggars because that show isn't currently on the air, so they don't have to make a decision about its future.
Maybe that's what's happening here, too. NBC doesn't have to decide today because Lester Holt is doing well and Brian Williams is on the bench. So, that's why we haven't heard an announcement.
BURROUGH: It's strange but time is actually on NBC's side. We're entering the dog days of summer, and I would guess they're going to take this to the last possible minute. It's in both sides' interest I think to take all the time they can and both sides it's clear at least elements of both sides would like to see Brian come back in some role. STELTER: Brian, thanks for being here and explaining with us.
STELTER: Appreciate it.
For more on this, let's turn to Andrew Wallenstein, the co-editor-in- chief of "Variety", and David Zurawik, a media critic for "The Baltimore Sun".
DAVID ZURAWIK, BALTIMORE SUN: Thank you.
ANDREW WALLENSTEIN, CO-EDITOR IN CHIEF, VANIETY: Thanks.
STELTER: Andrew, let me start with you out in L.A. I want to capture the idea that the whole industry keeps talking about the story. It's an obsession among television news types.
Have you sensed this died down at all, or this continues to be the topic du jour for the industry?
WALLENSTEIN: Well, I don't think the attention is quite as great as it was when the scandal first broke, but, man, the suspension has created a lot of suspense. I mean, if I was running NBC Entertainment, I'd say this is good fodder for a drama series.
STELTER: David, I would completely agree with what Andrew just said. I wonder what you make of the idea of a new role for Brian Williams. You've been pretty outspoken that Williams' credibility has taken a severe blow here.
ZURAWIK: I think it has. As a journalist, Brian, I don't think he can return to that anchor desk. He certainly can't return as managing editor and anchor.
But I'll tell you something -- number one, I think Bryan and you are absolutely right about trial balloons. I think NBC is floating a trial balloon and this is a good place to do that.
But I think also if you look at Andy Lack's history, he did news magazines in the '80s and '90s, and one of the things I learned writing about those news magazines is they were a great place to lay off anchorman's salaries. You saw the anchors hosting prime time news magazines because the money was so great for them. -Andrew Hayward was another guy who did this at CBS.
So, this is sort -- Andy Lack knows how to do this, and if they're stuck with his salary in some ways, putting him in even a quasi- journalistic primetime show, something like "48 Hours" or having him do interviews, I think that -- I think that might work for them. And I really if Lack can pull that off, it's a smart thing.
But he's got to get him out of the evening news -- out of the "Nightly News" for a whole bunch of reasons. His journalistic credibility I think is shredded. It's with military families, with millennials especially who are photo shopping him into any scene everywhere whenever there is scene. That's a real for them.
But I think this third possibility sounds OK as long as it's not journalism.
STELTER: Don't you think, though, Americans are fundamentally forgiving people. If enough time goes by, he can return to a news anchor job?
ZURAWIK: I hope not. Honestly, I'm serious, Brian. I think it's part of a kind of malaise in this country that people on Wall Street who are too big to fail can do terrible things in 2007, 2008 to the economy and not be touched.
I think there's a reason people were saying early on about Brian Williams, too big to fail. He's going to get away with this.
I think Americans are really sick of that, heartsick in a way, and I think if they put him back in that anchor chair, they're going to risk facing that kind of blowback from those people.
WALLENSTEIN: But, Brian --
STELTER: Andrew, help us pull the curtain back a little bit, because fundamentally, it comes down to money, right? It comes down to financials. We're talking about a contract and one way or another NBC might have to pay Brian Williams a lot of money.
WALLENSTEIN: Yes, but, you know, here is the thing I don't understand. Why would he be not OK on the anchor desk but you put him anywhere else and he'll be just fine? I think that's ridiculous.
ZURAWIK: Because it's an entertainment program, because he's doing entertainment.
WALLENSTEIN: He faces a credibility problem. He faces a credibility problem --
ZURAWIK: Not if you're doing "48 Hours" introducing segments.
WALLENSTEIN: David, you're being ridiculous.
ZURAWIK: No, it's not ridiculous.
WALLENSTEIN: The fact of the matter is --
ZURAWIK: You can say ridiculous, it's not ridiculous.
STELTER: Literally the debate that's happening inside NBC about this.
[11:10:01] Andrew, go ahead.
WALLENSTEIN: Listen, he needs to get out there and do what he has not done from the very beginning, which is address this problem head on at length, very specifically, show some contrition. If he doesn't do any of these things, NBC could make him a correspondent on mars, and it will still be a problem.
ZURAWIK: It's way too late for contrition. It's way too late.
STELTER: David --
WALLENSTEIN: I think -- I do believe that the American public has it in its mitts to offer some forgiveness, but not if Brian Williams is going to continue to stiff upper lip this in silence.
ZURAWIK: But you can't -- you can't --
WALLENSTEIN: It's not too late.
STELTER: Let me try one other idea out on you, David, because I know you follow cable news very closely. What about MSNBC? What about putting Brian Williams back where he grew up, in cable news, on MSNBC?
ZURAWIK: You know what, Brian -- I think Andy Lack has to fix MSNBC, which has massive problems. I don't think putting Brian Williams back there right now with the credibility issues is the right move for MSNBC. He has to convince people that MSNBC is concerned with giving Americans trustworthy, reliable information. Putting someone who is -- who has lied and who has lied on several occasions and seems to have some kind of compulsion to enhance his resume is not the way you restore credibility for a troubled news channel.
So, I get what you're saying. I think it makes sense because of is star power and his visibility and you think, wow, this guy could -- by cable standards this, guy would drive ratings through the roof. If it wasn't a credibility issue and MSNBC hadn't blown itself up with its ideology in the last few -- with its commitment -- overcommitment to ideology in the last few years.
STELTER: I think the agreement here is there will be a second act for Brian Williams. The question is exactly what it is and that's still being figured out.
But before I go, I want to bring up, one good news item for NBC News -- and, Andrew, I wanted to ask you about this, about the "Today" show. It had back-to-back ratings victories in May. That hasn't happened in a couple years.
Are we starting to see a comeback for what is frankly the more important asset for NBC News, the "Today" show?
WALLENSTEIN: Well, if I'm Deborah Turness, I don't think I'm popping champagne corks just yet, but it's an encouraging sign. She's seeing good results there. She's seeing "Meet the Press" is doing well. The evening newscast with Lester Holt, of course, doing well. These are all good signs, but no victory lap in sight just yet.
STELTER: Andrew Wallenstein, David Zurawik, thanks for being here this morning, I appreciate it.
WALLENSTEIN: Thank you.
STELTER: When we come back, another breaking news story, one that's just developed in the past few hours. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry airlifted to a hospital in Geneva, Switzerland, after breaking his right femur in a bicycle accident in France. We'll have an update in just a moment.
Stay with us.
[11:16:31] STELTER: Welcome back.
More media news in a moment but let's get an update on Secretary of State John Kerry who was forced to cut his Europe trip short today after breaking his leg in a bike accident in France. He was flown by helicopter to a helicopter in Switzerland and a spokesman for the State Department say he was alert and conscious throughout the ordeal.
There have been new developments all morning. So, let's get to Jim Sciutto in Washington, who joins us now.
Jim, do we know where he is at the moment and what his condition is?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Brian, he's still in Switzerland, still in Geneva, still in the hospital. They're working out the logistics for how he would come home. That plan still today.
But keep in mind, they're cutting short this trip. These were important talks in Paris and Madrid on the anti-ISIS coalition for instance, and, of course, leaving Geneva where those crucial Iran talks are under way with less than a month to go for the deadline. A serious injury and they're bringing him home to the doctor who treated that leg before because, remember, he had a hip replacement surgery and this break on the same side as that surgery was, they wouldn't be bringing him back if this wasn't a serious injury.
That said, they say he's in good spirits. The injury certainly not life-threatening, but it's something that has to be taken care of.
STELTER: This must be creating a lot of conversation where you are in Washington about the effects on the Iran talks.
SCIUTTO: It's bad timing, there's no question. You have a month to go. You're really in the stretch run here, and the personal relationship between Secretary Kerry and the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Sharif has been key to these negotiations from the beginning. You still have major sticking points on sanctions relief, for instance, access to sensitive nuclear sites in Iran. Those are the kinds of things when you have two people who have been working together from the very start of these talks, those face-to-face conversations mean something, and that's why Kerry more than anyone really is always flying around the world for face-to-face conversations, whatever the issue is.
So, here you have a case where, you know, it's possible it's going to keep him away from that and that has to have some effect. Does it kill the deal? No, but it's not good timing for an injury like this.
STELTER: Jim, thank you very much. We'll see you on "STATE OF THE UNION" in a few minutes.
SCIUTTO: Thank you.
STELTER: Sanjay Gupta is also with us, joining us on the phone.
Dr. Sanjay, you're a doctor, of course. You have described how difficult it be to recover from this type of injury. But you're also a journalist. And I wonder, since John Kerry is the key man in these negotiations with Iran, it's a mission that could not be more urgent and vital. Can you see a situation where he can continue to play a role? Will Kerry be able to continue to play a role in these negotiations?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, you know, I think there's search going to be a period of time when he's just going to have an operation, then be recovering from that, and during that time, you know, the recovery is really, you know, crucial and he'll likely be in a hospital for a few days and just be recovering. After that, Brian, it's four to six months probably people will typically talk about in terms of recovery, but it can be longer, and there's a lot involved.
It's going to be hard for had I am to travel, certainly harder for him to travel. Might he be able to do some of that still? Perhaps. I think it's going to be a call that his doctor is going to have to make.
And as Jim Sciutto just mentioned, he had his hip replaced on that side in 2009, so now he has this problem on top of it. So how bad is that area of his leg? How much is that going to affect his mobility overall?
I think he'll still be able to be active and engaged with regard to your question, Brian, but maybe harder to do as much of it in person.
STELTER: People may be wondering, what is it like to travel back across the Atlantic when there's an injury like this?
[11:20:06] GUPTA: Yes. So, there's two ways of looking at this. I think it's a really important question.
One is that this is a painful injury. Look, the femur bone that he broke, the thigh bone, is the strongest and longest bone in the body. To break it, it requires a lot of force, and it's painful. So, he's dealing with that. I'm sure he's getting pain medications and all that to address that.
But if there is a good side, it is that they made the decision that he can travel. He can, you know, be stable enough to make the journey back to the United States, have the doctor who originally operated on him take care of him again who knows his leg well. So that's a good sign.
If this were much more urgent or emergent or if there was something else that were more involved going on here, they could have made the decision to just operate, recommend the operation right there, and the fact that they're allowing him to go home I think is a bit of a good sign.
STELTER: Pretty unfortunate, pretty painful situation. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks for being here.
GUPTA: No problem, Brian. Thank you.
STELTER: When we come back here on RELIABLE SOURCES: the big media question of the week. With eight declared Republican candidates and three Democrats and many more to come, how do media outlets decide just how much coverage each candidate really should get? As the field gets more and more crowded, we're going to debate that next.
[11:25:47] STELTER: It has been a banner week for presidential campaign kickoffs with four new wannabes jumping in the race. On Saturday, it was former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, and that followed announcements by Bernie Sanders on Tuesday, former Senator Rick Santorum on Wednesday and, wait for it, former New York Governor George Pataki on Thursday.
For those of you keeping score at home, who is not, that's three candidates on the Democratic side and eight Republican candidates so far.
And if that's not enough for you, Donald Trump announced that he makes -- plans to make a major announcement at his Trump Tower on June 16th.
And Lincoln Chafee is talking about getting on the Democrat side. And we know there's lots of others in the Republican side, so on and so on.
So for the political press s this just an embarrassment of riches or just an embarrassment? With so many candidates, the question is, who deserves a turn in the media spotlight and how do we divvy up all the attention? Because I'm sure remember this, this is CNN's Republican presidential debate back in September of 2011. There were eight candidates crowding the stage that night.
And four years later, there could easily be double that number jockeying for air time, especially if all these guys and girls get into the race, which is why FOX and CNN have announced debate criteria to limit the numbers.
The Democrats meanwhile have the opposite problem, kind of. With Hillary Clinton dominating the polls, how much attention should O'Malley and Sanders and maybe Chafee really get from the press? Should we make editorial decisions based on the reality of polls or the possibilities that anyone could win?
There's perhaps no more important, no bigger question when it comes to political media.
So, let's bring in two people who thought a lot about this. Ron Fournier, a columnist with "The National Journal", and Mollie Hemingway, a senior editor for "The Federalist".
Good morning. Thanks for being here.
RON FOURNIER, THE NATIONAL JOURNAL: Good morning.
MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: Great to be here.
STELTER: Ron, very simply, is it polls or is it possibilities?
FOURNIER: It's both. You know, what reporters is do is you look at the data, at the history, you look at trends, you do a lot of reporting and then you make a judgment -- which of these people has the best chance at -- or of all these people, let's put the focus on the folks who are going to impact the campaign or the presidency.
It's kind of like a sports writer. If you cover baseball, you've got a thousand major leaguers. You don't give them all the same amount of attention. You kind of look at which ones are going to affect the game and constantly reassess -- and the shortstop, the backup shortstop, who you're not paying any attention to in spring training, he goes on a hot streak in the summer and all of a sudden, now, you focus on him. And that's what happens to politics.
STELTER: Yes, but doesn't the media also manufacture rivalries like that sometimes?
ROUNIER: Manufacture, yes, sometimes we do have -- our greatest bias isn't our ideology, it's our bias towards conflict. So, there are times we manufacture a conflict.
We shouldn't. We should always be thinking not just what does event -- what does this event say and how it might affect the campaign, but how it might affect and reflect the kind of person this candidate would be as a president. That's what we should be doing. It's not what we always do.
STELTER: Mollie, what's your take on the Republican field currently? Do you think it's simply a matter of too many people?
And I bring that up because you suggest something really interesting, something that I loved the idea about. You said every candidate should agree not to sign a TV deal or a book deal for two years after they're running. Tell me about that idea.
HEMINGWAY: Well, there's no way that's enforceable.
HEMINGWAY: But there are these -- you have these issues that, you know, some people are in this race a little bit more legitimately than others.
But I just completely reject the idea that this is a problem to be solved. This is a tremendous journalistic opportunity. I mean, you have serious ideological disputes going on on the Republican side of things. You have very different ideas about education policy, Common Core, foreign policy, interventionism, you know, surveillance.
And we never -- as journalists, we complain about the influence of money in politics and we complain about barely distinguishable candidates who don't have interesting policy ideas, and what we have are some really interesting debates that affect the entire country, and even candidates who seem maybe too us a little less legitimate might have really good ideas on a particular policy issue.
It's not like the primary is being held today. This is a long process, and I think we can just take our time and really explore these ideas.
STELTER: One of the big debates has been about how much attention Bernie Sanders should get as a candidate and now O'Malley now that he is in a race. Where do you come out on that, as someone who's a right-leaning writer but someone who's paying close attention to this left-leading debate?
[11:30:05] HEMINGWAY: Well, there's no question that Hillary is dominating this -- this side of things.
But these are -- these are, again, candidates who have very interesting ideas. Their ideas alone can impact the race. And, again, because we have so much time, I see no problem with fully interrogating, you know, tax policies. And Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders have very intriguing ideas about tax policy.
And this is something that it's even good for Hillary if she can actually be forced to engage some of these discussions.
STELTER: Like you said, we do have a lot of time.
Ron, I wonder if you see an MSNBC primary sort of going on. We have talked on this program about the FOX primary, about FOX News covering these Republican candidates and giving them attention or not and how that influences the race. This week, I wonder if you saw any MSNBC primary activities going on with Bernie Sanders and O'Malley?
FOURNIER: Yes, you do have a little bit of that.
The ideological media -- and it's not just on TV, but it's also in print and on the Web...
FOURNIER: They have a vested interest in creating a conflict, in creating a race, so that the viewers who tend to go to polarized media will have something to show up for. That definitely is a factor.
STELTER: Mollie, I heard you jumping in there as well. HEMINGWAY: I just worry that we -- that the way we cover these things,
we sometimes marginalize ourselves as media figures.
HEMINGWAY: And we really -- we have seen that some campaigns have figured out that they actually don't need to work through the media. They can take their message directly to the voters.
We need to do what we do best. We need to think about what our comparative advantage is. That means not focusing on gaffes or silly conflicts that we highlight too much, but really focusing on substance and making it interesting and entertaining for voters. That's where we're going to do the best and that's where we should focus our efforts.
STELTER: Yes. Yes.
FOURNIER: I was just going to follow up, because I agree completely with Mollie.
Every day, there's something that happens on the campaign trail that tells us what kind of president these people or this person would be. And that's what we should be focusing on, is, what kind of leadership abilities are they showing or not showing every day?
STELTER: I was going to throw a provocative question to both of you before we go, because I love what you said, Mollie, about this being a tremendous journalistic opportunity.
But I do wonder, are there any candidates in this GOP race, sometimes looks like a clown car, that should not be getting our attention? Donald Trump, for example?
HEMINGWAY: I have a hard time saying it about anyone other than Donald Trump.
And people are saying it about more than just him. But Donald Trump, it's very hard to take seriously. But, again, that's not something that journalists need to decide, so much as letting voters. Maybe he has a message that really resonates outside -- outside of newsrooms. And it's not our job to pick winners and losers here, even though that is a difficult case.
STELTER: Ron, what about you? Donald Trump, should we take him seriously?
FOURNIER: I agree. It's hard to imagine Donald Trump being president. He has a pretty good, interesting TV show, but he doesn't have a political background or -- I just don't find him very credible.
STELTER: But if he's polling in the top 10, he will be on the debate stage. Right?
FOURNIER: But you know what? But Mollie is right. I only have one vote. And I can write a few columns.
My job is trying to figure out not just who is going to win the campaign, but what kind of president they are going to be. And Donald Trump might say something, do something that isn't going to get him to the White House, but might affect who does. And I have got to pay attention to that.
STELTER: Ron, Mollie, thanks for the thoughtful conversation this morning.
FOURNIER: Thank you.
STELTER: Up next here on the program: allegations of blackmail and sexual misconduct surrounding former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. The question now is, how did the press corps not find out about this for decades? We are going to explore that just after this.
STELTER: Welcome back.
The blockbuster news of Dennis Hastert's criminal indictment sent shockwaves through Washington this week. The former House speaker is facing serious charges for lying to the FBI about the millions of dollars he allegedly paid to a former student in apparent hush money to keep him quiet about allegations of sexual misconduct.
This all apparently allegedly happened while Hastert was a high school teacher and wrestling coach in Yorkville, Illinois. There are still many unanswered questions in this case, and it all has me wondering, how did one of the most powerful men in Washington hide this from the media for so long? Makes you wonder what else we don't know, right?
Back with me -- actually, joining me now in Washington, BuzzFeed's Washington, D.C., bureau chief, John Stanton.
John, thanks for being here.
JOHN STANTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, BUZZFEED: It's good to be here.
STELTER: BuzzFeed was one of the first outlets to report on this indictment the other day.
It's all -- it's all been based on anonymous sources, all the things we have heard in recent days. How can we trust sources in a case like this?
STANTON: Well, I think you have to, a certain degree, trust the reporters, trust the outlets.
We went through a lot of -- talked to a lot of people, a lot of sources to make sure that what we were writing was true. And I think, in a situation like this, where getting at information that the government is withholding for whatever reason as part of these indictments is always going to be difficult, and it's going to necessitate us to work with anonymous sources.
And it's incumbent on the reporters to trust the people that they are working with, to know that they have a good track record, and to verify through multiple people that the stories all line up.
STELTER: Right. I think it's good for viewers at home to know when there are anonymous sources -- and I was using them in a segment about Brian Williams earlier this hour -- editors are involved, bosses like you are involved in those processes.
And there are a lot of instances in which we know things that we believe to be true that we have multiple sources telling us are true, but we don't have enough sources telling us or we don't -- the stories are not quite consistent enough, that we don't report on.
So, for instance, this -- the story that came out from I guess "The L.A. Times" on Friday that this was -- involved allegations of sexual misconduct, a lot of people in town knew that after the indictment came out and -- who had been working on this story before it had come out.
STANTON: And we had heard that. We had heard those kind of things
But we had -- none of us had been able to report it yet because we had not sort of gotten the sourcing together to do it. So...
STELTER: That's really helpful to hear.
Eventually, a lot of news outlets confirmed that news report, including CNN, but, initially, you're saying lots of journalists knew it and weren't quite ready to report it.
STANTON: Exactly. Exactly.
STELTER: Let me play a weird sound bite for you, because this is a clip from C-SPAN. It happened last year, but it was unearthed in the wake of the indictment. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Illinois is our next call. Here's Bruce, independent line.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, Denny.
DENNIS HASTERT (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Hey. How are you doing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pretty good. Remember me from Yorkville?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bruce, you're on. Go ahead with your question.
HASTERT: Yes, go ahead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: It was weird from start to finish, the laughter and all the rest.
All of it makes me wonder about stories like this. When we're -- when we learn about a huge secret that's been kept for decades, how did all the journalists miss it?
STANTON: I think -- in some instances, I think it goes back to what I was saying earlier, that there are some times where we hear things about politicians or organizations or whatever here in D.C. that, you know, we learn things about them, but we're never able to report them for one reason or another, that we don't have enough sources, that there's just not enough evidence, that things don't come together quite right.
And so you never -- a lot of people outside of Washington and outside of the system don't see it because we working on the story are just never able to get it. In this instance, though, while there were occasionally a few rumors that people that I have talked to said that they heard over the years, mostly, quite frankly, it sort of seemed to boil down to sort of bad taste jokes about being a wrestling coach and the old saw about that, right?
And most everyone that I have talked to certainly in Washington who knew him, that knew his inner circle, that knew the people around him have said that this comes as a shock. And our reporters that have been working in Yorkville say that, in the community as well, that this has really taken pretty much everyone by surprise, that folks that are pretty plugged into this town's gossip mill had never heard this before.
And so this may be an instance in which this was just covered up really, really well, and that then this is how it first came out, was because he slipped up with this money situation.
STELTER: John, thanks so much for being here. Great talking with you.
STANTON: Thank you.
STELTER: My next guest said the same thing off camera a few minutes ago. Sometimes, cover-ups work.
Alan Dershowitz joins me now, the famed attorney and the author of "Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law."
Thanks for being here.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, ATTORNEY: My pleasure. Thank you.
STELTER: So, is that the takeaway here, that, sometimes, sometimes, you can keep a secret from the whole journalism world for decades?
DERSHOWITZ: But it's a very bad idea. It's a very bad idea to ever pay hush money, because you're owned by the young man.
Let's distinguish also what kind of truth we know. I think we have a pretty good basis for knowing that he paid money and that he paid it in a structured way. What we don't know is whether he paid hush money to prevent a true story or a false story from coming out.
DERSHOWITZ: People often pay hush money to prevent a false allegation from coming out.
False allegations can be as career-ruining as true allegations. And we have no information, as far as I know, to corroborate the fact that he actually engaged in improper touching or whatever other sexual allegations there were.
STELTER: As an attorney, do you hear media reports that are based on anonymous sources and approach them with a lot of skepticism?
And I'm very skeptical, because the media often fails to distinguish between uncorroborated word of a single person, like this young man, investigated reports, indictments, convictions. Once they hear that there's been an allegation, and it's covered by some legal privilege because it's in a legal document, then the press is eager to report it, because scandal sells. And they often don't do enough to tell the public how credible the information may be.
STELTER: You were caught up in a scandal yourself recently over sex allegations that were unproven. You wrote a letter to the editor of "The New York Times" about it, because when -- well, tell me what happened. Tell me what your letter was about.
DERSHOWITZ: Well, what happened is, I was falsely accused by some woman who has falsely accused many, many other people. I disproved it. The judge struck it, but "The New York Times" ran a big...
STELTER: But that part wasn't covered. Right?
DERSHOWITZ: That part wasn't covered.
"The New York Times" ran a big story of putting me together with Prince Andrew. And then when I filed a lawsuit and got it struck on the ground that it was irrelevant, impertinent, wrong to do it, "The New York Times" just didn't report the story for three days. When they finally buried the story, they didn't even mention my name in the headline.
So I wrote a letter, because scandal sells far better than vindication does. And, you know, the media didn't analyze how incredible the story was, that this is a woman who claimed that she had dinner with Bill Clinton and two other young women and had sex with many, many other public figures. They just took it as true.
I had to disprove it. Fortunately, I was able to disprove it. I don't think anybody believes the story anymore. But it's still out there, because the media doesn't do a good enough job reporting on the vindication when they report on the allegation.
STELTER: You sometimes see it on Google. The initial story is so much higher in the results than the follow-up story, which might actually have corrections or something like that.
DERSHOWITZ: That's right.
STELTER: I mean, we don't know what will happen in this case with Hastert, but it's a reminder that sometimes initial allegations are not always met by evidence or by follow-up.
DERSHOWITZ: Skepticism is a very good trait, not only for journalists, but for people who listen to journalists. Always keep an open mind.
STELTER: There's a tension here, because part of me expresses the idea that you should trust reporters when they have anonymous sources, because they check them with editors and there's bosses and follow- ups.
On the other hand, though, skepticism is valuable. There's a tough tension here.
DERSHOWITZ: But even here, the media failed to report that they had no corroboration whatsoever for the truth or falsity of the sexual allegation.
All they had corroboration for -- and it was corroboration leaked to them by the government, obviously, as part of their plan for the indictment -- was that he had paid hush money. But that doesn't lead you inexorably to the conclusion that he had done the act that he was trying to hush up.
STELTER: More to come on this story. Thank you for being here and analyzing with us.
DERSHOWITZ: Thank you.
STELTER: Appreciate it.
Coming up here, it will be a rare Sunday at work later today for senators, as they race a midnight deadline for a key terror tracking program of the Patriot Act. But is the media buying into too much of the fear-mongering that is going on? Glenn Greenwald joins me in a moment.
STELTER: The final countdown is on for a vote to keep key provisions of the Patriot Act, a controversial law that, among many other things, allows the government to collect phone metadata on ordinary Americans.
The president says the U.S. needs this information to stop terrorist threats here at home. One senior administration official, given anonymity, said that Congress was playing Russian roulette with national security by not passing the extension for this bill.
But there's a complication. Rand Paul is vowing to make sure the bill does not pass. And we will see what happens this afternoon. It sure looks like it's in peril.
But no matter what happens, here's something to keep in mind. None of this would be happening without Edward Snowden, without his release of top-secret documents, without "The Guardian" and "The Washington Post" newspapers agreeing to decipher the documents and tell the world about the NSA's programs, without journalists who stood up to the government.
Some people think those journalists did a terrible thing. Some people think Snowden's a traitor. But this is a case of journalist shining a light in the darkness and affecting the public debate.
Now, one of those journalists, Glenn Greenwald, is joining me now from Rio. He was one of Snowden's original contacts and now a journalist for The Intercept.
Glenn, thanks for being here.
GLENN GREENWALD, THE INTERCEPT: Good to be with you.
STELTER: I just wanted to highlight this idea that, without Snowden, we wouldn't see Rand Paul necessarily on the floor of the Senate this afternoon trying to stop this bill.
Remind us where the debate was and where it was after Snowden.
GREENWALD: Well, remember that when the Patriot Act was enacted, even in the weeks after 9/11, when the country was pretty much willing to do anything the government wanted, it was recognized it was an incredibly radical and extremist piece of legislation. And the idea was, these powers we're giving the government should be temporary, not permanent, and so they're going to sunset every five years unless Congress renews them. And yet, in 2005, the Bush administration demanded renewal. And, overwhelmingly, Congress renewed it with no fight.
In 2011, President Obama demanded renewal, and Congress overwhelmingly renewed it without any debate. And now you see not just Rand Paul, but dozens of House liberals and House conservatives and other people standing up together and saying, we're not going to just renew the Patriot Act without reform. We're going to have serious reform.
And in some cases, a lot of people are saying we should just let these provisions lapse. The whole world has changed when it comes to this debate as a result of the revelations from Edward Snowden.
STELTER: Have you been in touch with Snowden recently? How does he feel about what's about to happen in the Senate today?
GREENWALD: I mean, he feels, you know, very good about the fact that there's a real debate.
He has serious qualms, like I think most privacy activists and advocates do, about the USA Freedom Act, which is the piece of legislation that the Obama White House and the intelligence community has gotten behind. It's woefully inadequate, at best.
But it's really good to see. This is going to be the first time -- and this is extraordinary -- since 9/11, 14 years ago, that the Congress is taking away powers from the federal government in the name of terrorism, rather than giving them new ones. And so, hopefully, this can be built on.
STELTER: When you hear news outlets, mostly citing anonymous sources, threatening about the risk to the country if this -- these provisions do not remain, what do you hear? Because I sometimes worry that we encourage people to be more afraid than they should be by repeating these talking points from administration officials.
GREENWALD: Well, American media outlets should really be ashamed of themselves, the way they do that.
I mean, supposedly, the lesson that large American media outlets learned from their role in selling the Iraq War to the public was, oh, we're not going to allow government officials to propagandize the public any longer by giving them anonymity whenever they ask for it. We're going to make them put their names on things and therefore be held accountable.
And yet this all turned out to be a complete scam. If you turn on any major cable network, including the one we're on, unfortunately, or read any large newspaper, American newspaper, you constantly see reporters giving anonymity to the people they're supposedly serving as watchdogs over in order to scare the public.
And that "New York Times" article that you referenced that gave anonymity to Obama officials to say nothing other than you're playing Russian roulette with national security if you're one of our critics on the Patriot Act was disgraceful. It was the kind of reporting that got Judy Miller fired. And yet they continue to do it.
STELTER: Well, and yet some officials have said it on the record. Loretta Lynch, for example, has made very severe statements about what could happen without these provisions of the Patriot Act. Are we not supposed to report what they say when they're on the record?
GREENWALD: No. Of course, on the record should absolutely be reported. And then there should be reporting that goes along with it from people who dispute that or from facts that undermine it.
I mean, here's the thing, Brian. You have these Obama officials who are saying...
STELTER: So, your point is -- your point is -- one of the quotes from her was, we will be less safe. That was one of her quotes.
I think what you're saying is, there should be follow-up when in fact something expires and the country's not less safe.
I mean, the Obama administration put together a panel to ask this panel of experts who had access to classified information All right,, these metadata domestic spying programs keeping us safe?
And their own panel concluded that there has not been a single terrorist attack stopped by this program. So, now to allow Obama officials to go around the country saying, you're going to die at the hands of ISIS and al Qaeda if we can't spy on you, without noting that all the evidence negates that, I think, is irresponsible. It's stenography journalism.
STELTER: Glenn, thank you for being here. I appreciate your time.
GREENWALD: Thank you, Brian. Appreciate it.
STELTER: And the vote and the debate in the Senate will happen this afternoon.
One more story for you here on RELIABLE SOURCES, and it's coming up right after the break.
STELTER: We are out of time on TV, but check out the rest of the week's media news on CNN.com, including my take on the week's big media merger. That's Charter plus Time Warner Cable.
[12:00:08] It's all on CNN.com.
And stay tuned because "STATE OF THE UNION" starts right now.