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Indonesia Plane Crash Site Located; Cold War: Trump Vs. FOX News; The Media's Obsession With Early Front-Runners; Difficulties of Covering the Tianjin Explosion; Remembering the Impact of Morton Downey Jr. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired August 16, 2015 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:08] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Brian Stelter. And RELIABLE SOURCES will begin in just a moment.

But, first, there are new developments about the story we've been covering all morning long here on CNN. Wreckage has apparently been located from the Indonesian passenger plane that went missing earlier today. The plane was carrying 54 people. It lost contact with air traffic control shortly before its scheduled arrival.

CNN's David Molko is in Singapore now with the latest.

David, there was a press conference held from the local authorities. What are they now saying?

DAVID MOLKO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brian. Officials now saying that they believe that there were reports of villagers seeing this plane crash into the side of a mountain, extremely rugged terrain, hard to get communication, hard to get access to. They've suspended the search overnight.

I should caution, though, that these are early reports coming in. They are stressing they have to see it with their own eyes and verify it. They'll be able to do that when the sun comes up.

What this is doing, what this is calling into question, 54 people on board this flight, once again, is Indonesia's safety records when it comes to maintenance, when it comes to training.

Brian, it was only a matter of months ago that we saw the AirAsia flight go down in the Java Sea. Less than two months ago, a military cargo plane with more than 130 people onboard crashed. Indonesia says it's working hard to make improvements across the board.

But this, once again, calling into question the reality here, Brian, 54 passengers and crew, including some children, may very well have lost their lives -- Brian.

STELTER: David, thank you for the update, the unfortunate update from there. CNN will stay on top of the story all day long.

Turning to RELIABLE SOURCES. We do have some great stories ahead for you, including a close-up look at the censorship that journalists face in China. And closer to home, complaints from Bernie Sanders fans about press bias.

But, up first, my brand new reporting about the biggest media standoff of the week: there is a full-blown cold war now between Donald Trump and FOX News. It all stems from the way Megyn Kelly questioned Trump at the first GOP debate.

You know, this time last week, we were talking about Trump attacking FOX and whether he actually referred to Kelly's menstrual cycle while criticizing her. Behind the scenes, even while we were on the air, there was a flurry of phone calls between Trump and the powerful FOX News boss Roger Ailes.

On Monday, the two men seemed to strike a truce. Trump stopped attacking FOX and FOX started covering Trump again.

But Trump allies were still leaking unflattering stuff about Ailes, and FOX staffers were still privately calling Trump a crazy person. And then, Kelly went on vacation.

Now, you're probably wondering, why is that a big deal? Well, it shouldn't have been a big deal. She deserved a vacation. But rumors were flying saying she had been sidelined by Ailes or even suspended in order to appease Trump.

I can tell you, the rumors are not true. But when Trump was asked interviewed by Newsmax TV on Friday, host Steve Malzberg if Trump he saw a connection between Kelly's time off and the debate fallout. And here's what he said.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): Well, there probably was, but I wouldn't know about it. And I hope she is well and I hope she is feeling fine. I hope she comes back and she's going to be fair and good, and I'm sure that will happen. And I'm sure Roger will make it happen because he is a fair guy, and he wants things to run smoothly.

So, yes, people were very, very surprised that, all of a sudden, she decided to go away for ten or 11 or 12 days. But that's OK. I mean, some people make those quick decisions.


STELTER: FOX fired back right away with a statement saying the conspiracy theories about Megyn Kelly's vacation rank up there with UFO's, the moon landing and Elvis being alive. FOX also called the Trump speculation irresponsible and downright bizarre.

But Trump is brushing off that criticism. Listen to his comments in Iowa yesterday.


TRUMP: I love Roger Ailes, but all you have to do is ask Roger Ailes who won. So, I don't think I -- you know, I don't think I've made any mistakes. I'm sure I will at some point, but so far, you would have to say, it hasn't worked out badly, right?


STELTER: I do wonder how Roger Ailes will react to that. I wonder what Bill O'Reilly will say when he's back from vacation tomorrow.

This morning, two great guests are here to analyze what's going on, including a man who has known Trump and Ailes for decades. The big question in the media industry is: who needs who more?

Former Trump senior adviser, Roger Stone, joins me now here on the set.

Roger, thanks for being here.

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: Thank you very much for inviting me.

STELTER: I am interested in hearing your assessment of this so-called truce between fox and Trump. Let me start at the beginning, which is the debate now ten days ago. Was it smart political strategy for Donald Trump to go after the moderators like Megyn Kelly?

STONE: You know what, the voters are really fed up with career politicians in the political system, but they're also fed up with the elite media, because they're tired of the gotcha questions, they're tired of the media taking one part of what you say and not all of what you say.

[11:05:09] So, I frankly think there was no downside. And as far as the debate itself, I frankly think Trump won that exchange by first converting the question away from women to politically correctness and then basically saying I am what I am. If you don't like it, that's too bad.

STELTER: Are you saying FOX is part of the elite media because it often rails against the mainstream media?

STONE: I'm saying that the voters see commentators in general as in bed with the politicians. Everybody scratching everybody else's back. Now, I'm a -- FOX is a powerhouse. Eight out of ten primary voters are watching FOX.

In my opinion, FOX needs Trump because FOX is about ratings. Roger Ailes isn't trying to elect or not elect anybody. He is about the success of his channel, the success of his network, and he's about ratings. Twenty-four million people is nothing to sniff at. Ailes is a genius. STELTER: Let me ask you more about that, because you mentioned Roger

Ailes not wanting to get people elected. A lot of people think he does want to see Republicans in power and that's part of what he strives to do with FOX News.

Why do you say that's not the case?

STONE: First of all, there's no question Roger has his personal beliefs. But, first and foremost, he is in the entertainment and news business. He wants to build his network. He recognized Trump would be great television, 24 million people is nothing to sniff at.

STELTER: So, you're saying it's a mutually beneficial relationship when it's going well between Ailes and Trump.

STONE: I'm not going to characterize what the relationship is like. I just think that there is a disproportionate FOX to the importance of Republican primary voters. And right now, Trump is a rock star. He is the news.

STELTER: Does FOX need Trump more than Trump needs FOX? Is it more than a one-way relationship?

STONE: No, I think they're good for each other. Trump brings ratings to FOX and they're in the ratings business. And FOX allows Trump to reach the very voters that he needs to get nominated. So, it's a good thing.

STELTER: Over the weekend, actually this time last weekend. we saw FOX basically ignore Trump and once Ailes and Trump got on the phone they seemed to make nice and FOX ratcheted coverage of Trump back up. He appeared on two shows on Tuesday. Let's take a look at both of those appearances.


STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS: He's back. Donald Trump joins us on the line.

Donald, good morning to you. Glad you're back with us and you're friends with us again.

TRUMP (via telephone): Well, we are friends, Steve. We've always been friends. And it's great to be back with you.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: All right. Let's start with the elephant in the room. The FOX issue is resolved. And how did that come about?

TRUMP: Well, I have a great relationship with Roger Ailes. Actually I didn't understand what went wrong because I felt it wasn't really -- I was not treated fairly and Roger called me the other day, and it's absolutely fine.


STELTER: Now, that was as of Tuesday. It seems like the tensions have ratcheted back up, though. On Friday, we heard Trump talking about Megyn Kelly's vacation. We saw FOX come on the record and called it bizarre that Trump was speculating about her vacation plans.

Do you think this truce is going to hold between these two titans of media and business?

STONE: I have no idea. And I'm not privy to the conversations on neither side. But presidential politics is about big, sweeping issues. This is all process. The truth is that Donald Trump is running against, you know, 15 pygmies and a brain surgeon, a brilliant brain surgeon.

He is not running against FOX News. The American people want to see him rumble with Iran and with China. This is all process and maybe we're interested in it because we're junkies and we are into the political thing.


STONE: But the voters, they want to see, you know, your big-picture vision.

STELTER: If these tensions worsen between FOX and Trump, do you think it's possible for him to win without FOX?

STONE: Well, FOX is, as I said earlier, reaching a disproportionate number of the voters and they're going to play a major role in the Republican Party.

STELTER: So maybe it's not possible?

STONE: It's very hard to say. There are other conservative media outlets that are significant, and talk radio is significant. Newsmax is significant. Breitbart is significant. The Daily Caller is significant. But those are dwarfed by the power of FOX.

STELTER: It's really a testament to Roger Ailes that he's been able to solidify and cement that base of Republican voters around FOX.

STONE: Well, because he knows who his viewers are and how to speak to them. FOX represents middle class values. That's why it works so well in the hinterlands. I mean, they have built an extraordinary company and they're reaching the very people that all the Republican candidates have to reach.

STELTER: Roger, thanks for being here. Thanks for spending some time with us this morning.

STONE: Great to be here.

A fascinating conversation. We're really talking about the FOX primary here.

And for more on it, let me bring in Jackie Calmes. She's a veteran political correspondent for "The New York Times". And she recently took time off at Harvard's Kennedy School to research the impact of conservative media on national politics.

Jackie, good to see you this morning.


STELTER: Let me ask you a version of the question I asked Roger Stone.

With this feud between Trump and FOX, if it continues to heat up, it's a cold war now, if it becomes more of a hot war, do you think Trump can win without FOX News and the big conservative audience it provides?

[11:10:04] CALMES: Well, I'm not so sure he has to win without FOX News, because if he's winning, FOX is going to want to be covering him. And it will be up to him whether he gives them the time. He'll have an interest in giving them the time.

You know, it's interesting to me because FOX -- he's hit at a number of institutions, you know, women, and veterans through John McCain, and he has come out all right. He is a candidate at a time when people are against institutions generally, big institutions and FOX is a big institution.

STELTER: That's exactly what Stone was saying as well, the elite media. So, there's some agreement here.

When you were researching this topic, researching the conservative media, was your takeaway that some of these outlets like Newsmax and Breitbart, which Stone mentioned, that some of them are on the payroll? I ask because there was a report last week from "BuzzFeed" that Trump or his allies have been paying Breitbart's Web site. Of course, the Breitbart site has denied that.

What do you make of that possibility?

CALMES: Well, there's a number of conservative media supported by investors, businessmen and conservative groups, including Sean Hannity, Heritage Action, and some of these other groups, Senate Conservatives Fund. They have -- it's on the record. They've given money to talk radio and supported them.

And, you know, then there has been this question of giving, you know, the conservative media people give voice to the positions that the conservative advocacy groups, which are generally anti-establishment as well, they hate the Republican leadership. And so, there is -- there is a sort of financial link between conservative media and the conservative advocacy groups and businessmen and investors.

STELTER: And your main takeaway from your research was that -- the title of your paper even, "They Don't Give a Damn About Governing" -- is that these conservative media powers, the Rush Limbaugh's of the world, that they're not necessarily interested in what the Republican establishment is interested in. Where does Trump fall in that? He's clearly anti-establishment.

CALMES: Right. That's part of the secret of his appeal. And could I just interject there, though, that the title of my paper, "They Don't Give a Damn About Governing", is not me saying that. That was taken from a quote from a Republican, former 20-year veteran lawmaker, who was on the record. And so, I just wanted to add that.

STELTER: Good. I'm glad you clarified that.

CALMES: You know, I'm a "New York Times" reporter.

STELTER: What you were trying to share what they are all saying about this media --

CALMES: Right.

STELTER: -- situation.

CALMES: Right.

And so, you know, Trump is anti-establishment. And he is tapping into something, because as much as FOX is valued by conservative voters, as Roger Stone alluded to, and remains really popular, the Pew Research Center found that about half of self-identified conservative voters get their information from FOX -- still, I found, to my surprise somewhat, that there is a really healthy strain on the right of people who have now grown suspicious of FOX News as well.

And even before that FOX News debate, I picked up a lot of complaints from people who are for Ted Cruz, for instance --

STELTER: Yes, that's a great point.

CALMES: -- that FOX was freezing him out.

STELTER: And that's what Trump in some ways is referring to or responding to.

Jackie, thanks for being here this morning.

CALMES: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: And we are just getting started. It is the weekend, of course, the Iowa state fair. Lots of coverage on television this weekend. And we're going to go live to the fairgrounds coming up.

You've got to see what we have for you right after this break, because, you know, we think about Iowa, we think about every four years. So, we're opening up our time machine and look at some embarrassing predictions from past primary elections.

Stay tuned.


[11:17:28] STELTER: Welcome back.

You know, I don't have a very good memory sometimes, and I'm afraid the same is true for many of my colleagues in the media. Right now, there are 448 days before Americans vote for the next president.

Already, most of us in the media are framing the election as a horse race, using polls to drive narratives like this. Number one, frontrunner Donald Trump is leading the GOP pack. Number two, Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls.

But let's put this horse race into perspective. Let's try to find some collective memory and look back four years ago this week, because that's when Michele Bachmann emerged as a second tier candidate and became her party's front runner.


REPORTER: Michele Bachmann is taking Iowa by storm. Once considered a fringe candidate, Bachmann starts as the front runner in first of the nation caucus state Iowa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The winner of the 2011 Iowa straw poll is Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michele Bachmann won. That certainly cements her position as a serious player in this race.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about Michele Bachmann?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is my hero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's your hero?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is going all the way. She is going to win this thing. I predict she beats Romney.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Surprises in the latest poll which shows Herman Cain is now leading the Republican pack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Herman Cain has come from nowhere to establish himself as one of the frontrunners.


STELTER: Thankfully, the Internet at least has a good memory, because we can find those clips and remind us all about all that commentary.

You know the saying. The race to the White House isn't a sprint, it's a marathon. If you follow the polls back in 2011, if you look back at the records, it was more of a relay race. Bachmann ended her front runner status and handed it off to Rick Perry, who would rise and fall to Herman Cain and handed it off to Newt Gingrich. But it was Mitt Romney who would eventually become the GOP nominee.

This issue is not new. You guys know it's not. Go back eight years. The media was enthralled with another candidate who would never become president.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: In the Republican Party, the party trying to hang on to the White House for a third straight term, there is evidence that, while there are behind the Democrats in the polls, a Republican leader has emerged.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rudy Giuliani is the frontrunner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me ask you about Rudy Giuliani. We just had a little joust off camera -- I'm always told don't waste off camera -- I believe he is not only running, I think he's going to win this whole thing the way things look right now.

JOHN MCINTYRE: The ABC/"Washington Post" poll says a lot of people favor Rudy Giuliani, because of his electability in the general election.

[11:20:07] TIM RUSSERT: The two frontrunners, Rudy Giuliani versus Hillary Clinton, and look at this race.

WILLIAMS: We have one more year to go before the first vote --

RUSSERT: It's extraordinary.


STELTER: And speaking of Hillary Clinton, most of us have forgotten all of these predictions about her from the summer of 2007.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Hillary Clinton has long been the front runner in a crowded Democratic field. Earlier this year some questioned her ability to go the distance. But today, a new poll shows she is widening her lead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you have to say, that Senator Clinton is in the middle of a pretty good stretch right now. That fundamental question, can she be denied?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you looked at Hillary Clinton in the last debate, she was very strong there. She is definitely distancing herself from the other two candidates. And I would say that door is almost closed. You know, it's almost inevitable now that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is gaining momentum. I would have to say at this point Hillary, you know, she's it in the bag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She will crush Barack Obama. Barack, just sit it out. It's going to be ugly. I promise you. You heard it here first.


STELTER: You heard it here last! I mean, do you remember that? Once you see all of that, it sure puts this summer's cable news commentary into some perspective, doesn't it?

It's why I'm glad at least the internet and our wonderful producers have good memories.

So now that we've looked backwards, let's look forward, because I've heard from a lot of you this week online, a lot of you who think Trump is getting so much attention but Bernie Sanders, you know, that surging candidate on the left is being short-changed.

Let's go out to Iowa for more on that.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny is at the Iowa state fair this morning.

Jeff, let's talk about the Democratic race, because it wasn't just Sanders at the fair yesterday. It was also Hillary Clinton. Are you hearing from I'm hearing from Sanders' supporters who feel like their candidate is just not getting fair press treatment when compared to someone like Donald Trump?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Brian, I hear it all the time. Every time I'm at a Bernie Sanders rally, I hear directly from voters saying, why aren't you giving him more attention? Every time I tweet something about Bernie Sanders, I get the same thing.

But, Brian, I can tell you all that great montage you just played is fascinating and it's a good reminder for us why reporters need to go out and talk to voters. Presidential campaigns are a process, as you said. They're not a sprint. They're a marathon here. And that's exactly what I did yesterday. I was out in the crowd of Bernie Sanders' supporters.


ZELENY: And they are believing that the mainstream media is not giving them enough of a shake.

But I can tell you, I have been at his big rallies and I've been at his big speeches here in Iowa yesterday, he got the largest crowd of any candidate I've ever seen give a speech here at the state fair, and it didn't get as much coverage as some of the other things. So, I think they probably have a bit of a legitimate concern.

STELTER: Do you think maybe that's because he is perceived by people who are not in Iowa as a one-note candidate, someone saying the same message every day?

Trump, on the other hand, Trump's press conferences now get live coverage on cable news partly because we have no idea what he's going to say next.

ZELENY: Sure. That's true. We have no idea what he's going to say next. And he has an excitement about him, he has a town about him that's interesting.

But he is also a celebrity. That explains a lot of the news coverage about Donald Trump --


ZELENY: -- and it explains a lot of the excitement.

You can see behind me at the Iowa state fair, this street yesterday where I'm standing was mobbed yesterday when Donald Trump was walking down. We have no idea how many of these people are actually voters, Iowa caucus voters, people who will vote for him at the end of the day. But they wanted to see him. So, of course, that's why he gets so much more media attention.

At the same time, Rick Santorum was out shaking hands one -- one by one by one, no cameras were around him. I just happened to sort of walk past him on the sidewalk.

So, we'll see which actually ends up, you know, being a better strategy at the end -- a ton of attention or sort of out doing the retail politics that comes with this. But we cover Donald Trump because he is entertaining in some respects, and now, he's leading this Republican presidential campaign.

STELTER: Yes, he had reporters on his helicopter as he landed yesterday.

And sticking (ph) with the Democratic field for one more minute, thinking about Al Gore name -- Al Gore's name coming up this week in a "BuzzFeed" article. Also, Joe Biden speculation continues to ramp up.

Is this another example of people always think happen, where the press is just trying to gin up possible challengers for the Democratic field? Or is it something real here?

ZELENY: Brian, I think there is something real here because it's actually coming from a lot of Democratic voters. I actually wasn't sure about this a few -- I arrived here on Thursday in Iowa. I wasn't sure actually when I came in to see how much voters would actually be talking about this.

But I stood at the Iowa Democratic Party booth here at the state fair, talked to Democrats as they went by. And it became clear that they are interested in the possibility of Joe Biden actually running. That part of it is real.

The Al Gore report this week on "BuzzFeed", that was so quickly knocked down by Al Gore's spokeswoman, all of his other advisors.

[11:25:00] It was clear that that was not true.

But this Biden story, you know, it is a real possibility. But to be fair, reporters like a contest and any sort of scent or whiff that he's interested which he maybe becomes a very good story in an otherwise long, hot summer.

STELTER: Speaking of that summer, have a fried Snickers for me their, please, today, Jeff. Good to see you from the state fair. ZELENY: Will do. Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: I hope you will for real. I'm very curious about it.

Anyway, coming up, one of the hardest tasks in journalism today. It's interviewing Donald Trump. We're going to talk about how to do it well. It's a conversation you'll hear no one else - nowhere else. And that's next.



STELTER: Welcome back.

Does Donald Trump defy everything journalists are taught about how to cover campaigns? We saw him arrive in Iowa yesterday, putting on quite a show there. It seems to me, like, a lot of softballs get tossed at Trump.

And, sometimes, the questions that are supposed to be hardballs end up helping him.

Let's analyze this with Jay Rosen. He's a press critic and journalism professor at NYU. And he acknowledges Trump can be hard to pin down. And Doug Heye in Washington, a Republican strategist and communications director for -- former communications director for the RNC.

Doug, let me start with you.

What would you like to see the press doing more of? We see Trump call in to lots of shows. Today, he even sat down on camera for "Meet the Press." It was taped yesterday. It aired today. What would you like to see more of in the journalist questioning of Mr. Trump?


Let me start by telling you what I would like to see less of.


STELTER: What's that?

HEYE: I would like to see less process questions. I would like to see less questions about name-calling of a particular senator or a particular politician.

I would like to see less questions on somebody's cell phone numbers. None of those things help one Republican voter make up their mind. What I would like to see more of is more questions like when Dana Bash asked him tough questions at the border of Donald Trump.

I would like to see more specific questions, as we saw Chuck Todd do this morning on "Meet the Press," asking about Ukrainian membership in NATO. And we saw that he says, I don't really care about that. Asked who his military advisers are, he says, well, I watch a lot of Sunday TV shows.

And so what we see is, when we get away from process and name-calling and cell phones and we focus on substance and policy, that not only does the emperor not have any clothes; he doesn't have any answers either.

STELTER: Jay, I want to come to you on this, because we have talked about this in the past week. It s what inspired this segment.

You say it's a hard problem conducting a good interview with Donald Trump, because he defies the rules. How so?

JAY ROSEN, NYU SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM: Well, it's a hard problem.

It's almost like Trump is able to use the news divisions' corporate setting against them.


STELTER: How so?

ROSEN: Well, these are companies that they have news as an important part of their portfolio, but they're also media companies. They're entertainment companies.

And because Trump is so good at the media part of television, the journalism part is almost working against the rest of the company. So his force as a ratings...

STELTER: Magnet.

ROSEN: wizard, magnet, yes, is a huge part of these interviews.

And his ability to use television's preference for flow, just going on to the next thing, rather than looking at what you just said, is also very skillful. He kind of overwhelms the journalists, almost like the news division is the poor cousin of the media company that Trump is succeeding with.

STELTER: There have been some tough interviews of Trump, though. We have seen a lot of news come out of them, don't you think?

ROSEN: Well, there have been tough interviews, yes. Everybody is trying to sort of score the one that will reveal Trump.

But there is a different problem, which is that he can take any really tough interview and just blow it up and make a media circus out of it. And journalists have to be aware of that.

STELTER: Doug, do you agree with that, the idea that Trump -- it's almost like, when we are doing our function, we're checking these candidates, we're challenging them, and yet Trump sometimes takes those challenges, runs with them, takes them as an advantage, uses them to build up his own stature.

HEYE: Well, I agree. I agree with everything that Jay said. It's like wrestling a cloud. It's very difficult to get a handle on.

But that's where we know so many tough reporters. Jake Tapper did a tough interview with him a couple weeks ago, where he wouldn't let him get away with evading answers.

And I think it's incumbent on every reporter and every assignment editor who is helping these reporters work on their stories to pin him down, ask him specific questions. If he evades or avoids the question or starts name-calling or whatever, don't let him get up.

Keep him down and ask him specific question after specific question. And that's where we see he has trouble answering the questions. He comes up with nonsensical answers, if anything, or he tends to blame the referees, if you will, by going after every single reporter, not just Megyn Kelly. But we have seen this time and again. I think it's up to the press to not allow that to happen.

STELTER: Yes, he has called Chuck Todd a loser before, and yet went on show this morning, pointedly did not go on FOX this morning.

Let me show, before we have to go, one quote from Maureen Dowd's column that is in "The New York Times" this morning. I thought this was big news.

Let me read what she wrote. Toward the end of the column, she says: "I asked Trump if he can at least admit that President Obama was born in this country." And then "No comment" was his answer. "No comment."

To me, Jay, that's a big scandal, that's a big controversy, if Trump is continuing to push birtherism, or at least not back away from these birther ideas. And yet, with Trump, that doesn't seem to get the kind of attention it would get from anybody else.

ROSEN: That's true. He has almost redefined gaffe, because he makes so many of them that...

STELTER: Redefined gaffe.

ROSEN: ... that any individual gaffe is not really a gaffe.

I think what you have to do in this situation, Brian, is, you have to kind of almost get mad. You almost have to get offended.


STELTER: You mean as the interviewer?

ROSEN: Yes, that Trump has been able to skate and to create this Trump storm and Trump show to overwhelm journalism.

And I think that's -- something like that happened to Chuck Todd this weekend. He seemed to be almost offended that Trump had been able to get away with being a big candidate, and not do retail politics, not really answer questions, helicopter into the state fair.

And I think his emotion, and I am going to make you answer these questions, came through in the interview.

STELTER: And maybe that's effective.

ROSEN: And that's what you need, yes.

STELTER: Maybe that's even necessary.


STELTER: Jay Rosen and Doug Heye, thank you both for being here this morning. Appreciate it.

HEYE: Thank you.

STELTER: A problem that will continue to be addressed, I think, by the interviewers of Donald Trump.

Up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES: Reporters covering the chemical explosion in China, they are having to fight sometimes to get answers. They are also having to fight Chinese censors.

And, later, remember Morton Downey Jr.? A new documentary of the controversial talk show host is coming out. And we're going to look at what his impact has been on television even until today. Stay tuned.



STELTER: Welcome back.

On Wednesday, when a chemical warehouse exploded in Tianjin, China, Chinese social network users pointed their camera phones at the fireball and uploaded terrifying videos like this one. All around the world, we could see and we could hear the explosions right away.

But what's been a lot harder to find is context, information. The official death toll is now 112. But many people believe it's significantly higher.

Jiayang Fan of "The New Yorker" wrote this about what she called an outbreak of mistrust in China -- quote -- "As China grows increasingly wired, crisis management has evolved into a precarious science, in which the government treats information itself like a virus on the verge of infecting the masses."

So, for journalists trying to cover the aftermath, there are dual challenges. One involves the chemicals that apparently exploded, which is why you sometimes see reporters covering their faces while filing their reports. And the second challenge involves censorship, the virus that she was describing. Sometimes, that censorship is blatant and sometimes not.

CNN's Will Ripley was interrupted during this live shot on CNN in the hours after the blast. And it happened actually just again yesterday. Will joins me now from Tianjin.

And, Will, what is behind these attempts at interference?


I think the motivation is different depending on where we're reporting from. I think the initial hours, we were at the hospital, and we believe that in the group, not only were there potentially locals, possibly family members, but there were also uniformed security officers and possibly plainclothed officers as well, nobody who formally identified themselves.

I believe that they felt that it was inappropriate for us to be reporting from that hospital at that time. And in fact videos that were taken by the security officers were leaked on China's social media Weibo showing their perspective of the encounter, because our perspective, the perspective of the video in the live shot that aired on CNN went viral in China and has been shared millions of times.

It's one of the top, still, trending videos here. Now, on Saturday, when we were disrupted during a live shot, that was actually, we believe, a plainclothed police officer along with three other personnel, and they clearly didn't want us reporting from an area, even though Chinese media we saw was allowed there.

The motivations are different depending on who is disrupting you. But it's an experience that many journalists here in China share, Brian.

STELTER: I am struck by how in some cases you do have some freedom of movement. You were able to get to the blast scene pretty quickly. You have been reporting from your cell phone live with live video.

People sometimes hear about China, they think that all media is automatically censored, but, no, the videos from Tianjin got out. You have been able to broadcast in some cases. And we have seen on Weibo people commenting.

What kind of censorship does happens? On Weibo, for example, the social network that is kind of like Twitter in China, is it rumors about the chemicals, is it complaints about the government response that tends to get censored, tends to get shut down?

RIPLEY: That's right.

So, certain topics that you may search for, the Chinese government will erase any information relating to those topics. And so we noticed as we were monitoring social media that topics critical of the government, suggesting an official cover-up about the true extent of the environmental contamination, those were quickly erased.

The video of our confrontation outside the hospital, that was taken down. But what people are able to do now is that they keep sharing the video on Weibo. And so if a video is taken down, it might pop back up. If a post is taken down, it might pop up again. So, it seems as if the great firewall of China does have a hard time

keeping up in the digital age, because people here, they are very opinionated, as I learned. I had never experienced what it was like to be the subject of a viral video in China. But I have never seen a greater social media response than what happened after our incident here.

And the tide of opinion changed depending on what article was out. So, there were negative articles written about our confrontation. I got some hate tweets. Then there were some really positive articles written about it, and I got a lot of tweets of admiration. It's a whole new experience to be on the other end of the social media phenomenon here in China.

But it's very active. It's very active here, in spite of the government's best efforts at times to censor certain content.

STELTER: And before I have to go, tell me why you're not wearing a mask today. It worries me a little bit, frankly, because we don't know exactly what chemicals have been burning there.

RIPLEY: So, the government air quality testing shows that, in this immediate area, they say that the air quality is safe.

Yesterday, on Saturday, I was wearing a mask when I report. I feel that, if I feel, for my own personal safety I should wear a mask, I'll wear one, whether I'm on the air or off. But I wouldn't wear a mask on camera, in part because we don't want to be sensational and try to make it sound like things are more dangerous than they are.


I will say this, though, Brian. If it rains here -- and there's rain in the forecast -- you will see us in much more heavy-duty masks and protective gear, because the real concern now is that chemicals from the blast site have dispersed all throughout this area, chemicals that could have a very dangerous reaction to water.

The government acknowledged that there was sodium cyanide, some 700 tons of it, some of it contained in the blast site, but they don't know where all of it is. They have 2,000 troops searching for it. And so we try to be transparent, but we also don't want to be alarmist in how we report.

So, that's why sometimes there is a mask, sometimes there isn't. But we always put our crew safety first in every situation.

STELTER: Right. That's definitely the balancing act. Seems like this is the kind of story we just don't know how big this story is yet. We know there was a terrible blast. We don't know exactly how large the repercussions are.

All right, Will, thank you for joining us this morning.

And coming up, can today's politically polarized world here in the U.S., this world of television be traced to one short-lived talk show in the late 1980s? We will look at Morton Downey Jr.'s impact in television right after this break.



STELTER: Do you remember Morton Downey Jr.?

His talk show blew up the world of daytime TV back in the late 1980s, as Downey spewed populist rage and pushed every liberal button. His theatrical, over-the-top style arguably set the stage for everything from Rush Limbaugh to reality TV to the Tea Party.

And he is the focus of a new documentary called "Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie," premiering here on CNN Thursday night.

I want to think about the impact that this man had on media.

And CNN's Michael Smerconish was just starting out in talk radio as Downey's influence started sweeping across the country. He's written an op-ed for It says, "The Man Who Drove Us Into Our National Ditch."

And Michael joins me here on the set now.

So, tell me about this driving into the ditch.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, "SMERCONISH": Well, I think, if you were to chart the lack of civility today and go back in time as to when it all began, this man would be a milestone.

I mean, Morton Downey Jr.'s program in the late '80s was absolutely a turning point in terms of what talk radio then was and what cable television eventually would become.

STELTER: You have been outspoken about not wanting to pander to the extremes on any side of politics.

You know, your radio program and your program here on CNN emphasize moderation many times, and not the extremes that we sometimes hear on radio. Do you think that there is a lesson in Downey about what not to do for hosts like you?

SMERCONISH: Well, sadly, I think this stuff works.

I mean, frankly, take a look at the climate today. If Morton Downey Jr. were today among us and a talk radio host, we would have bought into birtherism. He would likely have been the one to call Sandra Fluke a slut. I can easily imagine him to have said what Glenn Beck said, which is that Barack Obama is a racist with a deep-seated hatred for white people.

So, I think it's a continuum. But, Brian, this is more than a cultural phenomenon. Unfortunately, I think that these individuals with microphones...

STELTER: Yes. SMERCONISH: ... have led too many of our elected officials, because

they control primary voters. And so the lack of civility and the polarization in Washington, I say, is directly attributable to this style of media performance.

STELTER: Maybe what is surprising is there aren't more people on TV like him today.

SMERCONISH: Well, I think that there are.

STELTER: You think so?

SMERCONISH: Yes, I do. I just thank God -- I don't think that...


STELTER: But he is talking about throwing up in a congressman's face.


SMERCONISH: It's true, but I think that if you take a look at the level of discourse that surrounds us -- I mean, look at the Trump phenomena and what it plays to.

I see shades of Morton Downey Jr. in so much of the political environment today, where a member of Congress would shout out at the president of the United States, "You lie," during an address to a joint session of Congress.

I mean, it was not like this pre-Downey. Downey was a mile post in the transformation of talk radio on a local basis. Ideology didn't used to matter. What mattered was your ability to conduct a conversation and to interact with telephone callers. This was the beginning of litmus tests. This was the beginning of everybody reading from the same talking point hymnal.

STELTER: Trump and Downey actually were good friends at the time of his show. There are some images that we can show of that.

And I think Downey even lived in the Trump Tower when it first opened.

SMERCONISH: He did. He absolutely did, yes.

STELTER: So, do you see influence in Trump's presidential campaign?

SMERCONISH: I think that the Trump appeal is likely to some of the same people, those 20- and 30-somethings who would show up in Secaucus and applaud Morton Downey when he would do this nightly television program. I think it's the same mentality and frankly that it plays to the very lowest common denominator.

STELTER: Is there an antidote for the style that we are hearing about from Morton Downey Jr. or that we now see elsewhere on TV and radio?

SMERCONISH: Brian, I think that there is. And I think it's a recognition of people, that they need to stop conflating where they get their news and where they get their entertainment, because I think so much of what we see today is entertainment that is masked as news.

And when individuals among us are reliant upon these type of sources, I think it really does take the nation in the wrong direction.

STELTER: Maybe that's the takeaway from a film like this, that that's actually entertainment we are seeing, and if you mix it or confuse it as news, that you are making a mistake yourself as a viewer.

SMERCONISH: But as you -- as you well know -- and Pew Research has documented this -- so many among us are entirely dependent upon singular news sources.

Never have we had so much choice, and yet very few seem to be exercising it. So, if you are reliant on a media outlet, and if it's giving you that type of a presentation, well, you are taking in entertainment. You think that it's news, but it's not.


STELTER: Michael usually a Saturday morning anchor for us, thanks for being here on Sunday morning.

SMERCONISH: Thank you for having me.

STELTER: Good to see you.


STELTER: And a reminder: The film "Evocateur" will premiere here on CNN on Thursday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern time.

We will be right back with more RELIABLE SOURCES in just a minute.


STELTER: Before we sign off this morning, the fight to free Jason Rezaian may almost be over.

The "Washington Post" reporter has been locked behind bars in Iran for more than a year. Last Monday, Iran held its final hearing in a secret trial. I just spoke with Jason's brother Ali, who is expecting a verdict announcement possibly Monday or Tuesday. And we hope to bring you good news here next week.

Rezaian is one of 221 journalists who were imprisoned while doing their jobs in 2014.

That's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.