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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Shots Fired in Debate War; Interview with Jim Gilmore; Debating the CNBC Debate; Does "Media Bias" Exist?; A Look Back at Rathergate. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired November 1, 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: Hey, good morning. I'm Brian Stelter. And it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES -- our weekly look at the story behind the story of how news and pop culture get made.

And today, we are pulling up the curtain on the GOP debate process, because everyone in politics and everyone in journalism is talking about one thing, CNBC's messy debate. The fallout is widening today with the candidates declaring (ph) mutiny and breaking with the National Republican Party. Tonight, outside Washington, they're holding a private meeting to talk about their debate complaints.

The big question is this: Will all the future debates, will they be actual debates at all? Are the claims of media bias at CNBC's even legitimate or are the candidates just trying to avoid media scrutiny? And if so, what can the press do about it?

We have every angle covered this morning, with GOP candidate Gilmore, veteran debate moderator Dan Rather, a network who's produced more than a dozen of these debates and a conservative columnist who predicted this would happen.

But let's begin with Dylan Byers, CNN senior media and politics reporter. He is covering what's going to be happening at this meeting tonight.

Dylan, what do you believe these candidates, these campaigns want to see changed about the debates?

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR MEDIA AND POLITICS REPORTER: Right. So, representatives from the campaigns are gathering in Alexandria, Virginia, tonight to discuss their proposed reforms for the debate.

What they want -- they don't have a cohesive vision of what they want. And, in fact, what some of the campaigns want are rather extreme.

We know that the Carson campaign, for instance, wants to have all 14 candidates on stage. They want to cap the debates at two hours. They want to have five minutes for opening and closing statements for each candidate.

You do the math there. By the time you boil that down, even before you get to commercials, you're talking about like 45 to 50 minutes left for an actual debate. Now, on top of that, they want more time to answer the questions.

So, what you're looking at is really more of a forum than a debate. And what that reflects is sort of the desire among some of these campaigns, certainly not all, but some of them -- they really don't like the debates. They don't want debates. They would have the forums where they can step out there, present their message in their sort of own format and then just get off stage. That's really not what a debate is all about.

STELTER: Yes, this goes right to the heart of a definition of a debate. Are they supposed to be promotional or are they supposed to be journalistic? I think we would say journalistic but I think a lot of GOP voters, a lot of viewers might say they don't want to hear gotcha questions tossed at the candidates that they are thinking about voting for.

So, this is the tension that exists right now, isn't it?

BYERS: Yes, this is the tension. As we saw at the CNBC debate, the attitude toward the media right now especially on the right among conservatives is at an all time low. So, there's not really a lot of leverage that the media organizations have here. There's certainly, the Republican campaigns have a ton of leverage.

But, again, look, there are 14 campaigns. They don't all want the same thing.

STELTER: Right.

BYERS: So, they can say, look, we're going to come together, we're going to have a meeting, we want to wrest more control away from the Republican National Committee which we don't believe has done a good job handling this whole situation. But at the end of the day, they're going to need someone who isn't a representative from these campaigns to sort of be the go-between with the media organizations.

And so, that's why I don't think we're going to see the RNC fall out of this process.

STELTER: And that may be Ben Ginsberg, a former journalist who will be at this meeting tonight, this meeting tonight.

BYERS: Sure. A former journalist and also sort of the premier Republican, you know, negotiator when it comes to these debates. He's not aligned with any campaign at least so far. And so, he's sort of the perfect guy to step in here and he will be at the --

STELTER: The go-between?

BYERS: Like a go-between. And he's going to sort of facilitate the discussion in Alexandria tonight. I wouldn't be surprised to see him serve as the go between with both the media organizations and the Republican National Committee coming out of this debate.

STELTER: In the meantime, it seems the RNC is trying to reassert control. We heard Reince Priebus on Friday, say he was suspending the party's partnership with NBC News for a debate in February.

We can put on screen part of the letter he sent to NBC News chairman Andy Lack. He essentially said that he thought the CNBC debate was out of control and it wasn't what was promised and we cannot continue with NBC without full consultation with our campaigns.

This is Priebus trying to get ahead of these complaints, right?

BYERS: Yes, absolutely. I mean, look, it's a very dramatic move to make this sort of --

STELTER: Yes.

BYERS: -- to suspend the debate partner, make that very public. And again, as you and I both know as people who cover the media industry, NBC News is not responsible for what CNBC does, right? I mean, it's very -- like a strange move. But it's a dramatic move by the RNC to sort of tell the campaigns, hey, we're serious, OK? We understand that this is an issue and we're going to take care of it.

The problem with going after NBC News is that NBC News' partner for this debate is Telemundo. That is the one --

STELTER: That is the key point. Yes. That's the only Spanish language broadcaster.

(CROSSTALK)

[11:05:00] STELTER: Yes, it's the only one involved in the debate.

BYERS: Yes.

STELTER: Univision is not getting a primary debate. So, if you take the debate away from NBC, you take it away from Spanish language TV.

BYERS: Right. And as you and I both remember from the 2012 campaign, is that after Mitt Romney lost, all of these Republicans came together and said, look, we need to do a better job of reaching out to Hispanics, reaching out to Latinos. Taking away the one Hispanic media partner for these debates is not a good way to go about that.

So, look, there's a lot of time between now and February when that debate is supposed to happen. I wouldn't be surprised if we see, you know, both parties come to the table and figure something out and we actually end up having that debate come February.

STELTER: Dylan, thanks so much for being here this morning.

BYERS: Thank you.

STELTER: No new comment from NBC about the debate this morning. By the way, they are waiting to see what happens at this event tonight.

So, let's hear from one of the candidates directly, former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore. He's also a former chairman of the RNC. So, he's been on both sides here. Governor, what do you want to hear come out of this meeting tonight? Will you be attending personally?

JIM GILMORE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I will, if that's appropriate, but at the least, I will have representatives.

But, you know, Brian, the real issue that I've been raising, which I made in the statement is, you know, who delegated to the RNC and to the networks to decide who is a candidate and who's not. You just did it again in your opening presentation here. We talk about the 14 candidates, the 14 candidates.

There are 15 candidates. But CNN this morning is trying to narrow that field the same way that the RNC is. This is not in the public interest. It's against the best interest of the people. And I resent it.

STELTER: Right now, the candidates seem to have a lot of leverage. The ratings are sky high, thanks to Donald Trump and other candidates. So, what do you believe -- how should the Fox Business debate, the CNN debate, how should future debates be changed as a result of what happened at CNBC's debate?

GILMORE: Well, I think they ought to be inclusive. I am a legitimate candidate. I've field. I have campaigned in New Hampshire 12 times. I'm on the South Carolina ballot.

And yet the networks and the RNC have been rigging the rules in order to try to exclude me from these debates.

That's improper. It's not in the national interest. It's not in the public interest.

What do I want to see? I want to see a proposal that comes out that says that the 15 candidates all who are legitimate, previously elected officials -- well, some of them are, at least people who've been a legitimate participants in the political process have an opportunity to have their voices heard.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Wait, are you saying Donald Trump should not be on the stage?

GILMORE: Well, Donald Trump can find -- no, to the contrary. It is the networks and the RNC who are trying to exclude people from the debates. I believe that people should be included in the debates.

STELTER: But how -- I hear what you're saying. And I believe we should hear from more and not fewer. How can we fit 14 people on one stage?

GILMORE: You don't have to. There's been proposals that have been very reasonable and fair. Just include everybody and have more than one debate and over more than one hour and just draw lots. Why should you be setting up some fake proposal about poll numbers when people who get on the stage get better poll numbers and people who don't get on the stage don't get as good numbers? And the polls are not accurate anyway.

STELTER: Chicken and egg, right?

GILMORE: Pardon me.

STELTER: Chicken and egg, I said 14 candidates. I should have said 15.

But here's what I have to ask you governor. I wonder if it's manufactured outrage. I mean, what is wrong with debate moderators --

GILMORE: By me?

STELTER: -- asking candidates hard questions? Why would a candidate -- why would a candidate want all 15 candidates on stage unless the goal was to answer fewer questions?

GILMORE: No, not at all. Listen, I have no concerns about questions. I have -- all my political life, I have responded to hostile questions by people --

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: And you're here today. I appreciate that.

GILMORE: Yes, I'm not worried about that.

What I'm worried about is the rigging of the system by the RNC and the networks, including your own. I had real momentum going into this race until CNN decided to rig the rules in order to prevent me from preparing on the stage. They rigged it to advance Carly Fiorina. They rigged it to advance people I was polling better than. And yet, they didn't put me on the stage at all.

Listen, this is not just in the public interest. I have a voice here and something that needs to be said in the public interest about what is necessary to get people jobs and opportunities in this country. And my voice has been quieted by the rigging of the system by the networks who have been given that authority by the RNC. And that's not proper.

STELTER: I respect what you're saying and I'm glad you're here. But I don't think there's any evidence that any of the networks changed the rules in order to exclude specific candidates. I believe they made these rules in order to create manageable, producible events.

But I do respect your point of view.

GILMORE: Yes, baloney.

STELTER: And I appreciate you being here. GILMORE: Yes, baloney. That's why they changed the rules in order to

put Carly Fiorina on the main stage. That's why they sit the rules down to situate people polling worse than me, got on the stage. You can't -- there's simply no justification for it whatsoever.

So, I think your viewers ought to say this -- this whole business about CNN's questioners and so on like, you know, I get that part. I don't worry about that. Tough questions are appropriate for a presidential candidate.

But to actually try to silence a candidate, to silence a legitimate candidate who is on the ballot in many of the states and working from the basis of being a previous elected official is wrong.

[11:10:02] It's crooked. It's improper. And it ought not to be permitted.

And the FEC (ph) ought to be -- by the way, one more thing --

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: I can tell you that I'm -- listen, I'm here. I'm trying not to silence you. I do appreciate your point of view on this.

I do have to go. But, Governor, thank you very much for being here.

GILMORE: Thank you.

STELTER: And let me underline one more point about this. The RNC declined interview requests this weekend, so has CNBC. But I can tell you what's happening inside the network, a lot of finger-pointing.

Know the line about how stuff rolls downhill? Well, in this case, it's defining gravity. Much of the blame is rolling uphill to CNBC president Mark Hoffman. You can read all our coverage about that at CNNMoney.com/Media.

CNBC and NBC News are corporate cousins. As Dylan Byers are saying, they both have a peacock logo but they report up separately to the head of all NBC University. So, they're in two silos. And right now, there's some resentment internally. It's a sense that CNBC has endangered NBC's debate.

So, to figure out where we're going to go next with this, let's bring in David Bohrman. Now, he's better than anybody at this topic. He produced more than a dozen primary and presidential debates in his 30- plus years in television. He was CNN's Washington bureau chief and president of the liberal cable news channel, Current TV.

David, great to see you this morning.

DAVID BOHRMAN, FORMER PRESIDENT, CURRENT TV: Hey, Brian. How are you?

STELTER: You've been here, you've done this. What is NBC going to do to get its debate back on track? BOHRMAN: Well, they've got to keep pushing forward. Once you get all

the hot air from all sides out of the way, Dylan's point is really important. This is a Telemundo debate.

You mentioned journalism versus forum. The reality is debates are to inform Republican primary voters and then the other party Democratic primary voters, and people who are going to go to those caucuses. And these debates are critical for the candidates to begin to punch through and become known.

And, you know, even Governor Gilmore, a minute ago, although being excluded from the debate, didn't seem to mind the questions that were in CNBC's debate. And, in fact, FOX's debate were full of very tough questions.

STELTER: Absolutely.

BOHRMAN: And if the candidates think they're going to get a free ride in the Fox Business News debate, I think they are sorely mistaken, because Fox understands that they need to poke at these candidates to see how they think, to see how they react, and you can't do that in talking points and position papers which is the result of what Ben Carson wants to do.

STELTER: Let me play part of CNBC's debate. I want to hear why you think this happened. This is a couple of examples how the debate spiraled out of control.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MODERATOR: I got a question for Governor Bush.

MODERATOR: We'll get back to it just a minute. Just a minute.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You don't want to hear the answer, John. You don't want to hear the answer.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: John, you want me to answer or do you want to answer?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What are the rules on who gets to follow up? When -- how do we decide who gets to follow up? I've seen 20 other people follow up.

MODERATOR: It was at the moderator discretion.

MODERATOR: Governor Kasich, let's talk about --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Short question, David. How could that happen?

BOHRMAN: Well, there, again, a bunch of factors but the most important one I think was that there was not a strong moderator. There were questioners. I could have done without the two, from (INAUDIBLE) Quintanilla and Jim Cramer as well. But John Harwood is a great guy, but he did not assert himself as the moderator.

Plus, CNBC paid no attention, it seems to me, to all the signals that were pointing at, they were the low hanging fruit and the candidates were going to go after them.

STELTER: Yes.

BOHRMAN: And the third leg of that stool was that you've got as a questioner and/or moderator come to a debate armed with not good questions, but armed with your sources and where you got that information, so that when Trump through that basically very disingenuous misstatement back at the CNBC questioner, she had nowhere to go. She didn't -- she couldn't immediately say, Mr. Trump, it's on your Web site.

But you've got to be able to be armed with the weapons that you need. In a way, it's weapons because the goal is not to beat the candidates. The goal is to have the candidates emerge and speak so that voters actually know who they're going to have to go into that booth or caucus and support for president.

STELTER: Absolutely. David, thank you so much for being here and sharing your perspective with us this morning.

We are just getting started here. And up next, you've got to hear from legendary newsman Dan Rather. His surprising view of CNBC's performance.

Plus, a look at whether the real loser is journalism itself.

Plus later in the hour, we will reboot and take a look at Apple's ambitious plans to change the way we all watch TV.

[11:15:04] Can the tech giant really do for the remote control what it did for the phone?

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Fourteen million people watched the CNBC debate, a huge number. Normally, CNBC has 200,000 people watching.

Now, CNBC's rival, Fox Business, is hosting the next debate on November 10th. They've wasted no time piling on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: CNBC never ask the real question, never cover the real issues. That's why on November 10th, the real debate about our economy and our future is only on Fox Business Network.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: There's been a pile on. Not just over on FOX. All the media seems to be criticizing CNBC, but has it been fair? Veteran journalist, former CBS "Evening News" anchor Dan Rather

presided over a whole slew of debates over the past few decades. He knows as well as anybody what it's like to be caught in the glare of media attention.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: You've been on those stages so many times as the moderator. So, how would you review the moderators of CNBC's debate?

[11:20:03] DAN RATHER, FORMER CBS EVENING NEWS ANCHOR: Look, they didn't do it perfectly. It wasn't their best night. But I think we have to see clearly what's at play here, that candidates on the right side of the political spectrum, a large part of their constituency loves attacks on the press.

So, the moderators open themselves some criticism. It's a very tough role to be there. Actually, this is strictly optics. By the time we get to the snow season of the primaries, a lot of this are going to be forgotten. It doesn't amount to very much.

Right now, it's a headline -- everybody wants to talk about. Of course, you have to talk about it.

But in the great scheme of things, it's not going to matter very much.

STELTER: In all the debates you moderated, did you ever have one of these "not your best nights"?

RATHER: Sure.

STELTER: What did you do afterwards?

RATHER: Criticize myself. Talk about what might have been, could have been, should have been, that you play it over in your own mind.

But I do think the public, at large, would not talk about the ideological and partisan political spectrum. But the public at large, I think they understand that moderators are doing the best they can.

There used to be these signs in the old Texas cattle towns that said, "Please don't shoot the piano player, he's doing the best that he can." And that's the attitude I think most of the public takes toward the moderators. But it's easy to jump on mistakes and lack of follow up and all the criticism that's been made.

But I think most people understand, it's part of the political game, particularly with those on the right side of the political spectrum, they're going to attack the press because a large part of their constituency likes it. That's what this is about.

By and large, you know, voters job is to separate bull shine from brass tax. And by and large, that's what the press does. When they do it it's easy to hang a sign around somebody's neck, he's liberal, he's socialist, he's Democratic Party or communist. And there's a certain part of the public that's going to believe that. However, I'm -- my experience has taught me that public at large

understands. That that's not the case, that if you ask me on issue by issue where I stand I'm happy to -- I'm for clean air and water. I'm for strong national defense. I'm for tight money. What (ph) makes me that makes me.

But the game, the way the game is played is if you don't like the questions, if you think the questions is too hard, to hang a sign around someone with an unattractive label and make that the issue rather that have the politician answer the question or didn't answer the question.

STELTER: So, then, how do we change the game? If that's the game, how do we make it less fun to play, less rewarding to play?

RATHER: I'm not sure. If you find the answer to that question, call me collect. But I think what would help is for those of us in journalism, and I include myself in this, just be steady. Look, if you're going to play --

STELTER: Steady?

RATHER: Steady. If you're going to play at game at our near the top, eventually, one way or the other you're going to face the furnace and take the heat.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: We'll hear more from Dan Rather later in the program, talking about his own personal journalist debacle, the one that ended his own career at CBS News.

But, first, let's take a deeper look at what actually happened in Boulder on Wednesday. After the debate, FOX News anchor Brit Hume tweeted this, he said, "One smart journalist saw the CNBC debate debacle coming." He linked to an article by this reporter, Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at "The Federalist", a conservative online news magazine.

I'm also joined by CNN senior political analyst, Brownstein, editorial director at "The National Journal".

Welcome to you both.

Mollie, let me start with you.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning.

STELTER: You called out John Harwood before the debate started. Do you believe Harwood was really out there to get the candidates, to trap the candidates on stage?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: Well, as I wrote in my piece, that he had no business moderating a Republican debate. I think this should be been obvious to everybody, most importantly the Republican National Committee. I am shocked they chose someone. He is a reporter who has a sort of reflexively liberal bias in his

approach to things. He -- there's nothing a Republican can do that's good. He defends Hillary Clinton and other Democrats.

And this is perhaps fine for a general debate, but for a Republican debate, where most of the voters identify as conservatives, this is a guy who doesn't even understand that he has these biases, much less, he doesn't understand how conservatives think, why they're worried about increases in the size and scoop of government, why they're worried about liberal court appointees. You know, the kinds of questions that someone who was more in tuned with conservative concerns could have asked.

STELTER: Ron, do you agree?

BROWNSTEIN: No, I think it's really unfair to John. I mean, I think -- and it kind of misses the point of what the problem was with the debate. I think if you look at John, series that he's done of meeting the candidates and, you know, over lunch and doing these ten questions with the candidates, they have been very revealing and I think -- and have been very strong and kind of exploring.

So, look, the debate was disjointed. It was chaotic at times. I agree, the moderators inserted themselves too much into the debate in the way they framed the questions.

But I think the problem was much larger. I think it's a generic problem to the debates. The debates are structured more like an extended version of a Sunday show than they are like a real debate. The primary interaction is between the moderators and the candidates rather than among the candidates.

To me, it wasn't so much a bias one way or the other. To me, the kind of the moment to kind of show what was wrong with this debate again is a more extreme version of the problem with all debates, was when the candidates were having I thought a pretty revealing conversation about taxes and one of the moderators said, we've got to move on. We have a question about Marco Rubio, whether you're a young man in too much of a hurry.

I think we need less structure. We need the debates kind of -- to be organized around topics. Let the candidates carry much of the conservation and then bring in the moderators to move it forward.

But ultimately, this has to be revealing the differences between the candidates rather than having this kind of confrontation or not between the moderator and those on stage. I don't think that's the primary interaction and that's the way the debates have been structure for a long time. I've moderated some of them. I'm as guilty as anyone else. But I think there's a broader problem that the CNBC debate really brought in to sharp relief.

STELTER: Mollie, if you agree with that, who are the proper kinds of moderators you would have in mind. If Harwood was not proper in your mind, who would you want to see moderating debates? HEMINGWAY: Well, I think what's really important is that you have

moderators who understand that a lot of the way these questions have been phrase, not just in the CNBC debate but prior debates, they sort of take progressive assumptions going into their questions. They don't -- they need to understand, they need to have more diversity of moderators. People who know conservatives, maybe people who are conservatives.

It's sort of undeniable at this point that there is that problem, that moderators lean left and some of them don't realize it, which is the big problem. But just having more diversity on stage and in the newsrooms, in the advance preparation. The CNBC debate was horribly produced.

STELTER: Let me give you an example, we heard Ted Cruz say that Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin should moderate the debate. How would we actually truly learn about these candidates, see them tested in the way they need to be tested before the general election before they are up against Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or somebody else? How would that happen if Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity is moderating the debate?

HEMINGWAY: Yes, I actually don't think that would be that helpful. But it would be -- again, in the GOP primary debate, this is for conservative voters. They mostly identify as conservative. Their concerns are going to be about people having support of subsidies, people supporting imminent domain. The conservative viewpoint is going to be different than the traditional media, which aligns usually more with progressives' viewpoint.

So, it doesn't need to be a conservative. But it should be someone who at least understands conservatives. And, you know, there are tons of people who are at newsrooms around the country who could fulfill that test.

STELTER: Before I have to go, Ron, how do you see this current kerfuffle ending? Do you believe there will be big changes to the future debates, or will these all blow over? Or people taking advantage of the CNBC problem and will this blow over time?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, there's a market, you know, as you said earlier in the show, there's a market in the Republican primary for going after the media. And I think candidates are going to do that.

I don't know the answer how much it's going to change. I mean, I think the candidates are legitimately frustrated that in many ways they are not getting to explain and delineate the differences in their views. And what Mollie saying about having moderators who are attuned to the kind of nuances of conservative thought, that's a good thing. I mean, I think having Rich Lowry or Ramesh on that stage, I mean, those would be people who can kind of draw out some of the distinction perhaps in a way that others might not.

But I do think the broader problem is that we're thinking these debates in the wrong way. They are functioning more like an extended version of the Sunday show. They are about the moderator interviewing the candidates. They really should be about the candidates drawing out the distinctions with each other, prodded when necessary by the moderators.

And whether we ever get there, I don't know. But I know the hard questions that people don't want to hear asked this the hall are, in fact, the ones that you're going to get if you're the general election nominee. So, that is the line of criticism that I find least compelling of all.

STELTER: I have to run. But, Ron, you were here on Friday night for the Mets game, they're only win. Are you going to come back to help the team tonight?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, it's a bit long of a commute, but, yes, it was fun to be there, back in the ancestral (ph) hunting grounds of Queens.

STELTER: Ron in L.A., Mollie in Washington, thank you both for being here. Appreciate it.

HEMINGWAY: Thank you.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

STELTER: Coming up next here, CNBC reeling from the criticism from the GOP candidates. We're going to look in-depth at that. Are the criticisms fair? Or is the rest of the media be standing by CNBC? A senior source there is staying to me, enough is enough, we should see solidarity. Is that the right answer?

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:33:35]

STELTER: There's been so much debate over the performance and alleged bias in CNBC in this Wednesday's Republican primary showdown.

We should talk about it in more depth, I think, because there's a good question as to whether the critiques are valid or whether they're a reliable tactic being used to control the way journalists ask questions in the future.

Now, if that's true, it wouldn't be the first time Republican candidates have used this so-called liberal media bias sword against journalists.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, most of the people in my business are convinced that you're biased against all of us.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I can spot those media folk here to write their annual conservatives-in-crisis stories.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think it kind of goes without saying that there's definitely a media bias.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Now, sometimes, there are signs of liberal media bias in coverage. Sometimes, there are signs, I think, of conservative media bias, sometimes other kinds of biases, like conflict bias or geographic bias, et cetera, et cetera.

The question I think we should talk about is, what should journalists be doing about it? It is possible, for example, for the press to show solidarity on this issue? Should all of the networks, all of the news outlets be standing up against both the Democratic and the Republican parties to ensure strong debates? Or is that something that would be a pipe dream?

Joining me from Austin, Texas, now, Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004, also an ABC News analyst. And joining me from Washington, Jane Hall, associate professor of journalism and media studies at American University School of Communication.

Matthew, I wanted you on the program because of this tweet you posted the other day. You said that the media outlets should take a stand on this. You wrote that: "If media outlets give candidates veto-power over moderators, than our democracy is truly broken. Time for all of us to take a stand."

[11:35:14]

Is that possible?

MATTHEW DOWD, FORMER BUSH CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Well, it's definitely possible. The question is, it is probable?

I have -- there's three things I think that come out of this, is, first, as you have said through the start of your show is CNBC has been universally panned on this by everybody, including people at -- including people at CNBC.

STELTER: Yes.

DOWD: There's no question about this. It could have been produced better. The questions could have been better, and the snark could have been eliminated, and it would have made a better debate.

But, really, you fundamentally get down to, all of us have biases. The question is, do we leave those biases at the door and try to be as objective as possible? The second thing, the candidates' complaints on this. Everybody loves to blame the refs. Right?

Everybody -- it always behooves a sports team to say it's the refs' fault, it's the refs' fault.

STELTER: Yes.

DOWD: But who on that stage in the course of that CNBC debate or all the debates has been hurt by this? Ted Cruz hasn't been hurt by this. Donald Trump hasn't been hurt by this. Marco Rubio hasn't been hurt by this.

The only person that's been hurt by the debates is Jeb Bush. And he hasn't even complained once about the media in the course of this. He's been hurt fundamentally by this.

But more importantly, Brian, I think more importantly is that we are becoming a culture of tribes, in that everybody falls into their things. And everybody only wants -- conservatives want to talk to conservatives. Liberals want to talk to liberals.

And in the course of that, as our founding fathers George Washington and John Adams said, when we fall into factions and we fall into political parties, that's the danger. And one of the only things that keeps us from that is a free and vigorous press.

And that to me -- yes, they can do something different. Yes, they can improve that. And I'm sure all the networks looking at -- are saying, we don't want to do it that way, but the question is, is, do we want to be a free -- do we want to have a free press?

STELTER: Jane, let me bring you in on this issue of liberal bias. And then let's broaden out to the broader point of whether the media should be standing up more dramatically for these debates.

Do you believe there was a perception of liberal bias? Did you hear it in the questions? Did you see it in the comments and the tone from the moderators on Wednesday?

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION: Honestly, I did not.

I saw a bias towards conflict and a bias towards gotcha. I agree with Dr. Ben Carson on that. Watching that as a journalist, I was very uncomfortable, because they delivered -- they gave them a sword, to use the old Nixon phrase.

They gave people who felt that the media were biased and would be biased -- that's something FOX News has made a whole network out of, that there's liberal bias. The questions were not followed up on. As David Bohrman, said, if you're going to ask Marco Rubio about his tax plan, you better know whom his tax plan would benefit.

So, I was uncomfortable with it not because of bias, but because it didn't work and it got out of control. And you can see that the mood in the hall turned very angry. I don't blame those candidates. We're not the story as journalists. We really are not. We're not supposed to be grandstanding.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Every moderator says before debates, I don't want to be the story the next day. And that's one of the places where the CNBC moderators failed.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: It's almost like CNBC opened a door, and now all the candidates are walking through it, taking advantage.

If you two can stay with me, I want to take a break.

HALL: Well, they're fund-raising around it.

STELTER: I want to add another block about this. If you guys can stay with me for a minute, let's take a quick break and come back with more in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:42:30]

STELTER: I'm back with Matthew Dowd and Jane Hall.

And I want to dig deeper on this issue of all the upcoming debates.

Matthew, what do you think will end up happening after this campaign meeting tonight? We know the NBC debate in February has been suspended. We also know the FOX Business debate in November, the CNN debate in December, et cetera, all the rest are still on.

Do you think, at the end of the day, this -- this issue will end up fading, and the debates will go on as planned, or will there be structural changes?

DOWD: Well, there will probably be some structural changes.

My guess is that the NBC debate will be put back on with their tail between their legs and done in a way that the Republicans are generally satisfied with. The FOX Business debate is coming up. You watch that. It will unfold. There will probably be some changes, but not fundamental changes.

I want to go to something that was said earlier.

STELTER: Yes.

DOWD: There is a liberal bias -- there is -- there has been a liberal bias in the press for a number of years.

I used to work in Democratic campaigns, ended up working for George W. Bush. I saw liberal bias in the course of the press. But, today, the solution to it isn't, let's create a conservative bias, and let's create a liberal bias, and divide everybody up and leave everybody else out in the middle.

We ought to pursue -- and I hope the meeting tonight pursues -- pursues not like how can we get the better press or how can we get the moderators, which would be unfortunate, but how can we arrive at a place that will create a better forum that gets to a conversation about substantive issues without name-calling and without really candidate interviews?

One person on your show earlier, Governor Gilmore, said, let's divide it up and have two. My solution would be, let's divide it up and have three. Put five candidates on stage, three separate debates.

STELTER: Oh.

DOWD: So, three different with five candidates would be a much more substantive debate for an hour.

The problem with that , Brian, as you know, is whoever has Donald Trump is going to get the higher ratings. And that's what I think so many are pursuing is, whoever has more eyeballs is where they want to be. And that's where Donald Trump happens to be on stage.

STELTER: Yes.

Let me go to this issue you brought up, Matthew, about media outlets uniting. Instead of piling on CNBC, everybody separating, should -- Jane, should all news outlets be standing up for the notion of more debates? Should they all be speaking in a united voice, or is that inappropriate and impossible?

HALL: Well, the candidates are starting to speak with a united voice.

STELTER: That's what I mean.

HALL: Maybe it's not bad idea.

I think we should all stick up for the idea that you should have spirited debates where you ask people about their positions and you try to illuminate differences among them, but you don't -- I think part of the problem is, these candidates are tired of being asked what they think of Donald Trump.

And Donald Trump is negotiating this, and rightfully so in some ways, as if it's "The Apprentice." He's right in saying, I brought you a lot of ratings. So, I think we have to stick up for -- Ted Cruz was quoted in "The New York Times" as saying, you have to have voted in a Republican primary.

[11:45:13]

I hope that's not going to be a litmus test. CNN had Hugh Hewitt on. So, it's not as if there haven't been conservative voices.

STELTER: Right.

HALL: "National Review" is going to part of a part, "Wall Street Journal."

It's not as if this is solely the networks. We do need to stick up for journalism, though. I agree with what you're asking us.

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: Yes, one thing.

I think this sounds a little bit like "Casablanca" and Captain Renault, which is, it's like, I'm shocked gambling is going on here.

We have 10 candidates on stage with the reality star in the center of it. And we wonder why debates have devolved in this way. There's no question that's been contributing to this factor. The media and the CNBC can be blamed for some of the things they ask, absolutely, and they should be faulted. But the reality of what -- of a reality star leading the polls has contributed to this.

STELTER: CNBC believes a few days, a few weeks from now, we will be talking about how their debate changed the race, not about the ugliness of the debate, not about the out-of-control nature. We will see if that's the case.

In the meantime, Jane, Matthew, thank you for both being here this morning.

HALL: Thank you.

DOWD: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: What is the truth behind the new movie "Truth"? Dan Rather calls it his darkest time of his career. He will join me next to tell me why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:50:20]

STELTER: Do you remember Rathergate, as in Dan Rather?

His scandal is back in the news 11 years after it happened, thanks to this new movie titled "Truth." Robert Redford plays Rather, and Cate Blanchett plays his producer, Mary Mapes, who zealously pursues new information about George W. Bush's time in the National Guard.

The real-life Mapes and Rather had accumulated evidence that the Bush family's political connections helped the young George W. avoid Vietnam and that he had basically vanished for a year in the early 1970s.

The insinuation was that he went AWOL. This was in the fall of 2004, as Bush was seeking reelection. So this was an explosive story, but it was also sloppy. Critics immediately seized on some of the key evidence, calling it forgeries, four documents allegedly written by one of Bush's National Guard commanders.

Now, CBS screwed up once by not getting the documents vetted and thoroughly, twice by rushing the story onto the air, and a third time by stonewalling when challenged.

Looking back now, though, Rather says, yes, we made mistakes, but that the new movie tells the truth. So, I sat down with him and tried to find out why. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN RATHER, FORMER CBS NEWS ANCHOR: We reported the truth. We reported true stories, reported the actual story.

We could be faulted and should be faulted, but, look, this was the darkest period of my professional career, because we were not perfect in the way we got to the story. But we got to the truth. We got to facts.

And because we got to facts, facts such as, yes, political influence got a young George W. Bush into a special unit of the Air National Guard as a way of avoiding service in Vietnam, that's a fact.

Fact two, once he got in, after performing at least reasonably well, perhaps very well for a while, he disappeared for a year. Nobody in the U.S. military disappears for a year. And, number three, strangely enough, mysteriously, his military records disappear.

Listen, the Defense Department is among the best in the world at keeping records. So, those were facts that we reported. They were truths. They were uncomfortable truths for some people. They couldn't attack us on the facts, so they changed the subject, very successfully.

They changed the subject from the facts, the truths of the story to how we got to the story, the -- if you will, the support for the story. And we were vulnerable in the documents because the source changed his story about this thing.

So we apologized for using the documents. We never apologized for the story. We never retracted the story. But, look, set the documents aside for a moment, granted, a big aside.

STELTER: And it's still unclear to this day whether those were real or fake.

RATHER: Well, and this is where the propaganda machine comes in.

Even "The Wall Street Journal" recently said, stated as a fact that is not a fact, that the documents that had been proven to be fraudulent. That is untrue.

STELTER: Because we don't know for sure.

RATHER: No.

Well, I think -- I think we proved it beyond a reasonable doubt. But I understand your argument in saying, well, you didn't prove it beyond any doubt. That's a fair argument.

This has kind of been in the swampland. This was the purpose of those who wanted to discredit the story, to change the conversation from the facts to how they arrived at the facts.

STELTER: During the press tour for the movie, you have been talking about how the fundamental story was accurate.

And that's caused a lot of mockery online, people saying, how can you possibly still be standing by your story? A lot of people are convinced that it was completely wrong. And you're saying they just don't know the facts. Is that right?

RATHER: Yes, that the facts speak for themselves.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: And when you say that, you mean specifically where former President Bush was in that lost year in 1972 and 1973.

(CROSSTALK)

RATHER: And how he got into the National Guard, as a way avoiding Vietnam.

And that's never been denied by the president nor anyone close around him, never been denied, because it's undeniable.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: It's been rejected in broad terms by people like Dan Bartlett.

RATHER: Yes.

STELTER: You're saying maybe they haven't explicitly denied the specific facts?

RATHER: That's right. They haven't. They haven't to this time.

Look, "The Boston Globe" did this story in 2000, long before we got on the story. But the White House power and the Bush operation managed to contain it with "The Boston Globe." "The Boston Globe" reported basically what we reported the way through, and there was no denial then.

But they were able to contain it to "The Boston Globe." When it got on television, they, being the White House and the supporters of -- close supporters of George Bush, said, wait a minute, now the whole nation as a whole is going to get this, so we have to attack it.

They couldn't attack us on the facts, so they attacked us where we were most vulnerable, in the source of the documents.

STELTER: So, still, in 2015, we don't know where the former president was in that lost year?

[11:55:00]

RATHER: No.

And isn't that amazing? He's never answered the question of where he was during that period. Nobody ever said they saw him doing his duty during that period.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Thanks for being here this morning.

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