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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Report: Rezaian Sentenced to Prison; When News Coverage Becomes Fear-Mongering; Is Press "Hungry" for War?; Words Matter; Equal Tragedies, Unequal Coverage; Are Refugees Terrorists?; Does Right-Wing Media Spread Islamophobia? Aired 11a-12a ET
Aired November 22, 2015 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:04] 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 gets made.
And this week, all this week, has been a barrage of disturbing news streaming across our screens. From Paris and Brussels to Mali and Lebanon, to Halifax and Hannover and, frankly, to the campaign trail here at home.
On Friday the 13th, ISIS struck the heart of Western culture, by hitting Paris, they hit home. And so, maybe predictably, much of the rhetoric on TV and the one the web has turned angry, fearful, sometimes even xenophobic.
Fear is poison. Fear is a crippling poison. And yet, by all accounts, there is a threat, a threat that governments around the world are taking seriously.
So, this is the question for us -- is the media doing its part to put things into proper perspective, separating real threats from red herrings? Or is the media too often part of the problem?
Let's begin with the host of CNN's flagship international affairs program, Fareed Zakaria.
Now, Fareed, you just asked the questions on "GPS". We switched seats here. So, thanks for sticking around for a few minutes.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, CNN'S "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": My pleasure.
STELTER: And before we talk about ISIS, I want to talk about the breaking news we're hearing from Iran this morning. We're hearing from Iranian authorities that Jason Rezaian, the jailed "Washington Post" journalist, has officially been sentenced now. They're not saying for how long. But, of course, we know that "The Post' is trying to get more information.
It seems to confirm last month's news that Jason had been found guilty of espionage. A guilty verdict that's been condemned all around the world.
So, as a foreign affairs analyst, what does this tell us about Iran? What does this tell us that they are saying, he's been sentenced to remain in prison for an undetermined amount of time?
ZAKARIA: Well, first, it's outrageous. He has been not committed of, you know, that he's committed no crime. He's a very good reporter. It's Stalinist trial that took place.
What it tells about Iran is that Iran remains a very unreliable actor on the world stage. I remember the president of Iran coming here during the U.N. There was a breakfast which I was invited.
And I think it was I or Marty Baron, the editor of "The Washington Post", who asked him about it. And what was sad in a way is he admitted he did not have any control over it. He admitted that these were effectively hardliners in the judiciary who are doing it perhaps to embarrass him.
That was I'm reading between the lines. But what it tells you is, very conservative elements of the regime still unalterably opposed to any kind of dealings with the U.S., which is why I would say precisely because Iran is such an unreliable rogue actor on the world stage, it's a good thing they're going to be 18 months away from having fissile material rather than the two months they were before this deal was struck.
STELTER: It's been almost 18 months since Rezaian was taken in detention there in Tehran, and if we get further information this hour, we'll pass it along.
Let's talk about the press and ISIS. Coverage of ISIS particularly in the last nine days but also much more broadly. I want to start with what President Obama this morning. It reminded me of what you said in the column many months ago, about how sometimes -- well, you tell me the summary of it, that overreacting that invading is what ISIS wants.
ZAKARIA: Well, if you think about it, you know, we don't really know what ISIS wants. They don't even bother to issue demands. They're so nihilistic.
But what do all terrorists want? They're weak. They want to show they are strong. It's an asymmetrical weapon of weak groups that want to show they're strong. And what they're trying to goad you into is an overreaction.
So, when Hamas does something, it's trying to get the Israelis to round up all Palestinians, you know, to create an "us versus them" situation, where there are no moderates. What did the Sunnis try to do in Iraq and Syria. They goaded the Shia government into overreacting, rounding up all the Sunnis. In the sense, that's what ISIS is trying to do, create a world between Muslims and non-Muslims.
STELTER: Here's what president said at a press conference earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They can't beat us on the battlefields, so they try to terrorize us into being afraid, and to changing our patterns of behavior and to panicking and to abandoning our allies and partners and to retreating from the world. And as president, I will not let that happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Now, that is similar to what you're saying. We've heard it from the president all this week, and yet, is it inherently dissatisfying and when we hear commentators, television anchors and columnists calling for action, is it partly because that answer from the president is just fundamentally dissatisfying?
ZAKARIA: It's fundamentally very dissatisfying, particular emotionally. You know, you want to do something. These people have done something so outrageous, so barbaric, that you want to do something. And, you know, it's not just fear. It's the kind of desire for revenge.
STELTER: It's a very basic human emotion.
ZAKARIA: It's a very basic human -- but let me remind you.
[11:05:01] If you look back at the long history of terrorism, these guys never win. You just have to have patience and remember what you have is the combined power of the world's largest countries, particularly ISIS, which doesn't have a regional power sponsoring it. But you have to be patient. You have to wear them out.
STELTER: But is that what the modern news cycle lacks, patience?
ZAKARIA: It's tough. Look, I mean, I think that's it's very difficult problem. How do you cover this news, which is dramatic, which is startling, which is scary, and not hype it in a way that people get scared. Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming used to say, whenever you got scared, he said, the answer is, don't watch the news.
Well, we don't want people to do that. So, what we have to do is to provide context, which I think CNN has done a lot of, by giving people an understanding of what's going on, but also what the broader context is, what the response to ISIS is. You know, we've down 8,500 airstrikes against ISIS already. They have lost 15 to 20 percent of their territory.
STELTER: I think if you polled Americans, they might not know that. The majority of Americans might not know how many airstrikes have been conducted against ISIS to date. You look at current polling that shows that many Americans, most Americans, more than 90 (ph) percent, believe there's an imminent threat of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. And yet, most of the time when those polls are conducted, there's no attack afterwards. And that's been true for years and years and years.
ZAKARIA: Absolutely. We forget that, you know, al Qaeda, we were scared witless by al Qaeda right after 9/11. And the truth is, initially, it seemed worrying. And then you coalesce all these forces, and you grind it down. The other area where there's this kind of gap between knowledge and
fear is on the whole issue of refugees. I mean, most people would not know that the United States has successfully resettled 2 million refugees in this country since 1990, many of them Muslim, from Bosnia, for example.
If you ask how many Syrian refugees have we taken in last year, how good is the vetting process? I'm not absolutely sure on this number but I did see it twice, I think it was 36. We took 36 Syrian refugees in last year. In other words, we have thorough vetting processes. And yet, the way you listened to it, you'd think that you, you know, we've been overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who are crossing our border every day.
STELTER: You know, I was thinking about today, November 22nd in 1963, President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Thinking about how Walter Cronkite that day, thinking about how he delivered the news to the country. That was a time there was relatively little information. There were relatively few news sources.
I would argue, we're much better off to have a wealth of news sources, a wealth of information at our fingerprints. And yet, sometimes the world seems more confusing, facts seem less available than they did 50 some years ago when this country was shocked to its core by that assassination. It's the difference as opposed to having the access of information and actually seizing on it, using it to make decisions.
ZAKARIA: We're drowning in information, but we're searching for wisdom. You know, that's to pull back and have some sense of perspective. But you always had to calm people down.
STELTER: So, who were your reliable sources, Fareed? That's what I was really wondering. Who do you turn to when the world seems to be so chaotic?
ZAKARIA: You know, one of the great recourses, and this -- I have a lot of people around the world who I talk to and try to get a sense of what's really going on.
And what you find is if you talk to the Jordanians, for example, you know, they have been battling ISIS for two or three years now. And they really have a good sense of it. They don't think it's (INAUDIBLE) organization. They don't think it's completely defeated yet. So, you get more of a real sense.
But the great recourse in some ways is history. As I say, look back. I mean, in the 1950s and '60s, there were Maoist guerilla terrorist movements all over. You know, look at the 1980s and the IRA in Britain. It seemed to cripple Britain. They bombed the hotel room that Margaret Thatcher was living in, the prime minister.
At the end of the day, the forces of civilization in my view always overwhelm these forces of barbarism. It just takes time, partly because, you know, these guys only have to be right once. We have to be right a thousands times a day. But in the end, they have no answers to the modern world. STELTER: Fareed, thank you so much for being here this morning.
STELTER: And your documentary about ISIS titled "Blindsided" is airing again tomorrow night, Monday at 9:00 p.m. It's a really important part of the evolving media how even cable news coverage is used as propaganda by ISIS. So, I recommend it.
Coming up here, a few more guests put this weekend into perspective. You know, domestic politics has obviously been reshaped by what happened in Paris. As we all saw with the refugee debate this week. The question, is the coverage making things better or worse?
Let's look at something from just this morning. This is George Stephanopoulos speaking with Donald Trump, trying to pin him down on a questionable claim he made yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down.
[11:10:01] And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: You know, the police say that didn't happen and all those rumors have been on the Internet for some times. So, did you misspeak yesterday?
TRUMP (via telephone): It did happen. I saw it. It was --
STEPHANOPOULOS: You saw that with your own eyes?
TRUMP: George, it did happen. There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down.
I know it might not be politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down, as those buildings came down. And that tells you something. It was well- covered at the time, George.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: There is not evidence to back up what Donald Trump is saying. It just isn't. Now, we've looked for it. It's not there.
But let's talk to three experts who can put this into proper context, beginning out in Phoenix this morning with Michael Oreskes. He is the senior vice president of news and editorial director at NPR. In Washington, Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University. And here in New York with me, Jeff Greenfield. He's been observing America's political scene for more than three decades, a contributor of "Politico", PBS and elsewhere.
Gentlemen, thank you all for being here.
Let me start with Frank in Washington. And let's get directly at this issue with Donald Trump, because I think it's an example of an unreliable source, to be completely honest. Frank, you were the Washington bureau chief for CNN on the morning of 9/11. Is there any evidence to back him up?
FRANK SESNO, DIRECTOR OF THE SCHOOL OF MEDIA & PUBLIC AFFAIRS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: No. And, you know, he talks about, is this politically correct to talk about it? You know, drop the word "political". Is it correct?
He claims to have seen something that either happened or it didn't. CNN had cameras. All those stuff that the cameras recorded is still available, so did ABC and everybody else. There is no conspiracy in the media to hide such a thing.
Donald Trump needs to be called on something if he speaks incorrectly. He has spoken incorrectly. I recall no such thing. There were cheering crowds around the world. That's true and that was ugly. I do not recall anything like that in the United States, certainly not thousands of people gathering and cheering.
STELTER: It seems to me that sometimes his ideas bubble up from Internet comment threads whether from the far left or the far right. And they get oxygen from the mainstream media.
Let me go out to Michael in Phoenix, because, Michael, you run NPR's news organization. You have to make decisions every day about how to cover these issues. Do you think Stephanopoulos on that clip did enough to push back? More broadly, what do you think journalists have to do when we hear a claim, whether from a Donald Trump or a Barack Obama that does not check out?
MICHAEL ORESKES, HEAD OF NEWS, NPR: We have to call them on it, as I think George attempted to do at least. It's become more and more difficult to stop that information in a world where information rattles around in speed of light, although it was a long time ago, I guess. It was, Mark Twain said, a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on.
But it is our job to try to straighten the facts out and also to remain calm the more hysterical the situation becomes. It's part of our job is to help our audiences and the people who depend on us see things clearly. And the hysteria does not help to see things clearly.
STELTER: You feel like the truth hasn't even gotten its socks on at some point this week.
Let me go to Jeff here with me in New York, because, Jeff, we were talking, you know, in the makeup room before this segment about fear and about people's reaction to news coverage. You were saying that sometimes fear is an absolutely appropriate and wise reaction.
Tell me more about that.
JEFF GREENFIELD, POLITICAL ANALYST AND AUTHOR: Well, it's a survival mechanism.
GREENFIELD: Mankind wouldn't be around here if we didn't learn to be afraid and what to do about it.
So, the issue -- I think people make a mistake. The obvious mistake is to exploit fear to say things that aren't true, to put headlines out that the barbarians are at the gates, the refugees are coming into Mexico.
STELTER: Yes. Truthfully (ph), when I heard Trump refer to Arab populations, to me, that sounds like fear-mongering.
GREENFIELD: OK. But the other thing is, and I think this is where the president may have erred in his remarks, is you have to meet the public where they are.
I was in Washington when Paris happened. Did I feel a sense of concern? Yes. If I get on an airplane tomorrow and fly to Los Angeles -- yes.
And I think unless the political process first understands that the fear is understandable response so it can then put in perspective. I mentioned to you that a lot of times, Winston Churchill, the famous speeches he gave in World War II, he started out by telling the public some really unpleasant things about military defeats. He said to them, I know you got bombs raining on you. Of course, you are. But here's what we're going to do about it.
So, for instance, if you could tell the public fast, this is the vetting process for refugees. They don't walk in here. You know, it's a two-year or year process, that will help.
But to dismiss it is, I think, a mistake.
STELTER: Michael, let me ask you about the coverage of the refugee situation. There was something here at CNN this week, correspondent Elise Labott.
[11:15:00] She's our global affairs correspondent. She was suspended for a tweet.
And I want to put that tweet on screen. It was about the refugee vote.
"House passes bill that could limit Syrian refugees. Statue of Liberty bows head in anguish."
Now, she later apologized for that tweet. The network did suspend her for two weeks and the position I think here at CNN is that she violated the policy against correspondents expressing a political point of view.
What I'm wondering, Michael, since you do -- you run a newsroom, how would you have handled the situation?
ORESKES: Well, the rules are quite similar. We no one at NPR, no journalist at NPR, and in fact, nobody on the staff of NPR, is allowed to express political points of view or opinions in social media or on the air. And that applies to everybody from an intern to a host.
STELTER: Well, I hear. There was a lot of criticism of CNN for this. There was a lot of criticism of CNN from people who said she was expressing a basic moral value. So, what would you have told your journalists?
ORESKES: Well, I understand it was of criticism. And actually, it seemed to fall into two categories.
One of the criticisms seemed to be that CNN actually had a double standard and there were lots of opinions being expressed, but she was cited for this one. I noticed you, Brian, in your own article on it said that hosts had a certain amount of leeway or certain hosts did anyway. I don't know whether that's true or not. I had to be honest -- I listen to NPR more than I've been watching CNN this week. So, I don't know whether that's true.
But that's -- that wouldn't be the NPR policy. We would ask all NPR journalists to follow the same rule.
I think there's a second point of view here, which is whether or not it's possible for people to hold back their opinions or necessary, that's a big debate in journalism. I happen to hold to a somewhat traditional view. I'll confess it.
But in fact, we have an obligation to provide people with facts. And that our job is not to tell people what to think. It's to give them the information to think about. Whenever one of our journalists strays over that line, it fogs the situation. I think that NPR and CNN are correct to have rules against expressing political opinions.
STELTER: And particularly on Twitter, I would just add -- unedited forums like Twitter and Facebook is very different from a CNN.com op- ed, for example.
Well, gentlemen, I wish I could keep going. I got to take a break here for a minute. But please, all stick around, because I want to bring you back later in the hour.
After the break here, Glenn Greenwald says the American media is rooting for war. We're going to talk to him about that.
And later this hour, why the recent attacks in Mali and in Lebanon may be equally tragic but aren't getting equal coverage. We'll bring the panel back a about that in a few minutes.
[11:21:17] STELTER: Did you feel a rightward lurch to the press coverage after the Paris attacks? You watch this and decide. Were these comments fear-mongering or are they proper media coverage?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New York City is probably the number one most desirable target among jihadist worldwide.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Unlike al Qaeda, these are people who are living here among us, and that I think is the biggest threat here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, the FBI has arrested more than 70 suspect ISIS sympathizers in the last two years, dozens this year alone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You put together access to guns, which we're notorious for in this country. You can go anything you want up until you commit an actual crime. But once you've done that, all we can do is put the police tape out and collect the bodies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bottom line; ISIS is finding support here every day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Now, what happened in Paris on November 13th was widely described as France's 9/11. And we all remember the media climate after 9/11 here in the U.S. That's why some media critics are sounding the alarm now.
Here's an example from Michael Tomasky of "The Daily Beast". He said, "Are we seriously going to repeat the same damn mistakes we made after 9/11? If the media gets its way, it seems the answer is an emphatic yes."
Joining me mow is Glenn Greenwald, the co-founder of "The Intercept", a journalist there for the Web site.
Glenn, thank you for being here this morning.
GLENN GREENWALD, CO-FOUNDING EDITOR, THE INTERCEPT: Thanks for having me.
STELTER: You've said this week that the media is trying to stoke that id part of your brain -- the part that wants fiercer military action against ISIS. You said the press is hungry for war.
How do you back up that assertion?
GREENWALD: The lesson that the American media has supposedly learned after the 9/11 attack was that allowing political and military intelligence officials to make all kinds of claims without scrutinizing and questioning and pushing them back is a really destructive thing to do. It propagandizes the population. It leads to things like torture, Guantanamo, the attack on Iraq based on false pretenses.
And I think you've seen that exact behavior but even worse from the overwhelming majority of the media in the last nine days since the Paris attack.
STELTER: Even worse.
GREENWALD: Unfortunately, Brian, actually -- well, I think that CNN is actually unfortunately led the way in this. You've had one intelligence official with the CIA or formerly with the CIA after the next, gone on air and able to say all kinds of extremely dubious claims that print journalists have repeatedly documented in "Bloomberg News" and "The New Yorker", on "The New York Times" editorial page are totally false.
STELTER: So, you're specifically talking about encryption.
GREENWALD: -- talking about encryption, about why this terrorist attack happened, about more powers that are needed, about the need to go in and attack -- and attack ISIS with ground troops as well.
But I do think that's the other aspect is there's been really alarming anti-Muslim climate cultivated in this country, not just by Republican candidates like Donald Trump talking about making them carry ID cards and putting them in databases and closing mosques, but by the American media itself.
I think the worst example, probably the most despicable interview we've seen in the last several years were two CNN anchors, John Vause and Isha Sesay who told a French Muslim political activist that he and all other Muslims bear, quote, "responsibility" for the attack in Paris because all Muslims must somehow be responsible. You could never --
STELTER: But there is a difference between asking questions and making statements. You say they told him that. They were asking a series of questions I know went viral online.
GREENWALD: No. No, no. They made statements when he was on and after he left. They said, the word responsibility comes to mind. It's time for people like this to accept responsibility.
STELTER: But aren't you cherry-picking here a little bit? Aren't you cherry picking from 24 hours of television coverage?
[11:25:01] GREENWALD: Brian, you have had CNN, not you personally, but CNN has had John Brennan, multiple tapes of him over and over, has had former CIA, Jim Woolsey, who has come on, zero push back, zero questioning. A CNN reporter stood in President Obama's press conference and said, "Why can't we take these bastards out?", essentially pushing the president towards war in Syria.
This is the kind of opinionating that comes forth from CNN all the time --
STELTER: Let's talk about that quote.
GREENWALD: -- that is never sanctioned, never punished. You're allowed to demonize Muslims.
STELTER: Let's talk about the Acosta quote. I think it's a really interesting moment that we saw at that press conference. Many people supporting him, some people criticizing him for that question. What I thought Acosta was doing and I want to hear your take was, trying to express what folks in America are feeling and thinking right now, that dissatisfaction with the president's response to ISIS.
Is it not appropriate for the press the hold the president, even a Democratic, even a liberal president accountable, in that way by trying to express the public's mood, the public's anger?
GREENWALD: I actually think that it's totally appropriate for the CNN host with the Yasser Louati to express their repugnant opinions. I think it's appropriate for Jim Acosta to voice what American people are saying. But I also think it's appropriate for Elise Labott to go on to Twitter and to speak critically in the mildest way about the U.S. Congress and stand up for the most marginalized people, Syrian refugees, without --
STELTER: So, you're saying all opinions. Let's hear all opinions.
GREENWALD: Elise Labott gets punished. But the two CNN anchors and Jim Acosta and all kinds of CNN anchors who speak critically of Muslims aren't punished and the message that sent is, you're free to stoke anti-Muslim animosity in the United States but what you're not free to do is to defend Muslims.
STELTER: I don't -- I got to tell you. I hear what you're saying. I personally haven't heard anti-Muslim rhetoric on this network in the way you're describing. I think I've seen a lot more of them on the Internet, on conservative Web sites and on Facebook and Twitter than I have on CNN, but I hear what you're saying.
But my point about Acosta is that --
GREENWALD: Did you watch that Yasser Louati interview? Seriously, did you watch that Yasser Louati --
STELTER: I did. But let me go back to my point about Acosta because --
GREENWALD: That caused revulsion around the world. That caused revulsion around the world.
STELTER: There's always call from people like you to hold Republican presidents and Republican administrations accountable. To me, what Acosta was doing was holding a Democratic administration accountable through that question in a provocative way.
GREENWALD: I support what he did. I support what -- I support what he did. I think what Jim did is totally appropriate. I think it's great that Christiane Amanpour can go on CNN all the time and demand that President Obama intervene in Syria, that he attack ISIS with ground troops. That she --
STELTER: She hasn't demanded that.
GREENWALD: -- expresses whatever opinions she wants. That to me is journalism, is criticizing politicians. That's why Elise Labott did nothing wrong as well. And the fact that CNN singled her out and punished her doesn't show the objectivity as required of CNN reporters. It shows that --
STELTER: I think that's --
GREENWALD: -- when you want more war, when you want to stigmatize Muslims, but defending Muslims is not allowed. I think that's what signals it sent.
STELTER: Again, I just think we've seen a lot of what you would say defending Muslims. I think we've seen a lot of variety of coverage. And I do want to share this. This is an interesting point about Elise Labott. So, I was talking with the head of another major network earlier this week and I asked him, what would you have done? He said, I would have done the exact the same thing. I would have had to suspend her because it was editorializing.
I think that's what it comes to, right? That the folks that have to make these news judgments have one view of it. Some journalists like yourself, and I respect to have other views of it. But the people that are in charge end up having to enforce these rules.
GREENWALD: Brian, you have -- this is the problem with this claim of objectivity, is you have CNN journalists continuously expressing all kinds of opinions. As I said just moments ago, Christiane Amanpour spent hours since 2013 --
STELTER: I guess we could debate it all day. I don't think that's true about Christiane. It's different when you're a correspondent in Washington who's actively covering something like the refugee debate.
But I do hear what you're saying. And we could debate it all day. I tend to agree with you about the idea that journalists in some cases should show more of their opinions through their writing, through their comments on television, et cetera. I think it's different when it's an unedited tweet. But I do hear what you're saying about that.
GREENWALD: OK, but --
STELTER: I appreciate you being here to express that point of view this morning.
GREENWALD: OK, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
STELTER: Thank you.
Coming up, reaction to Glenn's comments.
Plus, all the, frankly, misinformation that's been out there, all the misreporting about ISIS. I want to ask what journalists can do to clear up what is truly a fog of war situation. That's next.
STELTER: Welcome back. Thanks for staying with us.
One of the big debates in journalism this week is about the way we talk about ISIS, the impact of the very words we choose to describe the terrorist group.
On MSNBC this week, Lawrence O'Donnell called out the press on one specific word choice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Stop calling Abdelhamid Abaaoud a mastermind. You can call him the ringleader of the attacks in Paris. You can call him the organizers of the attacks but stop glorifying this homicidal maniac, who flunked out of high school.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Is he right?
Can a word make such a difference?
It's been debated here this week at CNN and other networks as well.
Let's bring back our panel and discuss the ethics of this coverage, bringing in NPR News editorial director, Michael Oreskes; Frank Sesno of the George Washington University and veteran political observer Jeff Greenfield.
Jeff, what is the appropriate call?
Is it mastermind?
Is it ringleader?
Does it matter at all? JEFF GREENFIELD, POLITICAL ANALYST AND AUTHOR: It matters a bit. I'm
not sure it matters that much. I think the point is to not make these people 20 feet tall. I've seen a couple of analyses in fact of the attack. And it said it did not take an evil mastermind genius to pull it off.
The argument about words goes right through this debate. I --
GREENFIELD: -- noticed today a "New York Times" article that referred to Islamic extremists. And we know this is enormous argument.
Why won't the president label this?
Why does Hillary Clinton call them jihadists?
What's the game here?
I think it matters -- I think the substance of what's going on matters a lot more than the words. But I think journalists ought to be careful.
STELTER: Michael, let me ask you about something we saw online this week, a lot of press critics and some consumers complain that there was much, much more focus on Paris than there was on an attack in Beirut a day or two before then.
And of course, this weekend, on Friday, we saw what happened in Mali. There have been other recent terror attacks in Nigeria and Kenya.
Bill Keller (ph), who used to be the executive editor of "The New York Times," told your NPR media correspondent, David Folkenflik, that there is a hierarchy of news.
Here's what he said.
"All deaths are equal to the victims and their families. But all deaths are not equal in the calculation of news value."
Do you agree?
MICHAEL ORESKES, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF NEWS AND EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, NPR: Well, I wouldn't frame it that way. First of all, I think, just as human beings, I would hope we would hold all life sacred, regardless of our own backgrounds or beliefs and that none of us would view ourselves as all-powerful enough to judge the value of any life against some other life.
I don't think that's what journalists are doing. Every day in a hundred ways, journalists make choices about what to cover and how much to cover it.
STELTER: Why did Paris get so much more attention than Beirut? ORESKES: Well, let me just finish the thought. The death of a pope
gets a lot more attention than the death of a B movie actor, unless, of course, that B movie actor was also President of the United States and helped to end the Cold War. We're always ranking events.
Now Beirut was a terrible event. And it did, in fact, get quite a bit of coverage, certainly on NPR and, in fact, our colleagues at Public Radio International did a truly heart moving (sic), rending piece the morning of the Paris attack about a fellow named Adel Turmos (ph), who threw himself on one of the bombers in Beirut and took the full power of the blast on himself.
He was killed but he saved his daughter and probably many other people in that busy area. And that was all said before the Paris attacks.
It is certainly true that the attack in Paris, for many, many reasons, received more attention all over the world than and of these previous attacks. And a lot of that has to do with how individuals and communities react.
Paris is the world city. There's probably no place on Earth that more people, more places all around the world connect to. So I won't pretend that they got equal amounts of attention.
And it's now clear, looking back, that the downing of Russian jetliner, the attack in Beirut and then the attack in Paris were all part of one very large story, which was the assertion by ISIS of a kind of world power that we hadn't before this -- we being Western intelligence and others -- hadn't expected of them.
So the news of those three events together clearly is a large story.
STELTER: And one more subject about the recent coverage. Let me go to Frank on this.
In the wake of the breaking news, like in Paris, there's so much misinformation. I'm thinking reports of the attackers used PlayStation 4s, not confirmed. The Eiffel Tower going dark in tribute; actually the lights go off every night.
Then there were these reports about the woman killed in the raid that several days later she was mistakenly said to be Europe's first female suicide bomber. This is the cover of the "New York Post" covering that story. Of course, the "New York Post" was not at all alone on this one. It turns out that it was a male, not a female, in that case.
So, Frank, what would you like to see the press do more of to clear up this kind of fog of misinformation, even when it's official sources, government sources that are telling us this information that turns out not to be right?
FRANK SESNO, DIRECTOR OF THE SCHOOL OF MEDIA AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, there's not much actually you can do if official sources are telling you information in real time that turns out not to be right. We've had this conversation before. So the media has to be transparent about it. It has to attach this information to the sources. It has to say this is happening.
But I want to go back to a point that was made earlier because what the media should be spending its time on, what newsrooms everywhere should be preoccupied with and whether you want to pick at words, that's fine.
The bigger issue here is how are you going properly contextualize this story?
Michael was talking about the coverage that was given to Beirut. That's true. But much more attention, as we know, was given to Paris.
What is news?
News is that which is unusual, unexpected and significant. Paris had all of those things. And it broke out and made itself separate and apart from what has happened in Lebanon and Iraq and elsewhere where this has been not a daily occurrence by any means but is more common.
However, however, the media need to do a much better job at looking at how they frame these issues because actually there was a very thoughtful piece in "The Atlantic" -- Michael, I'm sure you've seen because an NPR piece was called out -- that said the Paris bombings focused on the victims and those who lost their lives; much of the Beirut coverage referred to this Hezbollah stronghold. And it was put in a context of war.
We have to do, we, the media, need to do -- you, the media -- need to do a much better job at presenting the public with a more --
SESNO: -- complex, nuanced, careful look at these things that put them in context.
STELTER: Jeff, I see you're disagreeing.
GREENFIELD: No, I don't disagree. But I think there's a broader point.
You have a 1,300-year schism in the Islamic world. You have 100 years worth of maps that were drawn when the Ottoman Empire ended that divided tribes in ways that made no sense.
You have a Saudi Arabia that people are urging, come in, they're our allies, that have spent billions of dollars and decades spreading throughout the Islamic world Wahhabism, one of the most dangerous, intolerant fuels of this kind of anger.
I would like to see in terms of the coverage that, as much as possible -- and I understand the limits of time and space -- that particularly on a 24-hour news network, those underlying facts keep being put before the public so they can put ISIS in the frame that makes some sense.
STELTER: Jeff, Michael and Frank, thank you all for being here this morning. It's been a wonderful conversation.
Up next here, are refugees terrorists?
Those words being put together in the same sentence. We're going to pull out our "Red News, Blue News" glasses to look at the coverage critically -- next.
STELTER: Even though all the known attackers in Paris were Europeans, not Syrians, American politicians and the reporters who cover them have been fixated on concerns that Syrian terrorists will slip into this country.
Cue Stephen Colbert.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: The question of whether to let Syrian refugees into this country has become the new political issue, completely overshadowing the old political issue: whether to let Mexicans into this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: This issue has been getting the "Red News, Blue News" treatment, meaning that what you hear about refugees really depends on who you're hearing it from. Reliable information has been overwhelmed by scary misinformation. And let me show you what I mean.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER (voice-over): This viral picture was retweeted hundreds of times. It says, "Remember the man who killed four Marines in Chattanooga? He was a refugee."
It's not true. Neither is this one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER (voice-over): It shows the Boston marathon bombings with the text, "Just say no to importing more Muslim refugees."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: The Tsarnaev brothers were not refugees. They arrived here on tourist visas.
Whether you think 10,000 Syrian refugees should be here, whether you think 100,000 or 200,000 Syrian refugees should be allowed and whether you think zero should be here at all, this kind of trickery should tick you off because it messes up the entire debate. Let me show you another example, actually, of the rhetoric getting
ahead of facts.
This is Donald Trump in an Instagram video on Thursday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, ENTREPRENEUR: Syrians are now being caught at the southern border, just like I said. They're going to be pouring in. We don't know who they are. Could be ISIS. We need a new president fast.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So where did Trump get that information? It seems like he got it from the conservative website breitbartnews, which said -- here's the headline -- "Confirmed, eight Syrians caught at the Texas border in Laredo," confirmed, you know, even though all caps headline makes it seem ominous but it wasn't exactly true.
The Department of Homeland Security said the people were not caught, they turned themselves in. They were two families.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two Syrian families being detained at the moment in Texas. The Department of Homeland Security saying today they presented themselves at the Mexico-U.S. border in Laredo, two men, two women, four children. Immigration officials are now processing them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Of course, anything is possible but common sense would suggest these families are asylum seekers, not threats to America.
What I've noticed in lot of the "red news" coverage is a casual connection between refugees and then imminent danger. The commentators will start by talking about people fleeing danger in their home countries. Then they'll talk about how we might be in danger here in our homes.
They don't have to link the two directly in order to instill fear.
So how do "blue news" sources respond to all this?
There's been this temptation to dismiss anyone else's concerns about importing terror. There's even been mockery. Look at this "Rolling Stone" headline.
It says that "GOP Politicians Rejecting Refugees Sound Like Racist Internet Trolls."
By invoking the R word, racist, that column comes across as intolerant, which is exactly what the writer is accusing the Republicans of being.
So what do we end up with?
We end up with people talking past each other, reading different stories and then coming up to different conclusions.
We end up with a "Red News, Blue News" world.
Now up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, the story behind the story of this scene on FOX News, what led the founder of the Republican Muslim Coalition to wear this American flag hijab, she went viral. And she'll join me next to talk about that.
STELTER: I think it's safe to say you don't see many people on cable news like Saba Ahmed, a Muslim American Republican.
And you definitely don't see this. She's wearing the hijab, the traditional head covering, worn in public by some Muslim women, made out of the American flag.
But that is exactly what she wore on Tuesday there on "The Kelly File." Her appearance was an effort to challenge an idea by Donald Trump, who says he would consider shutting down some mosques. And she's here with me in the studio in New York.
And I mispronounced your name -- Saba Ahmed.
SABA AHMED, FOUNDER, REPUBLICAN MUSLIM COALITION: Yes.
STELTER: I'm sorry about that.
I wanted to ask you about that FOX moment because it went viral. You know, you're all over the Web for that.
Was that your idea?
AHMED: No, it was actually very last minute. I had bought the scarf from here in Times Square. And I thought about putting it on the side. But at the very last minute I was watching the show and there were some very anti-Islamic remarks. So I wanted to show my patriotism.
And then I talked to the makeup room ladies and they were like, "Well, it looks good if you just put it on."
So we just kind of went with us. I was trying --
STELTER: The makeup room ladies always know. AHMED: I know --
STELTER: I have learned that.
AHMED: And she told me today, "Pink looks good."
STELTER: There you go.
I wanted to ask you, in the short time I have left on the program this hour, if you've sensed a lot of Islamophobia in the media and how you feel when you see it, when you hear it.
AHMED: It's obviously there and it's very sad. But I think it's an opportunity for us to solve. And I think the reason I'm reaching out to Republicans and conservatives in particular is because our Islamic faith values align a lot with them. And I feel like we can reach out to a lot of them and we can -- it can be like a teaching moment for America.
And hopefully we'll get through to all the major news shows and change the anti-Islamic sentiment environment in the United States.
STELTER: Do you blame the reporters and the anchors more?
Or you blame the politicians that they're covering?
AHMED: I think across the board.
STELTER: Hard to differentiate, huh?
AHMED: Yes. It's like -- I work in Washington, D.C., and you see that all the time. It just -- there is so much anti-Islamic hysteria, people. And when I show up in congressional hearings, for instance, people are just like, oh, my God, they have a --
AHMED: -- specific view of Muslims. And then when we show up, it just changes their mind.
And I think it changes the game when you're sitting there in front of them.
STELTER: As with everything in life, right, exposure and access does change, though.
Thank you so much for being here this morning.
AHMED: Sure. Thank you for having me.
STELTER: Good to see you.
And we'll be right back with more RELIABLE SOURCES.
STELTER: We're out of time for our televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. But make sure you sign up for our email edition, our new newsletter in your inbox six days a week with all the biggest media news, delivered to your inbox, usually around 5 o'clock, maybe 6 o'clock every day and we'll tell you what's going on in the media world. It's cnnmoney.com/media.
"STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper starts right now.