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Wolf Blitzer Will Moderate Tuesday's CNN GOP Debate; Race for 2016: Trump Coverage Entering New Phase; Controversial Covers of "The New York Daily News"; Ratings for the Radio; The Experiment in Virtual Reality. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired December 13, 2015 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:11] 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 we're coming to you live this morning from the Vegas Strip. Just two days before the next CNN Republican debate here at the Venetian Las Vegas.

Let's take a live look if we can inside the theater. The stage look like it's almost ready for the bakers dozen of candidates who will be squaring off in two separate debates, one undercard and one in primetime. I snuck in there last night. It is a majestic room for this debate.

At every single debate, CNN has something called the "cone of silence". It's a room where the moderators, the questioners, the producers, the researchers all gather, all write questions. They all prepare for every possible answer.

Moderator Wolf Blitzer will be there all day, but first, he's here with me for a preview of this final GOP debate of year.

Wolf, thank you so much for coming on the show.


STELTER: We went back. We watch some of your past debates. Let's take a look at that first.


BLITZER: Let me begin with an example of what I have in mind.

I'm Wolf Blitzer and I'm with CNN.

Senator Obama, what is the definition of rich?

Senator Clinton, do you want to respond?

Mayor Giuliani -- Governor Romney --

Senator John McCain, this is your chance.

Let me begin with Michele Bachmann, Congresswoman.

Governor Perry.

Mr. Cain --

HERMAN CAIN (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm sorry, Blitz. I meant Wolf, OK? Blitz Wolf --


BLITZER: That's all the time we have. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a hand to our candidates.


STELTER: So, after all those debate, how do you think this one will be different?

BLITZER: Well, I'm sure the viewership will be larger, bigger, probably because of Donald Trump himself. He keeps saying that. He's probably right.


BLITZER: Viewership in the previous debates have been very, very large in the United States. This debate, our debate is also simulcast on CNN International.


BLITZER: So, we'll have a huge international audience.

STELTER: Also, live streaming on

BLITZER: Right. So, there's going to be millions and millions of people who are going to be watching.

STELTER: Are the topics different do you think? Are the issues different than they have been in prior primary cycles?

BLITZER: We're going to focus on number one issue facing the American people right now and all the polls suggest that it is the fear of terrorism, ISIS, we're going to go into national security and make sure our viewers and voters out there have the better appreciation of who these candidates are after the debate as opposed to going into the debate.

So, we want to make sure they appreciate where the candidates stand on the most important issues of the day. We'll get to other subjects as well. But that's going to be a really important focus, because that's where the American public is right now. STELTER: You mentioned other subjects. Will this weekend's historic

climate change accord possibly come up to?

BLITZER: Possibly. All the major issues are out on the table. When you mention the cone of silence, that's what we do. Together with other questioners, Hugh Hewitt, Dana Bash, we go through producers and researchers.

We really have to know where these candidates stand on the most important issues, what they have said in the past, you know, what they're attitudes are on the important issues, where they agree and disagree.

We study it and it's a lot of work in that code of silence. We don't want to give out information where we're going specifically with the questions.


BLITZER: But we do want to make sure the questions are smart, concise, to the point and let these candidates have an opportunity to explain to voters out there where they stand.

STELTER: I have never heard that phrase before I joined CNN, the cone of silence. Why do you all have that space and why is it a cone silence?

BLITZER: Because we don't want the candidates to know the specific questions we're going to ask, that would be unfair. And so, if too many people are aware of the specific questions, and that's not what we want. So, we go into a room, it's a conference room. It's not much of a cone of silence.

STELTER: It sounds very exciting, though.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a conference room. It's a big long table. We all go around the table. We all have serious discussions and we come up with really responsible, fair and important questions. And on these issues that we're going to focus on a lot in this coming debate, national security, the war on terrorism, international affairs.

These are areas I've been covering obviously for a long time. So, I feel comfortable going into this debate. I think our viewers will be happy because they will learn something about these candidates.

STELTER: You mentioned the expectation for viewership. We have seen 15 million, 20 million, 25 million viewers watching these primary debates. In the past maybe 5 million would have been tuning in at this point of the cycle.

Does that put extra pressure on you? Do you feel like the pressure --

BLITZER: No. It doesn't. I've done eight presidential debates. I did five in 2007, 2008 cycle. I did three in the last cycle in 2011, 2012. Millions of people does make a difference. There's 5 million or 20 million, still millions of people that are going to be watching. STELTER: For sure.

BLITZER: So, the pressure is enormous. You want to be responsible. You want to be fair. You want to be precise. You want to be accurate.

And you want to be prepared in case one of the candidates says something that may be different than what he or she said a week or two earlier. So, you want to make sure you're up to speed and you can let the candidate -- it is a debate.

[11:05:00] So, you want to let the candidate explain their positions where they agree and where they disagree.

STELTER: I was going to ask you that. Do you want them to face off? Are you writing questions that explicitly cause two candidates to speak with each other?

BLITZER: No. I think what we're doing is writing questions that will allow the viewers out there -- and as you pointed out -- there will be millions of viewers -- to better appreciate where these candidates stand on the most important issues. If they agree, fine. Let the viewers know that they agree. If they disagree, fine. But we want to be precise and we want to make sure that we get some specifics from the candidates.

STELTER: When there was so much blow back after the CNBC debate, so much criticism in the moderators, does that create a chilling effect for a moderator like you now coming into this later in the cycle?

BLITZER: No, because I've done this before. I'm pretty familiar with the format. I know that all of these candidates want in. They all want to weigh in.

We've got have rules. How many seconds they can give in their opening comments, how many seconds they give in rebuttals and follow ups and stuff like that. So, there's pretty specific rules.

A debate is different than a one-on-one interview --


BLITZER: -- with a presidential candidate.

When you're doing a one-on-one interview, you can follow up, you can go in. If the candidate doesn't really answer, you can say, well, you know, with all due respect, you didn't answer the question.

In a debate, it's different. You want the candidates to weigh in. This is not about me. This is about the candidates.

I'm the facilitator, if you will. I want to make sure that when I throw out a question, they answer the question. If they attack someone else in the process, give that other person a chance to respond. STELTER: My last question for you is, is the biggest challenge Donald

Trump? This is the question that came up before the first debate of the cycle -- is there a special plan if Donald Trump, for example, tries to take control or tries to turn it back on you?

BLITZER: No, I don't think -- I don't think -- if you look at his appearances in the earlier debates --


BLITZER: -- I don't think he's tried to do this.

I think that, you know, look, you don't get to this level of politics, even if you're not a politician. Donald Trump is not necessarily a politician. Dr. Ben Carson is not necessarily a politician, but you don't get to this level of politics unless you're smart, you're articulate, you know something about what's going on.

So, they each bring something and they're all challenging from my perspective as a moderator.

STELTER: Any pre-debate rituals, by the way, anything else you want --

BLITZER: I try to get a good night sleep the night before. Basically, I do. I do every morning, I go to the gym, I work out, run on a treadmill --

STELTER: Wait, no gambling here at the Venetian?

BLITZER: No gambling, I'm not a big gambler. I try to just go in with a positive attitude knowing, look, I'm really feel blessed I have this opportunity to ask some serious, important questions to someone who may or may not become the president of the United States. But there's the possibility one of those men or women could be the next president of the United States. And when you're a journalist and you have that opportunity, you have that responsibility. You take it very, very seriously. I'm grateful to CNN, grateful to our viewers that they allow me to do this.

STELTER: Back to the cone of silence for you.

BLITZER: I'll be going to the cone of silence.

STELTER: Wolf, thank you so much.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

STELTER: Good to see you.

Wolf will take the stage at, what is it, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, 3:00 p.m. Pacific Time here in Las Vegas on Tuesday. You can watch on, as well as on this channel and on CNN international.

Now, this morning there's big poll news out of Iowa. A brand new register poll showing Ted Cruz jumping to a 10-point lead over Donald Trump in Iowa. Meanwhile, a FOX poll this morning says they are basically tied there and a new NBC poll this morning has Cruz surging into second place nationally.

So, how will these new poll numbers and this last debate of the year change the media's narrative heading into the actual election year?

Let's ask our panel here in Las Vegas with me. Jon Ralston, the man to call about Nevada politics, the host of "Ralston Live", and in Austin, Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist of the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign, he's now an analyst for ABC News, and Andrew Stiles is a digital managing editor for "The Washington Free Beacon", a conservative news site.

Thank you all for being here.

Let me start with you, Jon, here in Las Vegas. What makes the setting for this debate different? We are in a billionaire donor's hotel, aren't we?

JON RALSTON, HOST, RALSTON LIVE: We are, Sheldon Adelson. I understand he has some influence in Republican politics, Brian, and obviously, the audience of one that a lot of these folks are going to be talking to. They want his money.

He wants to be with a winner this time. People may remember. He invested a lot in Newt Gingrich. That was a personal friendship, more than anything else.

But he's taken his time. There are reports that he likes Marco Rubio. People close to him tell me that is true. There are reports that his wife likes Ted Cruz. I think to some extent that's true.

What Sheldon Adelson wants to do is back the winner in the primary and then back the winner in the general election.

STELTER: Let me go to Matthew Dowd as well on this, because I'm curious. Now that we've seen several debates. We're heading into a crucial last debate of the year. And by the time everyone gets back from the holidays, it will be January, it will be time for the Iowa caucuses.

Matthew, what do you think the candidates have to be asked, and what do they have to answer in order to stand out before the holiday season?

MATTHEW DOWD, FORMER BUSH/CHENEY '04 ADVISOR: Well, I think the dynamic of the race is coming into some semblance of order for the first time going into this debate, which I think makes this debate even more important than all the others that had been held before. That's one reason.

The other reason is, is that we have this period of time after the debate -- basically, the numbers aren't going to really move because ads over the holidays don't usually work.

[11:10:04] Campaigning in the midst of Christmas and New Years doesn't really work.

And so, this debate will basically -- this debate will basically freeze the race in the aftermath of this. So, I think there's a number of folks in this debate that have an incredible amount of pressure. But I think the most pressure is on the folks, whoever the establishment person is, needs to emerge.

Right now, this race looks like it's Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and one other person who is an established person, Rubio, Marco Rubio today. But can Chris Christie get back into that moment and do well enough to sort of jump over him and be the establishment figure?

This race for now has forced itself into a dynamic that this debate actually in my view becomes the most important debate of the process going into the Iowa caucuses.

STELTER: And, Andrew, are you seeing the media narrative shift toward Ted Cruz right now? What do you make of these polls that are showing him surging? And what do you expect in the press cover as a result?

ANDREW STILES, DIGITAL MANAGING EDITOR, FREE BEACON: Yes, I think it makes sense. Ted Cruz is coming into focus as looking like Republican front-runner, at least challenger to Donald Trump. He's leading in Iowa. And I think he's basically gained a lot of the support that Ben Carson has lost after his collapsed. I think when it became clear he didn't know what he was talking about on foreign policy and terrorism, which is now a key focus for voters.

And, you know, I think more attention paid to Cruz in the attention. You've seen the leaked audio from his talk with some donors about his plan to go after Donald Trump, not necessarily to sort of stay away from Donald Trump and hope that he fades and, you know, attract Trump supporters.

And we'll see -- I think it will be interesting to see how Trump or how Cruz handles Trump during the debate. He'll have ample opportunity to go after him but whether or not he does and sticks to his plan, we'll see.

STELTER: And more attention for Cruz means more press scrutiny of Cruz in the coming days and weeks.

We'll take a short break here, gentlemen. Please stick around. We have a lot more to discuss after the break, including a big media mystery right here in Vegas.

And later in the program, a journalist, himself a Muslim, wrestling with how to cover Donald Trump's campaign. I'll talk with CNN alumni Ali Velshi.

Plus, "The New York Daily News" making quite a splash with its front pages lately, like this one showing Donald Trump beheading the Statue of Liberty. We'll talk with the editor in chief and ask him, is there anything he won't put on the cover?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:16:14] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm coming to you from the Venetian Las Vegas. The site of Tuesday's GOP debate.

We're talking about Donald Trump because he gets constant media coverage. Some of it positive, some of it negative. But this week was different. This week after Trump proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S., I think you could feel a real change. You could tell that journalists were truly shocked. Some bluntly called the proposal unconstitutional and un-American.

"BuzzFeed" editor-in-chief told his staff it was OK at this point to call Trump a racist. Some newspaper compared Trump to Hitler and other fascists. And revered NBC anchor Tom Brokaw decided to write this very unusual editorial.


TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: Trump statement, even in the season of extreme, is dangerous proposal that overrides history, the law and the foundation of America itself.


STELTER: So, what does our panel think of this week? Has something changed?

Let's bring our panel back here, Jon Ralston, Matthew Dowd and Andrew Stiles.

And, Andrew, I wanted to ask you as someone at the "Free Beacon", are you sensing pushback against Trump now from conservative media circles? You famously bought your staff the "Make America Great Again" hats a few months back, but times have changed.

STILES: Times have changed. I think a lot of people and a lot of conservatives too were entertained, amused by Trump when he first got in the race. It's becoming a lot less funny now with his kind of blatant fear-mongering and the ban on Muslims. It's not as funny anymore. And I think you're starting to see a lot of people get fed up.

And you see the Republican establishment is also panicking a little with their plan to -- what are they going to do, a brokered convention if -- to prevent Trump from becoming the nominee.

It's not funny anymore. And it's totally fair for the media to kind of call him out on this. I think, unfortunately, the practical impact is that a lot of people supporting Trump just don't trust the media and it's going to make them like Trump even more.

STELTER: I think a lot of us will ask ourselves, are we proud of our Trump coverage, whether he's elected or not? Are we proud of his campaign coverage, or we are not proud of the way we covered his campaign? I think there will be a lot of different answers to that question. Let me show what Campbell Brown wrote, former CNN anchor Campbell Brown had this proposal in "Politico" magazine this week. She said, "Dear former colleagues, give us a week without Trump."

Now, I asked her to come on the show, she said she can't because that would violate her proposal to not talk about Trump for a week.

But, Matthew Dowd, is there any possibility -- any logic to a proposal like that?

DOWD: No, I don't think there's any possibility in it.

Listen, Donald Trump is the dominant candidate in this race. And he's been the dominant candidate in this race since he announced in July. He is as dominant as many other candidates that won GOP nomination in the past. He's as dominant as those candidates.

The other thing I want to address, the sort of the Muslim question in this whole thing -- is Donald Trump --


DOWD: -- has not dropped support in those polls? Ted Cruz has risen. Ben Carson has fallen, and Donald Trump has not lost a single vote. And one of reasons for that is if you take a look at these polls, even though a majority of Americans are opposed to some of his views, a majority of his supporters, and a majority of Republicans are in support of his views on these issues.

And so, this is isn't a media thing that the media somehow has to take Trump down, which I just do not like that whole narrative where somehow the media is responsible --


DOWD: -- for taking Donald Trump down.

The media is responsible, as you know, Brian, for presenting the facts as best we know them, trying to get at what the truth is, and trying to engage with where the conversation is going with the candidates. It's up to the voters to figure out --

STELTER: Well --

DOWD: -- what they want to do that.

And right now, Brian -- right now, Brian, the voters, Donald Trump's voters, agree with him on these issues.

[11:20:07] STELTER: You say these were truths. So, I want to put up a treat from you earlier this week. You wrote, "We're at disturbing time in America where there is no longer agreed upon fact sets in politics. Tribal identity trumps the truth."

Jon Ralston, do you agree that, that we're in a situation now where we're post-truth? RALSTON: Well, I think that Matt's point is right in that people who

support Donald Trump, his core supporters, don't really care about the truth. They care that Trump is saying what they believe. He's standing up for people.

But Campbell Brown's proposal is just -- you know, I understand her frustration but it's silly. You can't ignore the dominant front- runner in this race.

And I have to tell you, Brian, I don't think anyone should be shocked or should have thought Trump was funny from the word go. This is a guy who has talked about rounding up illegal immigrants and deporting them. He said awful things about almost every other candidate in the race. Anything can come out of this guy's mouth, which is why so many people are going to watch the CNN debate, I think, or at least partly so.

STELTER: You're saying he was never funny.

Andrew, do you have a response to that?

STILES: Well, I mean, I think, like during the debates for example, when he just makes fun of Rand Paul for even being on the stage, and just this little -- his tendency to just, you know, criticize people blatantly like -- unlike any politicians, compared to other politicians he makes them all look stiff and his kind of ability to say anything.

When he first got into the race, at least a little refreshing and kind of amusing, and then, you know, once he started actually proposing policies, I'd say, it got a little more real and less entertaining.

STELTER: Before we go here, since we're in Las Vegas, Jon, one more question about a very strange story out of this city. This is the "Las Vegas Review Journal". The dominant newspaper in this part of this state -- actually, really, in the whole state.


STELTER: It was purchased on Thursday, but we don't know by who.

RALSTON: Yes, this is one of the strangest story not just here but in the history of newspapers. It's the second time this newspaper has been sold in one year. This time for $38 million more than it was originally sold, for $102 million to $140 million.

And not only are the owners refusing to reveal themselves, you have reporters at this newspaper tweeting yesterday how outraged they are that they don't know who owns their newspaper so they don't what kind of conflicts of interest might exist. How many major newspapers you know of, Brian, we don't know the owners are?


RALSTON: Zero. STELTER: Absolutely zero. I've asked other journalism experts, they don't know the case like this in the past either. And there are some guesses about who might have bought this paper?

RALSTON: Well, you know, there's been speculation that the guy who owns the place behind us, Sheldon Adelson, who owns a newspaper in Israel that he uses to wield political influence. I know there had been talks inside Sheldon Adelson's inner circle about purchasing a newspaper. But there's just no way to tell.

STELTER: So far, no comment from him about that.

RALSTON: No comment from him and I just think that the pressure is going to be so enormous on this newspaper to reveal who its owners are that I eventually think they will have to come out.

STELTER: A story we'll stay on top of here. Great to see you, Jon.

RALSTON: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: Andrew, Matthew, thank you both for joining the conversation this morning.

Up next, a perspective you've not heard in all of Trump's proposal to stop Muslims from entering the U.S. It's a perspective of Muslim Americans who cover Trump. Hear the journalist point of view, next.


[11:27:57] STELTER: Welcome back.

"What frightens us is not Trump's word but his popularity," that's what the editor of the "Arab American News", this country's largest paper written for Arab Americans told me yesterday.

By now, you've seen the headlines about Donald Trump's proposal to bar Muslims from entering the U.S., at least temporarily. You probably haven't heard much from Muslim American journalists. That's why I though this is what so notable.

This is what CNN's own Fareed Zakaria said earlier this morning.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: But in today's political climate, I must embrace another identity. I'm Muslim. Now, I'm not a practicing Muslim. The last time I was in a mosque was decades ago. I'm completely secular in my outlook.

But as I watch the way in which Republican candidates are dividing Americans, I realize that it's important to acknowledge the religion into which I was born. And yet that identity doesn't fully represent me or my views. I am appalled by Donald Trump's bigotry and demagoguery, not because I'm a Muslim, but because I'm an American.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: "Appalled", he says.

Now, CNN alum Ali Velshi, now a host at al Jazeera America, was traveling in the U.K. when Trump announced his proposal. He landed back here in the U.S. last night and joins me now from the symbolic city of Philadelphia.

Ali, how are people outside the U.S. reacting to Trump's announcement?

ALI VELSHI, AL JAZEERA AMERICA: They are kind of fascinating, Brian.

Most people didn't take it seriously. In fact, most people in the U.K., you know, Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, has said he wants to ban Donald Trump from the United Kingdom.

Most people didn't think it was real. They're waiting for this Iowa caucuses. They think that when people actually have to cast a ballot or put their hands up, that these kind of outlandish views that Donald Trump hold, this unsophisticated views aren't going to hold much water.

So, it didn't carry as much weight outside the United States. Most people are looking at this election with remarkable, you know, interest, wondering where it's going to go. But it was -- I certainly -- I was shocked. I certainly tweeted Donald Trump to say, please don't implement this until I get back to the United States, otherwise I'll get stuck in the U.K.

STELTER: Well, that's why I was wondering.

At a moment like this, do you feel a responsibility to speak not just as a journalist, but as a journalist who is Muslim, in part because there's not a whole lot of representation on television airwaves? You know, there's no -- there's no Muslim Jorge Ramos. We all know Jorge Ramos speaks...

VELSHI: Right.

STELTER: ... for Hispanic America on Univision. At least, that's what he says he does.

VELSHI: Right.

STELTER: There's a big national association of Hispanic journalists, for example, that's harshly criticized Trump.

There isn't exactly a version of that in the Muslim community in the U.S.


And, in many ways, Muslims in journalism, for instance, haven't reached critical mass in a way that would cause there to be these organizations. And, at the same -- I think Fareed said it so well.

STELTER: Right. VELSHI: I tweeted out what Fareed said.

And I have to tell you, I got some really nasty responses -- so did he -- about going back homes and things like that. But, like Fareed, I don't get up in the morning and identify based on the color of my skin or my religion.

There are many Muslims, very much like Jews or Christians or Catholics, who identify very clearly with their religion, but that's not how they think of themselves on a daily basis. So, if you can imagine that, we certainly don't think of ourselves as terrorists or having anything to do with these terrorists.

So, until the pressure builds to the point that you have to start to answer for other Muslims, you don't see a particular need to do so. Now, that said, there's an impression out there that mainstream Muslims don't come out and say enough in opposition to terrorists.

But, as I like to point out, mainstream Muslims are your taxi drivers, they're your pharmacists, they're your doctors, they're your accountants, they're your office workers. They don't see themselves -- when they see these appalling things that are done, they don't identify with them.

But what they do identify with is candidates like Trump and, by the way, others, most of the others in the Republican lineup, who want to single out Muslims as an entire group for the actions of identifiable extremists. And that's the part that becomes troubling, because it incites hatred toward these groups.

STELTER: And so, on television, on the airwaves, online, we need to hear from Muslims who are journalists, many other Muslims as well.

Let me end with one tweet actually this morning from one of your colleagues at Al-Jazeera. I thought this said it really well. He was watching one of the other Sunday morning shows, some unnamed network, and he wrote that he saw four white pundits and a white host debating Donald Trump's Muslim comments, and then he just wrote, "Sigh."

We will leave it there.

Ali Velshi, thank you so much for being here this morning.

VELSHI: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: Coming up next, has one daily newspaper gone too far with its over-the-top front-page coverage that compare Trump's suggested ban on Muslims to the early days of Nazism?

I will ask the editor in chief of "The New York Daily News" right after this.



STELTER: Provocative, surprising, sometimes even upsetting, that's what "The New York Daily News" wants its front pages to be.

Take today's cover, for example. It calls out the nation's four largest gun makers, calling them merchants of death and showing the faces of the CEOs.

This cover and others have some questioning whether or not the paper is sometimes crossing the line to make a point, or if it is doing this in a desperate attempt to remain relevant and sell papers.

I spoke to the "Daily News" editor in chief, Jim Rich. And I asked him, when it comes to his front covers, how far is too far?


STELTER: Is there such a thing as too far for "The Daily News"? Suggesting that Trump is like ISIS, beheading someone, or in this case something, would seem too far for some people.

JIM RICH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": With it being a cartoon, I think -- an editorial cartoon -- I think you have some leeway there.

I would argue that the power of that poem and of the imagery is what made it resonate so well with many, many people. We didn't get a lot of pushback on this one, as we had with some of our -- some of our covers on the gun violence issue.

STELTER: Let's take a look at one of the most talked-about covers from your tenure as editor. This is from December 3, right after the attack in San Bernardino.

It says: "God's Not Fixing This," with all of the tweets from politicians, Republican politicians, saying their thoughts and prayers are with the victims.

This was so hotly debated on FOX News and other parts of the conservative media. Do you feel that your message was lost?

RICH: I think it may have been by some people.

And that may have been unintentional or intentional in many cases. And it was convenient to try to shift the conversation and the narrative onto the accusations that "The Daily News" somehow is condemning either God, religion or prayer, which...

STELTER: Well, your headline said they were hiding behind meaningless platitudes. That would seem offensive to so many religious Americans.

RICH: Well, what I think -- what I think religious Americans should be more offended by is the fact that the politicians have a track record -- and these specific politicians have a track record -- of hiding behind prayer and these meaningless platitudes.

It's the only thing at this point that they are offering, for the most part, as a solution to what is a tremendous problem facing the American people right now. STELTER: The next day, your cover was titled, "He's a Terrorist," and

then you showed other people you called terrorists, including the head of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre.

At what point do you all actually approach the line toward hate speech?

RICH: I think hate speech is -- is -- I think we're going a little too far right now at this -- if you're going to label that cover hate speech.

Again, we were just pointing out...

STELTER: I'm just trying to put myself in Wayne LaPierre's shoes. He wakes up, he see a tabloid newspaper cover...

RICH: Sure.

STELTER: ... distributed all around New York and online, all around the world, with his face with the word terrorist.

RICH: And, once again, the point of that cover was to make sure that we, again, do not shift the conversation, which would have been very easy, to solely speaking about the terror angle on the shooting at San Bernardino, which 100 percent it was.


But the bigger point is, there is a -- this was tied to the gun violence issue. Now, as far as Mr. LaPierre is concerned, we have spent the better part of three weeks reaching out to him every day. We have extended the offer for him to write an op-ed for us which would appear in our paper and online.

And we have heard nothing. So, the stonewalling and the bait and switch that goes on by the lobby -- from the lobby that he represents, to us, is a form of terrorism, because it terrorizes the safety of innocent American people.

STELTER: You received so much attention online for this next cover. This was a few days after all of your gun crusade covers.

This was one that says, "Everything Is Awesome." It was obviously satire. But tell us why you all decided to go in this direction.

RICH: We had been receiving a significant amount of criticism, as you have just pointed out, for several of the back pages and calling attention to the lack of debate and true resolution or solutions to the issue that we're facing.

So, we thought, well, OK, look, we have tried hitting people over the head with this. We have tried being as blunt as we can. Some people just don't want to talk about it. So, why don't we just give them what they want?

STELTER: Which is puppies. RICH: Puppies and everything is awesome, sort of, that -- and it ties in nicely to the whole -- if you saw "The LEGO Movie."

STELTER: So, what is the secret to a great "Daily News" cover? What is the difference between just a good cover and a great cover people remember?

RICH: It has to be something that people are already fired up about. That isn't 100 percent the case. But that goes a long way.

A great image also, as illustrated by Mr. Bramhall's cartoon on Trump, is also incredibly important. But you have got to find the words. And you have got to frame them -- and it's got to be framed in way that's going to just give you that punch in the gut.

And it's either going to give that punch in the gut, and it's going to make you angry, or it's going to make you sad, or it's going to make you happy. But it's going to illicit some sort of emotion. And that in turn, hopefully, leads to some sort of further thought on the issue.

STELTER: Jim Rich, thank you so much for being here.

RICH: Thanks for having me, Brian.

STELTER: And when we come back here, one of the most popular podcasts ever, "Serial," is back.

And Donald Trump is ratings gold for TV, but is he a ratings machine for radio too? The surprising answers from the NPR CEO when we're back.



STELTER: Welcome back to the Venetian in Las Vegas. And welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.

Fans of "Serial" are abuzz about the new season. It's the most popular podcast ever, by some measures. And season two had a surprise premiere this week. It features the first interview with Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive by the Taliban for five years.

"Serial" shows how there is still a bright future for old-fashioned audio storytelling, what we used to call radio.

When I sat down with Jarl Mohn, the CEO of National Public Radio, he said that even though "Serial" is not produced by NPR, its success is propelling the whole medium of podcasting.

But, first, we talked about how a brand like NPR covers a story like Donald Trump.


JARL MOHN, CEO, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Our place in the food chain of information and journalism is to just be very rational, to be calm, to report the facts, not to stake out a position. We don't take editorial positions of any sort.

STELTER: There's this perception that Donald Trump has helped the television networks, that he's a ratings magnet.

Have you found that be true for NPR as well, for radio or for the Web?

MOHN: We haven't done the study.

But if you did an analysis of how much of the coverage that all the news organizations have done with Donald Trump and us, I don't -- I think we would come in pretty low in terms of the rankings.

STELTER: That you all haven't contributed to the sense of constant, never-ending coverage of the candidate?

MOHN: We cover him when, and we cover him when there's something of merit and substance to cover.

But we don't -- we're not using him as, to use his term, a ratings machine. I think he really is a ratings machine in the television world. We don't -- that's not our place, as I said, in the journalism food chain. And we haven't kind of covered him that way. We don't intend to.

STELTER: When you have looked at the television coverage, has it felt exploitative to you?

MOHN: I think some of it has, yes.

STELTER: We learned this week that Diane Rehm is retiring effective after the election in 2016.

MOHN: Yes.

STELTER: This is an iconic radio program, "The Diane Rehm Show."

How do you all go about figuring out how to replace someone like her?

MOHN: Well, it's hard to replace someone like her. She's been on air for 37 years. She's a great broadcaster. She's really developed an amazing show and an amazing audience.

And it is going to be a loss for public radio and for us at NPR. We work with the station in Washington, D.C., WAMU, our member station. They have been producing the show. We distribute it. I'm actually having lunch with the president of that organization next week to kick around ideas about where we go.

But it does present a great opportunity for us to bring in new, younger voices. Some of the kind of approaches that we have taken on podcasting which have been extremely attractive to the millennial group, the group we want to be able to introduce to public radio, to NPR, to the kind of public service journalism we do, we think it's great opportunity.

STELTER: What is this podcast moment all about? I think even folks who have never plugged in and listened to one have at least heard of "Serial," for example.

MOHN: Yes.

It's all about storytelling. And that's one of the reasons I'm really optimistic about NPR and about public radio in general, because of the kind of programs that we do. It's really about storytelling.


We launched a political podcast. And it's one of the top 20 podcasts. And it's very informal. And it's a mix of some of our new younger reporters and some of the people that have been covering politics nationally for years and years and years, and mixing them together.

It's a great blend. And so that is the new voice of what public radio is, the new voice of what NPR is, I think. And, by the way, it's doing really well. It's top -- it's a brand-new podcast. It's top 20. And it's serious. There's nothing frivolous about it at all.


STELTER: Up next, you have got to see this. We are going inside the world of virtual reality. I'll ask the 23-year-old godfather of V.R. about the technology and its place in the future of media.



STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES live from the Venetian in Las Vegas, home to Tuesday's presidential debate here on CNN.

Now, at our last debate in Vegas,CNN did something unique, placing special cameras all around the theater to live-stream that event in virtual reality, a first for any network.

Now it seems like every big news outlet is experimenting with V.R. And early adopters say it will revolutionize all of media, while others are left asking, what the heck is it exactly?

I'm going to try to answer that question for you in today's episode of "NewTube," our continuing series on the future of digital media.


STELTER (voice-over): It could be the biggest leap in capturing our world since the photograph.

This is virtual reality. Now, when you hear V.R., you might imagine people wearing headsets, turning their heads, and waving their arms. You might think it's a joke. But when you actually see it, when you try it, you stop laughing. All

around the world, engineers are fine-tuning technology that immerses you in a 3-D 360-degree experience. Giants like Facebook are betting big that we will all be strapping goggles to our head and flailing around in the next few years.

And Oculus is the company leading the way.

PALMER LUCKEY, FOUNDER, OCULUS V.R.: I think that virtual reality has the potential to be the most connecting technology of all time.

STELTER: Twenty-three year-old Palmer Luckey created Oculus as a teenager working in his parents' garage.

LUCKEY: I got into V.R. not because I was looking for the next likely financial return, but because I was a science fiction enthusiast who was entranced by the idea of virtual reality and using V.R. particularly for video games.

STELTER: In 2012, Luckey used Kickstarter to try to keep his project afloat.

LUCKEY: Make a pledge and help us change gaming forever.

STELTER: And he ended up raising nearly $2.5 million.

LUCKEY: We were one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns at the time, not because a bunch of Hollywood studios or a bunch of electronic mega-corporations came in and said, this is our next feature we're going to use to sell people new TVs. It's because people said, we really want that.

STELTER: Last year, Facebook brought his startup for $2 billion.

MARK ZUCKERBERG, FOUNDER, FACEBOOK: I had seen V.R. before, but this was by far the best experience I had ever seen. It was teleporting to some other place just by putting on a headset. I was seeing the next great technology platform that's going to define the way that we all connect in the future.

STELTER: Hold on. Give me a minute here.

If you're like me, hearing other people talk about virtual worlds living inside goggles is not very compelling. That's actually an implicit problem with V.R. and reporting about it too. It's the "see it to believe it" problem.

So this is the best I can show you. Watch the first time I ever played games inside Oculus Rift.

(on camera): It's like being in a child's playroom. Knocking on a ball. Dropped my hands. Someone firing at me. I'm firing back. So, I can point at the other player that's -- where are you? Are you next door?

So, I'm grabbing a slingshot. And as I pull it back with my other hand -- it's actually really hard to put into words.

(voice-over): Palmer has had more experience choosing the right words.

(on camera): How do you describe virtual reality?

LUCKEY: Virtual reality has that power to really allow you to do anything. Anything you can imagine doing in the real world, you can do, plus the whole set of experiences that are not possible in the real world.

STELTER (voice-over): Right now, V.R. is mostly about gaming. But you can hear where Luckey is going with this, moves in V.R., live news events in V.R., even face-to-face meetings.

LUCKEY: You can take people from opposite sides of the world and put them into the same virtual room together. Once you can do that well enough, you really remove the need for people to travel and burn tons of jet fuel to get around the world.

You remove the need to have massive conferences where you expend huge resources just to get people in the same room talking to each other.

STELTER: So, will his dream come true? Well, Oculus is not the only player in this virtual space. Sony has Project Morpheus. HTC has Vive.

And then there's Microsoft's HoloLens, V.R. startup Magic Leap, and Google Cardboard, a cheap headset that uses your cell phone as the display.

But virtual reality doesn't always come cheap. The Oculus Rift system is expected to cost $1,500.

LUCKEY: I think our biggest challenge is driving the quality up and the cost down.

STELTER: The public might reject V.R., the same way it rejected 3-D TV, but Oculus has the potential to change the very definition of a screen, because, when you're looking at virtual reality, you forget you're looking at a screen at all.

(on camera): We invented photographs, and then radio, and then television, and then the Internet. Do you believe V.R. is the next in that line, a whole new medium?

LUCKEY: I think V.R. is interesting because it's not only its own new medium. It's also capable of emulating all prior mediums.

Within the next few years, we would probably end up having a meeting in virtual reality. And what is great is, you could be in New York and freezing in the city and I could be sitting on a bench in Southern California or in the smog of Los Angeles.

But, to us, it doesn't matter. We're both wearing V.R. headsets and we're feeling like we are right now, here in the same place. (END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: I think I'm going to ask for a V.R. headset for Christmas.

I will see you back in New York next week.