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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

"Systemic Failure" At New York Times; Is There a Media "Bernie Blackout"? Aired 11-12a ET

Aired December 20, 2015 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:09] 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.

Ahead this hour, are news outlets tilting the scales in favor of Hillary Clinton? Bernie Sanders has been blasting the networks and his campaign manager will join me live.

And later, "Star Wars." We are about to find out if the new flick set an all-time box office record. The data will come in in a few minutes, and the famed film critic, A.O. Scott, will be here to talk about it.

But, first this morning, terror and error at the "New York Times." Last Sunday, it seems like "The Times" had broken a big story. This was the headline on page one. It says the U.S. visa process missed the San Bernardino wife's online zealotry.

Now, "The Times" reported that the woman who carried out the massacre along with her husband passed three background checks by U.S. immigration officials and that, quote, "none uncovered what Ms. Malik made little effort to hide -- that she talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad."

The key word there is "openly". It makes it sound like she was posting on Facebook for everyone to see and the U.S. ignored it. This bombshell quickly became politicized and was even cited at Tuesday's Republican debate here on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We didn't monitor the Facebook posting of the female San Bernardino terrorist because the Obama DHS thought it would be inappropriate.

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And then we now learn that DHS says, no, we can't check their social media. For heaven' sakes, every parent in America is checking social media and every employer is as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: But that story was wrong. On Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey revealed that Malik's social media activity was, in fact, private, encrypted and invisible to the public. He called "The Times" story a garble.

Then, the newspaper revised its story and attached an editor's note, and basically blamed sources in the government for getting their facts wrong.

This is the second time recently that this has happened. You may remember that over the summer, "The Times" erroneously reported also in a very high profile way that the Justice Department was considering a criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails. The word "criminal" was wrong. That article was written by two of the same reporters that wrote the San Bernardino story, Matt Apuzzo and Michael Schmidt.

So, does "The Times" as a whole have a serious problem with its use of anonymous sources? Let's bring in our panel to discuss this beginning with David Zurawik, media critic for "The Baltimore Sun", Jane Hall, journalism professor at American University, and NPR TV critic, Eric Deggans, I'm sorry.

And, David, let me start with you on this issue of sourcing. Does something need to change at "The New York Times"?

DAVID ZURAWIK, TV CRITIC, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Well, yes, absolutely, Brian. But the big question here is the times said it was a problem with the sources and their public editor's comments said, you know, we have to rethink the whole notion of what we're doing with using anonymous sources, blah, blah, blah. But that sounds like naming unanimous sources.

Here's the question I have and why I didn't think their explanation was so great. If you're getting this kind of explosive information from law enforcement officials and they don't know the difference between messages that are private or even encrypted versus public messages in social media, what kind of sources are they and why are you taking this information from them? That's number one.

Number two, Brian, is nobody in "The New York Times" whole chain of editing said, hey, were these private messages by any chance? You know, if I wrote that story just because of my age, somebody from the digital desk would either say to me or my editor, does Zurawik know that there's private messages, or the assistant manager for digital would weigh in?

That's what's astonishing to me. So, for "The Times" to make it sound like the sources were somehow to blame is not the answer here. One is the answer is, why are you using sources to tell you about social media when they don't understand it? And number two, why didn't anybody in that editing chain raise that question?

STELTER: Jane, I see you want to jump in.

JANE HALL, PROFESSOR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, I think law enforcement sources often have gotten things wrong or had an agenda. You know, I think -- I agree with David, it seems almost to come into the area of -- you need to say as a reporter what are we talking about here and be sure that you and the source are talking about the same thing.

And I saw that the Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was quoted later after the Republicans went after them and saying we have been looking into social media. So, it is more than a garble. I mean, I think you have -- if you have to have a high level source or somebody saying something, they're telling you something you need to be sure you're talking about the same thing. I mean, that's kind of journalism 101.

[11:05:00] Although I don't want to, you know, second guess "The Times" too much, but you do need to be sure you're talking about the same thing.

STELTER: And "The Times" has acknowledged this was a big error. Dean Baquet, the executive editor, telling the public editor of "The Times", Margaret Sullivan, this was a system failure and there has to be a review of what happened.

Eric, the real reason why this matters more than anything else is because debates happen as a result, right? People argue about policy as a result. But when we see the candidates on stage on Tuesday, they were arguing in some ways based on misinformation.

ERIC DEGGANS, TV CRITIC, NPR: Right, they were making suppositions about why supposedly the Department of Homeland Security didn't look into social media or they weren't able to look into social media. They were taking a little bit of information and they were adding a bunch of things that they couldn't possibly know on top of it. But that's politics.

I think, getting back to the journalism issues here, we saw this happen in the Boston bombing where there were erroneous reports about an imminent arrest and there were erroneous reports about who the suspects were. And several media outlets reported based on the words of anonymous sources.

If we know who these sources are that are passing along this important information, then the reader can judge how valid they are. If the information turns out to be wrong, they'll have to bear the responsibility being divulged. And we can also tell whether or not those sources have spoken to other news agencies and other news agencies may also be basing their reports on the same flawed source.

When that source is kept anonymous, we have no way of judging whether it's the source's fault or the outlet's fault. And then to compound that, we don't get a great explanation from the news outlet about why they made the mistake in the first place or how they're going to change things so they don't make this mistake again.

And I agree with David, we need to hear more about why there wasn't questions raised as this story made its way up through the chain and we also need to know what are they going to do. Frankly, they need to reduce their use of anonymous sources and they need to push these law enforcement sources to go on the record, particularly when they say things that are this important.

STELTER: I checked in with Dean Baquet this morning, he declined further comment on what happened here, but I do think we'll hear more in the weeks to come. We saw journalist professor Dan Gilmore this week even proposing that journalists should out anonymous sources if those sources lie to them. I thought that was an interesting argument.

Let's turn to a related story that actually also involves "The Times" and ask this question, should President Obama be watching more cable news? Because if he had been in the wake of the San Bernardino attack, this is some of what he would have seen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go again. Breaking news into CNN. Reports of an active shooter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are looking live at the scene of the latest deadly rampage to stun our nation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The number of wounded has gone up to 17, fatalities still at 14 .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A foreign sounding name that you're looking into.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the two suspects in the shooting, appears to have been radicalized.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This woman pledged her allegiance to al- Baghdadi.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ISIS praised the attack.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And today, for the first time, the feds described this attack as terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Now, you might think cable news creates anxiety or you might think cable news just reflect the anxiety in the country.

At a private meeting with a group of columnist this week, Mr. Obama indicated that he did not see enough cable television to fully appreciate the anxiety after the attacks in both Paris and closer to home in San Bernardino. Now, that's according to "The Times" White House correspondent Peter Baker. You can see his story there.

But that passage from his story was later cut out of the print edition, which touched off a new controversy.

So, there's really two issues for us to talk about. And, Eric, let's start with what critics of the times are calling a stealth edit. Some are saying "The Times" are covering for Obama by hiding an embarrassing admission and keeping it out of the printed edition. Do you think that's true?

DEGGANS: Well, again, we have no way of knowing this because we haven't heard from "The Times" about why --

STELTER: They say they ran out of space. They say they had to cut this for space constraints. And I used to work there. I know the stories do get trimmed for space all the time, but I see you all rolling your eyes there.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: Well, obviously, this is an important admission. To take it out of the story for space concerns raises additional questions about the sensibility of their editors.

ZURAWIK: Yes, yes.

STELTER: Yes.

DEGGANS: But if they're willing to admit that they cut something that important out of a story for space, if they're willing to admit to that kind of journalistic error, I guess we have to take them at their word.

STELTER: That's the thing. It deserves its own story.

(CROSSTALK)

DEGGANS: I do want to say what we know about Obama is that, A, he has often talked about how he doesn't watch cable news. What we also know about Obama is that he tends to try to be the cool head in the room when things -- when emergencies happen and people are getting very emotional on television.

So, I don't think it's surprising that his initial response to these attacks was to try to take a step back and try to be the cool head in the room. He, I think, has often had a hard time doing the hand holding part of the presidency which is when emergencies happen to have to help people deal with them emotionally.

[11:10:09] You have to tell us all that things are going to be OK. That's part of the job of being president and it's something that I think he's never been particularly as good at as it may be at other things.

And so, I think that's one reason why we saw this and I wonder if too much is being made of this admission anyway.

STELTER: Well, the bottom line I think about the journalism here, Jane, I think they're going to change the story in print was longer but they trimmed out the cable news paragraph. You're going to make that change, you got to be transparent about it, it can't happen stealthily, and there should have been a follow-up story about this specific issue. CNN's Dylan Byers confirmed the same information. It is true the

president said this in this private meeting. I think it's worthy of its own story.

HALL: Well, you know, when I read it, I thought -- it reminded me, because I've been writing about the swift boat of 2004, how the Kerry campaign didn't thing it was a big deal because they were watching only the broadcast TV news.

I think there are go issues here. I think it's well past time for President Obama to know about the anxiety that is on cable news, whether they are amplifying it or whether they are repeating it or whether it is for real, he should know that. And he clearly likes to talk to columnists and have a forum and get his ideas out there anonymously. The irony of this is that to take it out and then have David Ignatius of "The Washington Post" who was there apparently wrote the same piece, then it really looks like what happened? Did the White House complain and ask "The Times" to take it out.

Then as Eric said, we don't know. Not knowing leads to a lot of conspiracy media theories that they were afraid they were embarrassing him or perhaps the White House said, hey, this was off the record when, in fact, it's not off the record if it was in "The Washington Post."

ZURAWIK: Brian --

STELTER: That is -- David, go ahead.

ZURAWIK: I think I counted 18 paragraphs in that story and there's at least 15 of them that I would have cut before that one. I think you wrote that it was the most important paragraph in the story and I think you're right.

That -- you know, when we talk about systematic editing issues, "The Times" has to look at that. How could a copy editor cut that and nobody -- the chief of the copy desk, nobody up the line -- when they edited my column at "The Baltimore Sun" on Sunday, the editor will come over and say, hey, Zurawik, you're long, we got to cut some graphs and my editor will get involved.

This is outrageous that "The New York Times" -- somebody cut it on the desk. We don't know how that happened. You know, that's not an explanation.

STELTER: I'm a little long here but I hope the editors of "The Times" are watching and I hope the president is also watching a little cable news.

Jane, David, Eric, stick around for us. We're going to come back in a moment here.

Also this coming up, Bernie Sanders camp claims there's a media blackout against the candidate. His campaign manager will join me for a big interview, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:16:26] STELTER: Ever since Bernie Sanders entered the presidential race, I've been hearing from his fans, hundreds of them, who believe he's not getting enough media coverage. This weekend, there's been lots of coverage, but not the kind he wants because of a data breach by campaign aides.

Last night on this Democratic debate on ABC, Sanders apologized for the breach and said he would fire anyone who was found to be involved. I wonder if this is a case where as they say, all press is good press.

Let's ask Sanders' campaign manager Jeff Weaver. He's in Manchester this morning.

Jeff, thank you for being here.

JEFF WEAVER, SANDERS CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Thanks, Brian. Great to be here.

STELTER: All right. Is this a situation where the press is interested in scandal, interested in sensationalism, your campaign versus Hillary Clinton and you versus the DNC, but not paying attention to policy?

WEAVER: Well, look, I think what the complaint has been and I think you hear it from a lot of people and I think people who watch the news see it, you know, too often the media, the mainstream media, treats politics like it's a football game or a soap opera or some personality conflict.

Look, what politics is supposed to be about is how we in the Democratic society address the real issues confronting Americans. And often, that says have a lot of good visuals attached to it, right?

So, I think it's easy to cover what the media perceives to be some kind of conflict or strife, but they don't -- it's much harder to cover complicated economic and social issues in this country.

STELTER: Well, were you disturbed that this was the first question at the debate last night? That David Muir and Martha Raddatz went right at this issue of the voter database?

WEAVER: Was I surprised is what you asked?

STELTER: Were you disturbed about it?

WEAVER: Yes, I mean, I wasn't surprised -- no. Look, it's been in the news the last few days. Obviously, there were serious issues raised.

You know, the fact that the DNC's firewall fell, some young staffers on our campaign actually did the wrong thing. One of them has been fired and two others suspended while we finish our investigation. Other disciplinary action maybe handed out. So, there's no doubt something, you know, wrong happened there. And then, you know, in a stunning move, the DNC then cut off

access to us having access to our own data, essentially giving our campaign the death penalty. We had to go to federal court to try to get it back.

So, I mean, there are elements of that story which raise some serious concerns. So, it doesn't surprise me or it didn't disturb me that it was asked first. I mean, we fully expected that that was going to be the case.

STELTER: Do you think the DNC could be leaking to the media? You all have been concerned all the along that the DNC is trying to help the Clinton campaign.

WEAVER: Well, listen, there was another firewall failure at the DNC back in October that we discovered. We reported it at that time to the DNC. I mean, it seems to us pretty clear that a bunch of our data probably was compromised. We didn't run to the media. We didn't raise a big stink about it.

In this particular instance, you know, the DNC, I think, clearly was talking to the media. They had documents, activity logs that we needed to do our investigation that they had, that they were leaking to the media and not giving to us, right?

So, yes, it was clearly an attempt I think to gain political points instead of really helping this investigation.

STELTER: Let me ask you about this issue of fair coverage. Recently your campaign put out a press release with a provocative headline. It said it was a Bernie blackout on network nightly news cast. It's based on Andrew Tyndall data we shared on the show a couple of weeks ago. It shows that Sanders have been covered a whole lot less than Clinton on the nightly news.

So, what are you doing about it? Besides press releases, what are you doing to gain more media attention?

[11:20:03] WEAVER: Well, look, what we're going to do is talk about the issues. You know, whether the media chooses to cover it or not. You know, we are -- we have more support than Donald Trump does in our race than he does in his race frankly in terms of numbers of supporters and yet he gets a tremendous amount of coverage because he says outrageous things that are easy to cover. We're not going to play that game.

STELTER: That's an incomplete answer. You must be lobbying behind the scenes for more attention, right? You must be calling the networks demanding more air time.

WEAVER: No, that's not how we play it. What we do is we put out press releases, we hold press events, and we hold public meetings, and the media can choose whether they want to come or not, that's up to them. Sometimes they come, they often do, obviously, it's a presidential race. I mean, how much they actually put on the air is a totally different question. STELTER: Sanders likes to say that -- likes to refer to the

press as the corporate media, the mainstream media. When you say that, do you think you're purposely being downplayed because of your economic message, that it makes broadcast companies owned by media companies uncomfortable? Or do you think it's not about that?

WEAVER: Well, I think what it is, as you watch the news, you too often do not see anything that reflects the real struggles that middle income and working families face in this country. I mean, the senator went to Baltimore recently to the area where Freddie Gray was murdered in Baltimore. You know, how often does the media report on communities like that that have been abandoned by our society that do not have an economic investment, there's a lot of despair and lack of hope? Where is the ongoing media coverage of those kinds of quiet tragedies going on in America?

STELTER: My last question for you is about what you all are doing again to change the dynamic? Are you relying more on Facebook and Twitter, for example? I know Sanders is making his own videos. Is that a strategy to create coverage on your own because you don't think you get enough from the ABCs, NBCs and CBS's of the world?

WEAVER: Well, look, we try to communicate with voters anyway that we can. We are very, very active on social media platforms. We have a tremendous following on those platforms.

You know, it's one of the ways we can get around the fact that the corporate media doesn't want to cover the issues we're talking about. So, we do reach out to people.

I think you see an overwhelming support among young people that's reflected in the fact that social media is disproportionately viewed by young people. I think as people see and hear what Bernie Sanders has to say, they move to him and in this case, you know, our reliance on social media has really helped us move young people in this race.

STELTER: He keeps gaining more twitter followers, even during the GOP debates. He gains more followers than the candidates which is sort of interesting.

WEAVER: Absolutely.

STELTER: Thank you for being here this morning. Good to see you.

WEAVER: Hey, Brian. Thanks so much.

STELTER: So, the debate was in New Hampshire, where Mr. Weaver is right now. It's a crucial state, of course, we are less than two months from the primary there, both President Obama and Mitt Romney won their primaries there back in 2012.

And "The Manchester Union Leader", the state's largest paper, is a crucial media outlet in that state. So, let's bring in the publisher of that paper, Joe McQuaid. I want to get his take on last night's debate. Joe, I know you've endorsed Chris Christie in the GOP primary,

but who did you like and dislike from the Democratic debate last night?

JOE MCQUAID, PUBLISHER, THE NEW HAMPSHIRE UNION LEADER: Well, I was in the front row and it was the first time I got to see all three of them in that respect. I've had both Governor O'Malley and Senator Sanders in our offices for pretty long, in-depth interviews. I found them both engaging.

I thought Mrs. Clinton was a little -- she could have mailed it in. She really was all the talking points whether they addressed the questions or not.

So, who did I like? I mean, personally, I like Bernie and I like O'Malley.

O'Malley's family was right next to me. His wife is a district court judge who doesn't get to go out to these things. Her take on it was interesting. I don't think she's watched a lot of this stuff.

Her husband didn't get called on I thought nearly as much as the other two. You know, it's tough in a race with eight or nine Republicans to give everybody equal time. But there's only three. I mean, three goes into, what, 180 minutes only so many times.

STELTER: Did you hear any grumbling about the fact that this is on a Saturday night before Christmas? The Sanders and O'Malley camps think this was buried by the DNC to help Clinton.

MCQUAID: I didn't hear any grumbling because nobody was watching. So, nobody could grumble.

It's amazing to me and I understand the next one in Iowa is on the eve of the Martin Luther King holiday and a night for a lot of pro-football playoffs. So, I don't think there's anything behind this madness.

STELTER: Oh, yes?

MCQUAID: No. I think the DNC is very much in Hillary's corner and not that the RNC in the past hasn't been behind the so-called favorites, too.

[11:25:07] But that's why New Hampshire is looking forward to setting them straight if you will or surprising people with somebody that might not be the poll favorite or the favorite of the particular party.

STELTER: Well, we will check in as we near the primary date. Good to see you this morning, Joe. Thanks for being here.

MCQUAID: You're welcome.

STELTER: And Joe mentioned the viewers expectations. I just saw the very early numbers. ABC actually did not order the ratings that usually tell us how the debate did. They waited until tomorrow. So, we won't get the final numbers for tomorrow.

But in the early numbers, it looks like maybe 7 million to 8 million viewers watched the debate compared to 18 million for CNN's GOP debate on Tuesday.

Let's bring our panel back and talk more about the debate, including this awkward moment for Hillary Clinton -- watch -- last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MODERATOR: In a similar time frame, races for CEO up more than 200 percent.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sorry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: That was well-played by Mrs. Clinton, but I wonder if it was appropriate for ABC to show her empty podium.

Eric Deggans, Jane Hall and David Zurawik rejoin me now.

Jane, what did you think? My sources say the Clinton campaign did not cry foul about this but should ABC have waited another minute?

HALL: They might have given her another minute. You know, she had to comment on it in the first debate when this happened.

I wanted to say something in response if I may about Bernie Sanders. I think that he has been woefully under-covered. I mean, if you look at the Tyndall report, he got 20 seconds and Donald Trump got 81 minutes in the last year.

You know, I think people in the media are more afraid of being accused of being liberal by the Republicans than they are being accused of being corporate. I don't think it means they're corporate but I think Sanders was treated dismissively like an old guy with weird hair. He has been building and building. He has Trump's support.

I think his campaign has a very legitimate complaint.

STELTER: That's why I wanted to bring you all back actually. I'm really interested in this issue for Sanders.

David, what do you think? Do you think there's an intentional bias against Sanders, or is it maybe accidental that he gets less attention? Because it is true, the nightly newscasts have paid a lot more attention to Clinton than Sanders or O'Malley this year.

ZURAWIK: Yes, you know, I think part of Brian really is that Hillary Clinton is assumed to be winning this race. And when he made a surge, he did get more coverage. But then he as fell back again, it went back to her. I think that's part of it. I am not ready to believe the

corporate media argument. I mean, you know I've covered this a long time and I'm as skeptical of the networks as anybody in the world. Just ask any network executive. I don't believe they're doing it for those reasons.

But, Brian, I do want to say one thing about what the Sanders spokesperson said about Bernie Sanders --

STELTER: Good. That's what you're here for.

ZURAWIK: About him coming to Baltimore and visiting Freddie Gray's neighborhood and saying that the corporate media didn't want to cover that story, we needed Bernie Sanders to come there.

"The Baltimore Sun" has poured every resource it has into covering that story and, by the way, CNN has done a very good job of covering it as well, given the vast international agenda they have. They've paid a lot of attention.

Bernie Sanders got there late and we didn't need him to come to Baltimore to tell anybody about that story. That's really upsetting.

DEGGANS: Hey, I would chime in and say NPR has also covered that story.

ZURAWIK: Yes, you're right.

(CROSSTALK)

DEGGANS: I do want to make one point about the under coverage of Sanders and the over coverage of Trump. I think a lot of this is also about who gets the highest ratings. Trump got 236 minutes. It wasn't just 86 minutes, according to Tyndall's analysis.

HALL: On all of the networks.

DEGGANS: On all the networks. And so, there's a sense that Trump draws eyeballs.

So, he's been featured in a way -- people have called this -- he's turned the presidential contest into a reality show. It's because he gets eyeballs. He gets ratings, web clicks.

STELTER: Look at the GOP debate ratings. These debate ratings are a great example, 18 million for CNN's debate, maybe 8 million for the debate last night. Unfortunately, I have to leave it there.

DEGGANS: I'm not defending that.

HALL: What are we supposed to be about? Are we about eyeballs or what matters in electing a president?

DEGGANS: I totally agree.

STELTER: In many ways, that is the story of the entire year. DEGGANS: But that's what's happening here. And when you have

media outlets and I hate to bite the hand that feeds, but I will talk about CNN for a minute -- when you do have media outlets that are raising their advertising rates because they know that the GOP debate will draw record numbers and they sell these debates as if they're pugilistic contests, rather than exercises in democracy, this is the end result.

You know, I know that there are media executives out there who say this is what you have to do to compete, but we have lost sight of the idea that the coverage of the presidential candidates and the debates are a public service. They are not a revenue-generating effort.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: The flip side is that these debates have all been really substantial.

HALL: But the media, I think, are also in a game with Donald Trump where, beat me up, beat me up and let me try to talk about you while you're beating me up.

Sanders is not doing that. He's trying to take the high road, whether you agree with him or not, and he's not getting covered.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Unfortunately, I'm going to hit a hard break but it is amusing to me that this was going to be the one show where we weren't going to talk about Donald Trump and here we are talking about Donald Trump. It's interesting how all roads of this campaign lead back to Donald Trump.

Jane, David, Eric, thank you all for spending time with us this morning.

And up next, just a few minutes ago, the data is in from the "Star Wars" premiere and the force is very strong with this one. I'll have breaking news on just how strong when we come back.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

STELTER: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is such a crowd pleaser, Hillary Clinton even dropped in a reference at the end of the debate last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you, good night and may the force be with you.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Yes, this weekend "Star Wars" release was so big it probably hurt viewership of that debate. We've just received new box office data from Disney, confirming that the movie is a record breaker.

Up until now, the title of the biggest opening weekend ever belonged to "Jurassic World." It made $208 million in the U.S. when it opened in June.

But "Star Wars" is going to blast past that, making $238 million this weekend.

So how did the franchise get to be so big?

Let's ask the chief film critic of "The New York Times," A.O. Scott, who's joining me here in New York.

Does that number surprise you?

We were thinking it was going to be about $220 million, which also would have been a record, but it's even blasted past that.

A.O. SCOTT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It doesn't surprise me. This is the movie that everyone has been waiting for, some of us maybe for 40 years.

STELTER: Yes. You said you grew up with "Star Wars," you were 11 when the original came out.

(CROSSTALK)

SCOTT: -- exactly of the age of the first generation of "Star Wars" fans. I was 11, which is the prime target for that first movie and it really was like nothing else we had ever seen.

And all of my friends and I went back and saw it 15, 20 times over the course of that summer.

That doesn't happen anymore. That's not how people go to the movies anymore because there's more out there and they don't stay around as long.

But it did capture the imagination of that generation and then, because of the rise of home viewing, of the VCR and then the DVD, it kept going through subsequent generations. So you had a phenomenon, when this one arrived, even in spite of the disappointment of the middle trilogy --

STELTER: Right.

SCOTT: -- that, in a way, just piqued the appetite more, well, maybe this is going to bring it back. Maybe this is going to get it right. STELTER: And you've seen it, you loved it, you say it lives up

to the hype.

SCOTT: I enjoyed it a lot. I had a very good time and it had a lot of what the first three movies had, which was kind of a light- hearted spirit, a sense of adventure and a big stakes, a battle between good and evil for control of the universe but also a lot of fun.

And some of the old characters, who you're happy to see again, in particular, Harrison Ford as Han Solo.

I don't think that's a spoiler, is it?

I'm worried if I say the wrong thing, I'm going to be chased down the street.

STELTER: Yes, you will be.

Even though we broke a record this weekend, Disney broke a record this weekend, it's still -- most people still haven't seen it and it's still going to make a lot more money over the next few weeks.

SCOTT: It's going to keep going and people are going to go back and people are going to bring the whole family on Christmas.

STELTER: And maybe other movies benefit, too, right, the fact that there's a blockbuster in theaters means if you go to the theater and it's sold out, you'll end up seeing something else and other movies will benefit.

SCOTT: Well, there's a lot of advance sales, especially on the first weekend of this. So people weeks ago locked in their chance to see this on opening weekend. But this has also been a good year for movies and for movie box offices.

STELTER: It has. Even though there's all this pressure on the industry, even though digital is taking over, even though Netflix is in the game now, still blockbuster movies are doing well.

SCOTT: Well, when they're good. And I think this year we had some. It's interesting to think about there were four movies this year that were reboots or new sequels of franchises that are at least 30 or 35 years old.

There was "Mad Max: Fury Road;" there was "Jurassic World;" there was "Creed," the Rocky movie, and now there's "The Force Awakens."

And I think that what these movies have in common is they bring in old-timers like me who want to see what the latest is and whole new generations of fans when they manage to really refresh and reboot and modernize these stories.

STELTER: That's what Disney has done so effectively with "Star Wars". SCOTT: Exactly.

STELTER: They spent $4 billion for Lucasfilm and they could make $2 billion just on this one movie all around the world.

SCOTT: Yes. And of course this is not -- I mean, it sets up plenty of sequels to come. So this is never the end. It will never -- "Star Wars" will never --

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: -- never the end.

SCOTT: It's never the end.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: -- "Star Wars," what's the one other movie they should see over the Christmas holiday?

SCOTT: Boy, there's some really -- there's some --

STELTER: I'm looking forward to "The Big Short," I loved "Concussion."

Is there anything else you'd recommend?

SCOTT: I loved "The Big Short." I really liked, "Joy," the David O. Russell movie with Jennifer Lawrence, principally because of her. I think it's a terrific performance. She's just I think one of the great movie stars of our time. And she's playing this kind of rags to riches struggle against adversity.

STELTER: And how about "Sisters" with Amy and Tina?

SCOTT: They're fun to watch. The movie is not so good. But you forgive it its flaws. Seeing them, the two of them together, they could read anything on the teleprompter. They could read the phone book and it would be funny.

STELTER: Sounds like a fun time to be a film critic.

SCOTT: I don't mind. You don't hear me complaining. Although the first week of January I think I'll probably be doing something else other than going to the movies.

STELTER: I'll just take a quick break. Fair enough. Good to see you. Sorry I have to get moving here. But I have an important story coming up as well here.

The question: why did billionaire Republican kingmaker Sheldon Adelson try to conceal his family's purchase of Las Vegas' daily paper and what's it like for the paper's three reporters who are covering this sale and now fear for their jobs?

An exclusive interviewer with them right after this break. (MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: For a newspaper reporter, there's probably nothing tougher than writing a story that your bosses do not want you to write. But that's exactly what "The Las Vegas Review Journal" did this week.

Now, if you watched the program this time last week, we were in Vegas for the GOP debate, you might remember that we dug into the mystery purchase of the city's newspaper, because no one at the time knew who had just bought it.

But as John Ralston said here on the show, there was a lot of speculation about casino mogul and Republican mega donor, Sheldon Adelson.

Three reporters at "The Review Journal" solved the mystery a few days later. They reported on the front page that Adelson's son-in- law, Patrick Dumont, had orchestrated the entire $140 million deal.

The Adelson family then confirmed that, yes, they are the new owners.

So what was this like for the reporters?

In their only TV interview, I asked Howard Stutz, Jennifer Robison and James DeHaven.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: Howard, it's fair to say that you all expect transparency from other city and state institutions. So you want the same from your owner.

HOWARD STUTZ, REPORTER, "LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL": Exactly. I mean listen, we're -- we've -- as a newspaper, "The Las Vegas Review Journal" has demanded transparency from who we cover. So we have to demand that transparency to our -- amongst ourselves.

STELTER: Is it true that on the day this was announced in the newsroom, the person announcing it said don't worry about who owns the paper, just focus on your jobs?

JENNIFER ROBISON, REPORTER, "LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL": Yes, his exact words were, "they just want you to focus on their jobs and don't worry about who they are."

STELTER: Now, you must feel...

STUTZ: You know, the...

STELTER: -- you did focus on your jobs by getting to the bottom of this.

STUTZ: Yes, I mean the...

ROBISON: (INAUDIBLE).

STUTZ: Yes, that's the wrong thing to say to a group of news -- a group of reporters, you know. You know, you don't need to know who -- you don't need to know who the investors are.

ROBISON: Right.

STUTZ: We don't?

OK. Well, OK, we'll take you at that and -- and we'll just and that just kind of got us going.

STELTER: And...

ROBISON: I think the feeling was they maybe had something to hide and that was why they told us to not look at who they were.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

STELTER: And there were reports a couple of days later that that quote, that very uncomfortable quote, was actually taken out of the news story about the sale. Now, I believe that is true.

So that did create a chilling effect for all of you as you were trying to figure out the owners?

ROBISON: Well, I wouldn't say it created a chilling effect. It was more frustrating personally for me. We want to report the news, even if it doesn't make our paper look great. It was frustrating. I don't know about chilling.

Again, I think it maybe challenged us more to try to get to the bottom of what was going on.

STUTZ: Yes, Jennifer and I wrote the original story about the sale. And, you know, when I went home, that quote was in the -- was in there. And then, uh, then I didn't find out until the morning that it wasn't in. And it turned out it wasn't in my -- my edition that I got at home, but other home editions did -- people did get the story with the quote in.

ROBISON: They literally stopped the presses, which is, you know, despite hearing it in the movies a lot, it's not something that they really do.

JAMES DEHAVEN, REPORTER, "LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL": And changed it online.

ROBISON: Yes.

STUTZ: Yes, they took it out online, too.

STELTER: This means that the publisher of the paper is going over the heads of the editor and the reporters and taking out paragraphs he doesn't like. That must be deeply uncomfortable for you all.

ROBISON: Well, sure. Yes.

DEHAVEN: Yes.

ROBISON: It was.

DEHAVEN: But there's not a lot we can do about it though. As our editors said, we don't own the press, so he'll do that. It's -- it's his prerogative in some cases.

STELTER: So given that you're : Isn't he basically not only the owner of your paper, but one of the most important, powerful men in the state, did that make you all nervous at any point?

STUTZ: Yes, I think we're still all nervous.

(CROSSTALK)

STUTZ: Actually.

ROBISON: We sure are.

STUTZ: You know, I mean I'm not going to -- I'm not going to lie to you on that. We -- we are.

STELTER: Are the three of you concerned about losing your jobs?

ROBISON: Well, I know James isn't.

DEHAVEN: I'm not. I -- I was already on my way out. I'm taking a job in Montana. So I was well-positioned to write about this without fear of retribution.

I do fear a lot for my colleagues, however.

ROBISON: I'm fearful.

STUTZ: But at the same time, Brian, we were proud to put our names on that story. I mean that was the one thing with it on -- on -- on the story that we broke about the son-in-law, you know, having engineered the deal.

DEHAVEN: Yes.

STUTZ: We were proud to put our names on it and we were going to stand behind it. That's because that's what needed to be reported.

STELTER: It was a truly remarkable moment. It was an 1,800 word story. And then there was a statement next to your story for the Adelson family.

Let me read a part of it on screen.

They then confirmed that they had, indeed, bought the paper. They said, "This week, with the Republican candidates for president and the national media descending on Las Vegas for the debate, we did not want an announcement to distract from the important role Nevada continues to play in the elections."

So what they're saying there is they were going to announce they bought the paper, they just weren't ready to announce it yet.

Let me just ask you...

ROBISON: Well, then why didn't...

STELTER: -- do you believe that?

DEHAVEN: No.

ROBISON: Why didn't they wait a week to announce the purchase of the paper...

STUTZ: And it became...

ROBISON: -- at all?

STUTZ: And then it became part of it. I mean we -- James and I were in the edit board meeting with Governor Bush, who comes in and he jokes, "So who owns you guys?"

And so after an hour, he kind of -- somebody made a joke to him and said, well, you know, why don't you Tweet it out, governor?"

And he said, "Should I?"

And I said, "Yes, governor, Tweet it out."

And he Tweeted that out right before we did our little -- our little escapade where we Tweeted out the...

ROBISON: Our coordinated ethics...

(CROSSTALK)

STUTZ: Coordinated...

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: -- the Society of Professional Journalists, code of ethics. Yes.

ROBISON: Yes.

STUTZ: Exactly. And it all became part of the story. I mean that's why I said, the national media following this really, I think really helped, you know, get this story out there, kept this alive, you know, even during the debate.

STELTER: The boss told you all to focus on your jobs. And, Jennifer, I think you did.

ROBISON: Yes, we did.

STELTER: Thank you all for being here this morning.

ROBISON: Thank you.

DEHAVEN: Thank you.

STUTZ: Thanks, Brian.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

STELTER: And we'll continue to cover the story.

Now, when we come back here, do you think BuzzFeed is all about listicles quizzes and these two cat videos?

Not anymore.

We'll explain, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: What is the secret ingredient that makes a story or a video go viral?

BuzzFeed is the subject of this week's new tube episode, our look inside the digital revolution.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

STELTER (voice-over): Everybody loves a good viral video. People are creating them every day.

But rather than leaving it up to a kid named Charlie or a musical cat, companies want their own creations to go viral. The challenge is figuring out the alchemy that actually creates a video millions want to like, retweet, repost and repeat.

Virality isn't just luck, it's a science, a science that's always changing. And one of the very first laboratories devoted to figuring out how your social media mind works is BuzzFeed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): We don't disassociate the process of making content from the process of looking (INAUDIBLE).

One of the reasons we've been successful is we've been able to have a culture that really bridges art and science.

STELTER: Is the core tenet of BuzzFeed virality, is that the key word?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): I think sharing is the key word.

STELTER (voice-over): BuzzFeed began as an experiment back in 2006, dreamed up by CEO Jonah Peretti (ph) a year after he co-founded "The Huffington Post." The site's purpose was to attract viral content and make things people wanted to share.

Now less than 10 years later, BuzzFeed reaches over 80 million unique visitors in the U.S. every month, that's more than Gawker, Vimeo and Vice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): We want people to share our content and we reach a lot of our audience through sharing. The biggest indicator of whether or not you'll spend the time to read something is whether or not someone shared it to you.

STELTER (voice-over): Now you might still associate BuzzFeed with cat videos but the company is trying hard to change that perception. They've hired hundreds of reporters and editors from around the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Look, yes, we still do cat lists. We're really good at them. We're not going to be bashful about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): From the animated GIF all the way out to the feature, we want to do all of it.

STELTER (voice-over): Zay Frank (ph) was hired in 2012 and launched BuzzFeed motion pictures last year to make the site all about video.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): I feel like people tend not to appreciate the value of what seems to be trivial content, small things that are shared around but those areas generally tend to be where we learn about the future.

STELTER (voice-over): And older media companies want to learn, too. This summer NBC Universal made a $200 million equity investment into BuzzFeed; soon after that, the world's largest buyer of online ads, group, struck a multimillion-dollar partnership.

Do you worry about how much money you can make from the videos or that's somebody else's job?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Oh, it is something I worry about. That side of the market is also evolving, not just the nature of the content but how money is made.

STELTER (voice-over): It's safe to say Frank (ph) is not the only one here with money on his mind, especially as the company thinks about going public. But no matter what happens, at BuzzFeed, social media will remain king and that means the future is much more personal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): One fundamental that doesn't change is that media is about emotions and it's about making people laugh, making people smile. So the relationship that media has to our social lives, to who we are, our identity, that's the constant. Almost everything else changes. (END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: You can watch the whole new tube series on cnnmoney.com. We'll be right back in a moment.