Return to Transcripts main page

CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Super Saturday Showdown; Donald Trump and the Politics of Fear; Flint's Water Crisis; Diversity at MSNBC; Former First Lady Nancy Reagan Dies. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired March 6, 2016 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:11] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good morning. I'm Brian Stelter. This is RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at story behind the story, of how news and pop culture really get made.

We are in Flint, Michigan, right now, a few blocks away from the site of tonight's CNN Democratic debate, looking live inside the hall at the Whiting. This is a debate is focusing attention on the toxic water crisis here in Flint.

Did the national media miss a story until it was too late? Well, two local reporters will tell me how they helped uncover the truth, later this hour.

Also -- as the GOP shatters, that's Peggy Noonan's words, shatters Donald Trump's off the record meeting with "The New York Times" becoming a hot campaign issue. So, who is right and who is wrong here? We'll get into that.

Plus, MSNBC once praised for its diverse lineup, now scrutinized for marginalizing several minority hosts. We'll have a follow-up to last week's segment later this hour.

But, first, how the press is portraying and I would say shaping this frenzied primary process. Trump, Clinton, Sanders, all had wins to celebrate from Super Saturday last night, but it was Ted Cruz who arguably had the best night winning two states and helping build his case against Trump.

The week ahead going to be dizzying with more primaries, two Democratic debates and a big GOP face-off.

So, let's get right to three insiders: "CNN TONIGHT" host Don Lemon, who will be one of the questioners at tonight's debate, Mark Preston, executive editor of CNN politics, and in Washington, David Gregory, the former moderator of "Meet the Press."

Mark, let me start with you here in Flint. I would argue for a while, Ted Cruz has been underestimated by some segments of the media, it's always been about Marco Rubio and expectation that Rubio will be the establishment choice and he'll come through in the end, no matter what happens with Donald Trump. But after the Super Tuesday wins by Cruz and now the Super Saturday

wins, is that over? Can he no longer be underestimated by any political talking heads?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes, certainly. But some of it was due to his own fault. You know, the self-inflicted wounds of the dirty tricks that he played in Iowa, and then onward into South Carolina.

Look, his campaign is very disciplined, but they put the train off the tracks a little bit. They have seemed to get it back on the track.

One thing about Ted Cruz that's very interesting. As much as he feels that he is being attacked by the mainstream media or not taken seriously, he does do a lot of news conferences and he's willing to take questions and you don't see that often from candidates, certainly those running for president.

STELTER: Let's discuss tonight and why we're in Flint, Don. You'll be one of the questioners. You've been in debate prep.

What makes this debate tonight different from all of the others we've seen so far?

DON LEMON, "CNN TONIGHT" HOST: Well, the obvious reason, water crisis that's happening in Flint, Michigan. It's a big reason that we're here. And as a matter of fact, one of the campaigns, the Clinton campaign, when DNC, they wanted more debates they suggested Flint, Michigan.

STELTER: Yes, Hillary Clinton first came out and said, I'll have more debates but if you have one in Flint.

LEMON: The Sanders campaign said yes, but the obvious reason -- that we are yesterday, handing out water and meeting the people of Flint, Michigan, wonderful people. But that's the main reason we're here, because it's indicative in some ways of what's happening around the country, and Mark can attest, people who feel they are left behind in the current economic situation in our country. And also, for this horrible situation that's happened with the water. People who feel in many ways they don't have a voice and they have forgotten.

STELTER: What does it feel like to be volunteering yesterday? I'm not trying to brag about us being out there yesterday but for me, it was really shocking to see. The closest thing I can compare this city to is New Orleans after Katrina, very different situation but similar sense of abandonment.

LEMON: As someone who is a resident of Louisiana, a grew up in Louisiana, volunteered after hurricane Katrina and volunteering yesterday, I wanted to give more time. This is honestly not to be out there because CNN is her, but it actually I got more out of it and I think the volunteers get more out of it than the people here.

They need it, but the people here are resilient, they're strong, they're very thankful and I have to say that I was very proud to work for a company yesterday that afforded its employees the opportunity to get out there and to help the people of Michigan, and I'm sure we can do a lot more and also like to do a lot more. People are wonderful.

STELTER: There's a half a million donation of water bottles yesterday.

Let me go to David Gregory on this, because I think there's something to be said about the national media spotlight whenever a political spotlight can reach a story like this Flint water disaster. We're going to talk later whether the president was too late to the story what happen do you make of the fact it came up briefly in the GOP debate, that was a few days ago in Detroit. Obviously, this water crisis will get more attention tonight on the Democratic side.

DAVID GREGORY, FORMER MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Well, because so often, what's truly important in our country and in our world doesn't often feel as urgent. So, it's important but not urgent, and therefore we get caught up -- especially covering politics and the kind of outrage of the moment. We certainly get caught up in who's up, and who's down, and analyzing the process of the race.

[11:05:02] And when there aren't easy answers. I mean, whether it's poverty generally or more specifically the issue of Flint, it deserves more attention and sustained attention, but that's not often as much as we say it's important, not often what really captivates us or captivates voters. I mean, how often do you look at public opinion surveys that say education is most important issue, and yet we tend not to cover it as deeply because people don't pay as much attention to it?

STELTER: Mark, tell us about how this debate came together. It was unusual the Clinton said, "Yes, I'll have more debates, I'll meet you, Bernie Sanders, if you come to Flint," and then, CNN got involved, local news organizations?

PRESTON: Right. So, interestingly enough, there had been a call by the Sanders campaign to have more debates and I think that the Clinton campaign -- I mean, it's no secret they were okay only having six debates and okay with that and the DNC was okay with that.

But as we saw Sanders build momentum, had the big win in New Hampshire, there was an understanding that there needed to be more debates, and these debates are going to be a lot different than the other debates that we've had so far. Look, we're here for a reason. I mean, if anybody, just turn off your TV, after the show, go and turn on your faucet, turn it off, realize you cannot use your water.

Just imagine that.

LEMON: That's why I said, in some ways, it feels worse, not to compare the two, right?

STELTER: You're talking about Katrina?

LEMON: Katrina. It's because the water's right there. This has gone on longer, this has been happening since 2014. Here we are in 2016. STELTER: Right.

LEMON: The water is there for you to drink and to use, but you can't use it, and the folks here are getting huge water bills from the water company, they're still having to pay water bills but can't use the water. It's really insulting, in a way.

STELTER: David, go ahead.

GREGORY: I have to say, what I think is so important about the debate tonight, what's so important about the timing of this tragedy in Flint, whether you are conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, you understand that government plays an essential role in delivering basic foundational services to its people, and clean water is one of them. We turn on our faucet, we expect it to be healthy enough to drink and not poison or sicken our children.

This is fundamental accountability and in this way, this when the spotlight of the media can really help. The spotlight of a presidential campaign can only help to really enforce accountability, because this is not an overly partisan issue. It can become politicized and it can become partisan, but fundamentally, it's about who is responsible for what government is doing and should do, and it's most basic level, which is to provide adequate resources like this.

STELTER: Still talking about this debate tonight. Let's look at schedule a little bit for the next few days. There's another Democratic debate later on the week. It's on Univision, "The Washington Post" is sponsoring and CNN is going to simulcast it on Wednesday. Then, on Thursday, a GOP debate in Miami on CNN.

David, you were outspoken on Twitter the other day about the raucous crowd at last GOP debate. This was the one on FOX News in Detroit. You said the crowd was disruptive to the proceedings.

Do you think we have to reconsider actually having audiences at these debates.

GREGORY: I do. I don't see the point. I mean, I don't mean to sound self-righteous about it, because I understand it can create a sense of event, you can kind of instantly focus group the idea of how certain responses are playing. And you know, look, I think it's generally OK if you have a debate where you have a candidate playing to the audience a little bit.

But there's a point, for me it was the other night, they become disruptive. People mugging for the camera in the background, you have people disrupting both the candidates and the questioners. I just thought that was kind of pointless. And it was a huge crowd. And I just don't really think that serves.

I mean, the high ratings for the debate is about the nature of the campaign and the candidates themselves. And them going after each other engaging each other, that's not going to change just because you add the crowd. STELTER: Seventeen million viewers for the FOX debate, the highest

debate rating in almost three months.

Mark, the argument for crowds instant focus group, that it creates a sense of scale and then, of course, donors come and see their candidates, right?

PRESTON: But, I agree with David that the train can go off the tracks and --

LEMON: Get out of it, right?

PRESTON: Yes, trains go off the tracks.

But what I would say, though, when you have an audience, if the audience is kept in check, what it does is it puts the candidates on the stage under more pressure. And if you're running for president of the United States, I do think you've need to feel the pressure of having an audience out there hanging on every word.

Now, what we've seen --

STELTER: Interesting.

PRESTON: We've seen the Trump -- I don't know how to explain it -- but --

STELTER: I'll get you a dictionary, Mark.

PRESTON: We just say that Trump, maybe that's a new phrase. But the ongoing fighting between Trump and Rubio, I was watching with my daughter the other night, she's 11 and like basically I told her to fall asleep, because I didn't want her to engage in it. There are times during the debates that you want the candidates to feel the pressure of having to answer a question and not in a quiet studio where they can perhaps think a lot easier.

[11:10:09] STELTER: Interesting. The RNC told me they had to escort three people out, the police had to get involved during that debate on Thursday.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY: I would agree with Mark. I think Mark --

STELTER: Go ahead, David.

GREGORY: I think crowd control is important. We see during the presidential debates, once we get into the general, that it's possible to do that. I just think it's a crowd control issue.

STELTER: Let me ask you one more question, David, before I have to go. CNN's Dylan Byers broke this yesterday. He reported that Donald Trump might have broken the rules of the debate. Let me read from the story. It says his campaign manager went directly on the stage to meet with Trump during commercial break and as in previous debates, FOX News had explicitly informed the campaigns the candidates were not allowed to communicate with their campaign staff during commercials. So, there's some video via independent journal. You can see Trump later handing a fax to the FOX News moderators, maybe that FOX was given to him by his campaign manager.

I'm curious, David, is this a big deal to have Trump up on stage talking to his aides because FOX later in the debate had to let the other candidates also speak with their aides in order to create fairness?

GREGORY: I don't know. I mean, I guess I'd have to sit with that a little bit. I think my initial react, I don't think it's a huge deal. I think if they have an opportunity to talk to their team during that -- I don't know, maybe it may become less spontaneous, but there's been enough of these debates now.

I don't think it's keeping Trump from shooting from the hip here during these debates.

STELTER: But if the rules are the rules, right, another example --

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY: That's what they agreed to. It's a rule for the party, then to enforce these things. From that point of view, if they agree you shouldn't do it, you shouldn't do it.

LEMON: They break the rules all the time. I mean, they go over the time limit. You heard Wolf and one of the other saying, you, gentlemen, agree to these rules and now you're breaking them. So, I don't know how big a deal it is but it's interesting to watch.

STELTER: Don Lemon, David Gregory, Mark Preston, thank you all for being here. I appreciate it.

GREGORY: Thanks.

STELTER: Coming up -- more previews of the Democratic debate here, also the GOP debate a few days away. I want to tell you why I think this whole country is united, not in politics, not in patriotism but in something else. That's coming up right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:16:09] STELTER: Welcome back to Flint, Michigan, the site of tonight's Democratic debate here on CNN. We are close by at University of Michigan, Flint library here, the Flint River behind us.

You know, I watch a week's worth of television news, I've read a week's worth of Facebook posts, and here's what I concluded, this country is united right now, but it's united by fear.

I know we've heard a lot about angry voters this election cycle. Well, anger's cousin is fear. So, think about it.

Democrats are afraid Trump's got a real shot at presidency. Some are deeply afraid of what Trump's rise represents about America.

When I went to a Bernie Sanders rally in Michigan last night, I could feel the anxiety right away when Sanders invoked Trump's name. The tone of the crowd changed almost instantly.

Democrats are not the only ones on pins and needles. Republicans who oppose Trump are afraid he's blowing up the party they loved.

That feeling was summed by a former aide Jamie Johnson who tweeted this during the FOX debate, "My party is committing suicide on national television."

Now, Trump supporters are somewhat fearful as well. They're afraid that these victories going to be snatched away by the Mitt Romneys of the world. When I listened to Romney's speech, he sure sounded scared of a Trump win.

It's as if we are all watching a horror movie together. But we cannot agree on who the villain is. Now, all of this anxiety revolves around Trump.

So, let's analyze Trump coverage with Rebecca Berg, a national reporter for "Real Clear Politics", and Alex Marlow, the editor-in- chief of Breitbart News Network.

Thank you both for being here.

REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Thanks, Brian.

ALEX MARLOW, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, BREITBART NEWS NETWORK: Thank you.

STELTER: Rebecca, let me start with you. I'm curious for your take on what happened at the Trump -- at the debate on Thursday night. Of course, Trump brought up his hands, then brought up another part of his anatomy, it seemed like. It was as if the entire election could be summed up in Trump's comment about himself. It was about strength, it was about potency, certainly the opposite of impotence, whatever that would be. So, I wondered if you thought the press made too much or too little out of that shocking moment at the debate.

BERG: Well, I certainly don't think they made too little of it, Brian. We heard a lot about moment at the debate, in the days that followed and for good reason. I mean, this is how Donald Trump has run is entire campaign, how he has captured not only the media's attention in this election cycle but the American electorate and especially Republicans.

He is like a train wreck. You can't look away. So, it makes a lot of sense we have covered this in the way that we have, it makes a lot of sense what we're talking about.

But what I think we also saw at the debate the other candidates playing into that dynamic, playing into Donald Trump's dynamic of trying to catch the media's attention by saying things that are a little bit outrageous, a little bit unexpected and especially Marco Rubio has been taking the same tact, which has been interesting to watch.

STELTER: So, Alex, as editor-in-chief of Breitbart, your website definitely takes a position. I would say it's very supportive of Trump, some call your site Trump-bart.

I wonder your reaction to the "hands" comment and whether there's anything Trump could do that would actually cause your website to shift its tone?

MARLOW: I think we've covered Trump a lot fairly than you're giving us -- a lot more fairly than you're giving us credit for, first of all.

Second of all, "Politico" called us "The Daily Cruz" as well. So, people are constantly trying to back us into a corner when you've got competitors like "National Review" who dedicated resources trying to destroy Trump. We don't have an official party line like that, and we've been very critical, our top media reporters like John Nolte, have been very critical of what Trump did in the debate.

And I'll tell you what? I'll be critical of it right now. He can't do that. He can't talk about his penis size if he wants to be the next president of the United States. He also can't flip-flop on H-1B visas because, contrary to what people say about a lot of Trump voters, a lot of them are extremely highly informed.

[11:20:02] He had a flip-flop in the debate on H-1B visas, immigration, and that caused some concern.

So, what he did, Brian, after he --

STELTER: Let me --

MARLOW: Yes. I'm sorry.

STELTER: Well, I was going to ask Rebecca if there's a split in conservative media circles, you know, because you mentioned "National Review". There have been outlets that have been clearly anti-Trump, then there are sites like Breitbart that I would describe as maybe anti-Rubio.

I want to get Rebecca's reaction. Do you divide emblematic of a civil war within the party as a whole?

BERG: Absolutely, Brian. I think this is actually one of the things that has happened in this election cycle and the Republican Party in particular that we haven't been talk enough about. We talk a lot about establishment Republicans. So, the moderate wing of the party revolting against Donald Trump and trying to prevent him from becoming the nominee.

But we're not looking at this conservative side of the party as well, also revolting against Trump. You have supporters of Cruz, like Glenn Beck, and Mark Levin who are actively warning people against voting for Trump and supporting him. And these are not people who we would consider establishment Republicans. This is most conservative wing of the party.

So, there's absolutely division playing out here. "The National Review" cover is another example. You have "RedState" and Erick Erickson having coming out against Trump. And this is not something recent either. Erick Erickson disinvited Trump from his "RedState" gathering last year in Georgia and so this is something that maybe has gone unnoticed here in the mainstream media but it's absolutely a division within the Republican Party that I think is going to be very important moving forward.

STELTER: We need to mention something that happened several days ago. Early in the week, there was an incident at a Trump rally between a Secret Service officer and a photographer who was there for "TIME" magazine. The photographer wanted to get closer to protesters who are at the rally, he cursed at a Secret Service agent trying to push to get access. Then the agent seemed to use a chokehold to pull him to the ground.

We can show part of the video from that. It's very disturbing video.

I wonder, from both of you, your reactions to it.

Rebecca, is this something that I can state as a fact, we would not have seen this at any other rally at any other candidates. What does it tell you about Trump, even if he has nothing to do with this altercation, what does it tell you about the rallies?

BERG: Well, it tells me a few things, Brian. First of all, I look at this from perspective of a journalist who wants to be able to cover these rallies in the way that we're supposed to. So, to be able to get outside of the press pen, talk to people in the crowd, observe what is happening and not be limited by security, I think that's very important to consider here, and this photographer was obviously trying to do his job and trying to get shots that represented what was happening at the event.

But I think we also when look at rallies more broadly, it's a very, very unique dynamic that we're seeing only with Donald Trump. We talk a lot about the anger his voters feel and really what this reminds me of is of George Wallace rallies back in the late '60s, early '70s. Hunter S. Thompson used to describe them as something like a Janis Joplin concert.

But what George Wallace did was similar to what we see Donald Trump doing today. He heckled his hecklers, got the crowd very riled up and we often saw these protests break out and sometimes violence as well.

STELTER: Alex, do you think there is any responsibility on the part of Trump when he points to the press, when he calls them dishonest and disgusting, does he have any responsibility of what happens next at these rallies if reporters are criticized by the crowd or manhandled by a secret service officer? MARLOW: I think in this video, if you look at it closely, I think

actually the reporter is just as much a part of this as a Secret Service. The reporter ends up putting his hand around Secret Service member's neck. I haven't scrutinized it that closely recently. But that's something that I think --

STELTER: To some extent, that actually happened after he was showing what the Secret Service officer did to him. Certainly the "TIME" photographer acknowledged some responsibility here.

MARLOW: Yes, there's a lot of responsibility and this blows up the myth any Donald Trump coverage is positive. He's undergone intense media scrutiny. He's never been a politician and look at where he is.

If he can just do what he did after Super Tuesday where he rose up, he was positive, eh was upbeat, he took questions from the press -- unlike Hillary Clinton who will not talk to the press -- I think he's not going to have much of a problem.

STELTER: The press conference strategy has been interesting after Super Tuesday, after Super Saturday, to have these press conferences all but guarantees more live coverage.

Rebecca, briefly, I saw Ted Cruz this morning on "Face the Nation", say that news outlets that carry coverage Trump's press conferences are giving him a massive in kind contribution. Do you agree that there's excessive coverage of Trump to the detriment of other candidates like John Kasich and Ted Cruz?

BERG: Sure. Well, the data we've seen on the airtime that he has received certainly reflects that he is getting more air time than any of the other candidates, Brian. "The Economist" actually looked at how many minutes network newscast, just ABC, CBS, and NBC, covered Donald Trump of the course of the past year through the end of February. He received more than 400 minutes of news coverage and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio combined only received about 100 minutes of news coverage.

So, he certainly gets more. As I said earlier, it's kind of hard to look away from Donald Trump. He's very entertaining, very good for ratings.

[11:25:02] STELTER: Well, not only --

BERG: Calculations for these news networks, but the fact -- the press conference dynamic for him is very, very clever. It's a new way to draw people in without saying actually much, because as we know, when he gives press conferences and answers questions and gives interviews to reporters, he often skirts around the tough questions and doesn't really give us the answers we're looking for anyway.

STELTER: Yes, I mean, I would say, Trump is the story right now. He is the story. We want to hear from him, but there has to be a balance as well at the same time, and make sure we hear from other candidates.

Rebecca, Alex, thank you both for your time this morning. BERG: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: Coming up here on RELIABLE SOURCES, the Flint water crisis, the recent we're here. Water is still brown. Residents are still seeing red. We have reporters who first put it down in black and white.

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:30:00]

STELTER: Hey. Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.

Behind me here is the Flint River, the source of this city's newest scars. The ongoing water disaster here -- and it is a disaster, a manmade disaster -- is a case of governmental failure. But is it a case of media failure as well?

We should talk about that, because April 2014 is when Flint switched its water supply to the Flint River, mostly to save money. Residents started complaining right away about the odor of the water and about rashes, but the people in charge downplayed that. They ignored warnings for well over a year.

The city of Flint finally urged residents to stop drinking the water after alarmingly high levels of lead were found in October 2015.

Now, then, in January of this year, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency here. And the water is still not safe to drink.

Some of the national reporters who are here now openly acknowledge that their news outlets were slow, they were late to recognize the scope of this disaster.

But local beat reporters feel like they sounded the alarm, and it just wasn't heard.

I'm honored to be joined by two of them now. Curt Guyette, an investigative reporter for the ACLU of Michigan, he followed this story for months and really helped blow the lid off of it. Also Ronald Fonger, a reporter who covered the Flint water crisis very early on as well for "The Flint Journal" and MLive.

And I appreciate you both being here and being on set this morning.

I want to know when it was clear to both of you that this was a crisis.

Ron?

RON FONGER, "THE FLINT JOURNAL": I would say we got indications almost immediately that there were problems with the water. As soon as we switched from getting Lake Huron water from the city of Detroit, we started hearing from people, when -- once the Flint River was being used, that there was problems with the smell, the taste.

STELTER: So, right away, you knew?

FONGER: I knew there was something wrong. I didn't know exactly what it was.

And so we just started to follow it at that point. And as time went on, we got more and more indications that different things were wrong with the water.

STELTER: Curt, was this a media failure on some level, a national media failure, not to -- not to heed the alarms early on?

CURT GUYETTE, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, ACLU OF MICHIGAN: Well, in July of 2015, we published a memo, an internal memo, that was leaked from the U.S. EPA that really sounded the alarm.

In one home, there was more than two-and-a-half times the level of lead that it takes to be classified as hazardous waste going into...

STELTER: Wow.

GUYETTE: So, it was absolutely shocking.

STELTER: This must have been scary for you to be covering.

GUYETTE: It was.

Well, one thing is, you don't want to be wrong about something like this. And I think, to your point, were people slow, in my experience, sometimes, the bigger the story, the longer it takes to really get traction, because people -- people -- you don't want to be wrong to say...

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: How you found the same thing, Ron? I'm curious.

At "The Flint Journal," was it same for you as well, a fear of being wrong with something so big?

FONGER: We tried to take it as it came along bit by bit.

And, as I said, this wasn't a situation where, overnight, we knew there was a lead-in-a-water crisis. We knew there was a crisis with the water.

STELTER: You knew there was something going on.

So, let me ask you, why does the ACLU have an investigative reporter? It's kind of funny when I read it in the script there. This is the only state where the ACLU has a position like yours. So, you do come at this from a point of view as really reporting, right?

GUYETTE: Yes. I was hired to investigate specifically issues around the state's

extreme emergency manager law. And the reason that they hired someone like me is they saw how much mainstream media is cutting back on investigative reporting. It takes a lot of time. It's expensive to do. And they saw a void and a chance to help fill it, and applied for a grant, and hired me to do that.

STELTER: Interesting.

By the end of the year, Rachel Maddow and MSNBC, Democracy Now!, there were news outlets, national news outlets that were starting to cover this story in more detail. Clearly now, with this debate here, there's a national spotlight like never before.

Before I have to go, Ron, what's the story that still needs to be written? What is the part of the story we still don't know the answer to?

FONGER: Well, this thing is still yet to play out. And a lot of it has to do with the responsibility for this crisis happening in the first place.

And that's going to play out in the next coming weeks and as members from Michigan, including the governor, are called to testify before Congress.

STELTER: I really appreciate you both being here. Thank you so much for speaking with me about this...

GUYETTE: Thank you.

STELTER: ... because it's an example of these slow-motion disasters that happen, where local media, the local boots on the ground are the first to know, the first to alert us on it.

Thank you very much.

And we're back with more RELIABLE SOURCES after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:38:38]

STELTER: This interview was cut short for breaking news.

Off the record, those are three sacred words in journalism, now at the center of a controversy involving Donald Trump and "The New York Times."

BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith started it. He reported earlier this week that there's a secret recording of a Trump visit to "The Times" that could undermine his public stance on immigration. The suggestion here is that Trump is telling voters he will deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, but is telling "Times" editors in New York something else.

Now, back in January, Trump had this meeting with opinion writers and "Times"' newsroom boss, Dean Baquet. But here's the thing. The session was partly on the record, which means reporters could quote Trump, report what he said. But it was partly off the record, meaning no quotes.

Once a reporter agrees to keep something off the record, it almost always stays off the record, unless the source agrees to put it on the record. Got it?

So, that means the impetus is on Trump to clear this up. Well, smelling blood in the water, his challengers pounced.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would never release off- the-record conversations. I don't think it's fair, frankly, to do that to anybody.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On the issue of the off the record, that's not up to "The New York Times." That's up to you, Donald. If tonight you tell "The New York Times" to release the audio, they will do it, and we can exactly see what your true views are on immigration.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, if he didn't say, he has an easy solution. Simply release the tape.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: So, what's right call here?

Joining me now, Kelly McBride, a media ethicist, the V.P. of academic programs at Poynter, and Paul Farhi, media reporter for "The Washington Post."

[11:40:05]

Kelly, first of all, should "The New York Times" be having any off- the-record conversations with a presidential candidate at all?

KELLY MCBRIDE, VICE PRESIDENT, POYNTER INSTITUTE: So, this is a really, really tough question to answer, because in this day and age of campaigns, the editorial board meets with the candidate because they want to figure out what type of endorsement to give the candidate.

And those are always written in the editorial voice of the paper at large, not in an individual's voice.

STELTER: Right.

MCBRIDE: And when they're making that decision, they're trying to figure out, what do they really need to know?

And in a primary, it's so much theatrics right now that they want to get to know the candidate beyond the stage theatrics. So they're really in a tough position. I am deeply uncomfortable with an off- the-record conversation with a presidential candidate, but I also know that they happen all the time because editorial boards feel like they can't get at the real candidate unless they grant this sort of off- the-record status.

So, it's a quandary.

STELTER: Let me ask you, Paul, you have had lots of off-the-record conversations for your stories. You do it all the time. But isn't there something fishy here going on? The fact that this leaked out, that apparently maybe someone at New York Times talked to somebody, who then told BuzzFeed that this recording existed? Does that seem fishy to you?

PAUL FARHI, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It doesn't seem fishy. It seems inevitable, inevitable because there were something like 30 people involved in this conversation between the editorial board...

STELTER: Right.

FARHI: ... the editor, and the newsroom.

Inevitably, something like this is going to leak. There are also recordings of this. As you know, anything digital can be replicated numerous times. I just think it's going to happen, and there's really no way in some ways to stop it.

STELTER: "Times" editor Dean Baquet told me this morning he thinks there's a little too much hand-wringing going on, on this issue, but it has become a campaign issue, and I think also maybe educational to people about how often sources, even presidential candidates, are speaking off the record.

Kelly, Paul, we have to take a quick break here, but please stick around. I have another topic for you coming up after the break, MSNBC and questions about diversity on the air.

Stay with me. I will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:46:30]

STELTER: Welcome back to Flint, Michigan. We are here for CNN's Clinton/Sanders face-off tonight, just about eight hours away.

Almost every story about the Democratic race does involve race. Clinton hung on to her lead among minorities. Can Sanders make inroads? An increasingly diverse country deserves and needs a diverse press corps, which is why some media insiders are asking, what is going on at MSNBC? Melissa Harris-Perry and Alex Wagner's shows are gone.

Al Sharpton's show has been moved to the weekend. Jose Diaz-Balart has been on the air less than usual. And the absence of all these hosts has some people wondering if there's more than just an isolated series of cases going on. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), ILLINOIS: I'm sad to see her go, just like Alex Wagner before her, but I'm even sadder because I don't think these are isolated cases.

Anchorman Jose Diaz-Balart is another voice that seems to be disappearing from English-language airwaves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Now, you noticed that graphic there. It says NBC so white.

"Washington Post" reporter Paul Farhi has looked into this. And his story asked, "Is MSNBC So White?" using the hashtag that has been trending on Twitter earlier in the week.

He wrote that: "The departure of Melissa Harris-Perry raises the issue."

Paul is back with me now, along with Kelly McBride of Poynter.

Paul, sum up your reporting for us. The issue here is complicated. Melissa Harris-Perry, she had a beloved show on the air for four years. MSNBC gave her a platform. They also took it away, it seems like. It was marginalized. And then after she spoke up about it, her show's now officially canceled.

Tell us what your reporting has found about this.

FARHI: Well, MSNBC has made a big change in its orientation. It's going cover politics full time, just like CNN and FOX is doing.

It has downplayed the talk shows, the discussion shows, like Melissa Harris-Perry's. And so in that transition, it has rearranged its schedule. It got rid of Al Sharpton. It got rid of other daily shows that were not working particularly well in ratings for more newsy coverage. And Melissa Harris-Perry was one of the casualties of this.

STELTER: Kelly, this is part of a broader issue, right, about diversity in media, is it not?

MCBRIDE: Oh, absolutely.

And part of the problem is, is that the media, all of us, have done a bad job with diversity in general. And so then, when you make programmatic changes, like Paul is describing, and those changes happen to affect some of the only people of color that you have brought on the air, people jump to conclusions. And sometimes those conclusions are merited because...

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Flint, Michigan.

We are very sad to report breaking news right now. Nancy Reagan, the former first lady of the United States, has passed

away, very sad moment for all of us, especially those of us who covered Nancy Reagan so many of those years, those wonderful years when her husband was president of the United States.

Nancy Reagan has passed away at the age of 94. We're going to have extensive coverage of Mrs. Reagan, beginning with a look back at her remarkable, remarkable years.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NARRATOR: Ronnie and Nancy, it was truly an American love story.

NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY: I can't imagine marriage being any other way but the way that Ronnie's and mine was. And I guess that's unusual.

[11:50:03]

LARRY KING, FORMER CNN HOST: A little bit of a miracle, too, right? Something in the gods brought you together?

N. REAGAN: Mm-hmm, fortunately.

NARRATOR: A relationship not based on politics or power, but simply admiration and affection.

Born Anne Frances Robbins in New York City, she lived and grew up in Chicago, known by the nickname Nancy. As an adult, she headed west to Hollywood to become an actress.

SHEILA TATE, FORMER NANCY REAGAN PRESS SECRETARY: She signed with MGM. She became part of that family.

NARRATOR: At first, Nancy Davis was busy. But, in 1949, she found her name on a list of suspected communist sympathizers, in danger of being blacklisted from the business.

The person on the list turned out to be another actress with the same name. But Nancy wanted reassurance. She turned to a friend for help, who set up a meeting with the president of the Screen Actors Guild, a dashing leading man named Ronald Reagan. And thus began one of Hollywood's and Washington's most enduring romances.

In fact, one of her last screen appearances was playing opposite her future husband in a movie called "Hellcats of the Navy." Soon after, they wed. They raised a family, including their children, Patti and Ron Jr., and her husband's two children, Maureen and Michael, from his previous marriage to Jane Wyman.

In 1966, Ronald Reagan began a second career as a full-time politician and was elected governor of the nation's largest state, California. Nancy was always at his side and always gazing at him with that loving stare.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was for real. That wasn't an actress, the adoration that they had for each other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: May I congratulate you, sir.

N. REAGAN: I don't remember thinking anything except that, my gosh, here he is. And he's president.

KING: My Ronnie.

N. REAGAN: My Ronnie.

NARRATOR: After her husband's presidential inauguration, Nancy Reagan's signature was appearing in designer gowns, especially red ones. She also redecorated the White House, both moves drawing heavy criticism.

But she had her own special grit, especially after an assassin's bullet struck her husband. She never left the hospital. Few knew then how close the president came to dying just a couple of months into his first term.

N. REAGAN: Yes.

KING: Touch and go?

N. REAGAN: Yes, it was. I almost lost him.

NARRATOR: She also battled breast cancer and survived.

Through it all, she had many admirers, and some critics, too, chief among them, her husband's former Chief of Staff Donald Regan, who wrote a blistering book about her, including the fact that she sometimes consulted an astrologer.

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He has chosen to attack my wife, and I don't take kindly upon that at all.

NRA She also used her influence to launch an anti-drug program, which was reduced to a simple phrase, when a young girl asked for advice and the first lady said simply, just say no.

N. REAGAN: I didn't mean that that was the whole answer, obviously. But it did serve a purpose.

NARRATOR: After she and her husband left Washington, she needed her stamina more than ever, after Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

N. REAGAN: It's sad to see somebody you love and been married for so long, and you can't share memories. That's the sad part.

NARRATOR: Through it all, she never lost her optimism.

KING: Do you ever feel that fate treated you badly?

N. REAGAN: No. Uh-uh. No. When you balance it all out, I have had a pretty fabulous life. NARRATOR: In 2004, President Ronald Reagan died. In one of her final

public appearances, the celebration of the centennial of Ronald Reagan's birth, she said:

N. REAGAN: I know that Ronnie would be thrilled and is thrilled to have all of you share in his 100th birthday. It doesn't seem possible, but that's what it is.

NARRATOR: Nancy Reagan, a strong woman in her own right, remembered also for her steady, unflinching devotion to her husband, both in and out of the spotlight.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: But now very sad news. Nancy Reagan, unfortunately, has passed away at the age of 94. Very sad moment. She became the first lady of the United States on January 20, 1981, when her husband, Ronald Reagan, became the 40th president of the United States.

David Gergen was among the aides working for President Reagan. He's joining us on the phone right now.

[11:55:00]

David, a very sad moment. Some immediate reflections of Nancy Reagan.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, as you knowledge -- and you were there for much of it, too -- it was one of the great love stories of American political life.

As a couple, they came together in the early 1950s and it changed Ronald Reagan's life. He was ending his movie career, but his first marriage had ended badly. He was lonely and he was uncertain of himself. And he met Nancy and they together went through the '50s together, which bonded very, very closely.

He became much more conservative during those years. And then, of course, he had his great leap forward with the Goldwater campaign in 1964.

But, Wolf, turning to the presidency itself, she was his anchor through those presidential years. And much of the success that he had, he attributed to her. You know, he had -- he could go out and take on the lions, wherever they might be. But coming home to Nancy at night was a very, very important part of his well-being as a person.

And they were very private. They didn't like to make a lot of phone calls. Some presidents are extremely peripatetic, want to be on the phone all the time. You can think about an LBJ, or Bill Clinton.

They were not. They wanted to be together. And she didn't try to guide his presidency, but if you were on staff, you kept your eye on Nancy, because she could read him better than anyone else.

Ken Duberstein, who was his final chief of staff, used to call Nancy every morning before he came to ask about, how is he doing? How is he feeling? What can we do to make his life better today? And she was really helpful to that. And very importantly, she was also a great force for Ronald Reagan pursuing arms control with the Soviet Union.

At the time, when he first came in, he was a big conservative, got a major defense buildup. But he always -- she always kept her eye on the larger prize, and that was peace. And she was a -- she had a great deal of influence on him. He surprised a great many people when he wanted to sit down and negotiate with the Soviets and when he had Gorbachev there. But it made a huge difference.

BLITZER: It was an amazing love story, wasn't it, David?

GERGEN: Yes, it certainly was. To this day, you can, in your mind, if you remember Reagan, you also remember her by his side, staring up with that sort of wonderful gaze that she was totally absorbed.

And just -- they were totally devoted to each other. I think they each helped the other come to a much, much better place in life. And just so many times, she was -- she was the one, because she cared about him so deeply, who ensured that the staff didn't overschedule him, that they paid attention to his age and, you know, that he was a little more fragile as the years went on.

And she wanted to care for him. And she did that with great, loving care all through the Alzheimer years. And she continued to keep that flame alive out at the Reagan Library doing some conferences and that sort of thing. And a number of people have gone through it. I went through that many times. And it was always -- Nancy was always the one that kept the flame alive.

BLITZER: We just got a tweet from Michael Reagan. Let me read it for our viewers.

"I am saddened by the passing of my stepmother, Nancy Reagan. She is once again with the man she loved. God bless" -- that from Michael Reagan just moments ago.

The words are beginning to come in very, very quickly, the remembrances. Nancy Reagan, the former first lady of the United States, has passed away at the age of 94.

David, he often would consult with her, although, even on -- as you point out, even on some of the most important issues, but she never really stepped out and talked about national security, other issues like that. She was a much more private person, although he had total confidence in her.

GERGEN: She did not feel it was her place to stand out on the public issues.

That began to change. That whole tradition of first ladies being -- taking on causes, of course, goes all the way back to Eleanor Roosevelt, but in modern times, it was Hillary Clinton who became a very different kind of first lady. And we have seen a lot of that since, partly through Michelle Obama. But Nancy was there more for him. And she did have her causes, the

just say no cause. But she thought her first and foremost duty was to be there with him.

And the other thing she did, Wolf, she not only guarded his schedule and thought a lot about arms control, but she was very -- she was the one who kept an eye on how well are the people around Ronnie -- how loyal are they? How are they looking after him? Do they understand him? Are they really on the team?

And, frankly, she was the one who said, "If -- you know, if you're not on the team, Ronnie, you have probably got to get this person out of there."