Return to Transcripts main page


Race for the White House Comes to Media's Backyard; Megyn Kelly's Future at FOX Uncertain; NYT's Public Editor Reflects on Role; Nine Year Old Reporter Covers Gruesome Murder. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired April 10, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:08] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

This hour, FOX News star Megyn Kelly says she may leave the network. What's behind her public statements? And is her fate somehow tied to Donald Trump's bid for the White House?

Plus, outgoing "New York Times" public editor Margaret Sullivan is here, and she has stories to tell. What's it like to be the paper of record's top journalism cop?

And later, someone you have to meet, the 9-year-old reporter winning accolades and animosity for breaking news about a murder in her town. She will join me along with her mom to respond to the critics.

But, first, something a little different. When you watch TV, did you ever notice who's not on, who's not in the picture? Donald Trump is always in the picture. He's a mainstay on Sunday morning shows like "Meet the Press" and "STATE OF THE UNION."

But this morning, with nine days until New Yorkers head to the polls, he's missing. Trump is not calling in or showing up to any Sunday shows, nor did he pretape any interviews either. I went back and I checked the record, and this is the first time in five months he's skipped the Sunday circuit.

And it's not just TV either. Radio host Hugh Hewitt noticed Trump's absence to news cycle yesterday. He tweeted this, "It's been three days without a major Trump story. And he's counting since the Wisconsin Trojan horse statement after the primary there. It's a little bit like a hit list game streak or quarters without touchdowns."

Now, later today, Trump will be back on the campaign trail in Upstate New York. Right now, the Empire State is in the political spotlight with two competitive primaries happening right in the media's backyard. So, it's the New York media versus the candidates.

Reporters, I think they're enjoying this. From Hillary Clinton maybe struggling a little bit with a New York City metro card, happens to all of us, to John Kasich's culinary faux pas, eating a slice with a fork and knife. And Ted Cruz's unwelcome reception from "The New York Daily News", as you see there on the cover, as he made the rounds making matzo in Brooklyn.

To talk about all this, joining me is the perfect panel of New York's brightest and smartest political junkies: Fred Dicker, a long time columnist with "The New York Post" and host of Talk 1300 AM in Albany, and Brian Lehrer, the host of "The Brian Lehrer Show" here in New York, on WNYC, and Bob Hardt, the political director at Time Warner Cable News NY1.

Good morning to all of us.

Fred, what's your perspective on Trump's disappearing act? Why do you think he's avoiding interviews ahead of this New York primary?

FRED DICKER, STATE COLUMNIST, NEW YORK POST: Brian, let me point out that he's dominating the news by not even being there. Maybe it's a strategy. Look, he is a master at that.

But he's got real problems in New York. His campaign is disorganized even though he's very strong as you see in the New York polls, and he's got to make some key decisions now on spending money. He's been notoriously parsimonious, at least up until now. He may be facing millions upon millions of dollars in super PAC money coming in against him that's already being spent, as well as real money from Ted Cruz and maybe a little bit from John Kasich.

So, I think it's organizational difficulties, money problems and maybe the cleverness of a guy who can dominate the news by not even being there.

STELTER: Bob, one TV exec said to me this morning, listen, you can't make mistakes if you don't take the field. Is that what Trump is doing right now?

BOB HARDT, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, TIME WARNER CABLE NEWS NY1: Well, we did see him yesterday. He went down to the 9/11 Museum and like you pointed out, he's going to be --

STELTER: But he didn't take questions from reporters, where he kind of ticked off the reporters who went with him who wanted to talk to him.

HARDT: Right, but he still got that story. He still got that attention. We're going to see it today going Upstate to Rochester. Tomorrow, he's in the Albany area.

I think he was taking a little bit of a breather but I think he can't resist the siren call of the New York media, and I think we're going to hear him a lot over the next nine or ten days.

BRIAN LEHRER, HOST, "THE BRIAN LEHRER SHOW", WNYC: It might be a little of a rose garden strategy. New York is the only state where he may actually get a majority of the popular vote, over 50 percent, and he had such a bad week leading up to this weekend, he may figure, well, let me just lie low. Now, this hasn't been Trump's strategy. His strategy has been to keep

amping it up every time you think he can't amp it up anymore. But he's got a new team in place to some degree and maybe this is a smart thing for him right now.

HARDT: And he has a big rally in Staten Island next weekend as well. So --

STELTER: But you made the point that he may not have a rally here in Manhattan --

HARDT: Right.

STELTER: -- because of the idea that there would be big protests. A pretty unusual situation for a man who lives on Fifth Avenue to maybe not have a rally here.

HARDT: We have seen every candidate campaign in Manhattan, a presidential candidate, except for Donald Trump in Manhattan. It is sort of bizarre, but I think that's part of it, is that there is a fear perhaps that you can have an uber protest in the center of the city.

STELTER: Fred, I heard you jumping in here.

DICKER: Can I offer an alternative theory on that? Donald Trump may not do that well in Manhattan. This is -- New York primary is 27 separate primaries involving congressional districts. A lot of people think John Kasich could wind up winning one or two congressional districts in Manhattan.

So, it may not be worth Trump's while to be there.

LEHRER: Yes, I think Fred's right. And this pertains to both campaigns on the Democratic side because this is congressional district by congressional district and county by county, the way they allocate the Democrats.

[11:05:07] Carl Paladino, who is sort of a low rent version of Donald Trump in New York, actually got the Republican nomination for governor here in 2010, and that base is in the Upstate counties of New York. It's very much like some of the economically bombed out portions of the industrial Midwest. So, that's really Trump country. And similar on the Democratic side for Bernie Sanders.

STELTER: Let me ask one more question before we turn to the Democrats, let me go to you on this, Fred, as a conservative radio host here in New York.

Do you feel that there's the same kind of power for radio in New York as there was in Wisconsin? There was a lot of attention on Tuesday and Wednesday saying conservative radio hosts helped to stop Trump in Wisconsin and help Ted Cruz. Is the same -- is there any kind of same effect here or equivalent to conservative talk radio in New York?

DICKER: Not at all. New York is not a unified state the way other states are. There are groups in western New York, northeastern New York and, of course, New York City which is dominated by a liberal media. It's not the same. There's not an all powerful radio talk show or host that could really affect the outcome.

STELTER: Interesting.

Now, turning to the Democrats, and I want to go to you on this, Bob, New York 1 and CNN are co-hosting the debate on Thursday. This time last week on RELIABLE SOURCES, we were asking, was there going to be a debate? Eventually, Clinton and sanders did agree.

What can we expect at the debate on Thursday night?

HARDT: Well, I think -- you know, there has been a hiatus between debates and I think there's a little bit anticipation of that.

STELTER: Yes, more than a month.

HARDT: Right. And on top of that, the idea that Brooklyn is the centerpiece of this debate, it's not just some warehouse in the middle of nowhere. This is in the middle of Clinton's headquarters is based and where Bernie Sanders was born. He's a Brooklyn native. So, you have that template as well.

STELTER: Full disclosure, my wife works at New York 1, so we're sort of in the family. I'm curious at New York 1, as New York's 24-hour cable news channel, have you had to rearrange your coverage plan because this is a competitive primary? We're not used to having a competitive primary in New York state.

HARDT: We have political reporters all around the state and the city today working when they usually wouldn't. The one thing we're used to is a campaign. We're not used to campaigning in April. It's almost as if we had a mayoral race or gubernatorial race that we have right now.


HARDT: So, it's that kind of muscle memory that we're using. It's just in April. So, it's a little bit different.

STELTER: Brian, what are you hearing from your call-in show from listeners? What are -- what are they really focused on in this Democratic primary?

LEHRER: Well, they're focused on the national issues on the Democratic side. They want to know if Bernie Sanders can really pull off implementing the plans that sound good when he articulates his beliefs.

STELTER: And he stumbled on that this week, didn't he? The interview with "The New York Daily News", the transcript was pretty troubling to some Sanders supporters, because he didn't have a lot of details on questions about breaking up the big banks.

LEHRER: That's right. But the media shouldn't get too simplistic about reporting that either, because there's a second line story on that, which is, is it the presidential candidate's responsibility to have all the granular details of a plan, or is it his responsibility to be a visionary? Did Ronald Reagan run saying how he was going to get Mr. Gorbachev to tear down that wall?

STELTER: It's interesting.

Let me go to Fred on this.

You know, I always think it's worth reminding ourselves where we've been maybe a year ago versus now. A year ago, I don't think people expected a competitive primary in New York. Certainly, there wasn't an expectation that Trump would be the front-runner or that Bernie Sanders would still be in race.

Is this a good moment, Fred, for some media self-reflection as the primary nears?

DICKER: Absolutely. I think all of America is sort of scratching their heads about what's happening today compared to what was anticipated a year ago. With that said, I mean, we live in unusual times, more so than most people I think can recall.

And New York now is not just about an exciting primary. It's really vital, especially on the Republican side, if Trump doesn't get enough votes -- enough delegates on April 19th, he's out of the race. He's not going to make it.

On the other hand, if Hillary Clinton could lose, and I think she could lose, she probably could still be the nominee but she may be irretrievably damaged.

So, this is an extraordinary time for sure.

STELTER: In the minute we have left, is there such a thing as a media vote, Bob? Is there such a thing as sort of the press playing favorites when the election is happening right here in the base of Manhattan media?

HARDT: I think the favorite is we want the story and this has been a spectacular story to cover. Between Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, seeing Ted Cruz in the South Bronx, these stories lines write themselves. This is like a Tom Wolf novel that we're devouring instantly and writing every day. And so, we're loving it.

STELTER: But I mean, does it matter if Sanders pulls off a win here because it happens in the backyard of reporters?

LEHRER: Well, it happens because there are so many delegates in New York and he needs delegates to catch up. I think we can be very media-centric about ourselves and think we're more important than we are in the New York media.

STELTER: There's also this Manhattan media bias I'm going to talk about later in the hour, this idea that we maybe focus too much on the city and not enough on the rest of the state. So, we'll get into that coming up.

DICKER: For sure.

STELTER: Brian, Bob, Fred, thank you all for being here.

[11:10:01] Great to see you.

HARDT: Thanks.

DICKER: Thank you.

STELTER: Coming up next here, actually a quick reminder, Thursday night, the debate mention, the CNN, New York 1 debate. It's at 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, here on CNN.

Coming up next, FOX's Megyn Kelly. Donald Trump has called her sick, overrated and crazy. The feud has definitely complicated FOX's relationship with the GOP frontrunner.

Well, now, some new developments. Kelly hinting that she might leave the network next year when her contract is up. So, what might the network look like? Some reporting right after the break.


STELTER: This morning, "The Boston Globe" out with a controversial cover. It's the front page from the future. Sunday, April 9th, 2017, it's imagining a Trump presidency and urging the GOP to stop Trump. You can see, it uses some of his words against him and depicts what we could be seeing a year from now.

Now, one of the stories mentions FOX News host Megyn Kelly, quote, "being placed on a White House, watch list," blacklist, actually. Now, "The Globe" felt no need to explain the comment, because by now, everybody knows how the FOX News host challenged Trump and now he has repeatedly insulted her ever since then.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Megyn Kelly's really biased against me.

I have no respect for her. I think she's highly overrated.

This is not a reporter. This to me is a lightweight.

She's not professional. I don't think she's not a very talented person.

I might be the best thing that ever happened to her, I don't know. Whoever heard of her before the last debate?

It's a very small element of my life, Megyn Kelly. I don't care about Megyn Kelly.

(END VIDEOTAPE) [11:15:00] STELTER: Hmm. Well, FOX says he's obsessed with her.

But Trump's unrelenting attacks have bruised and at the same time bolstered Megyn Kelly. Her contract with FOX is up next year, I believe pretty early next year, and she's essentially started I would call it negotiating in public.

In a candid interview, one of many this week, she told "Variety", quote, "I don't know what's going to happen. I have to keep my options open."

In a sit-down with Charlie Rose, she said she respects FOX, she likes being there, but she imagined kind of her dream show. Here's what she said.


MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS HOST: How about if we merge a little Charlie Rose, a little Oprah, and a little me all together and we serve that up as an hour. Wouldn't you watch that?


STELTER: Interesting idea. So, what is next for her and is her future actually entwined with Donald Trump's?

Joining me now, "The New York Times" media columnist, Jim Rutenberg.

Jim, good to see you.


STELTER: We were both at a party on Wednesday night. Megyn Kelly was there. It was a "Hollywood Reporter" party. And she was the center of attention in the room. People like Savannah Guthrie going up to her and giving her big hugs, presidents of networks also saying hello.

Do you think there's a chance she could leave FOX and go to another network this time next year?

RUTENBERG: First of all, I think there is a chance it could happen. So, I just wouldn't rule it out. And that party was really interesting because that was the toast of the town, the media elite, embracing FOX's -- one of FOX's two biggest stars.

STELTER: And, of course, we haven't seen that before, right? When Bill O'Reilly goes to an event like this, he doesn't get the same kind of attention necessarily. People shake his hand, they respect him, but Megyn Kelly is unique because she's striven, I would say, she tried to be independent. She's tried to have a brand that's bigger than FOX.

Why do you think she's doing all these interviews now, whether it's Charlie Rose or "Variety" or the others she's doing? RUTENBERG: Now, people at FOX will tell you it's a coincidence, it's

the way some interviews lined up and it seems to be that's the case. That said, there was a sort of critical mass of Megyn Kelly news last week. That like to me evidence to me that she's becoming a very big star before our eyes. She already had something, but she's becoming a very big TV star.

STELTER: That's why I say she's both been bruised and bolstered by this Trump battle, you know, because, clearly, it has hurt her. She has security I believe now when she travels. It's done damage to her. You look at the Twitter mentions, all the nastiness directed at her.

But at the same time, it has made her more prominent. It's a strange thing to say, but there's a true dynamic there.

RUTENBERG: I mean, she said that herself. She spoke at a "Variety" women's conference this week and said exactly that. She said the Trump fight has had adversity, it's been tough, but it's also created opportunities. So, she's very well aware of that.

STELTER: Let's underscore why this is a big deal. Megyn Kelly is a star FOX has never seen before. She's been in primetime a couple years ago and FOX has really bet its future on her. We haven't seen somebody like that leave FOX in the past, haven't we?

RUTENBERG: Not a star this big. We saw Paula Zahn leave for CNN many, many years ago. But this is something different. This is a bigger star.

STELTER: It's normally a more cloistered place. When you're at FOX, you stay there for a long time.

RUTENBERG: And you don't see publicly, people publicly airing their negotiation positions.

STELTER: That's what's so interesting about this. Let's play other clip. This is from another interview she did this week with Kate Couric on stage at Tina Brown's conference.


KELLY: You know, I think FOX has done a good job supporting me and I feel for my boss Roger Ailes, because -- think of the position he's been put in, right? This is unprecedented. They have one of their lead news anchors under attack and yet, what are they going to do? They can't ban the presidential front-runner on the Republican side from coming on the channel.


STELTER: So, that's how she explains the tensions with Trump. Do you think there's a scenario here where she has to think about leaving FOX? Because if Trump were to become president, would she really fit on the conservative cable news channel of the United States?

RUTENBERG: I wonder about that, because Roger Ailes has shown publicly a lot of loyalty toward her, releasing a statement that really had her back.


RUTENBERG: And I think Ms. Kelly is aware that Ailes has been a good patron for her. Maybe they end up outgrowing each other, and that'd be a little bit different. But I think if the status quo is maintained, sure, she could stay.

STELTER: Of course, all this is fundamentally about money, probably, as some of her comments maybe part of the negotiation, trying to seek a better contract. But she has indicated she wants a different kind of job. She wants to be more like Barbara Walters and she's doing her first Barbara Walter-esque primetime special in May. So, it seems to me, FOX is giving her room to try that out.

RUTENBERG: FOX is giving her room. I think her salary is already very high. Could she get a $20 million morning show salary? Perhaps. But also, Harper Collins, which is in the same corporate family, gave her a very generous book contract. So, the corporate culture has made it clear to her that they will be good to her.

STELTER: That's a good glimpse behind the scenes, by the way, about how these things work, right? 21st Century Fox, News Corporation, all owned by the Murdochs. Having a book deal for her, as well as a TV show, as well as a primetime special, perhaps ways to keep her in the family.

RUTENBERG: Yes, and show some love with a lot of money, many millions of dollars.

STELTER: The other news I think out of Megyn Kelly is her comments this week, is her position about coverage of Trump by the rest of the press. I want to play another clip of what she said to Katie Couric about she thinks the press has put the thumb on the scale when it comes to Trump.


[11:20:01] KELLY: And then the media would sit there and say, it's amazing how the polls are just up, up. It's like you're putting your thumb on the scale.

Yes, we all have to worry about numbers to some extent. That's the reality of TV news in 2016. But we also have to worry about our souls and journalism.


STELTER: Kelly has covered Trump an awful lot on her own show, but what do you think is behind her comments this week about Trump's coverage, suggesting the rest of the press has given him so much air time, given him too much of a microphone?

RUTENBERG: I think it's fascinating, because that's up -- that complaint is also one that's sometimes not so subtly aimed at her colleague Bill O'Reilly. She said that she thought that he did not support her the way she wanted to be supported. And I think she's voicing an idea that the media have come together and stand up to Trump more in terms of ceding journalistic grounds sometimes to him, as many critics and I've written that happens a little bit myself.

But interesting that Megyn Kelly, again, a FOX News top star, is telling the rest of the news media, look, you guys have to get tougher on Republican front-runner.

STELTER: Your first column, media column for "The Times" a few weeks ago was about Trump coverage. Have you seen a shift in the winds in the past weeks? Have you seen more aggressive questioning by others that Megyn Kelly? Of course, Megyn Kelly hasn't been able to interview Trump, but by other interviewers?

RUTENBERG: I've seen some more tough questions and, you know, I think it happened right here on CNN at your town hall. The morning shows have been less willing to put him on the phone, at least Chuck Todd said he won't do it anymore.

STELTER: On "Meet the Press", right.

RUTENBERG: On "Meet the Press".

But you still see issues like the press not being able to film Trump on his own rope line under the network's kind of whole argument that keeps him from getting everything they may want to get in the situation. So --

STELTER: And again, yesterday, a visit to the 9/11 museum, reporters wanted to speak with the candidate afterwards and weren't able to. So, those tensions continue to be prominent.

RUTENBERG: There's an interesting push. He's the most accessible presidential candidate any of us have seen in our lifetimes, at least my generation, but here we are also with these odd restrictions that sometimes we all maybe go along with too readily.

STELTER: Jim, great to see you.

RUTENBERG: Thanks so much for having me.

STELTER: Thank you so much.

All right. Coming up next here, talking -- moving from Trump to Bernie Sanders. Is the press giving him too much of a free pass or actually not covering him closely enough?

And still to come, a rare peek into what it's like to become the internal investigator of journalistic integrity at "The New York Times." Public editor Margaret Sullivan joins me for an exclusive sit-down, coming up.


[11:26:25] STELTER: Donald Trump is the biggest story in politics and too many media types missed and dismissed him for too long. I've said that here on the show before and so have some of my guests. Trump is rewriting the rules. He's fracturing the GOP.

True, but should we be saying the same thing about Bernie Sanders? Do we need a media self-exam about Bernie coverage?

Listen to this confessional from MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski this week.


MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC ANCHOR: What I saw is us actually missing the Sanders story. Us meaning the media, the story itself, the movement. I definitely feel I'm guilty of that. I feel like we completely miss the story and then we're like, oh, oh, we've got to cover him.


STELTER: I was struck by that and I wanted to explore it in more detail.

CNN political commentator Sally Kohn recently wrote something similar. She wrote about how Sanders is this year's biggest media story, not Trump.

Now, Sally is joining me here on the set.

You're undecided but you're leaning towards Sanders, is that right?

SALLY KOHN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have always leaned Sanders.


KOHN: And then publicly identified on CNN as leaning Sanders. I'm going to be honest, I'm more undecided this week. There you go.

STELTER: OK. So, let's talk about that in a moment.

But, first, make your case, why is Sanders a bigger story this year than Trump?

KOHN: Well, he isn't. He should be, right? Let's be very clear.

STELTER: Why should be?

KOHN: The media coverage doesn't seem to agree with me.

But, look, you have a self-described Democratic socialist who, you know, is the most curmudgeonly and arguably less sort of campaign savvy, telegenic, all of that in the sort of traditional sense, candidate imaginable, running up against the most well-organized, well-oiled political machine we've seen in a presidential election in some time and a presidential primary contender in Hillary Clinton who was far and away presumed to be not only the nominee but the eventual president this election, and look how well he's doing.

It is astonishing. It is a huge story, and in any other moment we would be I think all covering it as such --


STELTER: You could say that Sanders has given voice to a wide swath of the country that generally doesn't hear their opinions expressed on TV. Even think about the commentators on cable news channels. The paid liberal commentators tend to be more supportive of Clinton than Sanders. I think you've experienced that yourself.

KOHN: No comment. Yes, in my experience that is true. But it's also all of the assumptions about politics.

Again, sort of setting the Trump story aside for a second, think about this -- you said you have to kind of play the super PAC and big money game in order to actually get at the table of politics and run a national campaign, right? You know, this is all about established voters. This is all about -- all of the sort of tropes of politics he has thoroughly upended.

A thoroughly grassroots funded campaign that is raising more money than the Hillary campaign, engaging young voters who we all thought were cynical and checked out and too, you know, busy with their heads down in their phones to look up and care about the world and care about politics and engage. All of those tropes the media has been guilty of buying into or reinforcing, he's turned it on their heads, massive movement, massive energy, really made this race a race and we're barely covering it.

STELTER: Well, I would note the banner on the screen says, "Did the media miss the Bernie Sanders story?" I do think there's been some disproportionate coverage, especially in the summer and the fall last year.

At the same time though, Sanders himself seems surprised by how well he's doing. Maybe Sanders missed the Sanders story to some degree.

KOHN: But that's even makes it -- come on.

STELTER: That makes it a great story.

KOHN: That makes it even more of a story. You have a guy who wasn't planning to win. He is winning.

STELTER: Let me ask you why you're less decided now. This is unqualified, I guess we can call it --


Let me put on screen what you said after Sanders called Clinton unqualified for the White House.

You said: "Take it back, Senator Sanders. I haven't decided who I'm voting for in the New York state primary. But, at this point, your statement definitely decreases your chances of it being you."

Now, since he has sort of taken it back, why are you less decided now?

KOHN: He didn't take it back enough for me. (CROSSTALK)

KOHN: This was a big mistake. And, by the way, it is interesting and I think we should all parse the media's role in it, right, that Sanders -- whether it's true or false, Sanders says it was because "The Washington Post" said that she said that I was unqualified, and, therefore, I responded.

But who cares? Even if she had said it, the way he responded -- well, first of all, the you first -- or she started it is very Trumpian. I thought he was better than that. And, second of all, who cares? You don't say it. Just because she did it doesn't -- even if you thought she did it, it doesn't mean you -- I can't believe -- this is like a conversation I have with my 5-year-old, because it doesn't make it OK for him to say it, number one.

Look, I don't like Ted Cruz. I think he would be a disaster for this country. But Ted Cruz is qualified to be president. Barack Obama, as a one-term United States senator, was qualified to be president. I'm a New Yorker. I don't agree with everything Hillary Clinton supports, but she's been my senator for two terms.

She is qualified, secretary of state. Someone have said the second most qualified person ever running for president. There are a lot of things you can say about Hillary Clinton. You can't say she isn't qualified. That was a low blow. And we don't do that as Democrats. We don't bash our own.

What I admired about this whole primary was how substantive it was. And I support his issues and that he was making her address them. This isn't us.

STELTER: So, he has nine days, you're saying, to woo you?

KOHN: Yes, nine days to woo me personally.

No, I have heard from a lot of Sanders supporters actually who have switched over in the last -- really concerned in the last week.


STELTER: This is partly what makes the next nine days so interesting, if that's the case.

KOHN: I can't wait for the debate on CNN. It's going to actually be an incredibly important one to bring New Yorkers back, if he can do it.

STELTER: Great to see you, Sally. Thank you for being here this morning.

KOHN: Always a pleasure, Brian.

STELTER: Thanks for being on.

Up next here: a Sunday morning exclusive with a person who might have the single weirdest job in journalism. I'm going to make you wait until after the break to see who she is.



STELTER: Welcome back.

The "New York Times" public editor job is unlike anything else in journalism.

The person is like an ombudsman, in charge of examining readers' complaints from the inside, and then making recommendations for improvements. Now, the bosses don't have to respond to her or even read her, but, by all accounts, the current public editor, Margaret Sullivan, has been very influential.

She's been called fearless, provocative, and a must-read. And just a few days ago, for example, she wrote about why "The Times" didn't gain access to the Panama Papers. And this week, she will file her last column for "The Times."

So, this morning, she joins me now for an exit interview of sorts.

Margaret, great to see you.


STELTER: Let me start with the New York primary. You used to be the top editor up in Buffalo.


STELTER: Do you think there's a Manhattan media bias in the way we're all approaching this big primary in nine days?

SULLIVAN: Well, as if Upstate didn't really exist?


SULLIVAN: That's sort of a normal kind of way to look at New York state in general, I think.

STELTER: But should be avoided, huh?

SULLIVAN: Yes, I think so.

I always find that people think that Buffalo, for example, is due north, when, in fact, it's quite a bit west. I mean, there's not a lot of understanding of Upstate or Western New York in Manhattan.

STELTER: So, Manhattanites should start with a map and go from there?

SULLIVAN: Yes, start with a map and go from there.

STELTER: Let's go south to the Panama Papers. This is a story that broke just after the program here last Sunday,

more than 100 news organizations working together to look at this data from a Panamanian law firm revealing how offshore bank accounts are held by some of the world's most powerful, richest people.

"The Times" was not involved in the initial reporting. And, in fact, there were very few U.S. news outlets involved. Univision, Fusion, and McClatchy were the only ones.

What was your understanding about why "The Times" wasn't able to access these documents?

SULLIVAN: Well, I found out very quickly that the story came as a surprise to "The Times." And I think they were in a position of scrambling and playing catchup for the first day or two.

Later, I found out that they really were never approached to be part of the consortium. And I think the reason for that, as it was explained to me by the deputy director of the consortium, was that, in the past, it felt like that really wasn't "The Times"' model for doing things.

They call their model radical sharing. And I'm not sure that radical sharing with other news organizations is what "The Times" is all about.

STELTER: Hmm. It was a big moment, though, wasn't it, to see so many news outlets all around world in 25 languages working together on a big investigation.

SULLIVAN: It was a big deal.

And the stories -- I mean, obviously, the prime minister of Iceland has resigned over it, and there have been other repercussions. There haven't been a lot of Americans involved. And so I think that that is something that takes away from the newsworthiness in America somewhat.

STELTER: We're going to see more of this, though, I think, in the future, these kind of leaks, these document dumps, shared with many journalists.

SULLIVAN: Right. Exactly.

STELTER: Let me ask you about what the headlines were from your tenure.

I think people are curious what your -- what your biggest achievement was in the job, because you're wrapping up four years now. There's been a lot of impressive journalism, but also a lot of gaffes at "The Times" in those four years.

SULLIVAN: Well, I feel like what I really tried to do, Brian, was represent the reader. And that comes up in the moment.

You know, there are all kinds of different things. Is "The Times" covering Bernie Sanders enough, for example, has been a really big deal. But in terms of policy changes -- and I would not attribute this to me, certainly not entirely -- but "The Times" did change its policy or guidelines on the use of anonymous sources.

STELTER: So, when I was there years ago, as long as my editor in charge of me knew my source, it was printed. But now, on a big story, it's got to go to the very top editors.

SULLIVAN: That's right.

STELTER: That's a big change.

SULLIVAN: It is a change.

STELTER: Why do you think that's so important for "The Times"? Is it about regaining trust of the readers?

SULLIVAN: I mean, anonymous sources have a tendency to cut into credibility with the readers.

There's no one to hold accountable for this information. So, when you do use them -- and they do need to be used sometimes, no doubt -- it has to be done with a lot of care.

STELTER: Speaking of corrections -- speaking of trust, this issue of corrections comes up a lot.

There's been this perception that there's more and more corrections in "The Times." And since it's the paper of record...


SULLIVAN: That's a good thing.

STELTER: Well, people wonder if it's a good thing, because this is the paper of record, as it's called. Does that mean they're making more mistakes?


STELTER: But you say it's a good thing. Why?

SULLIVAN: It's a good thing.

I mean, everybody makes mistakes. "The New York Times" runs many, hundreds of stories a day, and there are bound to be mistakes big and small.

I think the important thing is to correct them, and to correct them quickly. So, I give "The Times" a lot of credit for doing that.

STELTER: I asked readers for questions for you on Twitter.

Here's one from Christina up in Boston. She says: "Did you ever get Dean Baquet," the top editor, "or another editor to admit they screwed up?"

So, any successes on that front? She asked if it was frustrating to be ignored.

SULLIVAN: Yes, I don't think that I have been ignored.

Dean has definitely said, we made mistakes on a couple of stories. I remember when Carolyn Ryan, the politics editor, said in one case something was really bad and she would make it her business to make sure it never happened again.

The readers, the commenters on my blog were sort of shocked, like they had never seen anything like this before. So, I think that has gotten a little better.

STELTER: Here's a question from Mat Ingram. He says: "Does she think the 'Times' has improved in matters relating to public trust since she first arrived?"

I mean, that's what the job is all about, right, trying to encourage readers to understand how the paper works and trust the paper.


STELTER: Do you feel it's improved?

SULLIVAN: I mean, it's hard for me to measure that.

I do hope that the public editor's job at least keeps the lines of communication open so that, if readers aren't feeling trusting of the paper, there's a way to say that.

STELTER: And will the job continue? Because, at other papers, we have seen this job eliminated in recent years.


Yes, it is -- it is going to continue, as far as I know. And I think that "The Times" has a short list at this point.

STELTER: That's an interesting point, interesting tease.


STELTER: So, you're about to move to "The Washington Post," archrival of "The Times." You're going to be the media columnist there.


STELTER: What are you going to miss about "The Times" and what are you not going to miss?

SULLIVAN: Well, the thing that I will -- I will answer it backwards.

It's easy to come up with what I'm not going to miss...

STELTER: What is that?

SULLIVAN: ... which is the tension of my job, because I'm in the newsroom, and I feel, to some extent, a part of the paper, but I'm independent, and my job is to look at it critically, from the reader's point of view.

So, that creates a lot of tension. And I will be happy to sort of lay that burden down. So, that's what I will not miss.

I mean, of course, there are so many phenomenal journalists at "The Times," and so much good work gets done, that it's been great to be in the middle of all that.

STELTER: When you read the paper, do you trust and believe in it more now than you did four years ago, or a little less, now that you have seen it from the inside?

SULLIVAN: Oh, I don't think that's really changed, honestly.

STELTER: Huh. Interesting.

Margaret, great to see you.

SULLIVAN: Good to see you, Brian.

STELTER: Thank you very much.


STELTER: Coming up next here on the program: Should a 9-year-old be covering a murder? A local homicide goes viral, but not because of the crime, but because of the age of the reporter and questions over whether it's appropriate for her to have even been writing about it at all.

She will join me with her mom right after the break.



STELTER: Welcome back.

Hilde Kate Lysiak, the editor of Orange Street News, was tipped off to a big scoop last week, a murder in her small Pennsylvania town. So, she headed to the scene, and she broke the news, and she quickly found out it was a gruesome crime.


HILDE KATE LYSIAK, ORANGE STREET NEWS: Hilde Kate Lysiak here, reporting from the Orange Street News on the 600 block where a man suspectedly murdered his wife with a hammer.

I'm working hard on this ongoing investigation.


STELTER: Hilde is 9 years old. Some social media commenters said it was wholly inappropriate for her

to be there, that she would be better off playing with dolls or having tea parties. So, she fired back.


LYSIAK: I know some of you just want me to sit down and be quiet because I'm 9. But if you want me to stop offering news, then you get off your computer, do something about the news.


STELTER: When this story went viral, thanks to a "Washington Post" report, I loved it. I started building Web sites when I was the relatively old age of 10. But I was reporting on "Goosebumps" books and Nintendo games. I didn't think my parents would have let me cover crimes.

So, I asked Hilde and her mom, Bridget Reddan, to respond to the controversy.


STELTER: Hilde, thank you so much for joining me.

LYSIAK: Thank you.

STELTER: When I was just a little older than you and I was building Web pages at my home, people always wanted to know how much my parents were involved, how much my parents were helping me.

So, you tell me, how much are your parents helping you with your Web site?

LYSIAK: Well, my dad does the printing and the layout. My mom sometimes helps me with the fiction stories.

STELTER: But the rest is all you, huh?


STELTER: You have been inspiring so many adult journalists this week. I have been seeing so many people celebrating you, people that are really inspired by what you do.

So, how is it that you started this?

LYSIAK: Well, I went with my dad a lot, because he was a reporter. And I went with him on stakeouts and stuff. And I realized that that was kind of what I wanted to do.

And so I started, like, handwriting a little paper for family. I did, like, 10 copies a day with crayon. And I realized that my hand was hurting and it didn't really get me anywhere.

So, I told my dad that I wanted to start a news -- a real newspaper, and he said that he would do the printing and the layout, as long as I did all the writing and reporting.

STELTER: What is it about writing and reporting that you find so fun?

LYSIAK: Well, I like getting people the information.

STELTER: And what's the best story that you have covered so far?

LYSIAK: Well, I did a murder recently. I thought that was really cool.

STELTER: Now, I know some people were criticizing you online, saying you should not be at a crime scene.

Why were they wrong? Why was it appropriate for you?

LYSIAK: Well -- hmm -- I mean, just because I'm 9 doesn't mean I can't do great things.


And, I mean, what if somebody, like, told you, you couldn't, like, be a reporter just because you're a boy?

STELTER: Yes, that's true.

I mean, I used to try to pretend like I was older than I was. And that way, people would take me seriously. But when you're out at a crime scene, there's no way to pretend you're not 9 years old.

I mean, how do you sources react to you? When you're trying to get information, how do you get sources to take you seriously?

LYSIAK: Well, I usually put in my paper that I'm looking for tips and stuff.

And people e-mail me tips. And that time, I got a tip from a good source that I was able to confirm. And I went straight to the scene, and I knocked on doors of the neighbors' doors to gather more information.

STELTER: Let me see if I can bring in your mom as well. I know that she's there with you at home. And I'm curious to hear from her about this recent murder story.

Mom, this must have been a strange few days, national media attention about you and your daughter. All of the people that are suggesting that somehow you and your husband are bad parents by letting her cover this murder, what do you say to them?

BRIDGET REDDAN, MOTHER HILDE KATE LYSIAK: Well, I would say we're certainly we're not bad parents, first of all.

And I think it's a testament to good parenting that we let Hilde pursue her passion. She was perfectly safe. I can't think of a safer place to be. The police are at the crime scene. She's doing what she loves, and I think that makes us great parents, supporting that, really.

STELTER: When we see young kids performing as actors or in beauty pageants, people wonder if the stage moms are the one behind the scenes.

Is there some element of that to this with Hilde?

REDDAN: No, I would say not.

In fact, before Hilde heard about the homicide, she was in town participating in a chocolate stroll. And, you know, I was chasing after her as she was leaving and trying to wipe the chocolate from her face. That's about as stage mommy as I get.

I mean, and I don't even know if I was completely successful, really. But I would say there's no element of stage -- stage mom behind this. I want her to do what she wants.

STELTER: So, is there any story you wouldn't let her cover at age 9?

REDDAN: Yes, certainly.

I mean, we do -- we do check her e-mail. She is supervised. And there have been plenty of stories, really. I mean, recently, there was somebody that e-mailed with a very complicated story about child abuse.

And, you know, not only was the story too complex, really, for Hilde to handle in terms of government agencies and things. We just really felt like the subject matter was not appropriate for her. You know, some people just don't realize she's 9 either when they e-mail.

STELTER: I mentioned there's been a lot of admiring comments, but there has been this criticism as well.

So, I wonder if you feel like you have to try to protect your daughter from sort of the online nastiness that can happen whenever someone is writing or reporting.

LYSIAK: Well, I don't so much feel like I need to protect her.

I mean, we -- to a certain extent. I mean, clearly, if somebody wrote something that was heinous and completely inappropriate or violent, we wouldn't share that with her. But, aside from that, I mean, we're big believers in truth around here. And that kind of comes from both sides.

You know, Hilde -- Hilde reports the truth. She finds that important. And we find it important to share with her also what's going on. And I feel like she can deal with it. I mean, I feel like she has shown everyone that she can handle the criticism. And it really sort of rolls off her back. I think she's a very confident kid. And we're very grateful for that.

STELTER: So, Hilde, the Orange Street News comes out monthly.

What's going to be in the next issue?

LYSIAK: Well, you're going to have to find that out by reading it.


STELTER: That's a great answer.

And 20 years from now, when you might be getting up to be my age, what do you want to be doing as a journalist? Where do you see yourself?

LYSIAK: Well, I'm going to keep doing my paper. And, right now, I'm also working on writing a book with my mom.

STELTER: First book, maybe at age 10, that's pretty impressive.

Thank you both for joining me. Great talking with you.

REDDAN: Thank you for having us.

LYSIAK: Thanks for having us.


STELTER: I have a feeling there are hundreds of Hildes out there. And I'm rooting for them.

Up next here: the end of an ambitious cable news channel -- why Al- Jazeera mattered right after the break.



STELTER: Well, and finally this morning, a two-and-a-half-year experiment called Al-Jazeera America will end on Tuesday due to cutbacks by Qatar.

You may have never watched the channel. It was hard to find on cable. It wasn't promoted a lot, and it never found much of an audience. But Al-Jazeera America mattered. It created more cable news competition. And competition is a good thing.

The Arabic-sounding name was a hindrance and it caused some Americans not to trust the channel. But the reporters there sought to produce real, high-quality journalism. And from what I have seen, they succeeded time and time again.

Visiting the channel's headquarters the other day, I could feel the melancholy right away. But there's a real feeling of pride. The channel's CEO shared this with me. It's a full page of key points, what the channel wanted to do.

I will read some of it to you. It says: "Ask what the real story is. Don't just cover it. Uncover it. Hold power to account. Rely on our own journalism. Don't follow the media consensus. Cover the people affected by stories, as well as the powerful people making decisions. And shine a light in the shadows."

Those are ideas that are universally shared by journalists, but not always upheld.

So, the staff of Al-Jazeera hopes that that, the channel's values and beliefs, will be its legacy.

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