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Special Report: The Presidency and the Press; Inside Obama's Press Team; The Chilling Effects of Leak Investigations; White House Press versus President Trump. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired December 25, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:24] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and merry Christmas and happy holidays to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Brian Stelter, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES -- our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how the media really works, how the news gets made.

And this hour, a special report. For a few more weeks, Barack Obama will be the president of the United States. So, it's time for a close-up look at how his administration interacted with the press and vice versa.

Obama was a professorial president, in the age of Twitter and Snapchat. He was sometimes the media critic in chief during a period of tremendous change in the media, in newsroom which created tensions on both sides. Now, of course, Obama's successor, President-elect Donald Trump, attacks the media almost everyday.

So, today, we have the perfect guest to put this in the proper perspective, what happened in the past eight years and what it means going forward.

At the White House, we have three exclusive interviews about the president's efforts to bypass the press sometimes. Outgoing press secretary Josh Earnest will tell me why he feels journalists did not give Obama enough credit on issues like transparency and Earnest has advice for the incoming Trump administration about the importance of daily press briefings.

And later, a blunt conversation with the reporter who has called Obama the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation. "New York Times" reporter James Risen will be here to explain.

Let's begin with a look back, a look back to 2009 to Inauguration Day. This was a stark break with the Bush administration and reporters who were tasked with covering history. The nations first African-American president -- and think about this -- the nation's first social media president. Think about how you use your cell phone in ways you didn't eight years ago. Well, the White House had to reckon with that as well.

Obama's relationship with the press was -- complicated. So, what should we learn from the last eight years and how can it apply to the next four to eight years of a Trump administration?

Let's hear from reporters who were there covering the president every single day. David Gregory, former White House correspondent and host of "Meet the Press" on NBC, now a CNN political analyst. April Ryan, White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks. And Ann Compton, former White House correspondent for ABC News.

Thank you all for being here.


STELTER: Ann, my impression, maybe I'm wrong, is that Obama respected the existence of the press corps but resented of how some reporters do their jobs -- some of the breathless coverage, some of the demands for more access. Does that sound right to you?

ANN COMPTON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Well, he scolded us, so, sometimes with four-letter words that --

STELTER: Four-letter words?

COMPTON: Four-letter words, off the record, out at a garden behind the Oval Office because he said we made everything into a scandal. The president was able to, at this time in history, take the new tools, the Twitters, the cell phone videos, and his own videographer, first president out of seven I covered who had his own videographer and his own newscast on every week.

He was able to put out so much of his own material I think he allowed the coverage of the president himself and his activities to shrink.

STELTER: April, coming up on your 20th anniversary covering the White House. 1997, your first year, you're covering the Clinton administration there everyday at the office. What was different these eight years between Clinton, Bush, and now Obama?


STELTER: Yes. So, it was the videographer, for example?

RYAN: The videographer, but also this president going to social media, going on Twitter, releasing information or going on Facebook. We had to really not only rely on the press secretary but really rely on social media. He was the first social media president.

And now, we look -- and also the fact that he felt that it was morbid for us to follow him around as well. So, that's another piece because he said he did not like the body watch.

STELTER: So, this is the press pool which has been in the news recently. Donald Trump at first not having the press go with him to dinner.

RYAN: Right. STELTER: It's gotten better in December. But you're saying Obama also resisted that?

RYAN: Yes, and I was in the Oval Office when President Obama and Donald J. Trump were in the Oval Office together and I remember when we were leaving out, President Obama leaned over to Donald Trump and said, "Well, you don't always have to answer their questions." And I'm saying, "Why are you telling this man this?"

STELTER: This sounds like a pretty contentious relationship, David. I think some conservatives look at coverage of the last eight years and say it was warm and fuzzy, the president was always given the benefit of the doubt, et cetera. But I'm hearing some pretty contentious issues here.

GREGORY: But there's a -- the relationship between the White House press corps and the president is meant to be disruptive. And you go back to Abraham Lincoln elected and is in office in 1860 and the public can come into the White House everyday and as Doris Kearns Goodwin has written, he would run around the White House trying to figure out where he could have his lunch, a glass of milk and a piece of bread with butter on it.

[11:05:14] And then through the years, you have a press corps that becomes a kind of in-house part of the White House, the presidential experience, so that Ronald Reagan, as he's walking out to the helicopter, Ann Compton can shout a question at him and he can decide to answer or not answer. But the idea was, the press is close and is meant to disrupt the day so that we get access and we can ask questions and that the American people can have something of a proxy.

STELTER: Is there enough of an understanding among the public, Ann, about why journalists should be living in the president's house, in the basement with offices?

GREGORY: It's the people's house. That's the point. That's reason.

RYAN: That's a good point.

COMPTON: And the idea that we have some of the most important real estate in Washington between where he wakes up in the morning and where he goes to work at his desk -- I gave the administration credit for doing one thing, they opened up the staff and the press office and experts within the administration with frequent off-the-record or on background or on-the-record briefings. They did try to put some of their major policy people out and they did it for those of us who are at the White House everyday. We'd go in the Roosevelt Room, or they'd come into the briefing room.

So, there was I think an effort on their part to get their policy points across. Access to the president, though, is always the key.

STELTER: Well, how do we square this? You said in 2014, this administration had been more opaque than any you covered before. The Columbia Journalism Review found last year, this was a White House determined to conceal its workings from the press and by extension the public.

Was that true as well?

COMPTON: Their definition of transparency is putting out all the visitors list online, flooding us with information and fact sheets and enormous briefings when he goes off on a trip but for access to the president himself, to actually see him undertake the job of presidency, that role of his connection with us shrank in public.

STELTER: Interesting. So, we knew who was walking into the White House but we didn't know why necessarily?

RYAN: Right. And we didn't know why because the White House wanted to make sure they kept their narrative. They kept the message as to what was going on and maybe why the person came once they released the information. They were very concerned with the persona of this president, the historic nature of this president.

So many people gave so many different types of reasonings as to why this, why that. And they wanted to keep the messaging on point so they were very tight-lipped about many things because they didn't want to mar the look, the image, the communication of this historic president.


GREGORY: -- I mean, Ronald Reagan was the one who perfected the use of television and it was John Kennedy who was the forerunner of that, and before that, FDR who mastered the use of the radio.

What was he doing? He was going outside of the White House. He was going directly to the people. That's a clear example.

So every president tries to do it. I don't think that's so bad.

I think what's important to remember is, if you're covering the White House, you have a group of reporters there, it helps our democracy. It helps public understanding of what the president is doing, what the president thinks, what his staff is engaged in.

When you have a press corps that's well briefed, that understand what is they're thinking strategically, substantively and can communicate that and challenge them and that's the thing. You know, Bush once said to me, he said, "Gregory, we have a symbiotic relationship." And by that, it was not that we scratch each other's back but that he -- there was a role for the press to play that was good for him.

STELTER: Yes, and he recognized that.

GREGORY: Even as he fought -- like you're saying, even as he fought to not have us interrupt their flow and reach people directly.

RYAN: David is absolutely right, but you have to add in the extra layer for this president. The fact that the -- the historic nature. Race and politics will always follow him and he going in, they knew the contention from Capitol Hill -- they knew tat they had to control the narrative for better or for worse for us, for communication to the nation.

STELTER: Does it mean he was trying to protect himself more?

RYAN: Yes, I believe they worked to protect him.

GREGORY: But I think that he had a -- and I think that -- and I know from talking to this White House adviser, the president has a bit of an elitist view -- not a bit, an elitist view that the media is silly.

RYAN: Some media. Some media.

GREGORY: A lot of the media writ large. Right, some he respected but he was very -- he was very deliberate about those he respected and those he didn't. I think he felt that there was the kind of a game and noise of media that he thought was silly and that undermined the serious things he was trying to do.

STELTER: What did it mean, April, for minority journalists to see some of the country's diversity reflected by the commander-in-chief?

RYAN: For this president, the first term was different than the second term. Right. First term Barack Obama, we dealt with issues of race but not in the way that he did the second term. First term, he talked about issues -- well, he was asked by Lynn Sweet about the issue with Skip Gates and the police officer in Boston.

[11:10:03] Yes, and that was a knee-jerk reaction that caused a whole crescendo of police issues for this president, and he had to have the beer summit.

Then, later on in the first term, we had the Trayvon Martin issue where he said "that could be me." So, I mean, we saw issues and in the second term, he really became a person who we saw as, wow, he's really engaged in the community more, he's talking about black issues more, he feels at ease.

So, it was interesting to report the dynamic of the first black president first term versus the second term. He had nothing to lose second term. He was -- he had a second term.

GREGORY: The Skip Gates issue was interesting. So, this was the issue of the officers coming into his Cambridge home and even after it was clear that he was there -- that it was him and it was his home, they arrested him and the president said that was stupid that they acted in a stupid way. And I remember hearing the reaction to the coverage of that, that the president was so annoyed that we made that the issue instead of focusing on that press conference that day which was all about health care reform, where he went to hold fort to try to explain it.

And I remember saying to an adviser, I'm like come on. I mean, he needs to understand that the first black president calls the police stupid in a racial incident like this, that's going to be a big story. You know, he can't dismiss the gamesmanship of the press without realizing he is the game. He's president of the United States. So, some of his critiques were fair and I said he was an elitist about

the press, I think he was. I'm not saying he was all wrong about that, but he didn't always appreciate that, yeah, I'm at the center and have to find a way to deal with it.

RYAN: And that piece -- that racial profiling piece came from the beginning of his administration all the way to the very end. It followed him whether he wanted to or not. The things that the -- unknown variables that came up and that Skip Gates knee jerk reaction, that was a threat throughout his presidency.

STELTER: CBS' Mark Knoller said Obama gave a thousand interviews during these eight years. So, it would sound -- he was like he was accessible. This was a president who was visible everywhere, using social media yet a lot of reporters didn't feel like they understood him.

COMPTON: I would need two hands to count the times in which I had an opportunity with other reporters to sit down with the president off the record or informally to talk to him. I think those who cover the White House on a regular basis got a pretty good idea of what made that mind tick and that's what worries me about going forward. If you start taking away that access not only to the president but the senior staff and the West Wing staff, there's a reason media organizations commit high-priced talent to cover the White House and that's to have experts there.

And to lose that understanding of a president and where -- what he said and where he's going I think would be a very damaging -- very damaging.

STELTER: And I definitely want to focus on what it means to have President-elect Trump coming in, but talking about those off-the- record sessions -- I can imagine some viewers thinking wait, you were talking to the president and you weren't allowed to talk about it, report on it, share what he said? How is that appropriate?

COMPTON: Well, it's an old White House rule that was undertake within all seven of the presidents, Republican and Democrat, that I covered. I don't think in the real world, off-the-record really exists. Some of those quotes are going to get out eventually someday.

But for a president to sit down -- and President Bush did this, do you remember we were in the residence in a rainy March afternoon where he talked for an hour and a half about why things were going so bad in Iraq. And it was fascinating to watch his mindset.

So, every president needs a chance to speak candidly and that better informs those who cover the White House everyday.

GREGORY: Look, I think we all recognize we're living at a time when we have real credibility problems as -- anyone in the media has real credibility problems, and there are good journalists and not so good journalists. But -- I mean, everyone that I've interacted, that we've worked with were people who worked hard, who were smart, who were trying to get smarter about the presidency and their particular president that they were covering. It's really important I think to get off-the-record access to the leader of the free world as a candidate or as the president.

STELTER: David, April, Ann, please stick around. I'm going to bring you back later in the hour.

Up next here, though, Josh Earnest surprised me with his view of the press corps. The outgoing White House press secretary talking about President Obama's legacy and what an incoming Trump administration could do, how the briefings could change, how the press corps relationship to the president could change. Hear from Josh Earnest right after the break.


[11:17:23] STELTER: Welcome back to a special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, "Obama and the Media."

It's extraordinary to think about just how much change both in the country and in the media during Obama's eight years. Did you know that barely 150 million people were on Facebook when he was sworn in? Now, the total is approaching 2 billion.

The whole country and much of the world is connected by smartphones now. And this has given leaders like President Obama new ways to totally bypass the press, but at the same time having access to so much instant information, also meant this administration had to react in real time to videos of terror attacks, police shootings, oil spills and so much more.

And personally, I'll never forget how a man in Pakistan even tweeted about the bin Laden raid not having any idea what was happening in Abbottabad that night.

Now, in 2016, Obama is packing up. You know, at his last White House correspondents dinner, he literally dropped the mike.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With that I just have two more towards say -- "Obama out."



STELTER: Part of him maybe wants to get away from the mike for a while. So, how did administration approach thorny questions about media access and transparency?

I sat down with outgoing press secretary Josh Earnest in the White House briefing room and heard his advice for his successor. Check this out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) STELTER: Thinking about 2009, the beginning of President Obama's time in this building to now, what are the biggest changes in the media landscape that have affected your job and affected the way this White House communicates with the public?

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We've seen the landscape change dramatically. And that means there are news outlets people had never heard of that are now -- and didn't exist that are now influential in our -- in the way that people get news, including political news. There are now outlets or there are now media platforms that were in their infancy in 2009 that now are prominent parts of our political debate in this country.

Reporters understand, for example, that Twitter and Facebook are good ways for them to get their reporting out, to get more readers and to get more viewers, to distribute this information on Twitter and Facebook. The same is true of the president's message.

STELTER: It's that old line, "We're not so different you and I." You're saying the press people and the journalists actually experienced the same changes due to technology.

EARNEST: Yes, and we face the same challenges.

STELTER: President Obama vowed to be the most transparent president with the most transparent administration in history. A lot of journalists have had their FOIA requests stymied and would argue otherwise.

[11:20:01] Did the government do enough to become more transparent, to act on FOIA requests in these eight years?

EARNEST: Well, there are hundreds of thousands of FOIA requests that were answered and responded to with at least some of the information that was requested. We also succeed in this administration in putting much more of that information available online, so that there are a lot of journalists didn't have to file a FOIA in order to get access to the information.

STELTER: Are there shortcomings you see, that you would like to see the next administration address?

EARNEST: Well, I think that there are some institutional challenges with FOIA, which is that you're never going to hold a big political rally that attracts a large crowd by saying you want to increase funding for government agencies so they can be more effective in responding to FOIA requests. And that's just a -- that's a basic fact of our political system and this is an argument that I've made in a variety of settings.

There is no constituency in American politics for transparency in government beyond journalists. But my point is if this constituency, journalists, are going to be effective advocates for the issue that they care about, they need to remember they have a responsibility not just to criticize those who are not living up to their expectations, any activist will tell you that the way you get people to support you and your cause is to give them credit when credit is due. To applaud them when they do the thing you want them to be doing when they start moving in the right direction.

And this is one of the beeves I have that with journalists and this will get tested a bit in four years. Given the fact that President Obama has been the most transparent in American history and given the fact that he has not gotten much, if any, credit for that from journalists, what incentive does a guy like Donald Trump who I think has a pre-disposition against transparency when you considered the way he handled his tax returns, what argument does anybody have that there's a benefit for him to be more transparent?

He certainly has a responsibility to, but is there a political benefit to him? What leverage do -- does the press corps have? Other than to criticize him in the same way that many journalists criticized Obama.

STELTER: It sounds like there is a bit of respect in this room even though it's obviously antagonistic and uncomfortable relationship.

EARNEST: Yes. Well, listen, my philosophy from this job from day one has been that if there's ever a day when there's not friction between the White House press corps and press office, that's an indication that somebody is not doing their job.

STELTER: Final question for you. What advice you want to share with whoever takes over, whoever is behind that podium on January 22nd?

EARNEST: Two things. The first is, make sure you know where the president's head's at, because your ability to faithfully represent his point of view is critically important. And the second one is just a principle for life, which is be honest. Honesty and credibility and trustworthiness is the most important part of this job.

STELTER: But isn't part of your job evading people's questions, trying not to fully answer when you don't have full answers?

EARNEST: Well, I think there's -- I think that people can understand there's a give and take and there are arguments that we try to make, and people also understand there are certain situations where I'm asked about things I can't discuss publicly. But none of that should come close to compromising the truth -- and because I think once it does, it significantly undermines your ability to be an effective advocate for the administration and for the things you believe in. That's worth protecting.

STELTER: Josh, thank you very much.

EARNEST: Nice to see you, Brian.

STELTER: Thanks.


STELTER: And up next: more of our exclusive interviews with the president's press team inside the West Wing. They're talking about Obama's appearances on Leno, on Fallon, on YouTube and his rocky relationship with FOX News. We'll be right back.


[11:27:31] STELTER: Obama and the media. Welcome back to our special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

President Obama redefined how the White House reaches Americans, both on big screens and small screens. Consider this -- he was the first sitting president to embrace late-night TV. This is a long time ago. First, with an appearance on the "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno. Then with a visit "The Daily Show", "Letterman" and many more.

Now, no one quite slow jams the news like President Obama with Jimmy Fallon. This routine they performed more than once together.

I find myself wondering was there an entertainment or late night show Obama didn't appear on? Given how controversy this strategy was, how new it was for presidents. I asked White House communications director Jen Psaki if the White House ever went too far.


STELTER: How many interviews would you say are requested to the president every week or month?


STELTER: Every dozens?

PSAKI: Still, yes.

STELTER: So, a lot of your day is saying no?

PSAKI: I am a big captain no at times, internally, externally, I think 15 percent of my jobs is to prevent terrible things from happening. But, you know, the fact is, we also pitch interviews to people and we have contacted a number of outlets that haven't traditionally done an interview with the president or government official and that's interesting to us because that gives us a different platform, it gives us a different audience.

STELTER: Do you look back to the YouTube interview to people like Glozell Green that's been widely criticized? Do you ever think we went too far -- do you think the administration went too far with these interviews?

PSAKI: I think there's a very unhealthy "us versus them" going on right now between mainstream and newer online outlets. Glozell was a unique and different kind of interview. We didn't think of it as a hard hitting interview.

STELTER: No, definitely it wasn't.

All right. What about Zach Galifianakis in "Between Two Ferns"?

PSAKI: Well, the purpose of that was to provide information about the Affordable Care Act.

STELTER: Do you think he established a new normal?

PSAKI: Well, everyone can pull that off and there's an authenticity that is true to who President Obama is, that isn't true to every presidential candidate or every elected officials. So, look, that's something staff has to always think about. But I don't think Democrats are the only ones or the Obama staff are the only ones who have done humorous things or thought of humorous things. That's probably not giving the Republicans enough credit.

STELTER: What should the next administration know about the press/president relationship? What must be preserved, in your view, no matter what happens with president Trump?

[11:30:03] PSAKI: Well, I think there are certain things that are -- will make their lives easier that may be contrary to what they or others may think, which is the press briefing has a certain efficiency to it. There are hundreds of questions that come into the White House every day. There would be no way to answer those if we didn't have a press briefing every day.

STELTER: Sometimes this is like a TV show in this room. But you're saying it has an important function?

PSAKI: It has an important function. Now it has an important function for efficiency, it has an important function for a democracy. The United States is one of the only countries. Look at the diminishing number of countries that have a free press where you have three podiums in the government where there is an official who goes out and gives a briefing and takes any questions anyone has. That back and forth is a healthy thing. That's the other -- the other thing I would say.

You know, otherwise I think, you know, you have an obligation to the American people to be honest and provide information that's accurate and that's the important role that any government in any press office has.

STELTER: So that sounds like a shot at some of the Trump aides who have been peddling false information in interviews and on Twitter.

PSAKI: Well, look, I'm not going to be specific other than to say there has been a long tradition that comments made by the president of the United States and senior officials are accurate and honest. And if they're inaccurate it's not intentionally so. I think that flew out the window this election cycle and has really changed how media is going to have to report but I also think you start in the White House and it's a fresh start, it's a new opportunity.

STELTER: Conservatives would say to you Benghazi. They would cite other examples when they believe there was misinformation that was shared by the White House. Do you have specific regrets with regards to times the White House was not forthcoming enough? Not honest enough? PSAKI: Look, there -- hindsight is always 20/20. I wouldn't say

there's never a time that I have ever been intentionally dishonest, no. And I don't think -- I think my colleagues are the same way and that's why I value who I work with. I do think there are times that we look back and we wish we could have handled something differently or done it differently.

STELTER: There was recently a story suggesting maybe President Obama would launch a digital media company after he leaves the White House. Is there any chance he want to host a television news show or a talk show?

PSAKI: Are you looking for a co-host?

STELTER: Any time.

PSAKI: I'll let him know. You know, I think he is very interested in how people consume information and the changing trends, not just trends but the fact that more and more people are getting their information online. That, you know, mobile has changed so much in terms of how people digest information so he'll be interested -- you know, an interested observer but not a -- not directly involved in the media business, no.


STELTER: If nothing else, I'm sure the president will keep tweeting and Facebooking.

Now the president usually said he preferred watching ESPN over cable news at night, but he's frequently criticized the cable newsers over on FOX, his foes like Sean Hannity. Here's just one example of his many FOX critiques.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's a reason fewer Republicans are preaching doom on the deficits. It's because the deficits have come down at almost a record pace and they're now manageable.

There's a reason fewer Republicans, you hear them running around about Obamacare because while good affordable health care might seem like a fanged threat to the freedom of the American people on FOX News, it turns out it's working pretty well in the real world.


STELTER: Now you can see the president getting his jab at FOX in here. He didn't freeze out FOX all together. He did give interviews to the network. Here's an example with Bill O'Reilly before the Super Bowl. But Obama clearly felt that FOX and the right-wing media universe hindered his presidency. Here's what he said during a recent interview with HBO's Bill Maher.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Look, if I watched FOX News I wouldn't vote for me either. Right? Because, you know, you've got this screen, this fun house mirror through which people are receiving information. How to break through that is a big challenge.


STELTER: So how did the administration approach FOX and the hyperactive fast-paced media world? I asked principal deputy White House press secretary Eric Schulz.


STELTER: What's your biggest -- I don't want to have you say grievance but what would you change about the media landscape today?



STELTER: OK. That's interesting.

SCHULTZ: Yes. Well --

STELTER: Because oftentimes a story happens, a headline happens and you and other known reporters try to put context around it and it's too late.

SCHULTZ: Right. One -- I mean, this is an observation from myself but it's something I hear from journalists all the time. Given the economics of the media environment right now, there's just fierce pressure to report content around the clock and these fast paced deadlines often hinder a journalist's ability to think things through, talk to more people, get more voices in a story.

STELTER: There were a times during these eight years where this administration criticized FOX News, where President Obama himself would criticize FOX News sometimes suggesting it isn't a legitimate news organization. Was that appropriate?

[11:35:11] SCHULTZ: Look, I'll let people judge for themselves. I think what the president has talked about is that the trend of people being able to self-select their news. So in other words if you only watch FOX News you get a certain perspective just like if you only read left-wing digital news outlets you get a certain perspective.

STELTER: But he didn't complain about those, he complained about FOX.

SCHULTZ: Well, I think he's made a lot of comments about the trends that we've seen in our media and look, I think that we now live in a world where it's easy to get published whether you're a reporter or not, whether you're a journalist or not and so there's just an exponential amount of information. Right? That's the magic of the Internet is sort of the proliferation of material at your fingertips and so people -- at some point this is going to come down to the viewer and the reader to make sure you're self-policing yourself and being vigilant about the information you consume.

STELTER: Did you ever throw your remote at the TV watching FOX?

SCHULTZ: I throw my remote at the TV watching a lot of stations.

STELTER: Do you? Why?

SCHULTZ: Yes. Look, again, I think that Dan Pfeiffer used to say you've got to separate the signal from the noise, right? And so often we in Washington get consumed with a story of the day, a juicy tidbit that drives coverage for a certain number of hours and then by the next morning it's gone.

STELTER: Give me a good example of that kind of distraction that television and digital media can't resist.

SCHULTZ: I'm going to do the opposite. I'll give you an example of a time where you guys were singularly focused on something and you should have been. When was down. That was one of the hardest times to work in the White House communications office. We couldn't really talk about anything else because you were solely fixated on the Web site not working and you should have been.

STELTER: You think the media coverage helped focus the administration? You got it fixed.

SCHULTZ: Well, it was a huge priority of this president. It was a massive undertaking and we screwed up, so we should be held accountable and we should be held accountable until we fix it.


STELTER: Very interesting to hear them talking about accountability, clearly sending some messages to the next administration.

Up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES a guest who says Obama's administration was the greatest threat to press freedom in a generation. "New York Times" reporter James Risen saying Obama was the worst since Nixon. He's up right after the break.


[11:41:11] STELTER: Welcome back on this Merry Christmas morning. I'm Brian Stelter.

During his tenure, President Obama said all the right things about supporting press freedoms abroad.


OBAMA: We are paying attention to how other governments are operating when it comes to the press.


STELTER: But his record with reporters at home has been controversial, with some saying it's a far cry from the promises he made when first elected.


OBAMA: The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable and the way to make government accountable is to make it transparent.


STELTER: And in some ways his administration did. We've been talking about accountability and transparency all hour here. But the Obama administration also engaged in a war on whistle-blowers, prosecuting far more government officials for leaks to the press than past administrations did.

A few years ago, internal government documents about the administration's insider threat program equated leaks with espionage. Numerous government employees including most famously Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning have either been charged or convicted for leaking information to the press under the Espionage Act.

Journalists have sometimes been caught up in these investigations. Let me show you an example. This is back in 2013. The Justice Department secretly obtained phone records of both Associated Press reporters and editors. The A.P. called this an unconstitutional act.

Now this is how the White House justified the action.


JAY CARNEY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is a strong defender of the First Amendment and a firm believer in the need for the press to be unfettered in its ability to conduct investigative reporting and facilitate a free flow of information. He also, of course, recognizes the need for the Justice Department to investigate alleged criminal activity.


STELTER: With a new administration about to take over, the question becomes did the Obama administration contribute to a criminalization of the press? What are the consequences here?

Now James Risen is here to answer. He's a national security reporter with the "New York Times" who faced the threat of being jailed by the government for his refusal to reveal his sources.

James, thanks for being here.


STELTER: Your seven-year legal fight ended last year. Tell us, when I say the word "criminalization of the press," when I use that phrase, is that an exaggeration? Is that an overstatement of what happened in your case? RISEN: No, I think it's very accurate. I think in my case they tried

to -- you know, they in fact, the government, considered at one point charging me with obstruction of justice. They considered at various points making me a subject of the investigation. They tried to drag me into an espionage investigation.

STELTER: Let me show on screen something you posted on Twitter last year. You said, "I plan to spend the rest of my life fighting to undo the damage to press freedom in the United States done by Barack Obama and Eric Holder."

What other kinds of damage have you seen done in the last eight years?

RISEN: I think this administration has been the most secretive since the Nixon administration. They've been the most anti-press administration since the Nixon administration.

STELTER: In what ways?

RISEN: Well, they have gone after -- they have, as you said, criminalized investigative reporting. They tried to take essentially stories that they don't like and try to find some classified information that might be part of that and then turn it into a leak -- a criminal leak investigation in which they say someone mishandled or disclosed classified information.

As you know, you can do that with virtually any story in Washington.

STELTER: Does it mean much to you or anything to you that Eric Holder, the former attorney general, others have expressed some regret about some of the ways that this administration try to pursue whistle- blowers and in some cases wrap up journalists in that?

[11:45:08] I recall Holder saying one of his greatest regrets was describing FOX News's James Rosen as an unindicted co-conspirator in one of these situations.

RISEN: Yes. After he said that he kept coming after me. And I don't think that there was any serious regret by the administration. I think that they didn't like negative publicity and so whenever people pointed this out in the press and when it became a big issue they would say we're misunderstood. But I don't think eight years of a pattern of behavior is something that's misunderstood.

STELTER: So what does this tell us about the next four to eight years? How could a President Trump build on what we saw during the Obama administration with regards to pursuing leakers and sometimes looking into the journalists publishing those leaks?

RISEN: I think it will be very easy. I think Obama and Holder have left Trump a very, you know, clear path on how to do this. You know, people don't remember that until like the Plame -- the Valerie Plame case in 2004, leaks were basically ignored by the government. So this process that the Obama administration engaged in was really new. It was a sharp break with past tradition in Washington when leaks were largely ignored. Now Obama has -- STELTER: It's interesting, so even about a dozen years ago you're

saying there's been a big change recently?

RISEN: Oh, yes. Yes. I mean, when I first -- I first started covering the CIA in the Clinton administration and the Clinton administration never did these kind of leaks. No one ever did before really the -- after 9/11 and then after the Plame case. And then the Obama administration took what the George W. Bush administration began on leaks and really ratcheted it up and made it a much bigger issue. It turned it into a top priority for federal law enforcement. It should have never been before.

STELTER: Last question for you. How does it change the way you do your job? Do you try to communicate with sources differently? You know, I saw "The New York Times" recently set up an anonymous tip way, to send in tips. Other outlets have encrypted tip boxes where you can send documents. How do you do your job differently?

RISEN: Well, you have to use encryption much more than ever before. You have to learn -- I think the best thing to do, though, is try to meet people in person and try to, you know, go off the grid as much as possible. That's, you know, really the simplest and the easiest thing to do.

STELTER: James, thank you so much for being here this morning.

RISEN: Thank you.

STELTER: And as Risen was just saying there, new administrations often build on what was done before so what's the future of Washington reporting during the Trump administration?

Our all-star panel is back in just a moment.


[11:51:05] STELTER: Welcome back to this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, "Obama and the Media."

Sometimes it was Obama versus the media. But I know some reporters here in Washington are bracing for a much, much more adversarial relationship with the next commander-in-chief. President-elect Trump of course has called the press scum, deeply dishonest and many, many more insults. So let's talk about that with our panel.

Back with me now, David Gregory, former White House correspondent at NBC, now CNN political analyst. April Ryan, White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks, and Ann Compton, former White House correspondent for ABC News.

April, you're going to be in the daily briefings, presuming there are daily briefings in the Trump administration.


STELTER: There's a lot we just don't know about what that relationship is going to be like. Trump and the media.

RYAN: Well, we do know. We've seen it already. What you see, you believe. And he had press conferences where he's chastised the media personally as well as professionally. So I can expect something -- this is my opinion, I expect some of that to happen but you know, it's interesting, I saw him again going back to the Oval Office.

I saw him in the Oval Office with President Obama and he actually pointed me out at the end of the meeting, when all the press was leaving, he said, hi. I said, hello. He said, you're good. I was like, wow. I said, thank you. And I asked him for an interview and he just said nothing. But, you know, I expect that I'm going to be part of the media that will be challenged, that may even be attacked.

There's a concern that our seating, our booths may be moved. But you know, at the end of the day, they need to have the real press, whether they don't like mainstream press, whether they do like mainstream press, we've been there, that historic, the knowledge, the history, the understanding of how it works, we have been there. And if you want to change it, fine. But my big concern is what types of media will be coming into the briefing room and I'm just very concerned about the change of the tide in the press room and of the press in the White House.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We have to remember, these fights have been going on for a long time and I think it's very easy for, you know, the White House Correspondents' Association to sound very stagy, and say, no, no, we should be able to decide what's media and what's not. Every administration, look, you remember, Ann, the Clinton administration came in, they want to bar access to the upper press offices where you have free access as a reporter. That created a huge issue and they backed down. You know --


GREGORY: You know, we're not -- well.


STELTER: But I think there are a different kind of tension with a President-elect Trump.

RYAN: Yes.

STELTER: Who has tried to de-legitimatize the media at every turn.

GREGORY: Well -- yes. Yes, it's different, but I think we have to put in context other presidents who tried to de-legitimatize the media in their own way. And it may -- this may be particularly blunt and crude in the way he does it. And I think that reporters have to fight for access. We can't be in the business of deciding what is --

STELTER: So how does fighting for access work? What does that actually look like? GREGORY: I think you have to advocate. You have to say that having a

press corps that gets access to the president to be able to ask him a question.

RYAN: We want a press conference. We want to see --


GREGORY: Right. Press conferences, to have an editorial presence in meetings.

RYAN: Yes.

GREGORY: To be able to follow the president. I mean, these things are important. And you know, the daily press briefing, look, a lot of times they are boring, a lot of times they don't make news but for White House reporters, some of that banality is what keeps you in an information loop about issues that may not be news.


COMPTON: I think we've got to be careful about judging an administration before it actually takes office because sometimes your worst fears can become real if the administration thinks, well, this is what they expect.

The press has to do a responsible, careful job as we have always done, uncovering not only the policies but the personalities in this presidential administration. And we have to show our viewers and listeners and readers why those -- our presence there is valuable to them.

[11:55:04] So the press has to step up now as well with clear, good, convincing coverage and the pressure will always be on for more access but we have to do it in a responsible way.

GREGORY: And we have to recognize that we've got our own issue, right? And we've got credibility problems. So we can't just assert in all of our self-righteous zeal that we are the press corps, you might kowtow us in all of these ways because we are entitled. We've got to earn that respect to the American public and that has frayed over the years, whether it's the kind of coverage that the campaigns get, the kind of coverage that White Houses get, this is going to be a back and forth and we want people to watch or to read or to listen to what we're doing.

You know, we have to cover this administration fairly and honorably and be tough as well and protect the issue of access, protect press freedom and keep advocating.

STELTER: A great news story is about to be told by the Trump administration. But looking back in the last eight years, thank you very much, Ann, April, David, thank you for being here.

Now we're back with more RELIABLE SOURCES in just a moment.


STELTER: And that's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. Thanks for joining us today.

And coming up next week, an exciting program, looking ahead to 2017 and we're assembling an all-star panel of top editors and media decision-makers to look ahead at what the year in the news business may bring.

For now log on to Sign up for our nightly newsletter. You can also find more of my interviews with Obama's press aides. So we'll see you online and back here next week.