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Will 2017 Be a Reboot for the News Media?; Top Editors Talk About the Trump Challenge; Challenges in Covering a New World Order. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired January 1, 2017 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:02] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, happy New Year to you and your family. Thanks for tuning in. 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.

Welcome to our viewers here in the U.S. and all around the world on CNN International.

This hour, new hopes that this will be the year Austin Tice will be reunited with his family. The American journalist has been missing for more than four years, but American officials now say they believe he is alive in Syria. His parents will join me for an interview coming up.

Plus, the connections between American politics and the story of populism across the Atlantic. Hear from top reporter in London who says she was humbled by 2016.

And now, in 2017, what's the right approach to coverage of the incoming Trump administration? We will get into that.

But first, today calls for some New Year's resolutions. After a profitable but polarizing and bruising year of campaign coverage, we all know that reporters sometimes have blind spots and after the election in November, those blind spots were very visible.

So, let's look ahead now. Maybe be optimistic and see how 2017 can be a reboot with three of the top editors in the United States.

Joining me here in New York, Kathleen Carroll, the outgoing executive editor of "The Associated Press", Michael Oreskes is the head of news for NPR, and Carolyn Ryan, the senior editor for politics running Trump coverage of "The New York Times."

Kathleen, first, congratulations are in order. This is your first day as the former executive editor of the "A.P." How do you feel?


STELTER: Good. So you can be completely honest with us now. I'm going to start with you. The biggest media screw-ups of the past year?

CARROLL: Well, I think probably there was a lot of hubris more in the discussion of what happened after Trump was elected than in the coverage beforehand. I know there was a lot of discussion about, well, the media missed this story and the media missed that story. And I actually don't think that's true. I think anybody who wanted to could find great coverage of both candidates and of the issues that were roiling people in the United States and middle of the country.

But I think afterwards, there was this idea that the media should have predicted what was going to happen and that's not our job, and I think the media discussion around what we should have done is just wrong- headed.

CAROLYN RYAN, SENIOR EDITOR FOR POLITICS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think one thing that that raises for me is we had all kinds of content. The content was voluminous, the voices from people out in battleground states, the stories about the candidates, the op-ed.

But I think right now, because we have such an arsenal of social media strategies and alerts and notifications and how do we present things, I sometimes feel like we're not elevating the voices of regular people and it feels like that's a lesson not only do we have to listen and report, but we have to make sure that the blockbuster stories don't kind of drown out what's happening on the ground.

STELTER: Interesting.

MICHAEL ORESKES, HEAD OF NEWS, NPR: I agree with this and I would sum it up this way. The media mistake of 2016 was not the failure to predict the outcome of the election. It was to even leave the impression that we might be trying, that the idea that that's even a shred of our job was a big mistake. And we really have got to learn that lesson once and for all.

STELTER: Media relying too heavily on polls?

ORESKES: I mean -- I mean reflecting polls as if they have some real bearing on what you needed to know as a citizen. That a campaign, an election, especially a presidential election, is a conversation the country is having with itself and our job is to get out in the country and understand that conversation from every possible angle and to share that with all of our viewers and listeners and readers. And that's what we should be doing.

I actually do think, as Kathleen said, I think a lot of that did go on this year. You know, David Greene, who's the host of "Morning Edition" on NPR, he had a conversation at one point during the election year with four voters in Florida, two Trump supporters, two Clinton supporters. And they argued furiously and strenuously with each other. They really were a little microcosm of the whole campaign year.

And at end of the conversation, which was heard by millions of listeners all over America, they got up from the studio table and they hugged each other. That's the power of listening to conversations, and we need to do a lot more of that and do it a lot better.

CARROLL: I agree with Mike a lot about the listening part. And there's too much reporting going on now, and too many organizations, maybe not the three represented here, but in too many others that involved quoting people's Facebook feeds or their Twitter feeds, are e-mailing an interview and that's just lazy.

STELTER: We also need to distinguish between real reporting, real listening, and opinion or commentaries, stories that might look like news but are really just opinion.

Let's talk about the toughest decisions you all had to make in the past year, what that means for 2017.

Kathleen, you first. Any tough call you had to make in the final year as editor of "The A.P."?

CARROLL: The hardest calls always have to do with deploying people in dangerous places.

[11:05:01] And this year, it was harder not to send people to terrible places we knew terrible things were happening because we couldn't get there safely.

STELTER: Places like Syria?

CARROLL: Places like Syria. You know, we were only in Aleppo once. And that's not how we want to cover a story like that. Now, we were able to talk to a lot of people in Aleppo that we've known for a long time and have credible relationships. But there's nothing like being there and talking in person and --

STELTER: Another form of listening --

CARROLL: Another form of listening and --

STELTER: Let's look the (INAUDIBLE) journalist data real quick. For the fifth year in a row, Syria, the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, 48 journalists killed all around the world according to CPJ, 259 imprisoned, many of them in Turkey and other countries.

Michael, this was personal for you at NPR. In 2016, two of your journalists killed in Afghanistan.

ORESKES: Yes. There is nothing harder about the decision whether to send somebody into harm's way and we lost two fine journalists in Afghanistan. And they wanted to be there because they had a story to tell about what was happening in that war, just as there are journalists all over the world who want to be doing their jobs.

A terrific "A.P." photographer just the other day standing in harm's way in Ankara, Turkey, taking photos of the ambassador of Russia being assassinated. And at the end he says, well, that's my job.

And part of our job is to slow them down, is actually to hold them back sometimes not because we're mean to them but because we're not willing to sacrifice their lives, and sometimes there is -- it does happen. But that isn't the trade we should be making, and the tragedy here is not just the danger to the journalists. The tragedy is the things we don't know --


ORESKES: -- about these terrible situations. I think there's a lot we don't know about the war in Syria and the main reason is, it's virtually impossible to cover it.

And by the way, that's not just a casualty of war. That's a strategy. Journalists -- and I think it's a strategy on both sides in Syria, that journalists have been targeted and kidnapped and killed to keep them from being journalists, to keep us from understanding what is happening in these wars.

STELTER: And we'll have more on that later this hour.

I wonder about domestically tough decisions that editors and newsrooms have to make. It makes a lot of sense where you're saying, Kathleen and Michael, that the toughest overall call is about deploying reporters into harm's way. What about, Carolyn, covering politics day to day, looking ahead to the Trump administration day to day, what are the tough calls that you have to make with regard to reporters?

RYAN: This was perhaps the most inflamed, passionate, kind of intense partisan election we've covered in a very long time. So, every decision becomes elevated and kind of freighted with that. I still remember one of the things that we wrestled with was Trump's lack of truth and basic, regular communications and it reached ahead the day that it came out, as you'll recall, to talk about birtherism, not only to disavow it but to blame Hillary Clinton for starting the birther conspiracy about President Obama.

And I went to talk to Dean Baquet and --

STELTER: He's the top editor of the paper.

RYAN: We wanted to call him out as a liar and wanted to do it on the front page and be very blunt about that. And ordinarily, that's a conversation that might take place over many hours. We made it within 40 minutes and it was jarring to a lot of our readers, but that's what we ended up doing in a very straight ahead and pointed way, and it was upsetting to some people.

But those were the kind of decisions that the extraordinary campaign forced us to make really on the fly.

STELTER: No doubt. Donald Trump stated more falsehoods than Hillary Clinton on the campaign. He's continued to say things that aren't true on Twitter in December.

But, Michael, where do you come on this, about using the word "lie"? About calling it out in such explicit ways?

ORESKES: Well, as you know, I wouldn't have and we did not use that word, but it's important to talk about why we decided that wasn't the thing to do. Everybody has to edit their own publications. So, I don't edit anybody else. I have enough trouble with the decisions we have to make at NPR.

But I think the most important thing for us to do, and I think it's more important now than before the election, is to make sure that the fact-based journalism, that journalism based on reporting reaches people. And the problem is, whenever we get into these judgments, these characterizations, we use them as introductions to the story, we push people away from them. And that's an unfortunate truth. I actually wish it wasn't true.

But there's a reason why tone matters so much. There's a reason, in fact, why "The New York Times" has been so scrupulous about its tone for so many years.

STELTER: Are you saying the audience just can't handle the truth?

ORESKES: No, I'm not actually saying that. What I'm saying is that those people who have a point of view are pushed away by anything that challenges their point of view. So, you have to challenge them with fact.

CARROLL: Well, I think there's so much noise out there and people are casting around trying to find a place where they can find information that they find trustworthy. They may choose an organization or a side or group of people who may or may not be trustworthy.

[11:10:04] And those of us who represented trusted brands and fact- based brands have to be able to get in front of audiences who may not have trust in the institution of media or institutions in general. A lot of this election was about mistrust of institutions in general and we're part of that and we have to open up some news to have conversations with people like that for us to continue to be relevant. Otherwise, we're just shouting at them and saying, this is fact, it's fact. But it's still --

ORESKES: This is our most important job.

CARROLL: It is. Exactly right.

ORESKES: Re-establishing relationship with the country at large. We all have followings. We have all groups of people who, you know, follow our publications or our stations, but we do not have the widespread trust of the public right now, and we need to rebuild it.

RYAN: Part of that I think is listening to them, listening to our readers or viewers and part of it is being better about telling our own story, telling what we do, showing our work and explaining in the face of all of this criticism and the swipes from Trump, what it is that journalism does.

STELTER: On that note, a quick pause here for a commercial break. When we come back with the panel, we're going to look at the president-elect's campaign promise. Our video editor stitched together all of them. It's remarkable to see. So, how will journalists hold him accountable in 2017?

We'll be right back.


STELTER: And welcome back to this special New Year's resolution edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

Donald Trump's anti-media campaign is likely to continue after he's sworn in on January 20th. So, there's a lot of chatter in newsrooms about how best to cover this particular president, how to hold him accountable for these promises.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: We're going to bring our jobs back to our country.

We have to rebuild our infrastructure.

We're going to get great trade deals because we're going to use the smartest people.

By the way, we're getting rid of Common Core.

We have to repeal and replace Obamacare. We have to do it.

We're going to get rid of ISIS. We're going to get rid of them fast.

Total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.

We will build a wall.

Mexico is going to pay for it and they'll be happy to pay for it.

And we're going to do it with heart and we're going to get along with people, and everything is going to be great.

And we are going to make our country great again.


STELTER: And back with me now, an all-star panel. Carolyn Ryan, who heads up politics coverage for "The New York Times", Michael Oreskes is the head of news for NPR, and Kathleen Carroll, the former executive editor of "The Associated Press."

[11:15:03] Carolyn, when we hear those campaign promises, are we supposed to take Trump literally or not? Because that was a debate last year, whether we take him literally or just seriously with his words.

RYAN: Well, I think those are fairly specific promises. If you're talking about getting rid of Common Core, we'll have a team of education reporters all over him aggressively scrutinizing. But one thing that your list sort of left out that I think is going to be just as important in the coming year, which is he's not an ordinary president in that he is also the head of a global business.

And one thing you're seeing now in places like "The New York Times" is the creation of teams just to look at the tentacles of his business, the potential conflicts of interest, the contacts with foreign governments, or foreign officials, or foreign citizens who are looking for something, and that's going to be a whole, rich and potentially problematic line of reporting. So, it feels like you've got to do both. You've got to go governing but you can't take your eye off the business.

STELTER: Interesting. Michael, do you need more reporters, because there are so many different strands with this new president?

ORESKES: It is keeping us busy and we have, in fact, devoted more journalists, both to the close-up covering of the White House and Capitol Hill, which will be a very important place in this new government and to pursing both substantive issues and these conflicts of interest.

But there's one thing I think that is important to clarify here. It is absolutely our job to describe what the president does and how that marries up to what he said he would do. No question about that. But it's the public's job to decide whether that's living up to his presidency.

We can take him literally and judge whether he's actually fulfilled a campaign promise, but it's not our job to decide how the public should judge that. That's the public's job.

STELTER: So, here's what I wonder, Carolyn, so, we've got a president-elect who tweets about "The New York Times" from time to time saying that the president is failing, saying the paper is biased. The paper has its share of business problems and challenges, but I don't think it's failing.

How do you handle this? How do you try to cover this person fairly when he's railing against your news organization?

RYAN: Well, it's not failing. In fact, it's thriving. And one thing that has been concerning to me as a political editor is not so much Trump directly, because he has called out our reporters, but what happens when his followers get impassioned about attacking a reporter --

STELTER: When you say hate mail and harassment to your reporters.

RYAN: Yes, those reporters, you know, are tough, you know, thick- skinned people but we have to keep covering him, you know, with scrupulous kind of neutrality about what has happened to us personally.

STELTER: I would say, be fair but do not be intimidated.

RYAN: Do not be intimidated. Do not shrink from the difficult questions, from the difficult stories. And basically, Trump, even as he sort of attacks "New York Times" regulatory, attacks our reporters, he also is quite fixated on "The New York Times" and does seem to read it, and absorb it and whether it has an influence on him, I'm not sure. But it's not an entire hostility that we're getting from Donald Trump. It's also this kind of complicated fixation.

STELTER: That's a love/hate relation.

ORESKES: I'd also make a specific point to the president-elect, who I understand watches.

STELTER: He's probably watching now.

ORESKES: There's a big difference between taking on journalism as a profession or even a big institution like "The New York Times" and coming after young journalists.

You know, we have a young journalist named Asma Halad (ph) who covered a lot of this campaign. She's a Muslim. And she suffered a great deal of abuse this past year and she showed an extraordinary level of courage, out in the public. And she learned a lot from Trump supporters because once she started to talk to them, they understood each other.

And I think the president-elect has a responsibility as leader of the country to separate the kind of personal attacks on individual journalists from, you know, the fair game conversation about whether journalism is doing the job they are supposed to be doing, whether we are faired, whether we're biased.

I have no problem with that conversation, happy to have it with him personally.


ORESKES: But he should not be calling out individual journalists and helping to lead an attack on them as individuals. That's not right.

STELTER: Kathleen, do you expect an anti-media attack strategy to continue, even though he's watching or reading, continuing to criticize individuals and institutions?

CARROLL: Sure, that sort of thing works for him and it's worked for other presidents and it's worked not quite like this. He's taken it to a new level as he has so many different things in this campaign.

But, you know, running against the media is out of, you know, page 47 of the politician's handbook.

STELTER: It's a time honored tradition.

CARROLL: Exactly, and they can call us names and we can take it. And I do think the point that Carolyn and Mike and others have made about specific individual attacks is important and it's important not just because these are journalists that we don't think are deserving of the hate mail.

[11:20:01] It's important because if it's okay to do this as journalists, is it okay for a teacher who stands up and says something you don't like, for a mayor who is doing something you don't like, for members of congress, other staffs or an ordinary citizen who says something you don't like? You are the president of all the people and not all of them are going to love them every day and that's a fact of life and you have to take a couple of punches without punching back quite so hard when you have the biggest job on the planet.

ORESKES: By the way, I will grant one exception. As we all know, Harry Truman threatened to punch a music critic for the review that he gave to Harry Truman's daughter, if someone says something nasty about Tiffany or even Ivanka, he should go out and do what he needs to do.

STELTER: All right. One minute I have left. Beyond politics, what else will you be watching for in the media world? I'm watching to see the future of FOX News post-Roger Ailes, I'm watching to see what the administration does with CNN world, AT&T/Time Warner merger this year, it's under regulatory scrutiny.

What will you be watching, Carolyn, in the media world?

RYAN: I mean, my eyes right now are on Facebook, and Facebook's relationship with publishers and the relationship with its readers and the whole question of fake news and to what degree does Facebook shift its identity beyond just a platform to recognizing its role in the media ecosystem and it feels like a very kind of difficult dance for them and that's where I think we'll see a lot of those tensions play out.

STELTER: Kathleen, Michael, Carolyn, stick around. Think about your New Year's resolutions.

After a quick break here on RELIABLE SOURCES, a reporter says she's covering an anti-factual, anti-intellectual, anti-science movement all around the world. Sounds challenging? Well, yes, it is.

A blunt conversation with CNN's Clarissa Ward, next.


[11:25:12] STELTER: Welcome back to this New Year's edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

Now for a look at the 2017 international news agenda, the rise of Trump is being replicated in other countries. This wave of populism is sweeping across Europe as well, leaving many journalists on both sides of the Atlantic, well, stunned in its wake.

Looking back at 2016, CNN's Clarissa Ward says never has there been a more humbling war for a reporter. Ward is CNN's senior international correspondent on the frontlines of these global changes and she joins me now.

Clarissa, 2016, a humbling year. Always good to have humility on this job. So, how will that inform how you do your job in 2017?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the first thing that we have to realize going forward in 2017, the big lesson for me, I guess, was that we have to listen, I have to listen and spend more time paying attention and talking and hearing what people have to say because I think a lot of reporters understandably in a sense did not really realize how deep the shift was. It's almost tectonic shift taking place right beneath our feet, it felt like we were the last people to realize it.

And, of course, I'm talking about this not from the perch of covering the U.S. election, which I did not. I'm talking about covering it from overseas.


WARD: I remember the day before the Brits voted to leave the European Union, the day of the referendum, I was on a train from Brussels to London, talking to a man from Texas who was traveling around Europe with his family. And all he wanted to talk about was Brexit and this vote and he was fired up about it, and he wanted to talk about sovereignty.

And I couldn't fathom why this American was so interested in what I saw as a largely domestic issue that I assumed would probably not have such huge international ripples and now I realize that was the moment where we saw this change, where the change I saw it for the first time. It's much deeper than that. It had already been happening.

And so, the lesson I take from it -- well, one among many lessons -- is that even when we don't agree with all of the views being expressed, even if we find some of the views offensive, we're there to listen. That's a big part of our duty -- is to listen, to give a voice to people. That doesn't mean we won't be challenging. I have a feeling there will be a lot of challenging in 2017, too, but we also need to really listen to people and get out of the echo chamber.

STELTER: And these biggest of stories, this tectonic shifts, they're sometimes the hardest to cover. You wrote for your year-end piece on that these populists in countries like England and an Italy used unusually blunt language, you wrote and set out complex issues and simply terms.

You said, "It is not an ideology that can be challenged with facts or tempered with reason. It is emphatically anti-factual, anti- intellectual, anti-science."

Now, this is all uniquely challenging to cover as a reporter, isn't it?

WARD: It really is. And I think for two main reasons. Firstly, there's a deep antipathy mainstream media at the moment, and it's stronger than I have ever felt to be before. And a lot of people view us as part of the problem and that makes it very difficult when you're going to someone in good faith to have a conversation and you're finding that there's all this hostility being directed towards you. That then makes you defensive.

I mean on Twitter now, I can't even tell you the barrage of abuse I get every time I appear on television. So, that's part of the problem.

The second part of the problem is, especially for someone like me, I've devoted the last 14 years of my life, Brian, to traveling the world, to trying to understand geopolitical issues, to trying to understand Islam and terrorism, and sometimes I find myself, you know, trying to engage with narratives that simply don't seem to be based in fact as far as I'm concerned. They are in a much more guttural, emotional response to larger forces in the world.

So, it's difficult to come back and say, let's take a more nuanced approach when a lot of people just don't want to hear that right now.

STELTER: Right. There's almost nothing more powerful than fear. It sounds like the conversation in the U.S. about a post-truth era is the same conversation you're hearing elsewhere in the world. I'm interested to hear you say you hear anti-media rhetoric coming from people because we've heard so much of that from Donald Trump in America, but you're saying it's being echoed in other democratic countries.

WARD: It's being echoed across the whole of the west. It really is extraordinary, both in the U.K., but we've seen it spread across Europe. I think that Britain was sort of the canary in the coal mine, if you will, with the Brexit vote. That was the first moment that we really understood that this was large, deep-seated, tectonic shift as I said before and now, we've seen it spreading further and further across the entire West.

So, it is difficult as a journalist to be confronted with a lot of that hostility that I talked about, a lot of these fake news that we have seen proliferating online, claiming that --

XXX further across the entire West.

WARD: So it is difficult as a journalist to be confronted with a lot of that hostility that I talked about, a lot of this fake news that we have seen proliferating online, claiming that everything we say is lies, that it's all garbage, that the media has some kind of an agenda, that we work for the CIA, that we love terrorists.

I mean, at a certain point, one loses track of all of these, sort of, allegations and accusations being leveled our way. I don't think you can win over everybody at the end of the day. You just have to, sort of, keep your head down, try to do your job, try to pick up as much information as you can -- and you do. As I said before, you have to listen; you have to approach things from its flip side as well. You have to try to understand these larger, deeper movements that are taking place.

STELTER: And you were in Moscow back in December. And, of course, Russia is going to be a very interesting story, Moscow an important dateline now. The American media spotlight's going to be on Moscow, even more than it had been before. Tell us, is it especially hard to cover the Kremlin as an international reporter?

WARD: You know, it has become very hard, Brian. I mean, it's always been difficult. I've lived in Moscow twice now. It's always been difficult in that the Kremlin does not give a lot of access to any journalists, let alone Western journalists. So it's always been somewhat challenging. But the narrative that I was talking about, the hostility to Western journalists, nowhere is it stronger than it is in Russia.

And I can't even tell you some of the most horrific things that I have read and seen on the Internet, some of them being spread by the head of Russia Today, which is owned by the Kremlin, you know, accusing me personally of justifying the killing of the Russian ambassador to Turkey back in December, all sorts of accusations, a lot of it very intense, making it much more difficult to do our jobs.

I do think, in 2017, Russia is going to be huge story. It's a country I love; It's a country I know well. And I just hope that it won't continue to get more difficult to work there as a Western journalist without the fear, really, of this constant barrage of hostility and even threats, Brian.

STELTER: Verbal hostility, sometimes also physical dangers. Clarissa, thank you very much for being here.

We had talked earlier about physical dangers for journalists in countries like Syria. Up next, back to Syria and the only American journalist still missing in that country. Austin Tice has been missing for more than four years. Will this be the year for good news for his family? We'll speak with his parents right after the break.


STELTER: Welcome back to "Reliable Sources." I'm Brian Stelter. New Year's Day, of course, a time for hope, hope and dreams for good news in the next 12 months. But it's also a reminder of how much time has passed by, which brings me to Austin Tice. He is an American journalist who went missing in Syria in August 2012, more than four years ago. According to Reporters Without Borders, he is the only U.S. journalist who is still being held in that war-torn country.

So will this be the year he comes home?

There have been some encouraging new developments recently. President Obama's special envoy for hostage affairs says the government has high confidence that Tice is still alive.

So joining me now are Austin Tice's parents, Marc and Debra. They're in Houston today.

Thank you both for being here.

D. TICE: Thank you, Brian, for having us.

M. TICE: Yeah, thank you, Brian.

STELTER: You all have remained optimistic throughout this ordeal. Tell me where you find that optimism and what -- what you believe is his current status? D. TICE: Well, the optimism comes from we've had credible report ever since Austin was taken that he is alive. And so we've hung on to those messages without doubt, without any doubt. And -- what was the second part of your question?

STELTER: What I wonder is do we have any sense of what his condition is, where he's being held?

What has scared me most, as someone who reads about his case, is that we don't know who took him, what happened that day he disappeared.

M. TICE: Yeah, well, absolutely, and that's -- that's the most frustrating thing for us, is that his captors have not reached out to us. You know, we don't have any way of, you know, completing this solution to bring him home because only -- only half of the equation is working here. And that half is, you know, the efforts that we've done, the efforts of the United States government and all those people and organizations that have been supporting us. But it was extremely comforting and...

D. TICE: Uplifting.

M. TICE: ... uplifting to hear, and for the office of the special presidential envoy and the United States government to say that their assessment is he's alive. We have every reason to believe he's reasonably well. And so, you know, we continue to, you know, press that there's every reason to do everything possible, keep doing everything possible to bring him home.

STELTER: I know there were times in the first two years since he went missing that you felt the U.S. government was not responsive enough. Now the State Department says this case has the attention of the highest levels of the U.S. government. Are you feeling that today?

And what are your expectations as the Obama administration takes -- transitions and the Trump administration takes over?

D. TICE: Well, since the presidential directive establishing the hostage recovery fusion cell and the position of special presidential envoy for hostages, our relationship with our government has changed so amazingly. It's improved so much, communication within the government, communication between the government and us.

And, you know, as Americans, we're very fortunate that one of the foundational tenants of our government is the peaceful transfer of power. And so we -- we do believe that the current administration has been all in for Austin, doing all they can to bring him home. And they've assured us that they are going to make sure that the incoming administration also has this as a very high priority. And so this period of transition, we really see, as a time of almost doubling the strength on our team as we work to get Austin home.

And so what we really need is for the other team to come to the field and -- so that we can find a solution and come to an agreement about how we're going to bring Austin safely home.

STELTER: And what do you all do day to day? What are your coping strategies?

I mean, yes, this is about press freedom; it's about the rights and responsibilities of journalists to be able to report from all around the world. And that's what he was trying to do in Syria, tell the story of the Syrian people. But this is also about your child just vanishing.

D. TICE: Well, for me, it's about a really deep foundational belief that there is a higher power that has a purpose for every life on earth and believing that Austin is on his path and knowing that he's really in God's hands. Also, we have six other children and they definitely fill our hearts with a tremendous amount of joy.

STELTER: Are there times, Marc, where you ever wish Austin had chosen some other easier line of work?

Are there times where you -- where you have that kind of discomfort?

M. RICE: You know, honestly, I can say "no" to that. And as -- as Debra and I have talked about many times, and especially Debra encouraged our children and we always have told them to find your passion and pursue it. And if that's what you're doing, then you're on the right path. Well, Austin chose a path that not many people have. And it's impossible for us, as his parents and people that believe in him, to tell him, no, you're on the wrong path; no, you're making a bad decision. I think he's doing what, in his heart and soul, he wanted to do and needed to do. And so how can you have regrets about that?

D. TICE: Right.

STELTER: I admire that so much.

Marc, Debra, thank you very much for talking with me on this New Year's Day, for looking ahead to 2017.

You know, when Donald Trump rides by the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in a couple of weeks, he's going to see a big banner about Austin. That's one very visible sign of this case. I hope he sees it and I hope the new administration continues what you are describing, the responsiveness you've seen in the last couple of years.

M. TICE: Thank you. Thank you...

D. TICE: Thank you. And, you know, Brian, we really do hope that this new year brings a renewed hope for an end to conflict and a beginning of healing all over the world and especially in the Middle East.

M. TICE: And we want to be sure and thank everyone, every organization, every individual that's been, you know, faithfully and tirelessly supporting us and wish all of them the very best in this coming year.

STELTER: Thank you very much. We'll stay in touch.

M. TICE: Thank you. D. TICE: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: When we come back here on "Reliable Sources," talking about the Trump administration, the challenges that lie ahead for journalists here at home covering the incoming administration. John Avlon coming up, right after the break.


STELTER: Welcome back to this New Year's edition of "Reliable Sources." I'm Brian Stelter.

The challenges of 2016 are now 2017's opportunities. And my next guest says this is our "Murrow moment." So let's find out what he means by that.

Joining me here in New York, John Avlon, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast, also a CNN political analyst and the author of the new book, "Washington's Farewell," out next week.

John, great to see you.

AVLON: Good to see you, Brian.

STELTER: You wrote in your latest column that the Trump administration, that covering Trump promises to be a "civic stress test."


STELTER: What do you mean by that?

AVLON: Look, I think the next four years are going to be challenging. There are going to be attacks; there are going to be insults, perhaps a constitutional crisis or two. But the character of the nation didn't change on Election Day. And I think the job of a journalist is more important than ever before.

And when we look back on all the fights and struggles and contentious times we'll have covering this new president, wishing him well, hoping for the best, preparing for the worst, I think we'll look back on it as the best time to be a journalist, not because it was easy but because it was hard and because our mission was clear. We need to honor the office of president and hold the person in the office accountable.

STELTER: You're saying to -- and I've actually heard this; I was at a conference in early December where there were some journalists saying privately, "I'm not sure that I want to be doing this anymore. I'm not sure I want to put up with the hate mail, put up with all the -- the sarcasm, put up with all the ridicule, including from the president- elect."


STELTER: You're saying, no, actually, now is the right time; now is the best time?

AVLON: That's exactly right. And, look, I understand. It's rational to feel exhaustion after the election we just went through. But we don't have that luxury. We need to, instead of feeling that, we need to feel invigorated by the opportunity and, frankly, the obligation we have going forward.

Because, remember, the Constitution doesn't mention political parties. It does mention journalists. We have a role in keeping our society moving forward and not being dragged off in one direction or another. And this is a test of that opportunity and responsibility right now. And it will be tough. It will be tiring. But we should feel invigorated by the opportunity.

STELTER: You reference a "Murrow moment." So much is recalled about Edward R. Murrow, about him standing up to Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. This is something that now gets referenced as a "Murrow moment" on television. What do you mean by that in the Digital Age?

AVLON: Well, look, I think -- remember, all parallels aside, you know, we take comfort from history because it offers a sense of perspective. And perspective is certainly the thing we have least of in our politics today.


But, you know, I think what the Murrow moment means for us is, first of all, there was a time when there was a very powerful populist conservative demagogue in the highest seats of government, and a lot of people were being cowed into silence -- intimidating critics into submission, attacking people directly, questioning their patriotism, questioning their loyalty. And a lot of folks wanted to just keep their head down and hope that it went away.

And Ed Murrow, iconically, captured in "Good Night and Good Luck," but I think talismanically for journalists, stood up and, on his show "See It Now," held -- held McCarthy to account and used his own words, let his own facts be his own ultimate indictment.

And it was difficult. And it was unpopular. It took courage. But it helped turn the tide. And I think the key quotes from that speech that are worth remembering, for all of us, that Murrow gave in 1954, was, first of all, "Dissent is not disloyalty." That's something for us all to remember, but also that "We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason."

And given the focus of fake news that you've focused on for much of this campaign, the dangers of that, that come directly out of, I think, the hyper-partisanship we've seen in news that has devalued trust in media in general. That's an important message for us to send. And we're going to have to do it by leading by example. It's not that we won't make mistakes. We're all flawed human beings trying to do the best we can. But standing up and holding power to account -- that sends forward ripples of hope that are going to be important, in fact essential, to get through the next four years more civically strong than we began. STELTER: You mention fake news. Everybody is talking about fake news.

Let's take a look at that.

AVLON: Yeah.



(UNKNOWN): Fake news.



BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Completely phony story.

(UNKNOWN): We're doing great here on the real news show. But what do you think about the...



STELTER: That was Geraldo at the end there.

AVLON: That was the joke, right?

STELTER: I wanted to show that because "fake news" -- the term has been exploited; it's been misused; it's been everywhere. It's turned into something more than just the original definition, which was stories that are written by people who are designing, trying to trick readers.

AVLON: Right.

STELTER: This is on Facebook, mostly from scam artists and profiteers trying to trick people with hoax stories. Well, now, fake news is whatever you disagree with. It's been exploited; it's been redefined.

AVLON: That's hugely dangerous. Because I think, to point out, the key criteria is "designed to deceive." And what -- how we got here? Frankly, it did bridge from partisan news, which, all of a sudden, gave people the ability to self-segregate themselves into separate political realities. But what fake news did as it snuck in this fall and had an impact on our election, it did something truly insidious. It took our diet of confirmation bias and it accelerated with clickbait. And that poisoned our political conversation with what is frankly propaganda.

STELTER: You're saying you want to believe it because it reaffirms your biases, and you can't resist clicking on it because it's so interesting...

AVLON: It's so salacious that, you know, Hillary Clinton might have, you know, committed some nefarious act you hadn't heard of before. But the problem is, obviously, that starts to get in the water, and that's what we're dealing with right now.

And the push-back right now, Brian, that you pointed to is particularly insidious, people saying, "You know what? Let's expand that definition to anything we disagree with." So therefore we can't possibly say what's true and what's false because everything comes with a different perspective and -- and bias and spin. That's incredibly dangerous.

Our job ultimately, at a core, is to separate fact from fiction. You know, and the second people start to try to push back in blurring those distinctions by saying, "You know, what Stephen Colbert joked about in 2004..."

STELTER: Truthiness?

AVLON: Right, you know, that, you know, facts are so elitist; they're always telling you what did and didn't happen. That's being taken seriously now.


That approach, which is devaluing the idea of truth, the idea of facts, that's something sinister that we need to push back on, and we do it as journalists by insisting on a fact-based debate. And we do it without apology.

STELTER: John, thanks for laying this out with us.

AVLON: Thank you.

STELTER: Good to see you.

AVLON: Good to see you.

STELTER: Read the full column on The Daily Beast,

And coming up next here, we're bringing back our A-list panel, top editors at NPR, the New York Times and the A.P., for their new year's resolutions.


STELTER: Before we go, let's bring our panel of top editors back, talking about what you're talking about at home today, new year's resolutions.

Carolyn Ryan of the New York Times is with me; Michael Oreskes of NPR and Kathleen Carroll, who, until yesterday, was the top editor at the Associated Press.

So, Kathleen, you have some time off now. Let's start with you.


What are your new year's resolutions? CARROLL: Well, in terms of journalism, I hope to spend some time with

sights and publications and news organizations that I haven't been able to spend as much time consuming, to learn a little bit more about how other people are dealing with the issues that we've discussed here, audience engagement, whether they're are enough conversations going back and forth, and how they are dealing with the rises of populism and the great societal shifts that are taking place in so many places in the world.

And personally, I hope to sleep more and have some more red wine.


STELTER: In just a couple minutes, we can get to that.


Michael, how about you?

ORESKES: Can I come back for the wine?


STELTER: You bet, absolutely.

ORESKES: So I am determined and committed, and so are many of my colleagues in public media, to devote a lot of time this year to rebuilding local journalism. You know, there's a lot of great local journalism in this country, but there are also places in this country that the University of North Carolina has described as "news deserts."

STELTER: It's been gutted.

ORESKES: Places where, really, there is no local journalism. And that is a terribly scary thing, because that's where democracy lives. Democracy isn't just this thing we've been talking about, presidential election. It's every community in the country. And there are communities in this country where nobody is watching the city council, where nobody is watching the school board, where barely anyone is watching the state legislature.

STELTER: How do you do it, Michael?

I mean, I think our readers -- our viewers are now -- experience this. They feel their local paper; they feel it's thinner than ever.

ORESKES: Right, well, first of all, we, of course, have a local member in virtually every community in this country. And we're going to work with them and they are going to work with others in their communities to try to strengthen local journalism. In some cases, that could be public reporters working directly in public radio. It could be other not-for-profit organizations working with us. We're going to look for different formulas in different places. We'll be -- we'll work with the newspaper in a community if that's the right way to do it. And we've also announced already that we at NPR are going to work with every public radio station in the country to try to improve coverage of the state legislature in the statehouse. So those are steps, concrete steps we're going to try to take. We can can't do it alone. I don't think any news organization, by itself, can do this. A lot of damage has been done, but we can start to rebuild.

STELTER: And, Carolyn, what about you?

RYAN: Just one footnote on the local journalism front. I do want to call out -- I don't know if you saw the West Virginia series on opioids. And that was a terrific commitment by the...


STELTER: Yeah, toward the end of December, looking at the pills that are pouring into that state.

RYAN: Yes, and just looking at a local problem with depth, investigative muscle.

In terms of new year's resolutions for 2017, we've outlined what we want to do in terms of coverage. I do think, for us, the keys are listening, engaging with readers, wherever they are, in more conversation. And it feels like those are going to be the guiding principles for 2017 for us, not just as we look at the Trump administration but as we look at what's going on in the country.

STELTER: My resolution: new voices, more voices, which gets to what we were talking about all hour, here. And so I appreciate the three of you starting the year off with me. Thank you very much, Kathleen, Michael, Carolyn.

We're out of time here on TV, but our media coverage keeps going all the time online. Sign up for our nightly media newsletter at And I'll see you right back here next week.