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Highs and Lows for Journalism in 2017; Biggest Questions for Mueller Probe in 2018. Aired 11-12p ET

Aired December 31, 2017 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:12] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. Happy New Year's Eve, and welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES. This is our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how the media really works and how the news gets made.

It's the final day of the year and what year it's been for the news industry. We're taking a look back at screw-ups and successes of the year, but also looking at the sexual misconduct tipping point and where it's going from here.

And as media allies continue to malign Robert Mueller's probe, Jeffrey Toobin is standing by to help us connect the dots in the Russia investigation.

But, first, lessons from an unforgettable 2017. We've seen journalism at its very best this year, with papers and networks producing incredible investigative reporting, but we've also seen journalism at its worst with embarrassing mistakes and errors that undermine trust.

The shifts in the media landscape really have been seismic, from media company consolidation, to a cultural reckoning that has caused newsrooms to clean house. On the business front, we've seen exciting new startups promising to improve the news business, but we've also seen very tough times for digital media darlings like "BuzzFeed" and Vice. The digital duopoly of Facebook and Google is soaking up so much ad revenue that they're squeezing publishers. We've seen layoffs and cutbacks and contractions both in digital and print due to add business model problems.

But at the same time, subscriptions are on the rise at big papers, at "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post". People are hungry to understand what's happening in the world, especially in D.C.

You don't need me to remind you that President Trump's media attacks went on all year long calling real news fake and fake news real. But think about all the turnover we witnessed. Sean Spicer, of course, mocked by Melissa McCarthy. He made it until the summer. Then there were the days -- only days of Anthony Scaramucci with Sarah Sanders taking over in the briefing room.

And there were a ton of transitions in the media world as well more than an average year Bill O'Reilly out at Fox. Megyn Kelly moving to NBC. Matt Lauer fired from NBC. Also, a new head of the news division their. New editors at places like "Huff Post", Vanity Fair", "Newsweek",

"Glamour" over at CBS, Scott Pelley, Josh Elliott, Charlie Rose all out all for different reasons, and just this month, ESPN president John Skipper, one of the most powerful men in sports and media suddenly resigned citing a substance abuse problem.

So, many changes at so many newsrooms, so many media companies and tomorrow, January 1st, a new publisher at "The New York Times", Arthur Sulzberger, handing the paper over to his son A.G.

We're going to break it all down for you in this special program starting with our panel of top editors. Sally Buzbee is the executive editor of "The Associated Press", John Avlon, the editor-in-chief of "The Daily Beast", and Joanne Lipman, chief content officer for "The USA Today" network and the editor of "USA Today".

This was a year, John, where the push alert on your phone and either made you recoil in horror or shot with joy. You know, there were so many stories that surprised and shocked us. What were for you the highlights and lowlights?

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: This is a year were insane became the new normal. I mean just so much packed into every week, really revolutions upon revolutions in our media and our politics in our industry. For me, I think one of the highlights was the reporting done you know at the same time by Ronan Farrow over at "The New Yorker' and "The New York Times" about Harvey Weinstein, other people jumped in as well Michael Daly.

But that the impact of that investigation after the usual vociferous denials and attempts at intimidation with the details of which we only found out in subsequent reporting really broke down a whole edifice of intimidation not only in the entertainment industry but across all industries that it's still rippling today. That's the result of great reporting against enormous obstacles.

STELTER: I remember Jodi Kanter and her writing partner Megan Twohey at "The New York Times", Jodi's saying I didn't know how seriously people would take the story if it would be received by the audience or not. Now, you look at the most page views -- you know, most viewed stories of the year, it's right up at the top of the list.

Joanne, you're about to leave 'USA Today", you have a book coming out called "That's What She Said" about this topic and you've decided to devote your energies to that that's another sign I suppose of how important this moment is.

JOANNE LIPMAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, USA TODAY AND USA TODAY NETWORK: Yes, in fact, William Morrow, the publisher of the book, actually moved up the publication date because there's been this absolutely extraordinary flood of interest in this topic, the zeitgeist has completely changed. The fact that women are able to come up and talk about these issues, be heard, be taken seriously.

And interestingly, I've been working on the book for the past three years -- STELTER: Predating all these current conversation.

LIPMAN: Predating all of this and the entire -- the point of the book is how do we close the gender gap by bringing men into the conversation. And when I started my reporting, there was some skepticism about saying, well, men are never going to want to be part of this conversation.

[11:05:02] Well, all of that has changed and I think that is all to the positive.

STELTER: We'll have more on this subject later in the hour. Rebecca Traister is here from "New York Magazine".

But back to highlights and lowlights perhaps from Washington. I wonder, Sally, if you think there were some successes or screw-ups for the news business as it relates to covering the President Trump administration and all the changes in Washington.

SALLY BUZBEE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes, I think just the drumbeat of reporting on the Russian investigation has which, you know, obviously there's a lot of skepticism I think at the beginning of the year if there was anything really there, and what the scope of the investigation was going to be.

And I think that just the sort of everything from the scoops about Michael Flynn being caught on surveillance tape and then his eventual firing and just sort of that that is the sort of step by step of the story, to the point where I think that -- you know, it's a very important story. It is important to the future of the president's tenure in office and those sorts of things, and just that that kind of focus on what I think of as very nitty-gritty, very, very deep reporting --


BUZBEE: -- and how it has been built over the course of the year. I think even people who support the president have paid attention to that reporting. And I think what you really want in reporting when you really get impact like with the sex harassment story is to have the reporting so strong that even people who have ingrained opinions have to pay attention to it. I think that is what has been sort of exciting to me this year.

STELTER: And yet, there's been some errors as well. I mean, there's been some errors and the coverage, mistakes that have been used to tarnish the press this year.

BUZBEE: And that's totally true and I think each one of those errors has been very difficult and dangerous for journalism.

STELTER: Dangerous?

BUZBEE: I mean, there's no room for sloppy reporting. There is no room in this world. AVLON: But it's important also to say that that none of what we've seen that we've been able to determine to date was malicious in nature from major news organizations.

STELTER: Right, despite what some of the president's supporters claim that these were not lies that were made up to hurt him.

AVLON: No, there are mistakes because this is a human business as Carl Bernstein is fond of saying. This is the best available version of the truth. Sometimes facts are wrong, and the critical thing is incredible. Organizations, they are corrected. Accountability occurs. Sometimes it's in layoffs, sometimes it's in suspensions.

But there's a larger environment, these drumbeat of people really viewing press with a sense of conflict really -- you know, gunning for reporters in -- from partisan perspectives that I think further muddies. And I think for me, it's -- we've almost taken for granted the ugliness and fundamental dishonesty of hyper-partisan media that hate news and fake news has really proliferated and muddied the waters of our cultural conversation.

STELTER: You said fake news. What is fake news?

AVLON: Hyper-partisan news sites that have explicit agendas that go well beyond "The National Reviews" and "Weekly Standards" or "Mother Jones" that have a forthright philosophy. These are places that are viewing political debate as a form of war and sometimes they function as propagandists and there are no rules in this. They are ugly and they will unleash forces against critics in any way, shape or form.

STELTER: I remember a news executive saying to me early in the year that Steve Bannon who was at the time the president's chief strategist, that he wants a grand divide between Trump and the media.


STELTER: He wants the world to never trust the media because he would benefit from that.

AVLON: Absolutely right. This is part of a business model. In some ways, it's -- the ugliest extension of the fragmentation we've seen where people try to appeal to niche audiences with -- and keep them addicted to anxiety and anger at the other, and the whole programmatic environment in the way social media works, they were able to prop up numbers and get real profits for a time from creating this ecosystem aided by donors who buy into their vision. It's a very specific ecosystem. It's incredibly dangerous to the civic fabric.

STELTER: Talking about the ups and downs of the year, I've got to imagine, Sally, one of the downs, one of the lowlights is when a competing outlet beats you a story. What's it like when "The New York Times" or "The Post" or CNN or other outlets break something first, what's that feeling like for you in your newsroom?

BUZBEE: Well, that's what journalists trying to do is always make sure that there are the people who are breaking news at first, and if you're not the first person to break a news, you break some sort of you know news on some big trending story.


BUZBEE: You fight your way into it, right? I mean, there is a lot going on in our world and there is a ton of interest in it particularly in the Washington story. The competition in Washington both for people and for scoops has been extraordinary this year. Some of it is actually a competition for people probably, you know, not the greatest thing for our industry in the sense that it can, you know, cause a lot of distractions and things like that.

But I think the competition for news, the competition for scoops makes every news organization better. It absolutely makes people do their best work, work their hardest and has resulted in some fabulous journalism.

LIPMAN: I actually think the competition has helped every news organization up its game this year.

BUZBEE: Absolutely.

LIPMAN: I think we have seen some extraordinary journalism across the board. I'm seeing among our competition, some really, really tremendous efforts throughout this year.

AVLON: And I hope some of the flow through for industry is this: quality matters, journalism and original reporting matters, because conventional wisdom for a time has been that we go for scale and click-bait and that's the future of journalism.

[11:10:03] But, you know, differentiation is the soul of a news brand, and if we all follow algorithms and we all simply become content farms and engage in commodity news, you kill what's unique, you remove the value.

BUZBEE: Absolutely.

AVLON: So, that's what we need to remember as an industry, is that quality matters, influence matters, original reporting.

BUZBEE: Absolutely.

AVLON: Original reporting matters.

BUZBEE: And then some of that has actually been heartening. I know that much of this year has been very bad. We had as a credible piece of work in the last couple weeks about the aftermath of the Islamic State regime in Mosul, and the people who are there and the lack of help for them to rebuild, and how many people were actually killed.

And that sort of reporting that actually says what is going on in this world, it's been astonishing to me how much those stories actually -- how much attention they get, right? Not just in America but globally, and how people really are hungry to figure out what the shape of the world is. And I do think one of the problems this year has just been, we must

keep our attention on the Trump administration which is fabulous, but make sure you are doing that other type of reporting. Don't neglect the rest of the world. Don't neglect the rest of America I fundamentally believe.


STELTER: Quick break here. Much more with our panel. Think about your New Year's resolutions. We're going to come back to that later in the program.

But up here next, the Mueller investigation. The fight for truth versus the pro-Trump media's fight to discredit it all.


[11:15:02] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.

The developments have been relentless, the timeline is sprawling and the cast of characters keeps expanding. Robert Mueller's investigation has potential to be the defining story of 2018. Was there coordination between anyone on Trump's campaign and any Russians? Did Donald Trump know anything about it? Did he try to obstruct justice?

So far, we have a lot more questions than answers, but with each drip, drip, drip, there is clearly a concerted effort to discredit the investigation. Trump and his allies in the pro-Trump media have intensified their attacks on Mueller and the FBI recently. Just take a look.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Russia story is a total fabrication.

There is no collision. You know why? Because I don't speak to Russians.

This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

The entire thing has been a witch-hunt.

Look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion.


STELTER: There's a feedback loop. Trump says it then his allies in the press repeat it, they give him new talking points, then he repeats those and it goes on and on.

So, let's put this investigation into perspective, and talk about what we do know and what we do not know with CNN's chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. He's also a staff writer for "The New Yorker" and he's working on a book about the Mueller probe. How's that going, Jeffrey?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, this is not something we know the answer to really. I mean, we know that there have been two guilty pleas. We know that there have been two indictments, but this has been an unusually leak-free environment run by Robert Mueller.

STELTER: I notice "Bloomberg" recently said Mueller has not uttered a single word in public since he was appointed in May. The quote was: it's an intentional strategy meant to convey the investigation's credibility and seriousness.

That he's doing this on purpose, staying silent.

TOOBIN: Oh I have spoke to -- spoken to enough representatives of Mueller in his office to know that it is very much a strategy. They're not talking to the press, period. How long that will last, I don't know.

They have a trial coming up in May of 2018. Manafort and Gates will be tried connection with that that very that discrete case. There may be more indictments there may be more guilty pleas, but -- and there may ultimately be some sort of report in the way that Kenneth Starr filed a report. But even that is not known how Mueller will signify that his investigation is in an end.

STELTER: You're saying they're not talking to the press, but there's been a lot of criticism in conservative media that Mueller's team members have been leaking to the press. Do you have a sense that that's true or not true?

TOOBIN: That's completely false. I mean, I am not aware of a single leak from that office, period.

STELTER: So, the leaks come from elsewhere.

TOOBIN: Right.

STELTER: They might by congressional investigators.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. I mean, there are two very likely sources of leaks in this investigation. One is, as you say, congressional investigations. Both the staff members and certainly the members of Congress have nowhere near the same obligation of secrecy that a grand jury investigation does.

The other source is defense attorneys and people who have been contacted by Mueller's office. If you represent a witness who has been interviewed by Mueller's office, you have some knowledge about what they're doing and the kind of questions they're asking. You are not under an obligation to secrecy.

So, defense attorneys and congressional investigators have been talking to the press on occasion, but you can't count either of those as leaks from Mueller. STELTER: So, when you're covering this for CNN, when you're working on a book about this --


STELTER: -- I assume the book can't come out until we know what happened.

TOOBIN: The book is not happening anytime soon. Yes.

STELTER: How do you pursue reporting? How do you find out what's going on when Mueller's team is so private?

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, I think a lot of it just involves waiting until there is some thaw in their -- in their media coverage. But --

STELTER: But viewers don't want to hear that. We want to know the answer.

TOOBIN: That's true, and I think sometimes -- not at CNN I'm pleased to say -- but that leads to speculation. You often hear, you know, what is Mueller doing, what is Mueller thinking?

I mean, I want to be very judicious in answering those questions because sometimes you have to say the three words that are never allowed on cable news and those are, of course -- I don't know.

And sometimes I just say I don't know.

STELTER: What are the biggest on Mueller heading into 2018? You mentioned the possibility of more indictments. What are the other big questions on your mind?

TOOBIN: I would say they break into three areas. The one -- the first is sort of financial and, you know, is there some sort of financial impropriety. The Manafort and Gates case is based on lobbying activity. That -- in that case for Ukraine, but sort of the broad question of was there any sort of financial impropriety.

The second question is about the possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. You know the president is very fond of saying there was no collusion.

[11:20:00] We know in fact that there was at least some collusion. There was a relationship between Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner and people who were proffering material from the Russian government --


TOOBIN: -- about Hillary Clinton's supposed misdeeds.

I mean that is not illegal as far as I know. I mean collusion is one of these words that gets thrown around and I wrote a piece in "The New Yorker" recently about you know whether collusion can be a crime.

STELTER: Yes. TOOBIN: But that whole subject of the relationship between Russia and the Trump campaign is the second area.

And the third area is obstruction of justice. All the events relating to the firing of James Comey -- was there an attempt by the president or people around him to shut down this investigation in a way that violates the law? So, finances, collusion and obstruction of justice.

STELTER: You might under those three words and you might ask this, but do you think we will get answers to those questions in 2018, or could this take even longer?

TOOBIN: Well, I think we will get some answers. And, you know, remember, we will get Robert Mueller's answers. That doesn't mean they are the answers that everyone will find satisfactory. I mean --

STELTER: Or accept at all, right.

TOOBIN: Exactly. I mean, we're still arguing in many respects about what really happened in Watergate, in the 1970s. We're arguing about what did Iran Contra mean? We're arguing a lot about Clinton and Lewinsky and this -- what was in the Starr investigation?

So, you know, I don't think there is ever going to be a moment when all these questions are answered to this satisfaction of everyone. But certainly, we will know a lot more next New Year's Eve then we do this New Year's Eve.

STELTER: I mean, does that bring up the right wing echo chamber, the idea that we've seen this intensified attack against Mueller and the FBI recently? To me, it's as if it's a magic trick. Some of these commentators are saying, don't look over there, look over here. They're just trying to completely change the subject, make everything about Hillary Clinton and alleged misdeeds in the past in order to distract from the Russia question.

TOOBIN: Well, and to attack Mueller staff. You know, the key talking point that has been bandied about in the -- you know, in the Republican echo chamber, you know, mostly on Fox News, is that you know one or more of his investigators particularly in the FBI were biased in some way, based on some text messages that were sent long before anyone was even working on a Mueller investigation.

By the way, it's never been done before that the private political views of an FBI agent, much less a prosecutor or the lead prosecutor --


TOOBIN: -- has been used to discredit the organization. It's a completely frivolous argument. You know, agent Strzok was not making any decisions about who's going to be indicted. That is all on Mueller, and Mueller's -- Mueller, by the way, got rid of Strzok when he saw them, which is frankly an arguable -- I think arguable whether he should have even done that.


TOOBIN: But the idea of any improper activity on the part of Mueller is just frivolous as far as I can tell.

You know, we're in mid-investigation now. You know, obviously, the question of whether Robert Mueller will be fired is not one that that is fully resolved, notwithstanding what you hear from the White House today and, you know, the Mueller story is one that -- you know, the only grade you can give it is incomplete.

STELTER: Incomplete.

Jeffrey, great to see you. By the way, we're doing a podcast together in January. We should plug the podcast.

What's it about?

TOOBIN: Well, we -- CNN is broadcasting a six hour documentary about the kidnapping of Patty Hearst in the aftermath and in the mid 1970s.

STELTER: Look, you're going straight to cam for the project.

TOOBIN: That's right. You know? Like you know, I'm not messing around here.

I wrote a book about this called American heiress, and I'm one of the producers of the program. It's really terrific, and we have a podcast about sort of -- about the show, and it's a good companion piece, just like we did to the O.J. Simpson miniseries on FX. We're doing with the CNN documentary which starts in February.

STELTER: There we go. The podcast is called "Patty Has a Gun". You can subscribe now on iTunes and get some of that.

TOOBIN: We're a team. We're like, you know, the two of us.

STELTER: All right. I'll see you again in the New Year. Jeffrey, thanks for being here.

TOOBIN: Happy New Year.

TOOBIN: Good to see you.

Up next here, after a quick break, the sexual misconduct tipping point. It was the story of 2017, and will continue in the New Year. But what will real change look like?


[11:28:08] STELTER: When "TIME" magazine recognized the Me-Too Movement by naming the silence breakers as Person of the Year, the photographers included a sixth person, along with the five you see on screen. Look carefully in the lower right hand corner. You can see an arm, just an arm, carefully cropped. "TIME" says this is a young hospital worker from Texas, a sexual harassment victim who wished to remain anonymous because she feared retribution. But that arm, it could be anyone. That's what makes it so powerful.

It could be the next person to come forward in this tipping point moment.

You know, think about it. In 2016, it was Gretchen Carlson suing Roger Ailes. Then it was Susan Fowler speaking out about Uber's culture.

And in April, a foreshadowing of what was to come. "The New York Times" uncovered Bill O'Reilly's secret history of harassment settlements. While he denied wrongdoing, advertisers shunned him. Within a few weeks, Fox News forced him out. A month later, Roger Ailes passed away.

It was the end of an era for Fox News. But all that was going on, reporters of "The New York Times" and NBC were working on something else, they were working on blockbuster investigations into Harvey Weinstein. Over the summer, when NBC told Ronan Farrow that it didn't think his Weinstein reporting was solid enough to air, Farrow took it elsewhere, to "The New Yorker", and you know the rest.

October's revelations about Weinstein caused a reckoning in Hollywood and eventually all around the world. Journalists pursued allegations of misconduct by other powerful men, including Matt Lauer and Mark Halperin, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey and so many more. The stories will keep coming in 2018.

Now, my next guest says that while the media is breaking the news here, the media is also deeply implicated in this news and still shaping how the tale is getting told. Many of the men accused of sexual misconduct and abuse were longtime trusted arbiters of the news. It's alleged that they exploited that trust for deviant purposes.

While the work to investigate these stories must continue and will, there's a parallel effort that is certainly necessary to hold newsrooms accountable and ensure systemic change.


Let's talk about that with Rebecca Traister. She's a writer at large for "New York" magazine.

Rebecca, tell me more about the point you're making about the media and its role in covering this, but also implicated in this.

REBECCA TRAISTER, "NEW YORK": Well, the media tells us the stories about our politics, about our entertainment.

In a case like Harvey Weinstein's, he's the man who is behind the movies that we absorb, the stories that we take in as audiences. In the case of the political media, you're looking at a spate of reporters, from Mark Halperin, who wrote the bestselling "Game Change" about the 2008 election, to Matt Lauer, who did the pivotal interview, the forum with both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, that he was criticized for because he let Donald Trump off the hook on several untruths, demonstrably false statements that Trump was making about his support for the Iraq War.

And he interrupted Hillary Clinton, pressed her on e-mails, didn't really give her a chance to answer. That's Matt Lauer's role.

Leon Wieseltier, Charlie Rose, these are the influential, notably male voices that help tell us the story of our politics and our leaders, that help interpret for us who these people are who are running for office who want to legislate and represent us.

And one of the things we're learning in this is both the kinds of stuff they are alleged to have done and the sort of abuses of power and disrespect of female colleagues and employees that they are alleged to have engaged in, but also we're taking a look at these entire power structures that feed us the story of our politics and feed us often our entertainment and saying, wait a minute, look at the people who have the most power in these fields.

Look at the people who are telling us these stories and have the power to shape our perceptions. A lot of these are guys, a lot of them are white guys, and a lot of them are apparently white guys who are alleged to have badly abused the power they have.

STELTER: Meaning we should be thinking about the impact of misogyny on the way the news is covered and shaped.

TRAISTER: Of course we should be, yes.

STELTER: Yes. And do you think that's now finally happening?

TRAISTER: I think this is a moment in which it's happening.

We have had other moments like this before, when Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 and ran against Hillary Clinton, and you had two very different kinds of candidates out there. And during that election, you saw on news programs a lot of white men struggling to talk about race and gender and the impact that they might have.

And you saw the elevation of non-white, non-male news voices. That's when Rachel Maddow got her show, Melissa Harris-Perry, Al Sharpton, Tamron Hall. You saw lots of non-white male voices elevated.

But then, within the past few years, a lot of those people have lost their positions. These changes -- Maddow is pretty much the person who has remained in place. And, for example, the MSNBC lineup has gone back to -- evening, gone back to being primarily white and male.

So we have these moments where things change and where the need to diversify becomes clear, but they're not necessarily permanent changes, when we live in a world in so much power is still afforded to white men.

STELTER: It gets to this idea that it's kind of easy to fire someone, to let someone go. It's a lot harder to make systemic change or permanent change.

TRAISTER: One of my frustrations with how this moment has been reported on by many places...

STELTER: It's been almost three months now.

TRAISTER: It's been almost three months.

But it's also the focus on the repercussions. And I understand that we need to have repercussions, because apparently men aren't going to stop behaving this way unless there is a real threat to them, their economic stability, their reputational stability, their professional stability.

So, repercussions are important. But I worry that we focus too much on the repercussions of these individuals, rather than looking at the larger systemic imbalances that have been revealed by this. And so we think we can tell ourselves that we have gotten rid of a couple bad apples, and we've solved the problem because a couple guys lost their jobs, rather than looking at the bigger picture, the entire networks, by which I mean not only television networks, But networks of power, webs of people who have engaged in the protection and support of this kind of behavior, covering it up.


STELTER: Looking the other way, yes.

TRAISTER: And also supporting the people who have engaged in it, promoting them, giving them more money, making them the powerful centers of their businesses and of these media networks.

And that whole picture and the ways in which women are sidelined, often self-exiled or exiled by others from these industries, and, of course, we're still only looking at these very elite industries right now. We need to move the focus away from some of the top places and looking at places where there are lower wages and worse working conditions, where those abuses are even worse, but where the names aren't necessarily famous.

STELTER: Yes, kudos to "The New York Times" for that recent piece about Ford.

TRAISTER: The Ford factory plant.

STELTER: About discrimination at Ford.

TRAISTER: And The Huffington Post, which has been doing really good work about flight attendants and people in the hotel -- hotel workers.

So, there is that kind of reporting that is coming out. And that's one of the best things about how this is unfolding and how the media is approaching it, which they are widening the lens. And that is really crucial.


But we have to remember that this is a massive big picture exposure of our realities. It's not just about a couple of individual characters and whether or not they lose their jobs.

STELTER: It's about equality in the workplace.

And the Me Too hashtag was the start of that, but it's almost as if we need some other terms, other hashtags, other frames for this beyond, yes, it happened to me, too, in order to talk about the systemic issues.


Individual stories are a good way in. They get our imagination and our attention. But we also have to remember that it's not just about individual sex crimes.

You mentioned Gretchen Carlson in 2016. Well, more than a decade ago, Andrea Mackris filed a lawsuit that was public against Bill O'Reilly. And 25 years ago, Anita Hill testified about the sexual harassment she experienced at the hands of Clarence Thomas.

And years before that, Mechelle Vinson, a bank teller, led one of the most important first sexual harassment suits that found its way up to the Supreme Court.

Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination. And it goes beyond individual stories of sexual assault or harm.

STELTER: I do see a few hopeful signs, one of them being sexual harassment training in major workplaces, another being this organization that Halperin accusers and Rose accusers have formed in order to try -- called Press Forward to try to make improvements in newsrooms.

I do see some organization happening.

TRAISTER: I see organization happening too.

I see awareness increasing, the way that we talk about these things getting clearer. But really what we have to look at is reassessing who has power within these organizations, because we can do all the training we want and we can have all the language we need, but if fundamentally we still offer such a disproportionate share of power, professional power, economic power, to white men and keep everybody else on the sidelines, you're just going to see these kinds of abuses and others perpetuated deep into the future.

STELTER: I'm also reminded of what former FOX contributor Tamara Holder said on this program a couple weeks ago.

She said, we just want to work. We just want to be able to get our jobs back in some cases.


That's part of the issue, the sort of what are we going to do in terms of reparative work to bring more women into these industries and to promote them while they're in there? That kind of stuff takes a long time. You can't fix it in three months.

You can't fire one guy and say, all right, now we fixed the problem. No, it means creating workplaces. And that's everything from individual companies and the choices they make about how to bring in and better support a female work force to government questions and better policies, protecting equal wages, paying for paid family leave and subsidizing day care, that kind of stuff that better supports women's ability to participate equally in work forces.

STELTER: Can change really happen when an accused sexual harasser is the president of the United States?

TRAISTER: The change we're seeing happen in terms of this conversation is happening because we elected an accused sexual harasser and the fury that we felt, that so many women and men felt at watching this everyday working situation in which a guy, a bad guy who even if you had gone to H.R., it was public that he was alleged to have assaulted these women, to have harassed these women, he got the big job anyway.

And that was such a familiar everyday circumstance for so many Americans, that I think it led, metaphorically, it provided the moment that has led everybody to explode with the anger that has brought us here.

STELTER: A year that began with a women's march ends with this conversation we're having.

TRAISTER: Yes. It's the same conversation. It's just taking different form.

STELTER: Rebecca, great to see you.

TRAISTER: It's great to see you. Thanks for having me.

STELTER: You can read your columns at "New York" mag's Web site,

When we come back here, Facebook and Twitter took a beating this year for helping hoaxes and lies go viral. With midterm elections fast approaching, what, if anything, are these companies actually doing to stop the spread of misinformation?

That's next.



STELTER: Welcome back to this New Year's Eve edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

It's been one of 2017's most notable developments, a slow-burning backlash against the tech industry. Facebook, Google, Twitter, previously hailed as paragons of innovation, now increasingly viewed with suspicion. First came a delay in acknowledging the poison of fake news, and I

mean truly made-up stories, hoaxes, pieces of propaganda. They flooded platforms like Facebook.

Then came a realization that some of this was a coordinated effort by Russian trolls to meddle in the 2016 election. Silicon Valley executives were hauled before Congress. The companies were shamed for missing Russian interference.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I must say I don't think you get it. You have created these platforms, and now they are being misused.


STELTER: These companies, Facebook, Google, Twitter, they have pledged changes. But can they be trusted to police their platforms?

Joining me now is Sarah Lacy. She's the founder and editor in chief of the tech news site Pando.

Sarah, where are these companies right now? Are they addressing these problems? Do they know that they have to stamp out misinformation and disinformation on their sites?

SARAH LACY, FOUNDER, PANDO: You mentioned the executives were hauled in front of Congress.

It was really lawyers for the company. No CEOs showed up. No high- ranking executive showed up. There's no sign that the company is yet taking this seriously.

And the most interesting development that's happened in the last few weeks in Silicon Valley is Facebook's co-founder Sean Parker has come out and said he feels they did a lot of bad things for society. And he has a lot of regret for how they addicted people to these services.

One of their earliest executives who was in charge of growth hacking said the same thing, said he doesn't allow his kids to use the services. This is no longer even a kind of Facebook against the world thing, You don't understand us, Congress, you're not tech-savvy, you don't get it.

This is the people who orchestrated and built these systems saying they don't let their children use it and it may have done more damage to the world than good. The company has turned on itself, which is just a staggering development, given that Facebook looked like it was just -- it all gravy for them.

Either way, whoever won, they were going to benefit.

STELTER: Some of those comments have been amazing from a former employee looking back with regrets. Another reason for the backlash in recent months, it's been media

companies, publishers speaking out saying Facebook and Google, they are eating up so much of the ad revenue in this industry, that it's causing a squeeze on everybody else.


This is the so-called digital duopoly. Do you see it getting worse before it gets better?

LACY: Yes. And I think anyone looking at the numbers sees it getting worse.

This is to me one of the most interesting developments in the Internet. I have been covering the sector for 20 years. And everyone said the Web was going to democratize advertising and democratize information.

And particularly with the rise of blogging, there was this idea that, oh, in this pre-Internet world, there's a couple networks that are really controlling everything, and we're going to break it up, so that hundreds of flowers are blooming across the Internet. And there's lots of people who are eating into this pie.

Well, it's become more concentrated. It's become more concentrated. Facebook and Google have even more of a lock on advertising dollars than anything that we saw in the pre-Internet world. Those two companies swallow up 85 percent of all digital advertising.

STELTER: Incredible.

LACY: And every analyst report I have seen sees that becoming more concentrated. It's astounding.

And you look at companies like Twitter or Snapchat, the only two major consumer ad properties that didn't sell to Facebook, both are struggling to be viable public companies.

STELTER: This issue, it's a huge issue. It's a huge story for both of us heading into the new year, how to continue covering Facebook and Google taking so much control, taking so much ad revenue.

And, by the way, when we see Disney buy most of 21st Century Fox, when we see AT&T trying to buy CNN's parent company, Time Warner, we know that deal right now is in court. The government is suing to block it.

But these media consolidation moves are partly because of Google and Facebook, because of these tech giants that are getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

LACY: Yes.

And the company that's done the best at building a new digital media powerhouse, BuzzFeed, they have had a hard time showing consistent revenues they would need to be a public company.


STELTER: Right. They missed their profit goals. So did VICE and some other big companies.

LACY: Yes.

And it's like these guys had to take the gamble on things like Facebook Instant articles because it is where so much of the consumption is happening.

But anyone who has covered Facebook since they have launched their open platform has seen that, you know, Facebook will always do what is best for Facebook.

And I think that's what all of these stories get down to. Facebook and Google are companies that were peddled to investors and peddled to users and peddled to its employees as these good forces in the universe.

Google's mantra was don't do evil. And Facebook was about connecting the world. And these are companies that have said to everyone else, we're making the world better, trust us, trust us, trust us, trust us.

And we're ending 2017, and no one trusts these companies, even the people who helped build them.

STELTER: Sarah, we have got a midterm election approaching next year. This conversation isn't making me any more confident in these companies' ability to control and monitor and stamp out hoaxes and misinformation.

LACY: It shouldn't.

I don't know if you saw Facebook's most recent announcement that for awhile it was flagging stories that seemed to be false as disputed. And it's now said that it's not going to do that. And it's kind of cited this academic research that doesn't at all seem conclusive to me.

And, instead, they are saying we are going to try putting related articles that give you more context. I don't know about you, but when I see something that enrages me on social media, I'm doing well to even click through and read it. And I'm a journalist.

I usually hit share before I do anything else in the headline. I'm certainly not going to go and click and read other related articles. I'm very skeptical that that's the solution to fake news.

And, again, like you're saying, we're headed into a midterm and that's the best we have got at this point? It's just not a priority.

Pando, as an organization, has had a saying for the last couple years in Silicon Valley, of, when tech companies tell you something is too hard, what they are telling you is they don't prioritize it.

And that comes to diversity hiring. That comes to rooting out truth in fake news. It comes to abuse on their platforms.

These are companies who figured out a way to put planes in space that beam the Internet down from the sky. You're telling me it's too hard for them to figure out what is fake news and not spread it?

It just isn't a priority.

STELTER: Sarah, thank you so much for being here. I couldn't have said it better myself.

LACY: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: We would love to have executives from Facebook and Google come on the program. We're going to keep trying to book them in 2018.

In the meantime, a quick plug here. Start your new year by signing up for our nightly newsletter, all the biggest media news delivered to your inbox every evening. You can sign up now for free at

Up next, it's time for some New Year's resolutions.



STELTER: All right, yes, it's that time, time for New Year's resolutions.

The panel is back with me.

Sally Buzbee of the AP, you're up first. Your resolutions for the new year?

BUZBEE: I would say relentlessly pursue facts. Go to places that are being ignored and talk to people there. And be transparent. Show your work. Show your reporting.

STELTER: When you say go to the places that are being ignored, do you have a couple of places in mind?

BUZBEE: I think that remember after the election, and we all -- we spent a lot of times wringing our hands about how we didn't really know what voters were thinking? We were all spending too much time inside the Beltway and we were all talking to each other.

And, meanwhile, voters had decided that they liked Donald Trump, or at least some of them had. OK? I think we in are danger of falling back into that trap. I think we have to go out and we have to see, how these policies are being played out? What is the real impact on people?

STELTER: The Daily Beast's John Avlon.

First on your list, I think, is about focusing on what's most important? AVLON: That's right.

Look, newsrooms, like life, it's a struggle between the urgent and the important.

But, so often, we get focused on being reactive in news necessarily. But the real value comes from investigations we embark in, from the original reporting. That's the important stuff that isn't ephemeral, that really makes a difference in the country and the life of this country.

Second thing is follow the money. Look, it's a great rule of reporting, obviously hearkening back to "All the President's Men." You want to find out the truth in politics? Follow the money.

And I think money is going to be a big story, not only in the midterm elections, the impact of donors, the corrupting influence of money, but also I think as we dig into the Russia investigation.

And finally, I think we really need to not depend on the duopoly.

STELTER: Duopoly of Facebook and Google?

AVLON: Facebook and Google.


I don't anyone should be overly dependent on any one platform, because then you're renting your audience. You are not owning it. You can't take what they say for granted. They have their own interests as well.

But also the duopoly in Washington, Democrats and Republicans.

Too often, in covering politics, we buy into the narrative and see everything through Washington's prism of Democrats vs. Republicans. And I don't think it reflects the way most Americans think and feel. So, we need to unencumber ourselves of that as well.

STELTER: And, Joanne, you're leaving "USA Today," off to promote and publish your new book, "That's What She Said."

What are your resolutions for the new year?

LIPMAN: So, we have got to focus on solutions, not just the problem of sexual harassment.

I think this year has been tremendous for the reporting that has brought this into the public eye. It is still unfolding almost every day. We see this issue with more men.

But the fact is that women have been talking about this issue amongst ourselves for years. And it just wasn't taken seriously. And the fact is, we have books and conferences and all sorts of things, but women talking to each other at most solves 50 percent of the problem. We need men to join that conversation. And I think the logical next step after all of this reporting on harassment is, OK, what next? How do we solve it? And that's the purpose of "That's what She said." That's what the book is all about.


Joanne, John, Sally, thank you so much for being here today.

Let me know what you at home think the New Year's resolutions for the media should be. Send me a tweet or look me up on Facebook. My handle is @BrianStelter.

And I will see you back right here this time next week. Happy new year.