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Reliable Sources

Covering the Justin Bieber Saga; Twist Leads to Tragedy

Aired January 26, 2014 - 11:00   ET


BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning from a frigid Washington, D.C.

When 19-year-old pop star Justin Bieber does something stupid, it is impossible for the press to look away. So, then, how should reporters approach the story?

And here's another more important story. The blog "Grantland" is under fire for a piece about the private life of an inventor of a magic putter, who committed suicide during the reporting process. The reporter had learned that the inventor was a transgender woman. We'll ask what lessons can be learned from this.

Plus, my exclusive interview with Robert Redford, a visit to Comcast headquarters in Philadelphia, and insights from Andrea Mitchell, Glenn Beck, Cory Booker, and the pope.

We've got a great show ahead today. I'm Brian Stelter, and it is time for RELIABLE SOURCES.


STELTER: That Redford interview really is interesting. We're going to save it for later in the show because first it's the Bieber.


STELTER: Boy, those were the good old days, weren't they? I just checked TMZ's home page. There are 76 mentions of Justin Bieber's mention this morning. None of them flattering.

And TMZ's not alone. Television networks, Web sites, they've all been buzzing about Bieber, ever since the pop star was taken into custody on Thursday morning.


NATALIE MORALES, NBC: Pop superstar Justin Bieber has been arrested.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN: Police say the young star failed a field sobriety test.

JENNA LEE, FOX NEWS: Here he's smiling in his mug shot. ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC: Congresswoman, let me interrupt you just for a moment. We've got some breaking news out of Miami. Stand by, if you will.

Right now, in Miami, Justin Bieber has been arrested on a number of charges. The judge is reading the charges including resisting arrest and driving under the influence.


STELTER: Now, that's one way to cover it. But for others in the media, avoiding the story and making sure you knew they were avoiding the story was just as tempting.

Check out this graphic on the bottom of the screen on the new cable channel Fusion. It says "insignificant breaking news."


BRADLEY BLACKBURN, FUSION: You think Bieber and you think figures like Gandhi, Mother Theresa, or Beyonce. I mean, he's a gift to us delivered from Canada and does anyone really want to live in a world where Justin Bieber can be arrested?


STELTER: Al Jazeera dragged everybody, drag raced everybody to the high road by mentioning Bieber's name just once on Thursday.

Now, to me this is all about proportion and tone. So who got it right? Who got it wrong?

Joining me in New York, James Poniewozik of "TIME" magazine and here in New York, Dorsey Shaw of "BuzzFeed".

Dorsey, who did get it right? Who had the right proportion and tone in this coverage the last few days?

DORSEY SHAW, BUZZFEED: Well, from a cable news standpoint, I cover cable news, so the way I looked at it seemed like FOX News kind of covered it's right amount of proportion. You know, they covered it with minute little hits like kind of teasing segments that seemed to never come.

And you know, CNN definitely led the charge. It's expected because you know, there's a very public push for entertainment coverage with CNN. So I was actually expecting more coverage from CNN. You know, when you look at --

STELTER: You mean more than there actually was?

SHAW: Yes.

STELTER: So you think there was some restraint on the part of the press. SHAW: I thought there was some restraint on CNN's part and on cable news's part. But it's a big story. You know, he's a big celebrity. People either love him or hate him. And if you're a producer for a TV show, front page editor for a website or social media editor, you have to know that people are going to be interested in this story either way. So you're going to go with it.

STELTER: James, did you expect even more coverage than there was?

JAMES PONIEWOZIK, TIME: I wasn't surprised that CNN went into overdrive on this because I do think that there is a strategy lately at CNN of if something is trending on social media and so forth then we're going to go into overdrive on it. And I think the problem with that is you start to look very blatantly like we are just going to let Google trends be our editor and just go into overdrive on whatever is, you know, for the next five minutes really hot right now.

STELTER: I want to read a few of the twitter messages. You and I were talking. Me and Dorsey were talking on Thursday. A few of the messages that really stood out to me with viewers reacting.

The first says -- of course this is from the fake newsroom account of Will McAvoy. Arguments against, it has literally no impact on the day-to-day lives of anyone outside fans. He called it paparazzi porn.

Here's somebody else: "I hate it when people dismiss celebrity stories as fluff. Bieber is a public figure. He's part of the culture. Media is just doing its job."

Here's another person: "Sorry, but 300,000 people going a week or more without water in West Virginia has received only minimal coverage."

Here's a fourth: "Networks wouldn't cover it if people didn't watch or read about it. I dislike the coverage, but it's what viewers ask for." I saw a lot of those comments on Thursday.

Someone said this, "This is a brief in local newspapers, nothing more. But there's zero such constraints on the web."

Here's one more: "For millions, Justin Bieber is their Michael Jackson. The coverage is expected and the coverage is appropriate."

Here's the last one I want to put up on screen. It's from the editor of an app called Breaking News. It says, "Give users the controls. Let them decide what's breaking news to them, like we do in the Breaking News app."

And, Dorsey, I wonder if that's where we're going. On the Internet, you can decide what to mute or what to highlight. You can decide if you want to hear Bieber's name or not.

Do you feel like that's going to become more and more commonplace on the Internet? SHAW: On the Internet, yes. It's like that already.

On cable news, you know, there were --

STELTER: Not so much.

SHAW: Yes, there are two networks who very publicly claimed we're not going to cover this. You know, Fusion and Al Jazeera.


SHAW: And strange that Fusion went with that. Their whole push is to bring news to younger people. You know, and you'd think that younger people are going to be more interested in this Bieber story than just about everybody.

STELTER: James, was that a marketing stunt, do you think, for Al Jazeera and Fusion to basically dismiss this story as fluff in.

PONIEWOZIK: Well, I can't get inside their heads. I think there can be a value proposition as establishing yourself as a serious network that doesn't cover stupid news just because it's going to get ratings.

By the way, a value proposition that I think CNN has also identified in the past. I mean, there is, leaving ratings aside, there is a business, you know, dollars and cents value to CNN to be perceived as the serious news network that you can respectably show in public. It's why it does so well internationally, why it does so well digitally, why, you know, they show CNN in airport and hotel lounges. And one risk here besides the issue of actually informing the public the way journalism is supposed to is that to chase, you know, sort of short-term ratings you can undercut that long-term credibility.

STELTER: So when people say there's important things at play here like the danger of drag racing, that's pretty legitimate or not?

PONIEWOZIK: I mean, you know, it's a story. Look, I'm a TV critic. My career is premised on the idea that, you know, pop culture entertainments actually are important. And I think there are. I think there was cultural value to the Miley Cyrus twerking story when everybody was talking about it. There were actual cultural signifiers being played with and where is society going and so forth.

The question is it's a story. But it's not the story. It's a celebrity DUI. You know, it was not the O.J. Simpson murder case.

STELTER: I think I agree with -- Greta Van Susteren wrote on her blog, let's put it up on screen. She said, "Watch for those in the media who cover Justin Bieber by doing segments about how awful the media is covering Justin Bieber. That's the oldest trick in the book. That's exactly what anchors do when they want the celebrity ratings but they think it will tarnish their images to do the story."

And I hear us, Dorsey, I hear us saying it's not awful that they're covering Justin Bieber but it's about the amount, it's about the proportion.

SHAW: Right. And I've criticized CNN about coverage like going way over the top with like the cruise ship, the poop ship.

STELTER: Watch out. There's another cruise ship out there now that's having trouble near Puerto Rico.

SHAW: I've been seeing teases for that. And that was kind of overkill. You know. And if you want to look back at the first day that the Christie story broke, the bridge story -- I mean, it was almost double -- I mean more than double the amount of time CNN and NBC covered that story compared to the Bieber story.

STELTER: Dorsey, you live in the Internet. I feel like I see you tweeting every day. I want to put up a few memes on story. What was amazing was how fast these funny pictures and memes appeared on online. One showed a little kid pretending to be pulled over by cops.

How does this happen online? How does the Web react so fast to these stories?

SHAW: I mean, Jenna Wortham at "The New York Times" had a story the other day talking about this, how Twitter is becoming almost like a soapbox where people try to elbow each other out --

STELTER: To have the best joke.

SHAW: Exactly. And she was not too happy about that. But that's the way it is with Twitter. It's kind of comic relief. If you're sitting there all day, which most news people are watching Twitter, you want to have a good laugh, you know? So --

STELTER: Maybe cable news needs to bring a little bit more of that onto the screen and have some fun too.

SHAW: It's totally possible. It's all there ready to go.

STELTER: Dorsey, thanks so much. James, thanks so much for joining us.

PONIEWOZIK: Thanks a lot, Brian.

STELTER: Up next, I wonder what responsibility does have a reporter have when they find out the woman they've been investigating for months was once a man.


STELTER: Welcome back.

I meant to mention in the prior block, I spoke to Andrea Mitchell about that very awkward transition she had to make from an interview with a former congresswoman over to Justin Bieber. She told me it was obviously awkward and unplanned. She called it the bad luck of the draw, it happens sometimes in cable news. And I'm going to put her full comments online right after the show. Moving on to I would say a more important story now, earlier this month, the sports and pop culture blog "Grantland" published a gripping story about the inventor of a highly specialized golf club. The title was "Dr. V's Magical Gutter." Dr. V was Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt.

Two-thirds of the way through the story the writer, Caleb Hannon, revealed that Dr. V, an intensely private person, was a transgender woman. Then, at the very end, Hannon revealed that Dr. V had killed herself last fall while Caleb was busy researching and writing his story. He declined to be here today.

Readers and LGBT advocates strongly criticized "Grantland" for the story and some even accused the site of causing Dr. V to commit suicide. "Grantland's" editor in chief Bill Simmons says that's a false conclusion. But Simmons is up front about the failures that occurred in the editing process.

Here's a portion of what he wrote in a letter to readers on Monday. "We have made one massive mistake. I have thought about it for nearly three solid days and I've run out of ways to kick myself about it. How did it never occur to any of us? How? How could we have all blown it?

That mistake was someone familiar with the transgender community should have read Caleb's football draft. This never occurred to us. Nobody ever brought it up."

Simmons also declined to be here today.

The controversy had many of us in the newsroom this week asking what ethical questions can those of us in the media take away, if any?

Here with me now to discuss in New York, Tiq Milan, a senior media strategist of national news at GLAAD, and in Chicago, writer and editor Christina Kahrl.

Welcome to you both.

TIQ MILAN, GLAAD: Thank you. Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: Christina, you wrote an essay for "Grantland" about what went wrong in this case. Tell me what you think the difficulties are for the media in writing about transgender men and women.

CHRISTINA KAHRL, ESPN.COM: Well, some of it is just basically a privacy issue and not ceding the ground to the trans people who should control their own narratives and sense of who they are. Not every trans person is entirely comfortable with their past and the gender that they were born into. Not every trans person wants to have to explain that.

Basically, especially in a case like Essay Anne, she wanted to be seen as a woman. As far as was germane to the story, she should have been seen as a woman. STELTER: And what were the mistakes in the reporting process then? It seems like one of them was perhaps outing Dr. V to a person who did not know about her identity.

KAHRL: That was a massive mistake. I mean, as much as Bill Simmons appropriately I think takes this one, you know, like for the team in his essay and did a great job of like apologizing, a fundamental problem is whatever levels of editorial management did not catch this, at the end of the day, Caleb should not have been in a position to have talked about Essay Anne's gender to anybody else before that story. I mean, outing her to a colleague or an investor in that situation is unconscionable.

STELTER: Tiq, you talk frequently about what -- how reporters should approach stories like this one. What can reporters learn from this case?

MILAN: You know, I think this article definitely highlights a misconception that people have about trans people, and that if you're trans and you decide to keep that private, keep that discreet that you are in some kind of way being a liar, or being deceitful, or trying to trick people, and that just isn't the case. And I think the issue with Dr. Vanderbilt was that her being of non-disclosure with her identity was lumped into the whole idea of these elaborate tales that she had about her professional and academic life, implying that her being trans was in some way fraudulent or deceptive. And that just isn't the case.

And I think what journalist can take away from this is exactly what Bill Simmons said in his letter, to consult with LGBT organizations like GLAAD or like the National Center for Trans Equality, to see how to better -- what are the best practices to deal with situations like this.

STELTER: It goes back to one of these journalistic maxims that diversity is so important to have in newsrooms. But I wonder if that's easier said than done sometimes for these places. I think you made a point, Christina, that the article was being written for an audience that could have learned a lot about the transgender community if only the research had been done.

KAHRL: If only the research had been done, and essentially if they'd just reached out. I mean, one of the most embarrassing portions of this is as a teammate at ESPN, is that just somehow like, you know, even though the fact that Bill and I both know each other, it just didn't occur to him to pick up the phone and give me a call.

And so, last weekend, we were both kicking ourselves in the sense that we could have stopped this in so many different points if only he had thought, you know, to just pick up the phone and give me a ring. Or if somebody like one of his editors had thought maybe it would make sense to run it by Christina because that's one of those situations where as easy as it is for any journalist I think to refer to all of the many, you know, great guides -- guidelines on how to talk about LGBT issues and particularly transgender issues in this situation, that you look at GLAAD's guidelines and in the abstract, they're great and it's great to read them and refer to them.

But it's also immensely helpful to be able to talk to a trans person and say, like, should we go there, should we not go there. This would have been an automatic where it's like, no, you really shouldn't go there.

STELTER: I'm sure you saw an article in an Arizona paper this weekend, Dr. V's partner, saying she did not feel that this article was ultimately responsible for the suicide. What was your reaction to that?

MILAN: You know, reading the article, I really wouldn't want -- I don't feel comfortable speculating on if the article -- how much the article influenced her decision --

STELTER: No one knows. No one knows.

MILAN: Right -- to take her own life.

But what I will say is we have to understand we live in a culture that marginalizes transgender people. Transgender people are four times more likely to experience poverty due to rampant employment discrimination. Over half transgender people have experienced family rejection and 40 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide as compared to less than 2 percent of the general population. That's what I do know.

STELTER: And you made a point in our pre-interview, Tiq, saying the trans images in the media are where like gay images were 20 years ago. Can you elaborate on that?

MILAN: Yes. I mean, you know, there are a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about transgender people and there's a lot of misguided reporting when it comes to dealing with trans folks. And I think the uniqueness with this situation is this is the first time that we're seeing or dealing with the trans person who was (INAUDIBLE) non-disclosure. Oftentimes, we're talking to trans people like LaVerne Cox or Janet Muck (ph) who are out, people that are advocates.

But we've seen these misguided attempts to cover trans people.

In the Katie Couric interview with LaVerne Cox and Carmen Carrera, she asked about private parts. If you wouldn't ask a non- transgender person about what they've got going on in their pants, then you shouldn't ask a trans person.

We've seen this salacious coverage of trans gender people who have been victims of violence and these things just perpetuate the stereotype that transgender people should be objectified and treated less than a human being.

STELTER: Christina and Tiq, thank you so much for being here and sharing this with us.


KAHRL: Thank you so much, Brian.

STELTER: I'm reading all the comments during the show today right in front of me so tweet to me or write to me on Facebook. My user name on both sites is Brian Stelter.

Coming up a new feature here on RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm going to draw a connection between Glenn Beck and the pope. Stay tuned.



GLENN BECK, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I remember it as an awful lot of fun and that I made an awful lot of mistakes, and I wish I could go back and be more uniting in my language because I -- I think I played a role, unfortunately, in helping tear the country apart.


STELTER: That was Glenn Beck on Tuesday, reflecting on his time at FOX News with a tinge of regret. Beck is the first item on my B list, a rundown of some of the good, the bad, and the ugly in the media business.

Have you ever started to speak and had the feeling even as the words are coming out of your mouth that the words are going to be used against you? I think President Obama knows that feeling. This week, "The New Yorker" published a 17,000-word article about the president based on hours of interviews with him. It's a must-read if you haven't checked it out yet.

The Obama quote I'm about to put up on screen didn't even appear in the article. It didn't make the cut. But it was posted online later. Here it is.

"Another way of putting it, I guess, is that the issue has been the inability of my message to penetrate the Republican base so that they feel persuaded that I'm not the caricature that you see on FOX News or Rush Limbaugh, but I'm somebody who is interested in solving problems and is pretty practical and that actually a lot of the things we put in place worked better than people might think. And as long as there's that gap between perceptions of me within the average Republican primary voter and the reality, it's hard for folks like John Boehner to move too far in my direction."

Now, surely the president knew that FOX News would pounce on that. I got out my stopwatch when this quote surfaced. By my count seven different shows on the network spent a combined 26 minutes chewing on Obama's comment and emphasizing how unfair it was.

Let me borrow from Shakespeare for a moment. "The lady doth protest too much."

Maybe FOX will ask the president to defend his point of view next Sunday because Bill O'Reilly will be interviewing Obama live during the Super Bowl pregame show, 4:30 p.m. is the time to tune in. My second item is something I hope you didn't see. It's a Twitter message that was published by CNN BRK, this network's most popular Twitter feed. I thought it was inappropriate and I wonder if you at home agree or not.

Here's what it said: "14-year-old girl stabbed her little sister 40 times, police say. The reason why will shock you."

The alleged reason is that the girl didn't think her little sister sufficiently appreciated all the things she did for her.

This is what's known on the Internet as an up-worthy style headline. Up-worthy headlines are emotional, they're to the point. They often persuade to you click with a phrase like "this reason why will shock you" or "this will blow your mind."

But the headline shocked me for all the wrong reasons. I'm all for experimentation on social media. You know that. And I'm glad CNN's trying new things.

But this one went too far, I think. In fact, there was so much backlash I think more people ended up seeing that tweet than are actually watching this show right now. That's how the new media world works. These things can spread badly.

People have high standards for CNN including for its tweets, and they should. I e-mailed a spokesman to ask if CNN's social media team stands by the message and I was told, quote, "CNN strives to be tasteful while navigating the social news environment."

By the way, here's what I think is probably the bigger problem with all these up-worthy style headlines. If everything blows your mind, soon nothing's going to blow your mind.

Here's another media mistake that involves Twitter. The progressive group Media Matters, which keeps very, very close tabs on FOX News, noticed this graphic on Wednesday's edition of the conservative talk show "THE FIVE." It says, "GOP South Carolina Senator Tim Scott is the only African-American in the U.S. Senate." Co-host Andrea Tarantos compounded this mistake by saying out loud that Scott was the only black U.S. senator. Now, that's bad.

But this made it better. The other black U.S. senator, Democrat Cory Booker, retweeted the fox graphic with a one-word caption -- "whoops."

Senator Booker, that's a good way to make sure FOX remembers you next time.

My final item on the B list today gets us back to what Glenn Beck was saying in the beginning about uniting -- using television to unite, not divide. Pope Francis is putting on his papal media critic hat in a message published on Thursday, he said the media can help us feel closer to one another, and he called the Internet a gift from God. But the pope identified problems too. He wrote, "The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment. And this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression. The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful. But it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas or political and economic interests.

The world of communications can help us either to expand our knowledge or to lose our bearings. The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbors, from those closest to us. We should not overlook the fact that those who for whatever reason lack access to social media run the risk of being left behind."

You can almost hear him say to journalists: slow down, speak less, listen more. Those lines were dissected by bloggers this week, but I was also struck by a question that he asked and then answered in the message. Here's what he wrote: "How can we be neighborly in our use of the communications media and in the new environment created by digital technology? I find an answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is also a parable about communication. Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbors."

Now, there's something to think about, something to talk about on this Sunday morning. I'll have more RELIABLE SOURCES in a moment.



I'm Brian Stelter.

With the advent of the Web, there's more dialogue than ever between writers and readers -- some of it friendly, a lot of it critical and some of it frankly disgusting.

In a recent cover story for the "Pacific Standard" titled, The New Civil Rights Issue: Why Women Aren't Welcome on the Internet," Amanda Hess gave voice to the feelings of many female journalists about the harassment they endure online.

Her article started a discussion about the Internet abuse that many writers face when publishing articles about, well, politics, business, culture, sex, really, anything and everything.

It prompted one male writer to wonder how many talented women dropped out of the blogosphere rather than deal with hateful Internet feedback?

I wanted to continue this discussion on-air, so let's bring in the aforementioned Amanda Hess, who is in Hartford, Connecticut today, and Amy Wallace, who wrote a column for the "New York Times" on the same subject last weekend.

Thank you both for coming on. AMANDA HESS, WRITER: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: Amanda, your headline is pretty stark about this being the next civil rights issue.

Why do you think local and federal authorities, and sometimes even some of your own colleagues, don't take this kind of harassment seriously enough?

HESS: I think two things are going on. One is that violence and harassment against women has been discounted for many years in a variety of contexts. Sexual harassment in the workplace, domestic violence, were all sort of dismissed before they became civil rights agendas.

And the second part is that, you know, we have this idea about the Internet, that it is separate from real life, even though it is increasingly central to all of our lives. And that idea has persisted and sort of contributed to the problem.

STELTER: I wonder if you and then also Amy would be willing to share an example or two, if you can, on television of this kind of harassment, to give viewers a sense of what you're talking about.

HESS: I have one person...

AMY WALLACE, WRITER: Well, I know Amanda -- yes...

HESS: I have one person...

WALLACE: Go ahead, Amanda.

HESS: I had one person who created a Twitter account to threaten to rape me and cut off my head. That's just sort of one example of what tends to happen. But it really runs the gamut. And Amy wrote a great piece about this happening in sort of a different way.

WALLACE: Well, the thing that I tried to further the conversation, after Amanda's really great piece, was to say one more thing, which is a lot of what Amanda wrote about was anonymous trolling, people just taking swipes without signing their names. And what it prompted my piece was something that happened to Amy Harman, who writes for the "New York Times" and has won two Pulitzers, took on a really important scientific issue, genetically modified organisms, and what -- found herself soon plastered on a Facebook page of an advocacy group called Food Democracy Now, her head cut off her body and put on a bathing suit wearing sexy woman holding the hand of a Monsanto executive.

I have had this same thing happen to me when I wrote about the anti-vaccine movement and had people saying that I should be -- that I should be raped, but also that I also had been raped by my sources.

And I think that the important thing there is that when we see that -- that these things happen with signed -- with people from named organizations standing behind them, as if to say this is legitimate public discourse, this is OK...


WALLACE: -- this is funny, that's really disturbing. And it's beyond -- trolling is disturbing in itself, but when it's becoming a part of our public discourse that women are made fun of for their bodies, for their sexuality and are diminished in that way because of that, instead of being taken seriously, I think that's something for not just journalists or women to think about, but for us all to think about.

STELTER: That's a great chance for me to read from your column, from "The Times" last weekend. You wrote, Amy, "So a few journalists get heckled, you may be thinking. Why do we care? Here's why. This kind of vitriol is not designed to hold reporters accountable for the fairness and accuracy of their work. Instead, it seeks to intimidate and ultimately to silence female journalists who write about controversial topics. As often as not, these women find their bodies, not their intellects, under attack." and for both of you, it sounds like what you're trying to do is get public attention around this issue, to make it even less acceptable than people might think it is today.

WALLACE: I think that it's important to talk about it...

HESS: That's...

WALLACE: -- and definitely -- yes, Amanda should pick this up, because she really started this conversation in a lot of ways.

But this is what we can do about it, is talk about it, and acknowledge that it happens. And a lot of people were surprised to find out that it did happen.

HESS: And I think it's...

STELTER: Amanda, what did you find in your research?

HESS: -- you know...

STELTER: What surprised you most?

Because you spent so much effort on this original magazine cover story.

HESS: Well, part of the reason I wrote this story was not just to sort of talk about my own experience, which many, many women have done, you know, in the past few years. But what I was really sort of trying to do is advance the discussion beyond talking and sort of put pressure on legal experts, on law enforcement officers and on technology companies to start understanding their role in the problem.

STELTER: I mean, you know, my impression before your articles was that so much of this is political. You know, it's liberals attacking conservative women or conservatives attacking liberal women. But your article made me think about how it affects writers of all stripes, reporters of all stripes, not just politics and policy, but many different topics. And, you know, I think the assumption sometimes is that the people that are writing these kinds of threats are men.

But, Amy, that's not always the case, is it?

WALLACE: Yes, that was something that I felt was not in my piece and I do think it's important to note. Certainly, most of the people who called me the C word or who implied that various horrible things should be done to me or called me a whore, which is not an uncommon experience for a woman journalist who tackles controversial topics, most of them were men. But not all of them were men.

I went back and looked through the 800 e-mails I got after writing about the anti-vaccine movement and there were a couple of the people who were using those kinds of terms were women, which says to me that this kind of vernacular is being accepted as a part of our public discourse by all people. It's the way to attack a woman on her ideas.

And I guess one of the things I've heard from several people is, you know, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. You know, oh, you're a cry baby if you're complaining about this.

And I think it's patently clear that Amanda Hess and I can stand the heat, because we opted to write stories that we knew were going to get heat.

The question really is -- I think journalists should take heat. They should be scrutinized for the quality of their reporting, for the originality of their voices, for their accuracy. But they should not be taken to task for what their bodies happen to be shaped like or their potential sexuality or their race or any number of other factors. And that's becoming the way we criticize in this country sometimes. And I think that's of concern.

STELTER: Amanda, do you feel anything's changed in the last three weeks since you -- since you wrote your original piece?

HESS: I do. You know, I've heard from at least one local law enforcement agency that has had some of its staffers join Twitter and discuss the story with its constituents, which has been really hopeful.

And, you know, I think it's -- things are going to change, which is...


STELTER: Here's a great idea from someone on Twitter just now. They said there should be an automatic flagging program. If there are certain curse words sent to you, just automatically block that person.

Amanda and Amy, thank you so much for bringing attention to this topic.

HESS: Thank you.

WALLACE: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: Robert Redford is famous not just for his acting but for his environmental activism. So how does he rate the news media's coverage of climate change? The answer, right after the break.


STELTER: Welcome back. If you were watching the show last week, you know I was in Park City, Utah, for Sundance Film Festival. Before I left, I had the chance to sit down with Robert Redford, the founder of the festival, who's now executive producing two television series here for CNN. There were a lot of highlights and I wanted to show a couple today, including his thoughts on this year's festival and his views of President Obama.


STELTER: Bob, thanks for joining me.

REDFORD: It's my pleasure.

STELTER: What are the films you see at Sundance every year that are your favorites?

Are they the more timely ones, the ones that are about current affairs like Syria, for example?

REDFORD: No, I think the value for me with the films is when I see evidence of innovation; I see new ways of telling stories, whether it's cinematographically, whether it's using the camera in a different way...

STELTER: You haven't seen everything by now?

REDFORD: No. There's no way I could see everything. As a matter of fact, that's one of the frustrations of being here at a festival that I started back in 1985, when we had one theater and we had maybe 25 or 30 films, maybe two or three documentaries, and just a few people wandering around the streets, and no real support for it because it was in the winter; it was in Utah; it was a whole lot of things.

And so, as this thing has grown, it's grown substantially, and as it's grown, we're able to, kind of, grow with it and increase distribution, but mostly innovation. You see different ways of telling stories. And they keep multiplying each year. And to me, that's really exciting.

STELTER: Sometimes it seems like you flirt with the notion of retiring from the festival. Do you come here and get reinvigorated or do you come here and think maybe it's time that I step aside? REDFORD: Well, I think there are certain things I should probably step aside from because I think there's enough talent in place where they don't need me. It's enough that I maybe started something or created the chance for them to do it, so it doesn't need me. I just get it over to them and let them do their work.

STELTER: I'm sorry to say I missed Sundance last year because I was trying to go to the inauguration, the second inauguration for President Obama.

REDFORD: Were you? Well, a lot of people left here to go there.

STELTER: Did they?

REDFORD: Yeah, yeah.

STELTER: I wonder how you feel now that it's been a year into his second term. You've been such a big supporter of his. How do you feel he's doing?

REDFORD: Well, first of all, I think he's a good human being. That's, I think, clear. He's a humanitarian at heart, and that's good. He's trying to manage an extremely difficult situation. I mean, it's -- it's almost too much for one person. But when you have a system that's supposed to serve the public good by being bipartisan -- because that's the point of it all. Bipartisanship was meant to serve the public good.

When you have one half whose only motive is to destroy the motives of the president of the United States, then you have a diseased system. And I don't think that's his fault. I think it just makes his job tougher.

STELTER: It sounds like you see disease when you look at Washington politics.

REDFORD: I do. I see disease in -- inside the Beltway. But, you know, while you're on it, we -- we spoke a while back on "All the President's Men Revisited." There's a moment in that film I'd like to point out that illustrates my point, which is remember the hearings, the Watergate hearings? And we have some archival footage in there where you had the panel, Sam Ervin, Sam (inaudible) -- you had all these guys, and you have the senator from Tennessee, and he was conservative; he was a republican. You had Republicans and Democrats on this panel. And what you got out of it was how hard all of them were working together to get to the truth of something.

And I thought, I'm seeing something we don't see today, bipartisanship, working together to get to the truth for the public good.

STELTER: Are there particular disappointments you feel in President Obama after the first year of his second term?

I ask because we had that big letter come out from 18 environmental groups that were breaking from the president recently and saying they didn't support his current strategy toward environmental...

REDFORD: Well, obviously I'm prejudiced. If there's a prejudice, it's pretty clear. I favor the environment. I don't know how you can -- I don't know how a person could bring a child into the world without thinking about what we're going to give them that should be preserved or give them so they have something to work with.

And I think some of the industries of old that made this country strong and great have now turned the other way; they don't serve us anymore because there's new technologies that are cleaner and, if they were used, would be a better country for our young people to step into. And yet you have the powers that be running the show. And then there you have it, same old same old. And to me, that's unhealthy.

But I think, for Obama, I think he can't do what he -- if he can't get bipartisanship to work with, then that's a tough one.

In terms of the environment, I'm very, very pro the environment, obviously. And I think, if you have somebody that has to balance both sides of the equation and one of the sides is gas and oil, coal, which I think are destructive to the environment, but they have to be balanced because of all the money they bring into the political equation, you've got a difficult row to hoe. And I think that's the row he's trying to hoe, and I think that's tough.

STELTER: Can I ask you one wonky last question?


STELTER: Because we're both into journalism? Well, I wonder what you think of the media's coverage of climate change. Do you feel it's the kind of topic where they've failed, in general, to educate the public?

NEWMAN: I do. I think it's now finally dawning on people that we're -- it is an issue because it's now in our backyard. It's not something that's out there or tomorrow, it's here and it's now and it's happening. It's affecting water.

Look at the weather patterns. They're so drastic. It's pretty -- you have to be -- you have to be really the most narrow-minded person in the world to still deny climate change.

But it's here and it's already showing evidence of destruction.

The real question is, is it too late?

And because I like to be optimistic about it and I like to think that people, if they really thought strong about the environment, they would realize that it's almost too late, there's something we can do.

I think the media has fallen short, in large. And I think certain parts of the media have been good. But I think in total, the media has missed the bet by not getting on board earlier to tell the stories of the clear evidence already in place about the dangers we're now facing. I think they missed the bet on that. They're coming in late to the game.


STELTER: After the break, something very cool I saw recently in Philadelphia. I'll show it to you next.


STELTER: We are a few hours away from the Grammys, typically the second highest rated award show of the year after the Oscars. And we're a week away from the biggest TV event of them all, the Super Bowl.

Millions of viewers, myself included, will be texting and Tweeting and Facebooking the whole time.

Right now, the media business is laser focused on trying to figure out how to better connect all those online conversations to actual television viewership. After all, sites like Twitter become more valuable when people use them to talk about TV. Cable channels like CNN become more valuable when people read Tweets about TV and then decide to tune in.

Maybe cable providers like Comcast become more valuable, too, because you're more likely to key paying for cable if you think there's lots to tune into.

Basically, all of social TV benefits all of these big companies.

I think that's why Comcast, the biggest cable provider in the country, wants to turn Twitterers into viewers with a new technology it calls See It.

I visited Comcast labs in Philadelphia for a little bit of a show and tell with the company's head of business development, Sam Schwartz.


STELTER: Sam thanks for letting us into the lab.


STELTER: Tell me what the See It platform tries to do.

SCHWARTZ: Sure. What we want to do is connect the places where people are discovering content online, movies and TV shows, to the places they can go watch it, which is either on their mobile device or on their TV set.

STELTER: And right now, that means Twitter, for example. I always discover what's on TV when I'm viewing Tweets.

So how does this part work? SCHWARTZ: There's a lot of people talking about entertainment and Twitter, obviously. And it's a big focus of the company right now.

And so what we want to do in the Twitter app is provide a button that you can press next to a Tweet that's about a TV show or a movie.

STELTER: So are these Tweets enabled right here?

SCHWARTZ: That's right. Right here, we've got some of my favorite Tweets about shows that are on television now. You can see "Chicago Fire," Michael J. Fox's show, "The Blacklist."

And if I click in here on "The Blacklist," what you'll see is this card comes up. It tells you more information about the show. It still talks about the Tweet. But at the bottom, we've got something new, which is the See It button. And it says see it, watch or record now.

And what that does is it -- when I press on that, is bring up all of your options for watching "The Blacklist."

STELTER: So live or maybe on demand?

SCHWARTZ: Yes, and -- or on your mobile device, right?

And so the first thing it says, watch on TV. I can show you how that works real quick. If I press watch on TV, we're here in the lab, so we're going to see a lot of TVs that are here in the lab. But if I press on the second one, what will happen on this TV right next to us, Brian, is that right now, it will start playing the latest episode of "The Blacklist."

STELTER: That was pretty fast. Yes.

SCHWARTZ: So we went all the way from somebody's Tweet about "The Blacklist," all the way to tuning our show. And it was just a couple of clicks. And we haven't even left the Twitter app.

STELTER: Now, all of these Tweets are, of course, about NBC shows. NBC is owned by Comcast.

SCHWARTZ: That's right.

STELTER: But this is going to continue to work for non-NBC and non-Comcast programming, as well, right?

SCHWARTZ: That's right. ABC, A&E, Discovery have all jumped on board with us. And they'll be featuring the See It buttons on their Tweets, as well.

STELTER: And also cable operators, as well?

SCHWARTZ: That's right. We want this to work nationwide, so we need other cable operators and other distributors to work with us.

STELTER: And not just on Twitter, either. I think it would be interesting to see this button on Web sites, for example.

SCHWARTZ: That's right. We launched with Twitter, but very shortly, we hope to have this wherever there is activity online or a conversation online.

STELTER: What problems are you trying to solve with this technology?

SCHWARTZ: So what we -- you know, the observation that we had was that there's a lot of discussion in social networks, on Web sites, inside apps, around television and entertainment. But it's too hard. There's too much friction to get the user from there to watching it.

And we want to make that easier. And as you saw in the demo, we've made it easier. And so See It is really that link between the place that you discover that you're interested in watching something to the place you can go consume it.

STELTER: And, of course, all of this just increases the chances of us interacting more with TV.

SCHWARTZ: That's right. We want people to discover a lot of the content that we -- that they're already paying for. And this just gives them another way to do it.

STELTER: So let's think through the possibilities here, because it seems like there are lots of applications for this. I could imagine if I get a CNN breaking news alert on my phone, maybe the See It button shows up there, too, and lets me watch live coverage.

SCHWARTZ: That's right. We could enable the CNN alert to have a See It button and you press on it and your TV would tune to it or we'd show CNN to you directly on your phone.

STELTER: Sam, thanks for the demo.

SCHWARTZ: Thanks for coming, Brian.


STELTER: Some non-Comcast shows like "The Bachelor" on ABC have started to include See It. And a couple of other cable providers, like Time Warner Cable and Charter, are expected to implement it soon. So it's not just a Comcast product.

For now, it's kind of like a giant cell phone in the 1980s. It's very early stage, but it has a lot of potential. And someday, it's probably going to be everywhere. I bet your onscreen TV guide will automatically tell you what shows your friends are watching someday soon.

Speaking of the Web, there's a lot more of our media coverage right now on, including my story about Fox's Sean Hannity, who told viewers a few days ago that he might run for office someday.

And a debate about this "New York Times" magazine cover about Hillary Clinton. It was really made for social media, wasn't it?

Also online this week, my explanation about why Verizon is spending a reported $500 million on technology that might improve the future of TV and a story I wrote yesterday about that ongoing blackout of the Weather Channel in DirecTV homes. Everything we said on last week's show is still true -- there is no end in sight to that blackout.

But there is an end to this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES and we've arrived at it.

Check out our blog at for all the stories I mentioned.

And tune in next week, Sunday, at 11:00 a.m., and I'll be in New York City for an up-close look at the Super Bowl and all the media circus that entails.