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Reliable Sources

How Media is Tackling NFL Scandals; Interview with Anthony Weiner

Aired September 21, 2014 - 11:00   ET


BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Brian Stelter.

It's Sunday, September 21st, and it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES.

Our top story this morning: the NFL in damage control mode. With a press conference unlike any Roger Goodell has ever given, was it enough?

And another shocking video from terror group ISIS, one CNN that has decided not to show. I'll ask a CNN executive why that is.

And I will show you remarkable new polling data about the public's lack of trust in us, the media. Talk to a man who has firsthand experience. Maybe he also has a solution.

STELTER: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell came out of hiding Friday afternoon, but was it enough, enough to save his job, enough to satisfy league sponsors? Because those sponsors have been critical of the NFL's handling of its domestic scandals. That's scandals, plural.

And another question here this morning, are we in the media now at the point where we are paying too much attention to all of this?

To answer all that let's bring in L.Z. Granderson, an ESPN columnist and a commentator here at CNN. And Mark Mravic, an assistant managing editor for "Sports Illustrated" and the MMQB. He oversees football coverage there.

Thank you both for being here this morning.

And, before we start, L.Z., let me play a sound bite from Goodell and ask you to react to it.


ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: I'm not satisfied with what we did. I let myself down. I let everybody else down, and for that I'm sorry, as I mentioned earlier. But that's what we're going to correct and that's what we're going to fix.


STELTER: So, L.Z., to you first, was it enough? L.Z. GRANDERSON, CNN COMMENTATOR: I didn't like the phrasing of

that answer because he said he wasn't happy with what he did. It should have been he hasn't been happy with what they have done. He's had between 55 and 57 domestic violence-related arrests during his tenure.

So, this wasn't begun or started with Ray Rice. This has been something going on in the NFL for a long time, and as I said, half of a hundred arrests have been happening under his watch. So, he's consistently turned a blind eye to this. I did not hear that being addressed in his presser.

STELTER: Mark, do you think the sponsors who have put some pressure on the NFL through public statements are going to be satisfied now that they've heard from Goodell in this press conference?

MARK MRAVIC, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: I do think so. I think they made a statement and they basically told Goodell to get his act together and the NFL to get their act together.

STELTER: And now, Goodell is saying he's going to.

MRAVIC: Yes. I mean, he was contrite and looked a little shaken in that press conference and I think what he's -- the plan he's putting forward will probably pacify the sponsors.

STELTER: And what's most important about the advertisers is they haven't pulled money off the table. They haven't decided not to be selling -- to be buying ads on NFL programming and that would be the ultimate leverage they have that they have not used.

MRAVIC: Right. And, you know, I think what you're seeing is television is -- the NFL is the last great television product, and, you know, they're going to be -- there will be 25 million people watching the NFL tonight. There will be hundreds of millions over the course of the season. It's just too good for sponsors to pass up.

STELTER: The CEO of CBS this week, Les Moonves, told "The Hollywood Reporter", the ratings have been phenomenal for his new franchise, "Thursday Night Football", and then he said football is still the best thing on television. He's got a vested interest to say that but he's right. The number one, two, and three programs on American TV last week were the NFL and it's going to be that way all fall.

GRANDERSON: And that's part of the reason why we haven't really heard outrage over the 50-plus arrests for domestic violence, because at the end of the day, we don't care, by we, I mean, the general public. If we truly cared enough about this issue of domestic violence, each time it would have been reported, we would have seen a spike in the attention being directed towards the NFL --

STELTER: If that's the case what's going on now? What is it about this moment that has caused saturation coverage for two weeks? GRANDERSON: Well, there's a couple things. One, we have the

video. But then, two, social media allows us to do mobbing, if you will.

And now, we've got like this mob in effect in which everyone is jumping in there, everyone has a hashtag, everyone is directing their energy towards the commissioner. Even current players now are getting on Twitter and condemning the commissioner, but you didn't hear the players during the previous arrests and domestic violence, right, like those guys were playing with them. Some of them have been accused of punching and choking their girlfriends and wives while they were pregnant, and you did not hear from those players in the NFL locker room.

Now, you got this video and they have a mob mentality. So, that's what you're seeing now.

STELTER: And then we see a dozen television networks carrying that press conference live on Friday, even all the major broadcast networks carrying it live.

Let's play one more byte. This is CNN's own Rachel Nichols asking a pointed question to Goodell, and an hour later, Rachel was trending on Twitter because of it. So, here is the clip.


RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN HOST, "UNGUARDED": Roger, you have had pretty extreme unilateral power in deciding discipline. But as you've said a few times, you've got it wrong in a few cases, and that tends to happen when there's no checks and balances. How willing are you to give up some of that power and do you think that that would be the right thing for you to do?

GOODELL: Well, Rachel, as I said in my statement, everything is on the table. We're going to make sure that we look at every aspect of the process of how we gather information to make a decision, how we make that decision, and then the appeals process, and all of that is on the table and all of that is important information that we want outside experts to give us some perspective on and see if there's a better way to do it.

We believe there is and we believe we need it. We can't continue to operate like this.


STELTER: Like I said, her name was trending on Twitter afterwards.

This press conference in some ways to me was spectacle. And I have to get Goodell credit, he did, you know, finally open himself up to a room of reporters. He didn't just invite in one single interviewer or a couple interviewers. He took questions from a bunch of people and he took them for a while.

GRANDERSON: Which could explain where he's been for the past nine days, right?

STELTER: And he's preparing for this.

GRANDERSON: Preparing for this moment, absolutely.

MRAVIC: I think he had a lot of people doing a lot of media training with him to get him to say the right thing really there.

I think what we saw was a commissioner who, as I said, contrite and taking a step back from his role as a sort of the sheriff of the NFL, and I think it hurts him a little bit, it hurts his image a little bit, but I think it was damage control that needed to be done.

STELTER: Let me put a Twitter message up on screen from one of the best reporters out there, Alex Sherman at Bloomberg. This is what he wrote right afterwards, after the press conference. He wrote, "The media wants blood here. There is little respect for Goodell among the vast majority of people in that room it seems."

Are we at the point now where there has been too much coverage of these scandals?

GRANDERSON: Well, not when you have 100 million people tuning in to watch the Super Bowl. I mean, that's like a third of the country, right? So, when you're that powerful, you're going to get that many eyeballs, you're going to get that much criticism. So, he should be prepared for this.

And, again, domestic violence is a serious, serious issue that has not been treated seriously by the NFL. So, they've kind of had this kind of building up over the past few decades and that's what you're beginning to see now.

STELTER: Mark, Rich Lowry wrote this week that media has lost its collective mind on this topic. He called it hysteria.

MRAVIC: I don't think it's hysteria. I think, as L.Z. pointed out, this is a serious issue. NFL has had a series of these -- the head trauma issue that came out, the lockout made the league looked bad. You know, I think it had gotten to the point -- really a tipping point for Roger Goodell's commissionership and I think he was called on a carpet for it and rightly so.

STELTER: We talked last week about the relationships between the big television networks and the league. Billions of dollars go to the league for the television rights to all of these games that we're seeing all fall, and I have sensed and I wonder what you all have sensed, I have sensed some pretty aggressive coverage from these networks, from ESPN and from many others. Do you share that sense, L.Z.? I know you're a contributor to ESPN. So, I'm putting you in a slightly tough position.

So, I'm guarding my job here if I will. I will present this one question though. We have been really pointing our finger at the NFL asking if TMZ got this video, then how come you didn't get the video.


GRANDERSON: Well, then, the question also is fair to ask, how come the other networks, which are broadcasting NFL games, didn't have access to that video as well.

STELTER: Right, ESPN or CBS or FOX or NBC.

GRANDERSON: Right. I mean, I think we are being very aggressive now. I think we're being aggressive down one particular track, but I think internally, we need to look at ourselves and ask ourselves, why didn't we have access to that video either?

MRAVIC: And I think your point about everyone having a voice, I think the viewers got on Twitter, on Facebook and expressed their outrage in a way that television is an echo chamber of what's going on and responding to the readers and responding to the viewers.

STELTER: You're saying maybe reporters are being so aggressive in chasing this story because they hear the audience screaming.

MRAVIC: I think that's exactly right, yes.

GRANDERSON: There's also -- I don't know if you sense this as well, but I think in general, we're being more aggressive about behavior of athletes, owners behaving badly. We saw with Donald Sterling, you see a little with Jim Irsay.

I think we're beginning to see a public and media that's more willing to go after the people providing this entertainment and not just letting them get a pass because their boys are playing games.

MRAVIC: I think, you know, I mean, when we do stories on "Sports Illustrated" now, you got to be perfectly sure if you're putting a guy on the cover of the magazine or writing a long feature about how great he is, boy, you got to really do your due diligence now. You cannot --


MRAVIC: All of these guys. You know, Adrian Peterson, we have put him on the cover of "Sports Illustrated." He's a great guy. You know, you meet him and he's a good interview. He's great with kids and all this stuff.

You know, it's the last thing you would expect for him to be in trouble like that. And, you know, I think everybody in the media now has just got to step back and say, what is our role really?

GRANDERSON: Which is why it's so important to stop hero- worshipping as sports writers, in particular. You know, we stopped doing it with politicians after Watergate. But when it comes to our athletes, we still want to put them in the position of being these great guys based on their on-field performance. And we've got to stop doing that.

And we also may be critical about of the women as well. We have Hope Solo who's been accused of domestic violence --

STELTER: Tell me more about that one, because that I've seen people this week saying, why isn't Hope Solo's case being talked about more?

GRANDERSON: Well, I think we know why, right? It's about gender difference and it's about the sport they play. Hope Solo and forgive me but soccer just is not as relevant in this country as the NFL. So, that's part of it.


GRANDERSON: But it's also the imagery. The ideal of a big, strong man hitting a defenseless woman does something to us that a woman hitting a woman does not do. But if domestic violence is the issue, we need to be consistent with that.

MRAVIC: I agree. You know, I think it is a gender issue, but I think we've not paid enough attention to a lot of social issues that are occurring in society and that are impinging on sports. And, you know, as I said earlier, I think that this is a really interesting tipping point for the media, not just for the NFL.

STELTER: Mark and L.Z., thank you both for being here and dissecting the press conference with me.

GRANDERSON: Thank you.

MRAVIC: Thank you.

STELTER: Up next, a segment that I think maybe Roger Goodell could benefit from. Something he might want to hear about. We're going to talk to someone who knows what it is like to go through the media wringer. We're going to talk about whether Americans do or don't trust the media because of cases like that. You'll want to hear what he says right after this.


STELTER: Do you trust what you hear on television and read online?

According to Gallup, overall levels of trust in mass media fell back to a record low this year after a slight uptick last year that seems to have been a fluke.

But don't take my word for it. Take a look at the data. These are annual figures dating back to the '90s. You can see that gradual trend line down for 15 years to about 40 percent overall now.

Of course, the polling question is about the monolithic capital "M" media. You're more likely to trust your local paper or local TV station than the media as a whole.

But here's what I thought was the most interesting part of the data that came out this week. Right now, we're in the sixth year of the Obama administration. During the same time in the Bush administration, in between his re-election and the 2006 midterms, 70 percent of Democrats said they trusted mass media, 31 percent of Republicans said the same thing. But now, Democratic trust is down to 54 percent. That's as bad as it was at the tail end of the Clinton administration. Why?

Here is my best guess. News about President Obama has been mostly bad these past two years and Democrats may feel the news media is part of the problem hurting the president.

Here is another sign of that. This is another really interesting Gallup question about whether the media is too liberal or too conservative. There's a big uptick in people say it's too conservative.

Now, look at the top line here. This is too liberal and you have seen that for the past about 15 years, that number pretty much hasn't changed, been between 44 percent and 48 percent of Americans who say the media overall is too liberal.

But the bottom line is people saying the media is too conservative. That's what has ticked up quite a bit to 19 percent in the most recent study.

The gap between too liberal and too conservative, take a look here, it almost perfectly mirrors the gap between the ratings for FOX News and MSNBC.

Now, I could bring in two partisan commentators now to argue about the media but I'd rather from someone who has been in the glare of the news media, someone who is all too familiar with what happened when you go from darling to bad boy, and maybe back and forth. That's former Congressman Anthony Weiner. He joins me now.

Thank you for coming in.


STELTER: So, you are now a part of the media, a columnist for the "Business Insider" Web site and for "The New York Daily News."

So, where do you come down on this issue of media bias? Is the media too liberal? Is it conservative? Is it neither? Is it both?

WEINER: Well, I kind of think the media is like a Rorschach test for consumers, right? They can find whatever viewpoint they want, easier than ever, they can just go to FOX for conservative. Maybe go to MSNBC for liberal. Be right here on CNN for the God's honest truth.

But the fact is it's become the media and politics have almost become interwoven in people's minds in a lot of ways. You know, if they think the thing isn't on the level, they're likely to think it just as much about politicians as they are about the media. And that's something interesting. You know, I now do this monthly column for business insider and

for "The Daily News" and depending upon what viewpoint I take and this week, I took a more conservative view of something, they're like, oh, you're in the pocket of the conservatives. You automatically, I think people are assuming the system isn't on the level and the media is getting dragged into that rightly or wrongly, I think that's happening.

STELTER: Which is why the trust level gradually is decline. There is this direction, you can see them moving in. It's not just the media. This is also true for all sorts of institutions, isn't it?

WEINER: Well, I think, look, institutions by and large are taking a hit. You know, the financial institutions, the Congress, politicians' media. I just think that there's a moment now in our American civic life, where there's just not a lot of confidence that things are legit.

That's why, I think, you know, if you scour the Internet even for five minutes you can see all kinds of message boards and Reddits, and places like that, that talk about just skepticism that things are legit and the media even just by virtue of the fact that they're delivering the information that people are concerned about --


WEINER: -- I think is in that morass.

STELTER: I say is it possible it's both, too liberal, too conservative, because it's possible sometimes some articles or segments feel too conservative, others might feel too liberal on the same channel or in the same newspaper.

WEINER: Right. But there's also something else.

STELTER: Important not to use too broad a brush here.

WEINER: I know, but there's something else that happens. Very often the media seeks to do, particularly in television, is do the split screen. Say, all right, here is the conservative, here's the liberal, you guys fight it out.

And what that allows, I think, is each a viewer to say because there's a liberal on the screen, it lets the conservative say, oh, they have that bias or the other way around.


WEINER: And I think that -- I don't know what the solution is because I think you do want to have that cocktail of different views, but I do believe that it's dragging down the perception of the media.

STELTER: You said to me before we started here that the cynicism industry is fighting back. What do you mean by that?

WEINER: Well, it's more as biting back. I mean, what's happening is that there's so much cynicism. You've got the Jon Stewarts of the world who lift up issues just far enough to whack them. Bill Maher, lift them up just far enough to whack them, to make fun of them.

Now, the politicians are doing the same thing. They refer to the mainstream media, don't believe FOX, don't believe MSNBC. We are playing into the notion of cynicism that is part of the daily vocabulary. And sooner or later, that seeps in.

You know, something else is happening for the -- now, there's so much money in politics to put nice sheen on politicians. The media maybe legitimately feels it's their job to tear it off.

So, what do you have? You have basically they're in the business of trying to show things are not as shiny, as good as they should be. Maybe, again that might be their job, but the problem is it's generally in this ethos now that I think a lot of people have when they talk to me about being in the media. They're like, I trust you even less than I did when you were in Congress, which wasn't a lot.

STELTER: Oh, really? Really?

But isn't there a sheen that needs to be torn off? Isn't there a dirty reality we need to see beneath the surface?

WEINER: I guess but, you know, it really is, and this is a critique I have of your business and I guess now it's kind of mine, is that that can't be the sum and substance of what reporter thinks their job is. They ran a glitzy TV commercial, we have to show they're not all that, because you never then really get into the true conversation I think citizens want, which were about the issues, about people's viewpoints and ideas.

If it's only about, oh, this guy wants you to think that he's all this great guy, he doesn't even live in the state, and that's our big expose. You never hear about what -- you're not going to hear any debate about foreign policy in the Kansas elections this year. Put it that way.

STELTER: That's an interesting point about the substance.

I mean -- but do you look back on your time in Congress and then your attempt to run for mayor and blame the media for them exposing your personal life? The so-called sexting scandals?

WEINER: Oh, no!


WEINER: Can I say something? I put myself -- I created the thing that brought me down and look at the arc of my career. You know, I poked a finger at a lot of people in the media and poked a finger at the FOX News types and everything else --

STELTER: So, do you think they were poking back for that reason? WEINER: No, no, I think -- listen, when you create a

circumstance that I did, when you have the behavior that I did, when your name is Weiner or when you're running for office, I don't have any complaints about that. I, you know, created this situation. No one is to blame for that.

You know, my situation can come around in the '40s, '50s, '60s, or '70s, with the possible exception of the presence of the Internet changing things, the media did what they are expected to do.

STELTER: What do you do to regain trust? Because I think really, I think all the time about how reporters, how the media can regain trust. Anytime I speak to a journalism school, a class of students, I say, we as young journalists can win people back. Get them to trust the media again. Maybe I'm being a little too optimistic.

WEINER: Well, I don't know. You know, look, the difference about my experience, and I don't know if it's really apropos if anything. I mean, if you're a movie star and you jump up and down on a couch and act crazy, but if you make a great movie the next time, people say, OK, he made a great movie.


WEINER: A reporter does have the ability to go out and write that next story that maybe cleans up the mess a little bit. I can't just say, OK, I'll go back to Congress and we'll sort this out again.

All I can do is hope that people look at the 25-some-odd years I served in Congress and recognize I made some terrible personal mistakes and I paid a high price for them.

But if you wake up every morning and say, I've got to redeem myself, it's a tough way to get through your day.

STELTER: So, what do you think reporters should do? What do you think media organizations should do to try to win back consumers? Because we're after all talking about trying to get the audience to trust more. That ultimately is a really important thing on the business level in order to gain more subscribers, gain more people to look at our advertising, et cetera.

WEINER: Yes. I mean, all I can say is from my experience as a consumer as well, is I think a lot of assumptions people in media make about what consumers of news want turned out to be wrong. You know, we see this experiment going on on HBO with John Oliver, doing 25- minute-long funny segments about weighty subjects.

STELTER: And it's a hit.

WEINER: And it's working.

STELTER: It's a hit on TV and YouTube, too.

WEINER: That's right. So, this notion you can only have short segments, only use small words, you can't really do a lot substance. You can't take on things like gender identity in Africa and Indian election -- he's proving that that's wrong. And I guess the thing that I think we've learned is that if you aim higher, you know, viewers and listeners might just follow you. But it's a hard argument to make because we're in a generational shift now in the way we consume the news.

STELTER: I love the two words you used, aim higher. It's a great place for us to leave it.

Anthony Weiner, thanks for being here.

WEINER: Thanks for having. I love the New York set. It's great.

STELTER: Thank you. Thank you for helping us break it in.

We need to squeeze in a quick break. But when we come back, ISIS taking a page out of Hollywood with a terror movie trailer. We're going to dissect it in a segment everybody should see, right after this.


STELTER: Welcome back.

A decade ago we all got used to seeing this, grainy videos produced by al Qaeda, sometimes smuggled out of Afghanistan and delivered to television networks like al Jazeera. These were clearly pretty amateur productions. But that's history.

The extremist group ISIS seems to be taking a page out of Hollywood, with slickly produced video, high definition. And this week, even a terror movie trailer.

I know this is objectionable but part of war is the propaganda war. So, I think it's worth analyzing.

Let's watch the trailer and then talk about it.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq.



STELTER: So, that was the teaser.

And on Friday, the same day movie studios release new films, ISIS released the 55-minute video it calls "Flames of War." It warns America against direct confrontation and it ends with what appear to be the executions of several men.

To better understand what ISIS is doing there and how it's doing it, let me bring in a professional documentarian, Marshall Curry. If you're a fan of film festivals like I am, you may have seen some of his work, "Street Fight", "Racing Dreams", and most recently, "If A Tree Falls". His next documentary is "Point and Shoot", about an American who fought with the rebels in Libya.

Marshall, thanks for coming in this morning.


STELTER: So, you're the professional. When you see that trailer, when you these movies, what do you make of them? How professionally produced are they, really?

CURRY: I mean, they are -- I think it's worth mentioning in the front, though, that there's something a little uncomfortable about talking about production values when we're thinking about a group that, you know, has caused suffering to people. But, that said, it's important to under the tools that they're using. And media is definitely one of them.

STELTER: And to see it as propaganda and ask how they produce it.


I mean, they're using high-def footage. They're using a lot of tropes and styles that you see in Hollywood movies, slow motion, things, explosions going backwards, things like that, a lot of it that feels like it could have been from the trailer for "The Matrix." But...

STELTER: Right. It looks like a Michael Bay movie or something. And that must be intentional on their part.

CURRY: Clearly, it is, though I also think it's worth noting that this stuff, it's not Michael Bay. They can do this with a $1,000 camera and a laptop.

STELTER: That's what I was wondering. How cheaply can this be done? A thousand dollars?

CURRY: Yes. A good SLR video camera could shoot basically everything I saw there.

And with a laptop and, you know, editing software or some effects software, it's not rocket science. They're not Pixar.

STELTER: So, we have moved out of the age where you need these fancy video editing suites and these $100,000 cameras.

CURRY: Right, which is great for independent filmmakers, but it puts tools in the hands of a lot of folks. But, unfortunately, it also puts tools in the hands of folks like them.

STELTER: Are there particular techniques you see in these ISIS videos that you notice that you think they're using, for example, to instill fear in people? It's sometimes that they will slow down pictures or they will darken the image. Particular reasons?

CURRY: Yes. Yes.

I think some of these videos are about frightening people, you know, a beheading video or these atrocious things. That's about instilling fear. A trailer like this one I think is more about touching the excitement in a possible young recruit that they could be part of an action movie themselves and to say, look at what we're doing. Isn't this thrilling and exciting? You, too, could be a part of that.

STELTER: And you noticed that. When you were working on your most -- your upcoming film, "Point and Shoot," you noticed that, in Libya, the film that you were -- a lot of the footage in your film was shot by the main character, this American that went to Libya, and in his footage, we can see the Libyan rebels taking photos of themselves and things, right?

CURRY: Yes, it's amazing.

The character is a guy from Baltimore who just goes over to Libya and joins the rebels, has a camera with him. And in some of the footage that I started looking through, there are these shots of Libyan rebels with machine guns spraying bullets in the middle of battle. And then you see that there are four other rebels with cell phone cameras filming them -- filming the guys shooting the bullets.

And you realize that this is a very different group from ISIS. These are the guys that were fighting Gadhafi, that America was supporting. And they were not necessarily doing it for recruiting reasons, but they wanted to feel like they were part of an action movie. And I think that's -- ISIS is playing on this kind of primal desire among a lot of young men to be action movie stars.

STELTER: And at the end of the trailer, you see the words "Coming Soon" in that way.

I wanted to bring up a quote that I read from the Toronto Film Festival recently. Michael Moore was speaking to younger filmmakers and he said, don't make a documentary. Make a movie.

And I wonder if that's something we are seeing in this grotesque form as well. Don't try to educate or lecture. Try to entertain.


I mean, it's funny. When he said that, it caused a big kerfuffle in the documentary world. I think his main point was just that documentaries shouldn't be finger-wagging lectures, that, if you do that, nobody will listen. And so of course what he's tried to do is use humor and drama and... STELTER: With confrontation, yes.

CURRY: Confrontation, that those are the ways you actually get audiences. And, clearly, ISIS...

STELTER: With ISIS, it's fake explosions that cover up the screen and things like that.

CURRY: Right. Right.

Yes. No, they are really tapping into a lot of the Hollywood tropes and I think hoping to inspire a crop of new recruits that want to imagine themselves in Hollywood movies.

STELTER: Maybe the point is that, as we see these films, as we see these YouTube videos, et cetera, and as we see cable news repeat them sometimes, we have got to resist their effort, which is to instill fear, which is to provoke action perhaps.

CURRY: Right.

I think that's right. And, of course, I'm sure you feel mixed about even running a trailer, because, on one hand, we want to inform people about what these guys are doing. On the other hand, you don't necessarily want to give them a platform for it.

STELTER: That's actually going to be our next conversation.

So, Marshall, thanks for being here.

CURRY: Thank you so much for having me.


And I think what you're bringing up is crucially important. I want to stay on this topic and take a break and afterwards talk about how ISIS makes its own media and talk about the discussions we have here at CNN about when to air and when not to air propaganda videos. We will have that right after this.


STELTER: Welcome back.

This next segment is unusual. It's about what we're not going to show you. What we're not going to show is a video of a British journalist, John Cantlie, narrating what sort of feels like an ISIS newscast, the first of several programs that he says will present the truth about the extremist group.

CNN decided to show just this one still photo from the video, but not any of the content of it. The video was uploaded to the Internet on Thursday, the same day that CNN was holding one of its occasional tough choices sessions. These are 90-minute conversations internally via videoconference organized by the head of standards and practices. They're all about the ethical dilemmas that we face. And this

time, it was about ISIS videos, to air or not to air. There were lots of disagreements. And I think it's worth underscoring that right now. These are truly tough choices.

And one CNN executive who spoke up at the session was Tony Maddox, who runs our CNN International channel and all international news gathering.

Let me bring him in now from CNN headquarters in Atlanta.

Tony, thanks for joining me.


STELTER: The first question is about that video on Thursday. CNN decided not to show what the hostage says. Why is that?

MADDOX: Because he was clearly making the video under duress.

Now, I agree, in the -- his appearance the video, he seemed relatively relaxed and straightforward. But let's be clear. This man knows that the chances of him dying on camera, being beheaded, are very high. And he has to say what will please the people who are operating the camera and who are making the video.

So, what we're seeing is a form of torture, really, in which this man is really trying to perform to save his life. And why would we showcase that? He didn't say anything that we haven't heard 1,000 times before. We know he wasn't speaking of his own free will. We know that ISIS wanted us to show it.

And if ever we're in a situation in which ISIS wants us to show anything, we should think really carefully about any way in which we can avoid doing that. So, for me, the editorial returns were not worth the ethical compromises involved in showing that film. And that's why CNN took the decision not to show it.

STELTER: How does this differ from the earlier videos that ISIS released, particularly of the Americans and of the -- the two American journalists and the British aid worker who were executed on camera? The executions of course were not televised by CNN, but there were some images and in some cases short video clips of those videos that were shown.

MADDOX: Yes. I think that's a really interesting point, Brian, because my position on this continues to evolve.

My feeling was with the James Foley video that we hadn't seen one of these in a long, long time, and this was a shocking development.

STELTER: Right. Right.

MADDOX: Then, when we saw a second one with Sotloff, you thought, oh, my goodness, this is a pattern that's forming now. The third one, well, that was with the Brits. So, what impact is this going to have with the Brits and the wider part of the struggle?

Each of those videos in its own way became a part of the narrative of what response we're going to do to ISIS. So, in its own way, the audience had to have some sense of what this was being based on. Those videos did drive the debate within the U.S. They drove government policy and beyond as well.

So, at that point, we couldn't really be talking about videos which are doing that without showing them. But that doesn't mean you have to keep showing them. That point has sort of been made now. People know what these consist of. And I think we can afford to be increasingly judicious about what it is that we want to show.

For me, the Cantlie video absolutely shouldn't have been shown. I think it was an obscene video. I think it's quite disgusting. The "Flames of War," I was actually less bothered by, except that it was turning it all into an action movie.

STELTER: Yes. This is the trailer they came out with, and then on Friday, this 55-minute movie, which CNN also decided not to show the movie part of it.


What I think is interesting about the first part, the trailer, was that this clearly isn't ideological. This is about action movie. It's just trying to get people to recruit, to sign up, to be part of this group. And it's all to build into their aura of terror.

ISIS is a profoundly wicked organization. It doesn't just kill people. It humiliates them, it parades them, it tortures them, and then it robs them of every single ounce of dignity and publicizes that in the widest possible way.

You have got to be prepared to recalibrate what you're prepared to show and what you're not prepared to show on an hourly basis, on a case-by-case basis when dealing with an organization like that.

STELTER: There are other -- there are countries that do engage in beheadings. There are other terror groups that do engage in this kind of wicked behavior, as you said. Do you think that these kinds of decisions we're making about this particular video should apply to those others as well?

MADDOX: Well, I think they do.

I think it's a very big thing for us to show anything like a beheading or someone being killed on camera. As one of the policies we do have at CNN, we do try and avoid that wherever possible. There are exceptional circumstances where we will show a shooting in the distance, or -- we did a piece recently with Nic Robertson which was actually summarizing the excesses of ISIS.

And I think that was important, because we properly contextualized the piece. We teed up the audience what it consisted of. And folks needed to get a sense of the breadth of all the different things that they have been involved in, given that the images had sneaked out on a piecemeal basis.

I think if you do it like that, and you showcase it like that and you present it like that, then I think there's a legitimacy to it. But, otherwise, I think we can't just get into this because it's arresting video. And we do know it's arresting video.


MADDOX: Let's look at it. We're in the TV business. We know that certain images will catch the eye. We know that certain images will get lots of people to click on online.

So, there's always a temptation for people who are in the business of trying to get people to follow their stories and read their stories to use the best images available. But with that goes a certain responsibility. Now, if you remember the conversation, Brian, one of the issues is, if we don't run it, what if other people run it?

And that's a perfectly fair point. But CNN is a big deal. It's certainly a big deal in the Middle East. I'm responsible for CNN outside of the U.S. We are in hundreds of millions of TV sets around the world. And if CNN chooses not to run something, then that does matter and it does count for something, particularly if we explain that we're not running it.

STELTER: Tony Maddox, thanks for being here this morning.

MADDOX: Thank you.

STELTER: My takeaway is what Tony said. These are case-by-case situations. But, unfortunately, there's been a lot of these cases lately.

When we take a break here, we take a turn when we come back to this question: When does Sarah Palin deserve a break from the media? "Red News/Blue News" next.


STELTER: Welcome back.

Remember Bridgegate? It consumed weeks and weeks of cable news airtime, most dramatically on the country's "Blue News" channel, MSNBC. But a new report by NBC this week said that a nine-month federal investigation has found no evidence that Governor Chris Christie directed the bridge lanes to be closed or even knew about the closures ahead of time.

This got MSNBC's Joe Scarborough fired up. It sounded on Friday morning like he was taking a shot at his own network's old saturation coverage. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You should continue the probe and you should see it to its conclusion. But if it turns out that it exonerates him, then I think we in the media owe to cover that as much as we covered the accusation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I agree. There should be 24-hour coverage. OK?


JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: Twelve nights in a row on a certain network.


STELTER: We will see what happens

But my subject of "Red News/Blue News" this week is another Republican heavyweight, a former officeholder and a vice presidential candidate. You can probably guess who I'm talking about, Sarah Palin.

Doesn't Sarah Palin deserve the benefit of the doubt? A couple of weeks ago, there was apparently some Palin family drama up in Wasilla, Alaska. I say apparently because some of the details are in dispute.

Here is how "The New York Daily News" put it in a huge headline, "Sarah Palin's Family Involved in Drunken Fight at Snowmobile Party: Reports."

Notice that last word, reports? In other words, that "The L.A. News" didn't have its own sources for the story. It was relying on other sources instead, specifically one source, one source, a blog by Amanda Coyne, a writer who focuses on Alaska politics.

Now, I'm not just picking on "The Daily News" here. So many of the news stories about this alleged brawl relied on Coyne's anonymously sourced story. CNN even interviewed Coyne.

So, from one single story, hundreds were born.

Let's go back to "Morning Joe" for this clip. Joe Scarborough started reading one of the newspaper articles out loud during his show.


SCARBOROUGH: Do you think the Palins...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I don't. Let's go to our papers.

SCARBOROUGH: Well, no, because this is like -- this story about this brawl, Palin and kids have a brawl, no, no, I mean, it's unbelievable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Clan in drunk fracas.

SCARBOROUGH: Well, yes, they showed up. "The backwoods brawling began," "The New York Post" says, "when the clan rolled up to a soiree in a stretch Hummer." Sarah and Todd Palin had invited to the 40th birthday...


SCARBOROUGH: No. It goes on. And then at one point, Bristol unleashed a -- quote -- "flurry of blows."


SCARBOROUGH: She fell down. She's dragged outside. An Alaska political blogger said Sarah Palin yelled, "Don't you know who I am?" And a partygoer responded, "This isn't some damned hillbilly reality show."




STELTER: I get it. I get it. A V.P.-candidate-turned-a- reality-show-star gone wild is irresistible to a lot of reporters.

But the results kind of felt like a feeding frenzy. The entertainment show "The Insider" even gave it a logo. CNN was all over it as well. Thankfully, CNN did try to get the Palin family's side of story.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Palin family has not commented on the alleged incident, despite CNN's numerous attempts to reach out to them. Sarah Palin did post on her Facebook page the next day, but made no mention of the party.


STELTER: So another week has gone by since that report, and still the family has not commented.

It seems like something ugly did happen at that party. In fact, one worker who said he witnessed the altercation then said he was fired for talking to ABC News about it.

But there's still no photo or video evidence of what happened. And I think some media types were too quick to jump to conclusions about this. Now, you will be shocked, shocked to hear that FOX News never mentioned the party at all. Palin is, of course, a FOX News contributor. You have to wonder if the network shied away from the story for that reason, or if it simply decided that the famous family's possible feud was not really newsworthy.

I do have one final word about this, and it comes from Bristol Palin's blog. She wrote this on Friday: "I just read an article on Yahoo!'s front page about my family. According to some random reporter, my parents are getting divorced. I find something new about my family every day. Of course, the article and most of what the media reports about our family is complete garbage."

Now, there have been divorce rumors swirling around the Palins for years. And when those rumors were revived this week, the family did not comment on that either. But Bristol's blog post has to make you wonder, what is it like to see your alleged family drama splashed across the Yahoo! front page, and don't they deserve the benefit of the doubt?

Well, that is "Red News/Blue News" for this week.

But stay tuned -- much more RELIABLE SOURCES right after this.


STELTER: That is all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, but our media coverage keeps going seven days a week on

Check out our stories there at a big shakeup at Politico and an interesting new sports show from TMZ.

And let me know what you think of our show here. Send me a message on Twitter or Facebook. My username is Brian Stelter on both sites. And I will be replying to your feedback right after the show.

I will see you next weekend, next Sunday at 11:00 Eastern time. And make sure you set your DVR, if you won't be home to catch us live.