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More Questions Than Answer Over FOX Debate; NYT Mishandles Clinton Story; Trump Campaign Denies "Register" Press Credentials; Big Changes for Gawker Media; NBC Nightly News on Hot Streak. Aired 11a- 12pa ET
Aired July 26, 2015 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:09] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, good morning. I'm Brian Stelter, and it's time for a jam-packed news-filled RELIABLE SOURCES.
You know, there is a "New York Times" controversy this weekend. The paper correcting the same Hillary Clinton story over and over again. We'll talk about what went wrong.
Plus, a popular news and gossip Web site is in meltdown mode. Can Gawker reinvent itself? Its founder is here and he will exclusively reveal his plans coming up.
Also, Brian Williams returning to air, but is it delayed? He is part of the expected changes at MSNBC. We're going to talk about those changes with the network's former chief later this hour.
But we begin with the countdown, the countdown is on. Let's put that clock up on the screen there. We're, what is it, 11 days, ten hours from the first GOP debate with Donald Trump versus the rest of the party.
Check out this brand new CNN/ORC polling that's out this morning showing Trump in first place among Republicans with 18 percent support, Jeb Bush following there with 15 percent.
Well, so much for the predictions made here on this program and everywhere else last weekend that Trump's campaign would implode after he insulted John McCain. It seems like he's doing better than ever. You know, the new poll also shows Trump is the GOP's most wanted, He's the candidate voters most want to see at the debate.
He is guaranteed a spot on the stage, but what about the rest of the pack?
FOX News is holding the debate on August 6th and FOX is only going to invite the top ten candidates, the top ten in the polls. That means six will not make the cut.
It's decision that's angered a lot of people, including some of the candidates. They say FOX is basically holding its own primary, whittling down the field of candidates. But FOX says it has no choice. CNN is doing similar for its debate in September. So, if the first debate were held today, here are the eight that would
almost certainly be invited -- this is according to "The Washington Post".
While these eight candidates would be left fighting for the last two spots on the stage. It's kind of like musical chairs, but the players all want to be president.
So, what is the state of the debate?
Let's ask chief strategist and communication director for the RNC, Sean Spicer, who is in Washington this morning.
Sean, this must be enormously stressful for you and your party. You've got candidates, governors, businesswomen, successful people, who probably aren't going to make it on the stage in 10 or 11 days.
SEAN SPICER, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, RNC: Well, I will correct something you said. First, we do have the largest number of quality candidates that either party has ever had in history. So, we're very proud of that.
But I think both FOX and CNN should be commended for the fact that it's not just 10 that are going to make the stage. All of those top 16 will be on the stage. They're just not going to be on it together. There's going to be two different segments in each case.
So, for all those people who say let them debate, they will. The first ten will be on one stage and the other six will be on another. But --
STELTER: But the other six are going to be at the kiddie table, the losers debate. I mean, FOX is going to put the other six on at 5:00 in the afternoon, while the leading candidates get prime time. You can't pretend like they're all going to get the same treatment.
SPICER: No, but I think that's just not how the world works. You cannot fit 16 people o a stage. So, I think both CNN and FOX have gone the extra step.
I mean, the most number of people that have ever in debate stage in the history of either party is 10. FOX and CNN not only matched that, but said we'll have a second debate for the other six that are in the top.
I think that's -- I mean, that is a huge step. It's a big, big deal. There's 114 people running for the Republican nomination right now, Brian. And I think when you look at trying to figure out how to accommodate just the top 16, both of these two networks have done an extremely good job of being as inclusive as possible.
STELTER: Did you just say 114 people?
SPICER: Not only -- there's 114 people registered with the Federal Election Commission seeking the Republican nomination. But another interesting stat for you is as of -- when that debate happens, there will have been 28 candidate forums around the country for all these folks to talk to voters directly from CPAC to Citizens United to the Sirius XM one that we're having at our summer meeting.
There are 25 of these from New Hampshire, and Iowa, and Florida, and South Carolina, Florida, where people have been able to sit down, talk to these candidates directly one-on-one, get tons of free media coverage. So, there's been a lot of interaction with voters leading up to this first debate as well.
STELTER: For sure. These network debates do matter most, though. And I do wonder what you think of this -- is it the party's fault that so many people are running? Shouldn't the Republican Party have tried to manage or shape this race so you didn't have 16 people in the race?
SPICER: I think the last thing anybody wants is anyone in Washington telling them who should be running and who shouldn't be running.
STELTER: Well, touche to that.
Let me play a sound bite from Lindsey Graham. He's one of the candidates who seems like will be excluded from this FOX debate. Here's what he says about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FEMALE TV ANCHOR: I'm curious as to what you think about potentially not having a place in the debates. We had a pretty interesting conversation with --
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it sucks.
FEMALE TV ANCHOR: Yes.
[11:05:00] GRAHAM: I think it sucks.
Well, the RNC, it is not -- they're not helpless here. The bottom line is I think the criteria in July of 2015 makes no sense. You're testing celebrity and name ID.
Give us all a chance early on to make our case. I'm not worried about how you manage a TV debate, I'm worried about how you pick a nominee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Sean, what's your response to Lindsey Graham?
SPICER: Well, I -- with all due respect to Senator Graham, he's going to be on stage. I think in a normal historical guidelines, he wouldn't have had an opportunity to get on the debate stage. But thanks to both FOX and CNN, all the top 16, including Senator Graham, will have an opportunity to be on a stage and debate.
STELTER: Yes, sort of. I mean, kind of, right? I mean, when you split them up like this, people think it just gives them much lesser treatment.
SPICER: Brian, I think you have to look at the alternative which is to say, okay, if you're in 15th or 16th place, the odds of you ever making a debate stage prior to this cycle were zero.
So, when you're at that number in the polls, normally you'd get nothing. I think that's where people have to stop and remember. Sometimes, yes, if you're 15th or 16th, sure, you want to be up there with one or two. I get that.
But at some point number one and number two say we have a right to debate among the top folks as well.
So, again, I think people have to remember -- all 16 candidates will debate in both the first debate in August on FOX and the September debate on CNN. And I think that is something to keep in mind, because the alternative is get nothing.
STELTER: Let me ask you about somebody you probably don't want to talk about, Donald Trump. Am I right about that, by the way? Are you comfortable talking about talking about the leading candidate?
SPICER: More than comfortable.
STELTER: Really? Because -- well, I asked, because, you know, there was a lot of debate about RNC chairman talking to Trump. There's a lot of debate over what happened. It doesn't seem like the GOP, the RNC's been in touch with Trump much ever since, and last week, you put out a statement about the John McCain comments really condemning Trump for saying what he said about John McCain.
I guess I wonder if you're in a really difficult position when it comes to the leading Republican candidate for president right now.
SPICER: Well, I would say both myself, our chief of staff, a lot of our top staff and the chairman obviously are in constant interaction with all the campaigns. So, that will continue.
But with respect to Senator McCain, I think what it came down to was us clarifying our position on how we felt about one of our previous nominees and his war record. And that's all the statement did, is reflect the statement that we believe Senator McCain served extremely honorably and he is a war hero and there was no question about it.
STELTER: Let me play you a portion of CNN's interview, Jake Tapper's interview with Rick Perry, because the latest example of another candidate criticizing Donald Trump. Here is what Rick Perry said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As he has come forward, as we got to see the real Donald Trump, I got some real problems with that. I think that what he is saying and what he is doing is not necessarily moving the cause of conservatism forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: How does the Republican national committee feel about these candidates going at each other, ridiculing each other, in Donald Trump's case, insulting other candidates?
SPICER: Well, look, I think -- a couple things: one, we have to keep our eye on the prize. If we -- Hillary Clinton is being coronated as the Democratic nominee, we need to remember that is who our focus needs to be on.
I understand it's going to be the nature of any primary for folks to discuss the differences between themselves on policy issues. I think that's fine. The name-calling, however, needs to stop. We've got to remember what Ronald Reagan taught us, his 11th commandment, thou shall not speak ill of another Republican.
All of the name-calling, what Chairman Priebus said the other night, is that -- has got to stop. We've got to remember where our focus is.
STELTER: See, that's why I surmised that you might be uncomfortable about Donald Trump because he keeps the name-calling going on on Twitter, the press conferences and the speeches? What is wrong with candidates attacking each other? That's what politics is. Any sense that this is nastier than, you know, anything else in American history is not a student of American history.
Why not let the process play out? Why not let the attacks continue?
SPICER: Well, again, we're not here to play traffic cop. But I think we can remind people about what it's going to take to win. Our number one goal is to win the White House back. And I think part of it is to say, you guys can do what you want, it's a free country.
There's a part of a primary where candidates discuss back and forth why their policies or positions or experience is better than the other. I understand that. The chairman understands that.
But I think we have to remember that calling each other names is not exactly helpful in the long-term goal.
STELTER: And you're looking ahead, past all these debates, looking past these primaries and looking to the general election?
SPICER: I am, as hard as that is some days, that's always where the prize is.
Sean, thanks for being here this morning. I appreciate it.
SPICER: You bet, Brian. Thank you.
STELTER: And here's a postscript to all this talk about the Republican debates, this morning, Bill Kristol of "Weekly Standard" editor tweeted this, "How's the scheduling of the first Democratic debate coming?" Very good question, and I'll let you know when we hear anything about Hillary Clinton versus Bernie Sanders. [11:10:01] Coming up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, the Clinton email
mess, and "The New York Times" story that required two corrections.
Plus, if he's not going to be the next president, I've got an idea for Donald Trump's next job.
Much more right after the break. Stay with us.
STELTER: Welcome back.
When you make a mistake, make a correction. It's an easy thing to say. But this week, it was hard for "The New York Times" to actually do. And my next guest says "The Times" seriously mishandled this.
So, let me show what I'm talking about. Read this bombshell first paragraph published late on Thursday in "The Times". It says, "Two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information on a private e-mail account she used as secretary of state."
Now, look what the story says now. The word criminal is gone, and it doesn't say Hillary mishandled the e-mails at all.
These are big changes to a story. But "The Times" dragged its feet before adding corrections. The information was attributed to anonymous government officials who were apparently wrong. Now, the word "criminal" is attached to Clinton regardless of the changes.
You might have notice that Donald Trump used that word repeatedly when he was talking to Jake Tapper earlier this morning.
So, what is the lesson we should learn from this "Times" screw up?
Mike Oreskes is one of the country's top news editors. He used to be a deputy managing editor at "The Times". He's now the head of news at NPR.
Mike, I used to work at "The Times" as well.
[11:15:00] So, we both know how the newsroom works.
This story went online late in the evening. Presumably, the Clinton campaign started complaining about it. And then these changes were made in the middle of the night without a correction.
What's your reaction to this dust-up?
MICHAEL ORESKES, SENIOR VP OF NEWS AND EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, NPR: Well, one thing, first of all, Brian, it's important to put on the record what's right here before we get into all the things that went wrong. The democracy must have journalism organizations that are aggressive about trying to hold public officials to account. I'm convinced the editors and reporters at "The Times" were honestly trying to do that. And it's very important.
So, it's very important in the process of fixing what went wrong here, we not defanging journalists who want to hold public officials to account. That needs to be said because we don't want to throw away what's important here as we try to understand what's wrong.
What did go wrong? I think two big issues here. The first is our increasing reliance on anonymous sources. It's -- I was a Washington correspondent 20 years ago, we used lots of anonymous sources.
But it's become more and more basically the default position to use anonymity, even to government officials who are doing the public's work. It's one thing to give anonymity to someone who has information that we truly can't get in any other way --
ORESKES: -- and that's vital for the public to know.
But that's not what this is. So, that's one issue.
And then the other is, when you make a mistake, you really must correct it quickly, which they did. I think they corrected it quickly.
STELTER: Right. They made the change, but they didn't say this is a correction. They didn't label it and identify it as a correction.
ORESKES: Right. At other news organizations, there are very specific standards on that, and a lot of experience on that. I think the simple way to say it is you don't make silent changes in major stories.
STELTER: There's no way to be silent, right? If you quietly change something, try to sneak it in, people are going to catch it.
I mean, "Politico" is writing about this by 7:00 the next day --
STELTER: -- and it was all over the place. That's why we're talking about it, because it happened -- they tried to do it in a quiet way.
And I think "The Times" response would be we're trying to make sure we had all the facts before we write the correction. The worst things in the world is having to write a correction to your correction, right, Mike?
STELTER: But at the same time, this does seem like it was mishandled, doesn't it?
ORESKES: Well, I think clearly what we need to do in the first phase of this was having decided that the headline at the top of story, the use of the word "criminal" was inaccurate. They needed to immediately flag the fact that they changed it even if they couldn't explain fully why or what the need for the change was and what the ultimate correction needed to be, to your point.
ORESKES: They needed to instantly flag the change. You know, "The Associated Press", which has been facing this problem for a hundred years has very specific rules about how to do this, and that's because they've learned from long experience, long before the Internet, that in the course of doing a story, you're going to always have to make changes.
If you put a story out, you're going to learn new facts, you're going to discover things you didn't get right. You're simply going to discover new information that may change the story.
So, the "A.P." has been doing this for a hundred years. And I reached out to the standards editor of "The A.P.", and I asked them, so, how do you deal with that? And he said that they --
STELTER: What did he say?
ORESKES: That they have very specific rules for dealing with this, and I actually brought along the standards they've set. And it's simple, and they boiled it down basically to a sentence. It says, when mistakes are made they must be corrected fully, quickly and ungrudgingly.
And, by the way, the written rule at NRP where I now work says that we don't make silent corrections to our stories. We make corrections to help keep the public accurately informed, not to absolve ourselves of our mistakes.
So, when you make an error of fact, you have to correct it right away and you have to say that you've corrected it.
STELTER: Obviously, we wouldn't be talking about this at all if Hillary Clinton hasn't had a private e-mail server in a very unusual way, which has now become an ongoing controversy and will continue to be.
But that said, as journalist, we hold "The Times" to a highest standard because it is the best in the land. It wants to be held to those standards because they also want to hold the government to the highest standards. That's why it matters when these things (ph) happen.
ORESKES: And, of course, it should be said that the reason we know there was this private e-mail account, this private e-mail server is because "The New York Times" reported it.
STELTER: That's right. Same reporter, Michael Schmidt, who worked on this story over the weekend.
Mike, thanks for being here. I appreciate it.
ORESKES: My pleasure. Good to talk to you.
STELTER: And coming up here on the program, the campaign trail is not the only place that Donald Trump is making waves. There's reports that maybe he's causing a rift between FOX News chief Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch? Could this friction be part of a larger Trump media end game?
We're going to talk about that in just a moment. Stay with us.
[11:23:52] STELTER: Welcome back.
Donald Trump is the news media's best friend and biggest critic. He soaks up attention on one hand and then scorns the outlets that he feels are insulting him. We're going to talk about his relationship with FOX News in a couple minutes.
But, first, his latest battle this weekend was in Iowa. The Trump campaign denied press credentials to "The Des Moines Register". That's the state's biggest newspaper.
Now, the campaign said the snub was in response to a registered editorial calling on him to quit the presidential race. Trump weighed in and we're going to play the sound from him in a moment. But, you know, this is a very interesting example of Trump retaliating against the press that he thinks is unfair to him.
I want to hear from two people who know the state better than anybody. "The Register's" former -- David Yepsen, first, the former chief political columnist for "The Des Moines Register." And Craig Robinson, the editor of theiowarepublican.com.
Appreciate you both being here.
DAVID YEPSEN, SIMON INSTITUTE, SIU: Good to be here.
CRAIG ROBINSON, EDITOR, THEIOWAREPUBLICAN.COM: Good to be here.
STELTER: David, first thing first. The editorial page of "The Register" is separate from the news page. Donald Trump either doesn't know that or doesn't care.
YEPSEN: Well, that's what makes his action in snubbing the paper, the reporters so strange because he took an editorial unfavorable to him suggesting he get out of the race and he elevated the discussion.
[11:25:10] The editorial writers all across the country tell people to quit or resign or whatever every day of the week. And what Mr. Trump did by this was elevate this and I don't think he wanted to do that, because there are, in fact, a lot of people who think his candidacy is counterproductive, is hurting the Republican Party and Republican chances against the Democrats. So, it made no sense. He has every right to say who he doesn't want to have, but it didn't make any political sense for him to elevate a negative editorial the way he did.
STELTER: Well, the flip side of this, Craig, is the conservative base, in some case openly resents the political press, believes the media has a very clear liberal bias. Do you think that's what Trump was aiming at, what he was getting at with this criticism?
ROBINSON: Well, I think Trump did want to elevate this issue. I think Trump elevates a lot of different issues that come his way. And I think we've seen the impact of that over the last six weeks that he's been a formal candidate. So, I think this is another thing that actually helps Donald Trump.
And the other thing, I kind of disagree with David about, this isn't a columnist at "The Des Moines Register" that decided to write an article. It didn't just say he should drop out, it said he was unfitting, undeserving to be president of the United States. I mean, this is a pretty hard hitting editorial from the editorial board of the newspaper.
And when it was reported, it was reported that "The Des Moines Register" says you should get out. And, look, I publish articles all the time, and I know when I hit the publish button, there's ramifications for everything that I write. I think it's kind of nonsense that "The Des Moines Register" doesn't think there's going to be some sort of blowback for basically telling a candidate they're not fitting to be -- they should do us a favor and drop out.
That's not the rule of the newspaper. It's one thing if a columnist wanted to write that, but the editorial board wrote this. And I think the actions of the Trump campaign with them, not credentialing them, I think it's an appropriate response.
And, by the way, there were reporters there from "The Register" that covered the event in Oskaloosa yesterday. And, you know, they weren't harassed by the Trump staff. It's kind of ironic that, you know, Carol Hunter and -- they're all calling the Trump campaign people in Iowa saying, look, we still want you to do the register soap box at the Iowa state fair, we still need you to have a good relationship with our reporters. The editorial board is completely different.
If those reporters and an editor like Carol Hunter are upset, they should be upset with their own editorial board.
STELTER: Let's hear David's response.
YEPSEN: Well, I mean, editorials are opinions by definition. They opine about lots of things. I mean, it seems awfully tricky if you can't take heat from "The Des Moines Register." I mean, Republicans have been upset with "The Des Moines Register", which is a liberal newspaper, for a long time. And it's part of the texture of Iowa politics.
So, if "The Des Moines register" tweaks a Republican which happens all the time, you don't see Republican candidates in the state reacting this way. He did elevate the discussion of -- that he should get out of the race and I don't think he needed to do that. Craig does make a good point, though, the register reporters were at the event yesterday.
STELTER: That's right.
YEPSEN: Mr. Trump knew they were there. It looks to me that the Trump campaign sort of backed off on this thing and they wouldn't have allowed registered interns to be in the event, "The Register" reporter to be in the overflow area. The register has a fine story this morning about it. This is an early flap in the campaign.
STELTER: One of many, I suspect.
David, Craig, thank you both for being here.
YEPSEN: Thank you.
ROBINSON: Good to be here.
STELTER: Now, here is an interesting question, could Trump be causing a rift at the highest levels of the FOX News channel. Reports are he may have come between FOX News chairman Roger Ailes and the chief of the whole company, all of 21st Century Fox, Rupert Murdoch.
Mark Joyella has written about this. He's actually written for Murdoch's "New York Post." And he's now a blogger at "TVNewser".
Mark, thanks for being here.
MARK JOYELLA, CO-EDITOR, TVNEWSER: Thanks for having me.
STELTER: How much credence do you give to reports, in "New York Magazine" and elsewhere, that Murdoch-- we know Murdoch is uncomfortable with Trump, he's been tweeting his criticism of Trump but Roger Ailes is supportive of Trump and wants his campaign to keep going?
JOYELLA: There's two things. It's fascinating as people on the outside looking into this force of nature that is FOX News Channel to think, wow, there could be this fight.
JOYELLA: But if you think about it from a step back, Murdoch, this incredibly powerful billionaire mogul, is forced to use Twitter because he has no power inside this fantastically powerful news channel, what the history tells us is that Roger Ailes, having built this monster of a news channel, is largely the reins to do whatever wants with it.
STELTER: Right. He's got a lot of autonomy.
FOX has been throwing cold water on these stories.
STELTER: But it is intriguing, because FOX News and the megaphone it has, it can help or hurt Trump. It can help or hurt Trump a lot.
STELTER: What do you think down the road -- looking a few months down the road, if President Trump is not in the picture, is it possible, you think, a cable news job is in his future?
JOYELLA: Well, that's tempting. And I'm sure cable news executives would be thinking, how do we harness this phenomenon that Donald Trump has unleashed?
STELTER: Yes. My sense is, if you have him -- if you have an interview with him on CNN or FOX or MSNBC, your ratings are going to rise, at least for those few minutes he's on.
JOYELLA: Yes. The flip, though, if you think about it, of a cable news show hosted by Trump, that would put him in a different perspective. I don't see him as a guy who would like to have a guest on and ask questions of that guest. He prefers to be the subject. I don't see him...
STELTER: So, you're saying maybe he's not going to be in this chair.
STELTER: Maybe he's going to be in your chair. Maybe he would be the guest, a regular contributor on FOX or CNN or elsewhere.
JOYELLA: And then what would he do? Would he say, I can't call in to "Morning Joe" anymore now and I can't talk to these other outlets? I don't know.
But what is huge enough, to use his words, for Donald Trump after this, when he is the front-runner? What is big enough?
STELTER: That's a good point. When it comes to FOX, Roger Ailes and Trump have a long relationship. They're friendly. On the other hand, I'm not sure Roger Ailes likes to have egomaniacal or big ego-type folks on his staff. That's hard thing to manage.
Same thing maybe here at CNN. You could imagine Trump, either a show or a contributor. It would be really interesting to watch him. But will viewers see that as a turn-on or a turnoff? And then there's MSNBC. We're going to talk about MSNBC later in the hour. They're starved for ratings. Trump would certainly help MSNBC.
JOYELLA: I'm sure they'd love to have Trump the hour unplugged. But the problem is, if you think about it, he is so unplugged, he has no filter, that most people in television have sort of an innate filter that keeps you from saying the things that will get you fired.
JOYELLA: He's already said things, talking about Mexican immigrants being rapists, talking about John McCain, that would certainly have gotten him suspended from an MSNBC hosting gig.
And it would be very hard to imagine how do you keep going with this guy saying all this stuff, which is at its essence what makes people so fascinated by him? He will say anything.
STELTER: Right. Mark, thanks for being here. Good talking with you.
JOYELLA: Thanks for having me.
STELTER: Just raising the theory of Trump as cable news host. We will see what happens.
When we come back here, Gawker Media, a meltdown there, the resignation of two top editors, caused a lot of attention this week. And, of course, there's a lawsuit from Hulk Hogan still pending. What is going to happen to Gawker?
The founder, Nick Denton, joins me for an exclusive interview in a couple minutes.
STELTER: Welcome back.
Today, big changes are coming to Gawker Media. It's the no-holds- barred news and gossip site that owns blogs like Jezebel, Deadspin, Gizmodo, and its flagship, Gawker.
There's been nothing short of a revolt at Gawker this week. I have never seen anything like this before, with yelling and finger-pointing at staff meetings, and now the possibility of more resignations.
So, let me back up and tell you what happened. The site posted a shocking story earlier this month about a married media executive who is related to a former Obama administration official. And it talked about how he was allegedly attempting to hire a gay escort. The escort apparently blackmailed him.
Now, this whole story, it went online, and the negative feedback was immediate and overwhelming, with critics using terms like vile and repugnant to describe the story.
And, as you can tell, we're not naming the person. We're not even going to show the blog post. I just -- it's just not appropriate. But you can see here some of the reaction to it.
The next day, Gawker founder Nick Denton chose to pull the post, delete it, over the strong objections of the entire editorial staff.
So, this week, his two top editors resigned. And more writers might jump ship in the coming days. This has even gotten the Taiwanese 3-D animation treatment. It depicts the boundaries between church and state, news and advertising being crushed in this case.
As you may now, Gawker is already facing a $100 million lawsuit from the wrestler Hulk Hogan. And the company is trying to make the transition from the blog world, where really anything goes, to a more mature media business. That's fundamentally what this is about.
So, if Gawker is not a snarky, no-hold-barred gossip site anymore, what is it?
Nick Denton is here to tell us. He's the founder and CEO of Gawker Media.
Nick, welcome back to the show.
NICK DENTON, FOUNDER, GAWKER MEDIA: Good to see you, Brian.
STELTER: This blog post went up on a Thursday night. Did you read it ahead of time?
DENTON: No, I didn't.
STELTER: Did you know about it?
DENTON: I did know about it. I knew that the team at Gawker and Tommy Craggs were working on a story.
STELTER: How could you have not insisted on reading it before it was published on your Web site?
DENTON: I have to say, I expected that it would take more time, that it would actually go sometime on the Friday. I was surprised.
STELTER: So, you thought you would have time to read it? You would thought you would be involved?
DENTON: I thought that there would be more time for the editorial team to discuss it before moving forward with the story.
But I didn't see the point of the story as it was described to me. I made that clear. And when I actually saw the story later on, it was very, very clear, not just from the universal reaction, which was condemnation from our peers.
DENTON: But anybody with any kind of humanity could see that this was not a story that was worth doing.
STELTER: So, you decided to take it down. There were reports there was a vote among your business leaders, and that most of them supported you.
Why was it put up to a vote?
DENTON: This was my decision. I ordered the post taken down.
STELTER: So, it wasn't a vote?
DENTON: The colleagues, my executives supported me in my decision, but it was my decision.
I am the founder of the company. I was the editor of Gawker.com. I am the guardian of the editorial ethos of the company. This was counter to what I want us to be doing. And, therefore, I had it taken down.
STELTER: But Gawker sort of has this reputation as being a place where anything goes. If it's true, you publish it.
We talked about this a few weeks ago. Here is -- here is actually part of the interview about Hulk Hogan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Knowing what you know now, knowing all of the legal costs already, would you have still published the video?
DENTON: I am glad that decisions that are taken on publishing are taken at the time. And I'm glad that we only really look at whether the story is both true and interesting. This story was true and interesting. And we'd absolutely publish it again in a heartbeat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: This was a sex tape involving Hulk Hogan. Now he's suing. And we can get into that lawsuit.
But what you said is, all we really we look at is whether the story is both true and interesting.
Is that still the rubric for Gawker, or is it more complicated now?
DENTON: I think the difference between Tommy Craggs, the executive editor who resigned on principle over this matter, the difference between him and me, is that, for Tommy and for some of the more hard- line editorial staff, truth itself is the only necessary defense, and the belief is that nothing should ever be taken down if it is true.
As I said in that quote, I believe that it's not necessary -- it's necessary for something more than just simply truth to be operative in a story. And truth and the interests, interest to our peers, interest to our audience, is essential.
STELTER: Would you publish that tape now, now that -- now that it seems like Gawker is changing its editorial philosophy?
DENTON: The Hogan story is an entirely different story. STELTER: OK.
DENTON: The Hogan story, this is a story about a public figure, a massive global celebrity who talks incessantly about his sex life.
STELTER: And we learned, by the way, this week he was dropped by the WWE for racist remarks. That would seem to put him on the ropes a little bit, maybe helps your case?
DENTON: I think it shows something of his motivation, that maybe explains why he's been so forceful in fighting this particular case.
But the facts of our dispute with Hulk Hogan are clear. The law is clear. And we look forward to the chance of defending this story in the courts. We will continue to publish stories like that. And we will continue...
STELTER: Well, that's what people are wondering.
DENTON: And we will continue to defend stories like that.
And I'm proud that we defend stories and we publish stories that many other media organizations will not touch, not because they're bad stories, but because they're fearful of the consequences.
STELTER: Would you out a private person again, the way this blog post did?
DENTON: We would absolutely out a public figure. We -- I have personally been involved in stories about Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple.
STELTER: That was before he spoke publicly about being gay.
DENTON: That's right, about two years before he spoke publicly about being gay, and stories about Anderson Cooper.
STELTER: Again, before he spoke publicly about it.
And so you're OK with that? You're OK with publishing those kinds of stories?
DENTON: Somebody who is a public figure, who talks about their life, their personal life, who is interviewed by journalists, they don't get to say -- to us, at least -- they don't get to say, oh, you can't ask questions about my personal life. You can't ask this particular question.
A lot of the time, journalists go along with the P.R. campaigns of celebrities. We don't, and we won't.
STELTER: Well, so what is going to change then? It does seem like you have decided Gawker needs to be a bit friendlier. DENTON: I think we could calibrate a bit.
The company is no longer the fly-by-night blog shop that it was. We're moving into new headquarters tomorrow on Fifth Avenue, north of 14th Street. The company has more than 100 million global readers per month. It is one of the four successful online media companies to emerge from the last few years.
STELTER: And it's got a lot of advertisers. Aren't you thinking more about advertising and making sure that they're comfortable with the site? And doesn't that affect the editorial structure?
DENTON: We will never, and we have never, and we will never take down a story because of an advertiser -- of an advertiser's pressure.
We are committed to running stories, the real story, and the story behind the story, precisely because that's what attracts our audience. That's what people come to us for. And the advertisers who come to us, they come for that audience.
The editorial independence of the company is not just a principle. It's the core of our mission. It's the core of the company. And it's the core of our business.
STELTER: You say that, but your two top editors resigned. I asked them to come on the program today, and they declined. But they resigned because of you meddling, they should say, with the newsroom.
DENTON: Both Max Read and Tommy Craggs are men of considerable principle, and sometimes inflexible principle.
They resigned over this particular issue. I don't think it was really a story worth resigning over. I don't think this was the particular hill to die on.
STELTER: Are you saying they are too extreme -- they were too extreme about this?
DENTON: I value their passion and their commitment to independent -- independent journalism.
But it has to go hand in hand with trust from me in our editors to make judgment calls. And in this particular instance, the judgment call was wrong, and I had it reversed.
STELTER: People who don't want to stay and work for the new Gawker, the slightly kinder, gentler Gawker, are you offering them buyouts? Are you inviting them to leave?
DENTON: This weekend, yes, we're offering both the staff members on Gawker.com and senior editorial management a chance to leave if they don't like the future direction of the company, as I have indicated.
STELTER: How many are you expecting to leave? DENTON: I don't know.
STELTER: Well, any, you think?
DENTON: I don't know. I think probably fewer than one might think, given the amount of discontent expressed last week.
When it comes down to it, people have to make up their minds: Do I want to work at Gawker Media or do I want to work at some other company?
And we are committed to producing the kind of journalism that I think the boldest and freest writers of the Web want to write. And so I believe that most people will actually want to stay.
STELTER: You expect most of the staff to stay. But the door is open now. That's an unprecedented move, isn't it, Nick?
DENTON: I don't think that a company can be held hostage and a company's ethos...
STELTER: Held hostage?
DENTON: ... a company's ethos can be driven by the determination of some writers to go in a different direction.
At some point, we all have to decide, are we in this together or not, all in or out? And I think it's just -- it's fair -- no antagonism. There doesn't need to be any kind of bad feeling here. It's a very generous buyout offer. But if people want to pursue their own course that's different than the course that I want to pursue, they should be free to do so. And they shouldn't suffer such bad financial consequences for following a matter of principle.
STELTER: So, bottom line, Gawker growing up, you're saying?
STELTER: Nick, thanks for being here.
DENTON: Good to see you.
STELTER: Good talking with you.
Coming up here, things seem to be going well for NBC News, for "NBC Nightly News," for "The Today Show," but what about MSNBC? Big changes on the way, and we will talk about those with new information right after the break.
STELTER: There's news about NBC News. And for the first time in a long time, it's good news. The Brian Williams controversy hurt the whole network, but his nightly
news replacement, Lester Holt, is on a hot streak, beating ABC every single week.
But there's a giant question mark. And that's MSNBC, its struggling cable news channel. New boss Andy Lack is planning massive changes. It's unclear which shows are staying, which shows are going. And it's even unclear when Brian Williams is coming back. Remember, he's becoming a breaking news and special report anchor once his suspension ends in August.
But my sources say he might start -- not start until September now. So, he will be waiting until the fall.
Here's what the channel looks like today. It starts with "Morning Joe" in the morning, has a lot of talk shows during the day, and then liberal TV at night. The afternoon shows are apparently going away, Ed Schultz, for example, going away. Al Sharpton's show might be at risk too. And there are persistent rumors that 8:00 p.m. might be changing as well.
Now, Rachel Maddow is safe, and it appears "Morning Joe" is safe as well. But one thing is clear. Andy Lack wants MSNBC to have less liberal opinion, more breaking news coverage, at least during the daytime. He's determined to juice the ratings.
And, by the way, there's one name on the tips of the tongues of so many staffers, one of the biggest stars of MSNBC's past. Can you guess who?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Good night, and good luck.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Keith Olbermann, he put MSNBC on the map. He left in 2011. He went to ESPN.
But on Friday, he signed off of ESPN. He's now a free agent. So, are he and Brian Williams the answers to MSNBC's problems?
I want to ask two cable news veterans, Dan Abrams, who used to be the general manager of MSNBC and the 9:00 anchor there, and Jon Klein, who used to run this channel, CNN.
Dan, nobody knows what is going on with Olbermann. I'm told there's been no talks yet with Olbermann, but I'm pretty sure they will answer the phone if Olbermann's agent calls.
Do you think that hard news and provocative, big faces like Brian Williams are the answer now?
DAN ABRAMS, FORMER MSNBC GENERAL MANAGER: Well, look, as you know, Mediaite reported that one of the things that MSNBC staffers have been buzzing about is the possibility of Keith Olbermann coming back to MSNBC.
Look, the first decision they have to make is, what are we? What are we going to be? What are we going to be during the day and what are going to be at night? If MSNBC is going to continue to be liberal talk at night, well, then, sure, why not talk to Keith Olbermann, among others? If they're not, it's a separate question.
I think one of the biggest changes we are going to see at MSNBC, though, for now is during the day, meaning they had sort of written off breaking news. They had kind of stopped covering breaking news. And I think now you're...
STELTER: Right. They're going back to it. They're going compete more directly with CNN, it sounds like.
ABRAMS: Yes, yes, absolutely.
STELTER: So, Jon, is that a winning strategy? I mean, is there room, John, for -- there's three cable news channel. FOX News is doing what it does very well.
Is there room for CNN and MSNBC to be doing breaking news in 2015? You're a digital media executive now. You know everything is moving online.
JON KLEIN, FORMER CNN PRESIDENT: Well, I think it's ironic that we actually think it's news when a news network decides to cover the news.
That tells us how far we have come in the past 20 years. Right?
KLEIN: Is it a strategy?
Look, the strategy they have got now is not working well, although they are not as far behind as people think. They -- Rachel Maddow had a million viewers one night last week.
STELTER: Right. They're having a hard time in the demo, where advertisers really care about, than in total viewers.
KLEIN: It's older.
STELTER: But you used to preach -- you used to preach patience when you worked here.
I remember you talking, Dan, about -- Dan Abrams, talking about that years ago. Is it possible, though, for MSNBC to just keep trying what it's doing? Or is that clearly not working?
KLEIN: To break through in media today, digital, television, you have got to do it big and you have got to do it consistently.
STELTER: Dan, do you agree?
KLEIN: Do it in a big way. It could work.
ABRAMS: Yes, I mean, look, look at the strategy that the "CBS Morning Show" has used, Brian, which is basically to say we're going to do more news, and you know what? We're not going to care that much about the ratings, meaning, the ratings were so low for CBS, that they felt that they had nowhere to go but up. And they were right. And they have gone up just a little bit. But that's been good enough, because they are happy about what they are covering.
MSNBC may decide to pursue a similar strategy, which is to say, if we can just increase it a little bit and make us just a little more respectable, a little more accepted, both on the outside and within NBC News, that would be a win. That's a possible strategy.
But Jon is right. If they want to really go for it, if they want to try to win, they are going to have to do something much bigger and bolder.
KLEIN: And the election is a huge opportunity.
STELTER: That's right, 2016.
KLEIN: Anything can happen.
STELTER: ... chance.
I'm out of time, unfortunately. Guys, I would love to have you both back about this, because we're going to keep talking about this remaking of MSNBC.
We will be right back here in a moment. Stay with us.
STELTER: That's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
But our media coverage keeps going seven days a week on CNN.com. Check out my story on the week's big media business news. That's AT&T completing its acquisition of DirectTV. You can read it at CNNMoney.com/media.