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Bezos: Enquirer Publisher Tried to Extort Me; Bezos Cites "Saudi Angle" in Blog Post About Pecker. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired February 10, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:13] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey. I'm Brian Stelter, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how the media really works, how the news gets made, and how all of us can help make it better.
This hour, another week, another leak. The White House is searching for another leaker, this time of Trump's schedules. So, former Trump aide and "Team of Vipers" author Cliff Sims will join me to weigh in.
Plus, Sunday morning exclusive. Jill Abramson is here to respond to the plagiarism accusations that she's facing with her book "Merchants of Truth."
And, later, Facebook just turned 15 years old. Will it make it to 30? We'll ask Laurie Segall about that.
But, first, two media moguls at war. Jeff Bezos with the upper hand, putting David Pecker and his "National Enquirer" in an unusual position. Pecker's team is now responding for the first time, so I want to get straight to this story.
Marc Fisher is here this morning. He's a "Washington Post" senior editor who's been writing about this Bezos/Enquirer situation.
Kelly McBride is here. She's an ethicist and vice president for academic programs at Poynter.
And Lachlan Markay is here. He's a reporter for "The Daily Beast", who has always been over this story as well.
So, Lachlan, let me start with you. I think our viewers know the basics about Bezos versus the "Enquirer". But you've been reporting on this, you've been out in front. You wrote a story about Bezos investigating how the tabloid found out about his love life.
Tell us what you learned and what stands out?
LACHLAN MARKAY, REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, Bezos has tasked his longtime personal security consultant, a man named Gavin de Becker, who is an expert and veteran in this personal protection field with digging into how these texts were leaked to the "Enquirer". And his goal is really twofold. One is, it's in the immediate term, to find out what happened, how it happened, prevent it from happening again.
But there's also an attempt to dissuade potential future leakers from trying to go after his client, Jeff Bezos. So Bezos is personally funding this investigation and Dave basically concluded by now that this was at least partially politically motivated.
Of course, the "Enquirer" is known to have paid stories in the past. But they feel there's just too many connections to people in President Donald Trump's orbit, or in the case of David Pecker, to the president himself for this to be a coincidence, given the president's intense antipathy towards Jeff Bezos in particular and "The Washington Post", the paper he owns.
STELTER: Right, Bezos is on Trump's informal enemies list. But last month when the "Enquirer" came out with the explosive story which was true about Bezos and his relationship with Lauren Sanchez, people thought, oh, this is interesting. We thought the "Enquirer" and David Pecker had flipped on Trump, by cooperating in the Michael Cohen case. Now, it seems more complicated.
So, let's go "The Washington Post". Marc Fisher, you were at "The Post". The paper owned by Bezos.
Everyone wondered, how is "The Post" going to cover an alleged affair by its owner? So, what did you all decided to do?
MARC FISHER, SENIOR EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: Well, obviously, it's an awkward situation any time you're writing about the owner of your own news organization. Luckily, we have the luxury of having this independence, where we can go out and do the story. We have not done a big story on the affair and the "Enquirer's" expose, but we thought it was time to. And then along came this reporting from "The Daily Beast" about there being a political connection to this with Bezos camp saying there was a political motive to the leak.
FISHER: And that's obviously right down our alley.
So, we jumped into that and, you know, this is such a topsy-turvy story, because on the one hand, usually you have the "Enquirer" that's out there trying to expose nefarious misdeeds. Amazon is famous for being -- you know, having as their mantra, off the record, no comment, and yet all of a sudden, it was the Amazon folks, the Bezos folks who said as Lachlan said, let's hook you up with a security guy. He'll talk about this.
Well, that was startling. We knew something unusual was going on there. The "Enquirer" were the ones that didn't want this story out.
And it's important to recognize that this extortion letter to Jeff Bezos was not the first step in the "Enquirer's" effort to tamp down this story. It was really the last step. They had tried to stop "The Daily Beast" from doing its reporting and "The Beast" charged ahead.
They tried to dissuade "The Post" from doing our reporting and we charged ahead. It was only at that point that they went after Bezos in sort of the last ditch attempt to shut down this notion that there was political motivation behind their leak. STELTER: And in the blog post Bezos published, which for now we've
all read from Thursday night, he said "The Washington Post" is a complexifier in his new life. I love that new word, complexifier. How do you view it, Marc?
FISHER: Well, obviously, it's always going to be awkward to have the obligation to write about the person who owns the organization that you work for.
[11:05:04] But that's what we do. You know, it's everything from our tech critic who's given pretty rough reviews to some of Amazon's products to some tough reporting that we've done about his space exploration company and on this case. We want to -- it's no holds barred and we wanted to be as aggressive and fair as we could on this story.
But, you know, obviously, there will always be readers who say you can't be fair, you're just carrying his water. It's our job to try to prove them wrong.
STELTER: It sure seems like you're writing a lot of stories about this. I've been impressed by the sheer volume of stories "The Washington Post" is writing about this very complicated story.
So, let's go to Kelly McBride on the ethics or the unethics of all of this. Your impression, Kelly, of what Bezos' strategy was and what's going to happen to the "Enquirer" now?
KELLY MCBRIDE: Well, you know, ever since Bezos bought "The Washington Post", there's within a question of whether he would be a good owner. He seems to have put the exclamation point at the end of that sentence, because his choice to publish on medium rather than using "The Post" as his personal platform, his ability to let "The Post" do its own reporting, whether it is in favor of him or against his personal interests, I think he singlehandedly changed the first line of his obituary from, you know, Silicon Valley billionaire to First Amendment defender and that's quite remarkable.
As for the "National Enquirer", you know, I -- I did not think that the Hulk Hogan story would put Gawker out of business. I do wonder if this is the first step for them in their demise. They have been a stalwart in tabloid journalism for as long as I can remember.
They seem -- they seem Teflon. They seem to be impenetrable but I wonder if this is going to be the first step in the decline of that organization.
STELTER: I think that is definitely the open question.
Sorry? Go ahead.
FISHER: I wouldn't count them out quite yet. One of the things that has kept the in "Enquirer" going for all of these years is that although they give the impression that they're kind of exposing things that people don't want exposed, far more often, it's a symbiotic relationship between them and the celebrities they go after, where they'll get dirt on a celebrity. They then begin negotiations and say, well, we don't have to print that about you if you give us something that's really juicy.
And so, there's some benefit coming out of it for both sides. That's how they've been able to survive.
STELTER: "The Enquirer" is responding. This morning, David Pecker's attorney was on ABC's "This Week." And let's play a little bit of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID PECKER'S ATTORNEY: I'm not permitted to tell you, or confirm or deny who the source is. I can tell you it's not Saudi Arabia. It's into the president Trump, it's not roger stone. I cannot tell you who the source is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So, Lachlan, the message here is this is not a plot. This is not about geopolitics or Trump.
What do you think is the biggest news from Pecker's attorney's point of view, like from their response today?
MARKAY: Right. He refused to name the source. But he went much further than virtually any news organization does generally when asking about their sourcing. He said it's someone who is known to both Jeff Bezos and to his mistress Lauren Sanchez. There's a long standing relationship with the "National Enquirer". Those are details that, you know, if, virtually, any news organization generally is asked about their sources, they say, I'm simply not going to comment on sourcing. I'm not going to narrow it down for you, I'm not going to give you any clues.
So, yes, they didn't name any names. But the fact -- you know, that's a very small universe of people that they just described and it's really not that difficult to narrow that down to a very small number of individuals who could have been the source.
MARKAY: So, I think that shows they're really -- you know, I don't want to use the word panicking, but they're trying to get out from under this and in so doing saying things that, you know, no news organization generally will find themselves saying.
So, obviously, it's a very extraordinary circumstance.
STELTER: Right. And, of course, the lawyer is saying this wasn't blackmail. But we're seeing more indications that the "Enquirer" engages in blackmail.
Let's put up on screen, Ronan Farrow's tweet the other day. He said the "Enquirer" tried to blackmail him. And Terry Crews, the actor, came out over the weekend reminding folks that he says he was blackmailed by the "Enquirer" as well.
So, Lachlan, this is something that has opened a flood gate I think in some ways and ultimately isn't this up to federal prosecutors? Isn't how this is going to play out in the hands of federal prosecutors now who are looking at AMI's existing immunity deal and trying to figure out if they broken the law and that's voided the immunity deal?
MARKAY: Right. I think it does speak to the central character of the "National Enquirer" as a news organization. And we at "The Daily Beast' actually published a story on Friday based on interviews with two former private investigators who did work that they -- well, they essentially described the business model as one put of it of the "National Enquirer" as blackmail.
[11:10:06] And the way Marc just described it is spot on. You know, you collect this damaging information and you say sit down for a floppy one-on-one interview with us, and we won't publish this damaging material. That's sort of part and parcel of their modus operandi when it comes to reporting.
So, it's exposed that and putting aside potential legal problems of which, you know, obviously, those are looming.
MARKAY: But I think it really is shining a light onto the business model of the "Enquirer" and other tabloids, in fairness, you know, that I think is going to really help in informing the way we treat their reporting going forward.
STELTER: Yes, there's even more to come. Farrow is working on a book that's going to have even more about this. So, there's more to come.
All right. Marc and Lachlan, thank you. Kelly, please stick around.
We're going to talk more about this case and what Jeff Bezos is calling the Saudi angle. More on that right after a quick break.
STELTER: And we're back now here on RELIABLE SOURCES.
There's been a lot of news in the past week about the Jamal Khashoggi case, notably even though it's been four months since Jamal was killed. His memory is still very much alive in Washington, in New York, and all around the world.
Just think about it, a couple of developments in the past couple of days. President Trump defied a Senate deadline to weigh in on whether the Saudi crown prince was ultimately culpable in Jamal's death. There's also been new reporting in "The New York Times" about the crown prince and what he was allegedly saying about Jamal ahead of the murder.
[11:15:06] There's a lot to get to, so I want to bring a panel here to talk about Jamal and that case and how it connects possibly to Jeff Bezos and American Media and "The National Enquirer"?
It's complicated, but let me bring in Suzanne Nossel. She's the CEO of Pen America. It's n organization that works to protect free expression and champions a freedom to write. Also here, too, CNN analysts Sam Vinograd and Juliette Kayyem.
I appreciate you all trying to piece this together. It goes from "The Washington Post" to Bezos and to "The Enquirer" and all the rest.
But, Suzanne, let's start with Jamal and his memory. There was a press conference that you co-sponsored on Thursday trying to call attention to this ongoing lack of accountability. What's the latest on the Trump administration and how it's responding?
SUZANNE NOSSEL, CEO, PEN AMERICA: There was a deadline on Friday for them to respond to a call by a bipartisan group of senators who were demanding action on Magnitsky sanctions. These are sanctions that are imposed against individuals who are complicit in human rights abuses. So, they brought a petition three months ago. The administration was supposed to respond by Friday.
And they just abdicated. They said, we're ignoring this, essentially violating the law. So, it's kind of a standoff.
I think the world is demanding accountability. This case struck a nerve. I think it was the bone saw. I think it was his involvement with people like Jared Kushner.
NOSSEL: -- and Sergey Brin at that level for MBS, for him to be personally implicated, and yet, not response. It's just not sitting well on the Hill. It's not sitting well with the American public.
And so, there's an outcry and I don't know how long the administration is going to continue to stone wall.
STELTER: So, Menendez, and Graham and others have introduced a bill that holds Saudi Arabia accountable. That would suspend weapon sales, et cetera. We'll see if that bill gets any momentum.
But, Sam, what does it mean that the president ignored the deadline? Does it mean anything?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It means that the president is basically condoning state sanction murder and really opening the door for Saudi Arabia to do this again.
Let's be clear on what Saudi Arabia is trying to do with Khashoggi and trying to silence Khashoggi and these allegations that they have ties to AMI and potentially work that they were doing with Vice News as well. They are trying to remake the global media landscape.
Saudi Arabia ranks 168 out of 180 countries on a press freedom index. They're a few ticks better than North Korea. They don't like opposition. They don't like criticism. And by trying to silent Jamal Khashoggi by trying to really wage
information warfare, the American media outlets, they're trying to silence any voices that they don't like. The president, by refusing to hold Mohammed bin Salman accountable, is really just opening the door for him to continue this misbehavior.
STELTER: Let's talk about more about the American media angle of this. Juliette, we also have Jeff Bezos in his blog post refer to the Saudi angle and folks are trying to understand how this could connect. Play it out for us. How could it work?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Just to be clear, this is coming from Bezos only. So, we're reading some tea leaves or bread crumbs coming from the Bezos camp. But, you know, based on my experiences, and talking to a lot of folks and VIP security, it looks something like this.
Originally, everyone in VIP security thought it was an inside job. It's the easiest thing, right --
STELTER: You mean, how do you get ahold of the pictures? How do you get ahold of the texts?
KAYYEM: So, it's either the girlfriend, or the girlfriend's brother. And there was speculation around that.
But then when Bezos came out with this memo. I talked to a lot of people in VIP security and they said there were some interesting gems in that that reporters and others would follow. The first is, of course, he named Gavin de Becker. You never name your security chief, right, because you don't want his family to be threatened, you don't put these names out there.
So, Gavin de Becker is like one of the top security officials, has worked with the Beatles, with Oprah, whoever else. And so, he wanted to know it was an outsider who was looking at the team, right? So, it's not an insider, someone who took a new review.
Then Bezos drops the Saudi Arabia bombshell. And so, the idea is, right, and I have to be clear -- Bezos may have been careless in his marriage, he's not careless in terms of his business, right? In other words, he's not going to throw a name out there like the Saudis without some basis in the memo because it undermines the whole security assessment.
So, basically, the idea is the Saudis somehow get hold through their intelligence services, somehow get hold or hack into his phone. AMI is just a shell for the Trump administration. It stops bad news from coming out, catch and kill aspects of whether it's Stormy Daniels, or it puts bad news out against his enemies, like Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz. So, basically, AMI gets this information and puts it out. And that's --
(CROSSTALK) STELTER: But the theory was that relationship has stopped, because Pecker had turned on Trump and cooperate in Michael Cohen case, that Trump was no longer a friend of David Pecker's.
KAYYEM: So, remember there is -- the common enemy of these two groups has weird alliances. The Saudis hate Bezos for the investigation for the investigation of Khashoggi.
STELTER: And for holding them accountable.
KAYYEM: And the Trump people hate him because "The Washington Post" is such a good newspaper going after the administration. So these alliances -- like we think there's an ideology behind these people. Corruption --
[11:20:06] VINOGRAD: It's marriage of convenience.
KAYYEM: Right, corruption has no ideology. It simply exists to support the corruption.
NOSSEL: There's another piece here which I want to bring them in because it's why we're involved, as Pen America, which is the First Amendment angle. You know, is this a news -- you know, whether it's blackmail, extortion case or not, if it is an extortion case, it's not just any extortion case. It's extortion case to stop a newspaper from carrying out an investigation from publishing their findings.
And so, you know, that and for the president -- you know, this speculation, the implication this is political whether it's the president motivated for his own reasons, whether he's trying -- you know, whether it's the Saudis trying to exert this pressure. Either way --
VINOGRAD: But if it's the Saudis, there is another legal angle which I really want to flag.
STELTER: What's that?
VINOGRAD: An outlet acting on behalf of a foreign government and not disclosing that relationship is illegal. It's a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. We have forced media outlets, the Department of Justice, to register as foreign agents because they are working to influence American opinion on behalf of a foreign government.
So if Saudi Arabia did try to influence what AMI was doing, whether Trump was involved or not, they're acting on behalf of a foreign government to shape American opinion about Jeff Bezos whether because they're angry about the Khashoggi investigation, or some other reason --
STELTER: This is the weird tabloid magazine that they put out promoting Saudi Arabia, promoting the crown prince. But there's absolutely no reason to publish this other than to suck up to the Saudis.
KAYYEM: Yes. The idea you said earlier, they said they cut off ties with the Saudis. So --
STELTER: Pecker and Trump broke up. The idea was they broke up --
KAYYEM: They broke up.
STELTER: So, why would they be going after a Trump enemy? Well --
KAYYEM: I mean, one is -- one is obviously because Bezos continues to investigate not just Trump but the Trump people who may still be friends with AMI.
But one thing I want to say about AMI and the Saudis.
KAYYEM: They say a lot of things that aren't true. So, I know the lawyer was on this morning, saying we had no ties. The Saudis were on yesterday saying we had nothing to do with this.
STELTER: Yes, they said --
KAYYEM: One of the consequences of lying to us all the time is I don't believe a word you say, right, at this stage. So, I just think that the fact that the Saudis are saying, we had nothing to do with it. Yes, like they had nothing to do with the murder of Khashoggi.
NOSSEL: So, what is Pecker's motivation? Even if he's had a break with Trump, he may be trying to curry favor. He may be very afraid.
This is the president of the United States, we're talking about. It's not just any corruption case. It's not just any extortion to think about who could be behind this. We don't know.
But that is the implication case here. And we know that in the past, there's been that kind of coordination and collusion. So, we have to get to the bottom --
STELTER: I miss ethics.
VINOGRAD: You miss truth?
KAYYEM: You miss truth. Just let it go, Brian.
KAYYEM: Let it go. Let it go.
Once you realize that almost everything that comes from some of these platforms is a lie, actually I have to be honest with you, it makes it easier.
KAYYEM: No, when the Saudis say we have nothing to do with it, you're like --
NOSSEL: It's been called out in a very unique way. You messed with the wrong person. And I think there is a chance we'll get to the bottom of this one.
VINOGRAD: A lot of foreign governments buy content in the media. A lot of foreign governments try to wage PR claims in the media and to shape American public opinion. The Saudis reportedly are trying to hide what they're doing.
NOSSEL: Well, that's not uncommon. Well, that is all the time.
VINOGRAD: It is a big distinction though. I mean, how many signs do you see from foreign governments with propaganda campaigns?
STELTER: Right. But it's changing. As a result of this pressure, you mentioned Vice earlier. "The Journal" reported that Vice was talking with the Saudis about doing a deal. It looks like that's not going to happen given the last few months of headline.
Got to wrap it up there. I want to thank everybody.
After a quick break here -- let me remind you about our podcast because we have more about the Justice for Jamal campaign. I spoke with his former editor Karen Attiah. It's on our podcast this week.
Quick break here and then, Jill Abramson. She was the former editor of "The New York Times". She is out with a new book. She's ensnared a plagiarism scandal and she's here to respond right after this.
[11:28:13] STELTER: Just how much truth is there in Jill Abramson new book "Merchants of Truth." The book has been applauded, it's been praised for capturing how the news business is changing. The book does that. But the book also contains passages that are plagiarized from other sources.
Abramson was a former executive editor at "The New York Times." So, this scandal has sent shockwaves throughout the journalism world. It was "Vice News" correspondent Michael Moynihan who called out these examples of what he called plagiarism, including this passage that seems to have been lifted from the Ryerson Review of Journalism almost word for word.
There's also another one he spotted that appears to be a passage taken from "Time Out" Magazine. It's almost exactly word for word.
CNN's Oliver Darcy uncovered two additional example of text that appeared to be lifted from other sources and he's published those examples on CNN.com.
Now, I'm grateful that Jill has agreed to join me here to respond to these allegations. She's here with me on set. Jill, full disclosure to the audience. You and I worked together at
"The New York Times". You were the top editor there.
Wouldn't these examples meet "The Times'" definition of plagiarism?
JILL ABRAMSON, AUTHOR, MERCHANTS OF TRUTH: It would meet "The Times'" definition of things that should be promptly corrected and sometimes, you know, a quote isn't attributed correctly in the newspaper and that's corrected. That's what I have endeavored to do here.
And, Brian, you know, I would never purposefully take credit for the work of another journalist or writer. This is a situation where, in fact, the Ryerson one that you showed earlier, that is credited in other footnotes. This was a case in which doing 70 pages of something that are called trailing footnotes.
[11:30:00] There are a few that dropped out and I feel terrible about that but Ryerson is credited I think twice in 70 pages of footnote.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: But even if I include a footnote, I still can't steal their words word-for-word the way they --
ABRAMSON: Well, if you give them proper credit, you can --
STELTER: But not --
ABRAMSON: -- in a book.
STELTER: It doesn't matter if I put a footnote 300 pages later. If I do that in a book, that's plagiarism. That's word-for-word stealing of other people's work.
ABRAMSON: Well, that -- you know that's your position. I don't see it that way.
STELTER: But it meets the Harvard definition of plagiarism and you work at Harvard. It meets the New York Times' definition of plagiarism where you worked. You're saying it didn't plagiarize.
ABRAMSON: I'm saying that I made some errors in the way I credited sources but that there was no attempt to pass off someone's ideas, opinions and phrasings as my own. These were all factual passages that unfortunately did not match up exactly to the right footnotes but they are credited in the footnotes elsewhere --
STELTER: Right. They're credited from the end of the book but the words are stolen from other sources, the actual words. And I guess where I'm coming from here is --
ABRAMSON: Well in trailing footnotes, they're always at the end. Footnotes are always at the end.
STELTER: But footnotes are not sufficient. You have to say in the text that you're taking the words from other sources. That's what I was thought.
ABRAMSON: Well, in some cases, I wish -- well, you know, in narrative book writing it isn't exactly the same as journalism but --
STELTER: What about the people that feel --
ABRAMSON: Let me -- can I finish. I'm just saying, I have reviewed these examples extremely carefully. I take these you know, criticisms extremely seriously. I've gone back through even my original manuscript pages to try to chase down how this happened. And you know, they -- just you know, there was no purposeful attempt to not credit someone's work. And I've you know --
STELTER: But if I did it in the New York Times I would still get in trouble.
ABRAMSON: You would -- you would still have to correct it.
STELTER: I think you would have called me in and punished me if I had plagiarized by accident in the New York Times.
ABRAMSON: I know you insist on calling at that but if you had not attributed a quote properly or a phrase put in quotes --
STELTER: Paragraphs, these are a couple paragraphs that Vice count.
ABRAMSON: They're less than paragraphs but I don't want to --
STELTER: -- fact checker that wrote the paragraphs and stole the paragraphs and that's why it happened.
ABRAMSON: Look, this is my book. I'm very proud of it. I own every mistake and every missed citation, badly done footnote. And look, I agree, some of these are way too close for comfort and probably should have been in quotes.
STELTER: I think it's a very important book and I was looking for -- we're going to be on together on Wednesday at the museum in Washington and I was excited to talk to you about all the messages in the book about the future of news. Because you've decided to look at the New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, and Vice and how their reckoning with this digital revolution.
I wonder if you think it's ironic that it was a Vice reporter who found these examples and called you out.
ABRAMSON: I don't find it ironic because I had been given a heads-up before the book was published that Vice was very likely sort of waging an oppo campaign against the book.
STELTER: An oppo campaign?
ABRAMSON: Yes, an oppo campaign and other you know, characters in the book were approached by them. So I wasn't surprised. This is what surprised me though. I gave vice from the earliest point that -- the actual manuscript pages, my little tight manuscript pages for all three chapters of Vice, that I gave them way over a month to like pour over it.
STELTER: To fact check.
ABRAMSON: To fact-check, to look at anything especially that they felt was like grossly unfair that you know, they felt my judgment was wrong and had you know, elaborate back and forth and then didn't hear from them for the longest time and then when the galley came out, again, like there are mistakes that you didn't correct but I had corrected all the ones they pointed out. So it just seemed to me something is up here.
And I understand why they might not be pleased with the portrait of the company in the book. I actually think it's quite a balanced portrait of Vice. I've had a couple of former Vice employees like write me letters of protest saying, I sounded like a P.R. agent for them in the book so you can never tell but I was not surprised.
[11:35:14] STELTER: I know that you'd rather not be talking about the allegations of plagiarism. I want to ask you what you want to take away from the book to be. Why do you want people to read it?
ABRAMSON: I want people to read it because I've devoted my career and really my life to digging out the truth and the importance of facts. And the difficulty and fragility of quality news in this past decade of digital disruption when you know, we can see that the very survival of companies like Vice and BuzzFeed are now you know, endangered because of more digital transformation in a world where Facebook and Google eats up like of new digital advertising like 90 percent of it. And that's been sort of leading these companies dry.
STELTER: But in that world, shouldn't we hold the bar as high as humanly possible, the highest possible standards. And isn't this book an example of failing to do that?
ABRAMSON: I certainly hope not. I don't think the book itself is a failure. I think the area of footnoting and giving credit is opened to criticism. And all I can tell you is any error with some of these citations, I've reached out to the people to make sure that they're not angry, to let them tell me what they think and to try to explain to them how it happened as I have with you today.
STELTER: And I appreciate you coming over. Thank you very much.
STELTER: The book is Merchants of Truth. And right after this break, we're going to talk with Michael Moynihan. He's the Vice reporter who found what he calls these plagiarism examples. He's up in just a moment.
[11:40:00] STELTER: How is plagiarism defined in the digital age? How does plagiarism differ when it's a newspaper article, versus a web story, versus a book? Let's talk about that with the reporter who first accused Jill Abramson of plagiarism, that's Michael Moynihan of Vice and here's -- he's here with me. Kelly McBride is also back with us from Poynter. So, Michael, you publish these examples of plagiarism. I think it's
pretty clearly plagiarism. I said so with Jill. She clearly does not think it's plagiarism. For our audience at home, how do you define plagiarism?
MICHAEL MOYNIHAN, CORRESPONDENT, VICE NEWS: That. I mean that is a word-for-word recitation with you know, the writer's example. There's one or two words changed out of quite a big block including the em dashes in there. There's other examples where the parentheticals are the same. The language is tweaked ever so slightly. You cannot do that.
And I do want to clarify something and I just checked my e-book copy which is a final copy. That Ryerson citation is not in the book. I cannot find it and it is there. Is a Ryerson citation of something else that I believe is also plagiarism but that one is --
STELTER: Right, it's the Ryerson you're talking about. And what you notice here, viewers, is there are slight word changes, just slight word changes. That makes you wonder if Abramson or one of her assistants purposely changed a couple of words in order to make it not look like she was lifting text.
MOYNIHAN: Well, that's kind of curious and it suggests that maybe that is the case. I mean, ilk is changed to something else. But you know, look, you cannot -- and this is a very, very important point. One cannot cite something even if they have copied it word for word and it not be plagiarism. One cannot cite plagiarism away. One must do it in their own words.
As you pointed out, Jill teaches at Harvard. She would being you know fined for that, she would be thrown out for that. The same thing would happen to her at the New York Times. It's what's so troubling about this is that Jill is the executive editor of the New York Times. The August newspaper that I think is the best in America probably one of the best in the world.
And if the executive editor doesn't really know what plagiarism is, that's a bit disturbing. Also, the book is called Merchants of Truth and it is a treatise on journalistic ethics.
STELTER: She clearly feels that you at Vice and your colleagues of Vice are out to get her book. What do you say to that?
MOYNIHAN: I don't even know what to say. Look, I have done a number of plagiarism stories in the past that do not have to do with Vice, with people like Jonah Lehrer, Roberto Saviano, Dominic Sandbrook. I got a copy of this book. I started reading it and I noticed egregious errors in every page and every paragraph. So I tried to figure out where these came from.
And guess what, when I started looking for that, I saw a lot of very, very similar passages. I don't understand if I was referred to as Oppo research because I spent some sort of flattery, but I don't know how one would do that. Did I break into the printing plant and put plagiarized passages in there? Did I hack the PDF file? The plagiarism is there whether or not my motivations or ill or they're not.
STELTER: Do you think it's fair to say it's still an important and worthwhile book?
MOYNIHAN: No, I wouldn't.
MOYNIHAN: No, I wouldn't at all. And I mean, I think it's the conclusions are facile and it's pretty much what I expected when I -- when I started reading it. But the problem is that you know, there's a conclusion in the chapters about this subject that I know best which is Vice that are clearly worked backwards from.
So there's a conclusion and there's a lot of timelines that are kind of changed around and a lot of facts that are not right to come to those conclusions. So that -- in that case I do not think it a worthwhile book, but that's my own book review.
STELTER: All right, Kelly McBride, you're our third party here, the ethicist at Poynter. You just had a big donation from Craig Newmark by the way, exciting news for Poynter, but let me talk about Abramson's book here. Is this emblematic of a bigger problem in the publishing world?
KELLY MCBRIDE, MEDIA ETHICIST, POYNTER: Well, it's definitely a problem in the book world. You were absolutely right that a reporter at the New York Times would be fired for doing this. And as Michael points out, if you're quoting something word-for-word, then you don't change the words, you put quotes around it and you attribute it.
[11:45:13] This is not merely a problem with quotations being left off because the words were changed. I think this is sloppy and I think we see in book publishing a lot of sloppy work like this. They don't fact-check the way magazines do. They don't have the ability to make corrections the way can on the internet so they really do have an obligation. They're putting things on paper. They have an obligation to get it right and it's not hard to do.
There's software artificial intelligence that helps you detect these types of similarities but then it requires a human to go through and determine which one of those are actually inappropriate leaning on the original text in which one of them are just too similar. But if a human being had gone through a plagiarism detection on this software and seen all of these, they would have flagged it and the editor or Jill could have gone back and made it right. This is a problem in book publishing that they just don't take this step.
[STELTER: But I am glad that in a case like this someone like you Michael found the examples, publish them. At least that kind of accountability can happen. But yes, it should have happened months before the book was published. Michael, Kelly, thank you for being here. A quick break and then another book. We're going to talk about Team of Vipers. That's the Cliff Sims book inside the Trump White House. My sit-down or with Cliff coming up right after this.
[11:50:00] STELTER: All right, the latest White House who done it, involves those executive time schedules. Three months' worth of those schedules leaked to Axios and now put at those reporting. The White House I.T. department has been brought in to try to figure out who leaked.
Let's talk to an author who worked in the White House. He was a Trump White House insider and now the author of Team of Vipers. It is the number three spot on the New York Times bestseller list this week, and the author is Cliff Sims, he's joining me now. Cliff, leak hunts, are they real or is the White House just want aides to think they're real in order to keep people from leaking.
CLIFF SIMS, AUTHOR, TEAM OF VIPERS: Well, I've talked to some people in there about this and I do think that it is real. There's definitely a hunt going on for whoever this individual is. The I.T. part -- Department is you reference certainly involved. I think that it's probably a real long shot that they would actually whoever did this. But the thing that strikes me about it is just the sheer effort that went into this.
I mean I received these schedules every morning when I worked in the White House and so to leak three months of them, it's not like there's a document all packaged up ready for you to just like show to somebody. You would have to go back through just weeks and weeks and weeks of e-mails to get these.
Obviously, you can't just email them out so you know, you kind of speculate on how they would even get those, take a you know picture of their screen or whatever it may be. So a lot of effort went into this. Definitely, a hunt going on. I have a hard time believing they're going to find the person though.
STELTER: Do you think the White House is less leaky than it was two years ago when you and everybody else started work there?
SIMS: You know, that's a great question. I think the leaks are different now. I think there was perhaps a little bit more of what I would call like staff on staff violence back then. It was kind of all related. Those were the kind of leaks that you got. But a leak like this -- I mean, I have to sit back Brian and ask myself who are these sociopaths working in the White House.
Like I think about the psychology behind leaks like this and often I think they are a direct reflection of the level of respect that an individual the staff level has for whoever their superior is. So you've seen a lot of leaks out of meetings kind of real-time leaks. Axios has been particularly adept at getting these kinds of leaks and that was often a reflection of who that leader was.
This one seems to be a direct shot at the President of the United States. That is a level of insubordination I think that is rarely seen in corporate America, rarely seen in government and certainly rarely seen at this level. STELTER: Let me turn to some of the news that happened on Friday.
This was the President's annual physical, his medical checkup. The White House released a statement saying that he's in strong health. But I wondered Cliff because a lot of guests on this particular program for the past two years have questioned the President's physical fitness and even as mental fitness for office. You worked there, you worked with him. Did you ever have any doubts about his fitness for office?
SIMS: No, I really didn't. I mean, I found him to be very sharp. I think there's a lot of things to get said about the way that he consumes information, does not like to read long briefing books perhaps the way that President Obama did. I find some of those criticisms to be a little bit hypocritical because we tell our kids you know, you learn -- you're a visual learner. That's OK.
I think the President does consume information were visually with charts and graphs and those kinds of things. I found you to be mentally astute. I found him to be highly energetic. I think that's one thing about the kind of the legend of Trump that actually kind of lives up to the reality that he's just kind of the Energizer Bunny. So I found him to be mentally fit, physically energetic every single day. And so I think a lot of those criticisms may be a little bit undue.
STELTER: And one of his recent tweets, one of many, was about Howard Schultz. I wanted to get your impressions of who Trump might be up against in 2020 especially since Schultz is in the news, there's been all this anger and interest in what Schultz is going to do whether he's going to run. Do you have a read on a Schultz potential challenge to Trump?
SIMS: Well, I kind of read between the lines a little bit of the tweets that I saw where he was kind of goading him on as if to say, you won't do it. Well, you're not really going to do it are you, kind of like making that kind of CEO to CEO kind of barb basically led me to believe that he would love to see Howard Schultz run. I think that that's probably the best news that Donald Trump's got in a long time on the electoral front that Howard Schultz may launch an independent bid. You've seen him lost -- launched the salvo that you would kind of expect at Elizabeth Warren and others.
Now, I do think that you can kind of read between the lines when President Trump attaches a nickname to someone or really single someone out that that's somebody he sees as perhaps a legitimate contender and somebody that he needs to brand in a way that he thinks is going to be helpful to him. So I did find that interesting.
[11:55:47] STELTER: Yes, me too. Cliff, thanks for being here. Best luck with the book.
SIMS: Thanks for having me.
STELTER: And mentioning Schultz -- speaking of Schultz, he's going to be here on CNN Tuesday night. The next CNN Town Hall is with Schultz and his potential bid. Poppy Harlow will be asking him about his potential run for president Tuesday night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.
Now to the state of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg's baby just turned 15 years old and the company says it is growing up. But clearly, that growth has been painful. It has made Zuckerberg take on a lot of different roles that he probably didn't imagine when he was at Harvard including one that seems a lot like an editor in chief. CNN's Laurie Segall sat down with Zuckerberg and went inside Facebook for a brand new documentary that's premiering tonight here on CNN. Laurie great to see you.
LAURIE SEGALL, CNN SENIOR TECH CORRESPONDENT: Great to be here.
STELTER: This question about Zuckerberg and what he does and whether he's an editor. You were inside a meeting that sounded a lot like a newsroom meeting. What happened?
SEGALL: Right. It was fascinating. The duties by weekly content moderation type meetings where are all different Facebook employees all different experiences come in and they have these different types of content questions. So the question they had was a woman accusing a man of harassing. And you know they decided to keep this up because they said that you know this was newsworthy.
But I asked, I interrupted the meeting. I said well what if the man says that this is harassment? I know that's a fine line. And they said you know, we've actually had many debates over that. And it struck me and I thought we've had many debates about that type of thing in the CNN newsroom and this is Facebook and this is the new uncomfortable role for Facebook.
And as part of this interview, I sit down with Mark Zuckerberg and asked him the question, how does it feel to be editor-in-chief because the hardest decisions go all the way up to Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. And you know he said, this is an uncomfortable role and it's not one he wants to be and it's why they've made a lot of different types of changes to make it so their word isn't the final word.
STELTER: So he's reluctant to be the editor in chief.
SEGALL: Yes. I think so. And you know, now they announce in November they're creating this independent body that you can appeal in many ways these content decisions. So I think 2019 for Facebook is going to be the year of comp. I mean, there have always been complicated questions.
SEGALL: But the year that they have to burst their own filter bubble, get outside of it to start answering these questions. Because for as long as I've been covering tech, they've said you know, we're just the pipes, we're not responsible for the content, that's an uncomfortable role, that all changed.
STELTER: So there's going to be a some -- what some people call it supreme court of Facebook. This third party that'll review people's appeals if they thought have been censored on Facebook. Then there's the related but separate issue of misinformation and how much -- how much B.S. spreads on Facebook. How serious do you think the company is actually taking this problem?
SEGALL: I think they're taking it very seriously and I -- you know, you talk to folks who know Mark Zuckerberg and there was a shift that happened when the company was going public and they realized they hadn't adapted to mobile phones and smartphones. And you know, their insight internally at Facebook, there's this idea of treating the latest issues with foreign interference, misinformation very similar to mobile which was all hands on deck.
You had to change in 30,000 different security employees. Now they're -- they know that this is the future of Facebook if they don't get on top of this, and you know this is obviously something they want to get on top of.
STELTER: This -- your documentary premiering tonight is about the 15th Anniversary. Will Facebook be here in 15 years? Will it see you 30?
SEGALL: You know, I think Facebook will definitely be here in 15 years but Facebook might not look like Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg did something very smart years ago. He went out and he bought Instagram. He went in and he bought WhatsApp. And if you look at the social networking in the future, and I've been covering there for a long time, the future is almost I think more these semi-private experiences and you know, they've put a lot of weight on that.
So WhatsApp, Messenger, the emphasis on stories, their mobile advertising makes up a majority of Facebook ad revenue. That's going to be very important for the future. So the future of Facebook might not be Facebook but it might be you know, the companies owned by Facebook and these experiences that are more mobile and private that they're putting on out there.
STELTER: Right. And look even though I have a lot of gripes about Facebook and about Twitter too, I'm still on it, right? I'm still logging in so is my mom. That's the test I do every day when it comes to whether Facebook is still relevant and powerful.
SEGALL: Yes. I think that's at the end of the day the story of Facebook is we all care about it so much because it's become a part of the layer of society.
SEGALL: You're also connected to it. And I'll say well, you know, it's interesting, if you look at the like sign on the back of this is Sun Microsystems at Facebook on campus. Sun Microsystems, they didn't paint over it. Segall.