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Coast Guard Lieutenant Compiled Hit List of Journalists; Did the Media Rush to Judgment in Smollett Case? Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired February 24, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:01] JOHN AVLON, CNN HOST: It's time for RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story. How the media really works and how the news gets made and how all of us can make it a bit better.

I'm John Avlon, filling in for Brian Stelter.

This hour, Jussie Smollett. Why it's the perfect storm of politics and pop culture, hate crimes and hoaxes.

Also, one-on-one with Barry Diller, the media mogul talks Hollywood's identity crisis, Facebook regulation and his concern about Dems in 2020.

And a new hire here at CNN spurs controversy and confusion. We'll try to clear it up for you.

But, first, in an era where insane is the new normal, there's always a danger that nothing is shocking. Perspective is a thing we have least of in our politics. And that's why it's helpful to take a step back sometimes and do a data-driven reality check.

A fascinating "New York Times" analysis this week showed that President Trump has attacked the Russia investigation more than 1,100 times. He uses signature moves of distraction, deflection and division. The larger goal, of course, is to discredit the investigation through reputation. It resonates with his base.

But faced with a blizzard of lies and fact-free attacks, normalization starts to creep in. And we become numb to it as citizens and journalists.

So when the president calls for someone to look into "Saturday Night Live" because he doesn't like their satire, it gets cursory coverage now. Over the past week, angry predawn tweets from the president calling journalists the enemy of the people received something close to a collective shrug. But what would be an extraordinary attack on the free press by almost any other president becomes just another day at the office.

But every once in a while, we get a visceral reminder of the real cost of this talk. This week, it came in the form of a chilling indictment against a former marine who works at the Coast Guard headquarters in Washington. He's name is Lieutenant Christopher Paul Hasson. He's avowed white nationalist who actively plotting domestic terror attacks targeting the president's political opponents and cable news journalists, including CNN's Don Lemon, Chris Cuomo, and Van Jones, as well as MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, Chris Hayes and Ari Melber.

This comes four months after pipe bombs were sent to prominent Democrats and journalists at CNN. Four months before that, the deadliest newsroom shooting in American history at the "Capital Gazette" in Annapolis.

The point is not that there's culpability on the part of the president, but there is growing pattern of threats against the press, and that's nothing we can afford to ignore in a free society.

Joining me now to talk about how to confront the numbing of the American mind and defend the free press, it's an all-star panel. "New York Times" columnist Charles Blow, CNN's SVP of news gathering, Mitra Kalita, and the former president of the Slate Group and founder of Pushkin Media, and, Yale profession of journalism, Jacob Weisberg.

Thank you all for joining me.

Mitra, let's start with you. There are choices we make in journalism every day, and one of the most difficult is how to cover the president's lies, mistruths, versus some of the other things happening in the world that are larger and bigger in some respects than holding him to account, Venezuela comes to mind.

How do you make those judgments in the newsroom every day, between holding the president to account and telling people what's happening larger in the world?

S. MITRA KALITA, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, CNN DIGITAL NEWS & PROGRAMMING: So, thankfully, on Digital, this is not an either or proposition. It's very much both of those tracks are vital to our mission as journalists. Most of us got into this for both of the objectives you've mentioned. One, to inform a society, to be the underpinning of their information, and then what you're describing which is to hold power to account.

And so when the president, you know, repeatedly says we're the enemy of the people, the question then becomes, how do we respond to that? One, response would be adversarially. The other would be to say, you know, this is what we do, we're here to serve the public. And to remind them of that not necessarily by only responding to the president's attack, but, you know, showing our importance during criminal investigations, during hurricanes, during --

AVLON: It's a matter of --

KALITA: -- the stuff that makes our news agenda, right --

AVLON: It's a matter of walking and chewing gum and having a big enough newsroom to be able to do both.

Charles, let me go to you because one of our former colleague and friend, David Frum, the smartest guy, had a tweet over the weekend, noting that in his local paper, the Coast Guard shooter in the indictment was in the local section. And he took that as a sign of kind of the normalization and numbing that we're confronting. Is this a case of us growing dangerously numb? Or is this a case of the difficulty covering the gun that didn't go off?

CHARLES BLOW, OP-ED COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, I guess we are numb to some degree.

[11:05:02] But I think to put it in a larger context of what's happening is important. People consider the media the fourth estate, right? Basically a fourth branch of government.

What you have now is if you take that context and that framing, one branch of the government attacking the other. And that is -- you know, it's a very difficult thing to defend against. And the media, unlike the other three branches, there's no election. There is no confirmation hearing.

It is -- the media is enormous relative to the other branches. And as the definition of what the media is keeps expanding, you know, there become a lot of vulnerabilities both in terms of credibility but also physical personal vulnerabilities. There are no guards at my house like there are at the White House. There's no guards at my house like there are at the Supreme Court or Congress.

And so, there are actual vulnerabilities to you as a journalist, but there are also credibility concepts around are we now lumping in everyone who blogs and does so seriously? And I think there's a lot of great journalism happening in that way, but also there's some journalism that I'd be more skeptical about happening that way. And so, the elasticity of the concept becomes a tricky thing.

AVLON: Jacob, you know, one of the real conversations is, is the president simply talking as he does, spouting off, and we shouldn't over-index the impact. But every once in a while, you start to see him change the terms of the conversation, and that seems striking this week when we saw an opinion from Judge Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court justice, picking up the mantel of the president's past claims that we should libel reforms, target the press, by saying that Sullivan v. New York, a landmark libel case, should be reexamined.

What's your take on that?

JACOB WEISBERG, FORMER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SLATE GROUP: Well, I don't think it's plausible. Sullivan was a 9-0 decision. And I think conservatives have long realized that freedom of the press protects conservative views as well as liberal views. In that case, along with the Pentagon Papers case, which is at the time (ph) the United States, are the foundations of the modern interruption of the First Amendment. They're the pillars of what make the American press the freest in the world.

That used to we an idea that the United States government had an interest in developing abroad, and in places like the Philippine where democracy was emerging, we were on the side of the free press. Now, we have a president who's giving a kind of permissioning to dictators who want to pull it back in the other direction, who are harassing the press, like Maria Ressa, this press freedom hero in the Philippines, and Duterte in the Philippines is an example of someone who does that, specifically citing fake news, enemy of the people.

So, the concern is that what Trump does creates a kind of permissioning and creates a climate where these attacks -- violent attacks here are maybe not specifically attributable to Trump but are take place in the atmosphere that he's creating.

AVLON: It sets a broader tone.

Mitra, I wonder if you put Sullivan v. "New York Times" in context because it happens during the civil rights movement --


AVLON: -- where libel laws are being wielded for really specific chilling purposes.

KALITA: So, I think what's important to know about "New York Times" versus Sullivan is actually that the lawsuit was against an advertisement, right? When we see "New York Times", we'll just assume it was about the journalism, but that's -- this was actually an advertisement by a group of people trying to defend Martin Luther King and raise money for him.

And I think what is borne out of this civil rights era decision is holding public figures such as the police, politicians -- you know, we see that redefined for celebrities and becoming more expansive. In the modern definition of media, "New York Times" versus Sullivan really is, speaking of how we cover and hold power to account, the underpinning of that belief in journalism.

AVLON: Jacob, just quickly, as one who's run an independent media outfit, I don't think folks appreciate how much the threat of lawsuits can have a chilling on speech.

WEISBERG: Well, sure, and financially weaker news organizations, which almost all of them are now, are in a weaker position to stand up to wealthy bullies who may want to punish them because of something they don't like. What Times v. Sullivan protects is honest error.

Error is part of journalism. Mistakes happen, and what that case says is that mistakes that aren't intentional, mistakes versus lies are protected by the First Amendment in most cases.

AVLON: We're going to have to live it there. But, Charles, stick around for the next weekend.

[11:10:01] Mitra, Jacob, thank you for joining us on RELIABLE SOURCES.

WEISBERG: Thank you, John.

AVLON: Up next, Jussie Smollett. The story received wall to wall coverage and why both police are pointing fingers at the news media.

But before we go to break, it's Oscar Sunday, so I thought it would be fun to have some fellow CNN anchors ask what their favorite movie is and here's John Berman. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: My favorite journalism movie is easy. "All the President's Men" because that's why we all gotten in this business, and side note, it's the coolest thing ever I occasionally get to speak to Carl Bernstein sometimes. Number two, "Up Close and Personal" only because it's top Michelle Pfeiffer filmmaking and there are no actual real parallels with television news inside that movie, which segues to number three, which is "Broadcast News," which isn't fiction. It's like a documentary. It is actual footage of what it is like in the television business.

And let me tell you everyone's career in this business is a struggle between being Albert Brooks and William Hurt, and the dirty truth is, the William Hurt always wins.




As the strange saga of the Jussie Smollett case continues, one of the biggest criticisms we hear is against the media.

[11:15:05] And we heard it from the Chicago police department loud and clear.


SUPERINTENDENT EDDIE JOHNSON, CHICAGO POLICE: This didn't get any special attention. You all gave this more attention specifically than we do.


AVLON: This has been a heated national conversation. So let's lay out some facts.

First, there were 7,175 hate crime incidents in 2017, according to the Department of Justice. That's a 17 percent increase over the previous year. Not only that, the number of hate groups in the U.S. has increased 30 percent over the past four years, according to the SPLC.

The hate crime hoaxes do occur, but they are very rare if possibly on the rise. According to the director at Center of Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino, there have been at least 49 hate crime reports between 2016 and 2018. But often these cases are high profile and this can go back to Tawana Brawley in New York City in the '80s, the UVA rape case falsely reported at "Rolling Stone", and in more recent years, incidents at the Air Force Academy, St. Olaf College, and the New York City subway system.

I think it's important to put both things in perspective because too often conservative media focuses on a few hoaxes, while liberals sometimes rush to judgment on the other side. Joining me now, Charles Blow, back, "New York Times" columnist, L.Z.

Granderson, ESPN host and sports and culture columnist for "The L.A. Times", and John McWhorter, associate professor of linguistics at Columbia University, and contributing editor for "The Atlantic".

It's great to have you all here.

L.Z., let me begin with you. Part of the criticism we heard from the Chicago superintendent is that there was so much attention given to this one case and not nearly enough at the shootings in Chicago or the other hate crimes that have borne out around the country.

But you, as somebody who writes at the intersection of politics and pop culture often ought to recognize two things. One, shouldn't there be an assumption that the cases are legitimate? And two, wasn't this going to be something that captured people's attention out of the gate because of those elements?

L.Z. GRANDERSON, ESPN HOST: Well, you know, first of all, it's great to be back with you, John. It's been a while since I've seen you.

You know, first, I kind of chuckled a little bit having been in Chicago, reported in Chicago at the idea that this case in particular sullied the Chicago name as it relates to gun violence in the city or just violence in general. Chicago is known to have issues when it comes to violence. So, for the chief to insinuate this case dragged the Chicago name through the mud I thought was disingenuous.

And then, also, just the number of man hours and detective hours that were used in this one case in particularly, I don't have the facts in front of me, but I do know having lived and reported as I said before, 20 detectives over the course of three weeks for one case doesn't seem to be the norm based upon my own reporting in the city. So, I thought he was disingenuous just in terms of how Chicago was positioned.

Now, back to your question -- yes, it was given extra attention because he's a celebrity on a very popular TV show, and to pretend otherwise would be disingenuous of the media. My biggest criticism, John, is that we dropped the word "alleged" very early in our reporting of this, and when you had political commentators like myself, you didn't correct us when we didn't use the word "alleged" as well.

AVLON: Interesting. That's fascinating and important point.

John McWhorter, I want to go to you because you wrote an essay which was getting a lot of attention in the Atlantic about the underlying aspect of what you call victimhood chic, trying to understand in some respects the sociology and maybe psychology of hate crimes hoaxes, because it's sort of baffling and troubling.

JOHN MCWHORTER, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF LINGUISTICS, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Yes. I mean, the question is, given the reality of these racist attacks and homophobic attacks, why would a person pretend that it had happened to them, and why isn't that something you hear about in 1946, in 1966? Why is it that now we have a Rachel Dolezal who's white and part of her act is to fake these violent and/or hostile racist acts against her? Imagine that person even in 1986.

Or somebody like Jussie Smollett who is a big star on a big TV and yet feels sincerely, as a sane person, he's sane, that's what's interesting about this. He doesn't have any mental problems, that it would make him more interesting and important to have been attacked?

That's something that's relatively new, and I think what we're seeing is there is something you could call victimhood chic, where the idea is what makes you most interesting is that you have been the victim of some sort of bigotry. And it's certainly true that these cases don't happen at the rate of thousands a year. But I'd say, if there had been 48 cases like this from 2016 to 2018, a certain crowd of usual suspects would be saying it was a national crisis and what America is all about if it was, say, cop killings. If there were that many white men killing black men, everybody would say that 48 was more than enough.

So, here I think we are talking about a real phenonomen.

[11:20:01] And it worries me because it's about the black self image, especially among black people who come of age roughly in the 21st century. It worries me that anybody would think saying they've been jumped by somebody white makes them more interesting than anything else they could possibly do, especially because it's a kind of capitulation to evil.

AVLON: Well, and part of what's there is the sense that we've been honoring appropriately the victims of hate. And so, there's a heroic patina that maybe they're reaching for.

Charles, when we first talked about this, and it first became clear that the story maybe wasn't so solid, you said if this is true, he must be a psychopath. Do you think that's the case or do you think there's something to what John is describing is victimhood chic?

BLOW: Well, I mean, that's not my -- I'm not even going to discuss that theory. But, yes, if he has made all this up, I mean, I don't know how else to describe what that would mean because it's not just that he would have made it up. It was -- the Robin Roberts interview is fascinating when viewed in light of what the police alleged he did.

It was -- you know, saying not only that this happened to me, that you guys are all wrong who are doubting what I've done, that I am a vigilante of sorts. He said that on stage as well, that, you know, I'm the gay Tupac.

I know once you're in, you're all in. You know, O.J. showed up at Nicole's funeral and held the kids and cried. I mean, once you're in, you're all in. But that is psychopath behavior.

And for him to continuously go out and say, no, no, there's no way if in fact he did what the police said he did, there's no huge break with reality there, and there's also a kind of commitment to the lie and to the persona that would be disturbing if this is true.

AVLON: L.Z., I mean do you think this is something that simply reinforces the fact that we all need to be skeptical and suspend our judgment, or is this on a deeper level almost a tragedy because it undercuts the real cases in such a fundamental way?

GRANDERSON: Well, I think if you're speaking of objective journalist, then we should always greet these sort of cases regardless of the players involved as alleged until they've gone through the proper channels and legal system. I mean, to me that is the great lesson to be learned here from a media perspective is that we assumed that no one would do something like this, especially a celebrity because it didn't make much sense.

We are supposed to run that through that particular filter. We're supposed to run it through the checks and balances of proper journalism, which an attack is alleged until a jury or judge says otherwise. So, I think --

AVLON: That's an important point that's been missing from some of our debates, at least as they play out in social media, the social media mob.

And, John, I want to end with you because that's exactly what I think some of the conversation has been about. Where have been the checks and balance, the presumption of innocence, the degree of skepticism? Instead, there's a rushing to the ramparts.

Has social media made it worse? And have you seen a kind of deep blowback on this piece or something surprising?

MCWHORTER: Social media does make this worse because we end up talking to each other all day long about these things in visceral terms, telegraphic terms as if we were in a village 100,000 years ago. So, all this happens faster and it encourages the shouters.

But actually, I really do think in a case like this, what we're seeing is not that America, at least any sensible America, is thinking that there's no such thing as a hate crime or a race crime. I think Ann Coulter has said that. I generally don't know what reality she's in to tweet something like that out.

AVLON: Yes, that's reasonable.

MCWHORTER: We can both chew gum and walk at the same time. There are these hate crimes. But then when somebody claims as a B and a half list star, they get jumped in a heavy coat in the middle of the night by people shouting exactly the right things and hanging a noose around his neck, which is something black people seemed to always say somebody did, rather than that white people often do, we are right to be skeptical and just to wonder, and we might think of Jussie Smollett as relative unique.

But I worry that that uniqueness is of a kind where he thinks that the coolest way to be black or black and gay is to have been beaten up and live to tell about it. No, that's not what civil rights was supposed to be about.

AVLON: And the larger problem is that it undercuts the historical memory of all these cases that have been all too real and still haunt us as a country.

Gentlemen, I want to thank you all very much for joining. L.Z., Charles, John.

Up next, Barry Diller moves from movies to digital and he's had on a role in revolutionizing it all, and I sat with him when we return.

But, first, here's Kate Bolduan's favorite journalism movies as we count down to the Oscars.


[11:25:01] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, John, I couldn't pick just one movie about journalism. So, here are my top three. "Broadcast News", a classic, of course. "The Post" because of the amazing performances and because of quotes like, if we don't hold them accountable, who will? And last but not least, "Mission Impossible: Fallout", only because our beloved Wolf Blitzer makes a very important cameo.



AVLON: Welcome back. I'm John Avlon, in for Brian Stelter, and we are hours away from the Oscars.

And earlier, I spoke to legendary media mogul Barry Diller, who's done everything from running a movie studio in Hollywood's glory days, to starting an online empire known as IAC. He's a man who weaponizes his curiosity, and here's what he told me.



AVLON: Barry Diller, thanks for us on RELIABLE SOURCES. Let's talk about Hollywood given that it's Oscar weekend. You made some comments to Kara Swisher that old Hollywood is dead. You famously throw a big bash on Oscar weekend. What have you been hearing from your friends back in old Hollywood about your predictions of their demise?

BARRY DILLER, CHAIRMAN, INTERACTIVE CORP: Well, first of all, yes, they throw a little bricks at me and I gently toss them back. Saying, too bit out of context, and it is out of context. It's not that these companies are going out of business, it's just their hegemony which has gone on for the last hundred years is over.

And I think that's probably healthy to recognize that maybe you don't like it necessarily. But, you know, look, technology has changed so many things. A movie, what is a movie today? You know that is truly blurred. The word movie is going through its first change since probably 1928 or nine when sound came into the movies. So, is a revolution happening?

AVLON: One of the really fascinating media scandals of our time that has a lot of history behind it. And that's the attempted extortion of Jeff Bezos by American media, by the National Inquirer. What was your reaction?

DILLER: I thought the only really interesting part of it. I mean that seemed to be something that anybody should pay attention to, was Mr. Bezos' reaction to it which was in truly courageous.

I mean, he could have as many people would do is suppress it, do anything he could to avoid continuing, you know, one of the things you do with stories is you don't want to put fire on them, what he put huge gasoline flames on them because he said you're not going to blackmail me and get away with it. Because if I can't withstand it, no one can.

And to do that as an individual, a public person who has God knows other things to occupy his time was a matter of I think honor and courage. And that to me was the story.

AVLON: On the flip side with American media, did you consider this sort of simply a new low in a company that's already been implicated lots of other scandals and connections with President Trump?


DILLER: You can't -- you can't -- you can't -- you can't do new low. I mean, there is no lower. Well, what's lower? The National Enquirer is a bad rag.

AVLON: Sure.

DILER: Meaning, all it does is exploit people at kind of the lowest kind of concept of whatever it is that can -- you know, excite the supermarket check lines. I don't have many comparisons to the Enquirer. I mean there was. Thank God, it was actually put out of business, it was called Gawker. And Gawker did the same sleazy kind of tactics. And its tactics got them caught into absolutely, annihilation, a good thing.

AVLON: You are the owner of The Daily Beast, my former publication. But there's a lot of pressures on digital media companies. Just the last several weeks, we've seen significant layoffs at vice and BuzzFeed. Two very hyped brands backed by V.C. capital.


DILLER: Oh yes. Yes, yes, but who cares?

AVLON: Vice laid off 10 percent of its staff which is 250 people. My question to you is what's --


DILLER: I'm sorry. I shouldn't say who cares, like. I'm not saying who cares in terms of the fact that I don't care about people being laid off, I do. But I don't think that digital media -- digital publishing which in a sense got -- you know, kind of free money for a while on the theory that it could compete. It's very difficult to compete in publishing today.

But the truth of it is, is the big, big powers of journalism are competing very, very well. New York Times is doing quite well. Washington Post is doing well. Digital publishing for small players is just a very difficult business model. I do think that over the next couple of years or wouldn't keep investing in The Daily Beast that, in fact, subscriptions are going to come online to replace the digital advertising portion of it. Because digital advertising is just not a good game for anybody.

And so, I'm hopeful that they will improve, but they probably went as they say (INAUDIBLE) in front of their skis.

AVLON: One of your favorite topics, big tech platforms, Facebook. There was a parliamentary report this past week released calling digital gangsters and saying the thing that they were willing to override its user's privacy settings in order to transfer data to app developers.

DILLER: Oh, yes.

AVLON: Should these big tech platforms be subject to regulation to ensure competition if so what?

[11:34:56] DILLER: Of course, they need appropriate regulation. Their app -- look, it's not necessarily willful, it's just the nature of things. Now, I think we over-regulated -- know, last -- you know, a period in many respects.

But I do think that prudent regulation is going to come on -- are going to come along in the next several years when you have situations where it is for the -- it is for the public good.

AVLON: You were a big supporter of Hillary Clinton in 2016. What lessons do you think the party should take from her loss, and is there anyone you like in 2020 at this point?

DILLER: I even though I think its odds difficult. The person I've committed to not that -- it my commitment means anything. In this case, is Michael Bloomberg, I think it's going to be probably a more difficult role than for others. As for the rest of it as a big group that winner themselves out. I think the Democrats, my great worry is, is they're putting their foot in it right now. And I worry that they're going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

AVLON: How so? This is not an election about economics. The economy is OK. This is an election about morality and decency. So, this is not going to get won on arguing that. It will get won on arguing the only relevant issue.

We have an indecent president and that is a moral question. And it is that question that topic that I think everything should and I hope will revolve around.

AVLON: Barry Diller, thank you very much for joining us on RELIABLE SOURCES. Appreciate your time. DILLER: Pleasure.


AVLON: You can see more of my interview with Barry Diller at But up next, a hiring here, CNN made last week is taking a lot of attention. We're going to take a deeper look at after the break. Coming up, at the top of the hour is Jake Tapper. And Jake, what's your favorite journalism movie?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Citizen Kane, Frost/Nixon, Good Night, and Good Luck, there are too many great movies about journalism to really pick one favorite. But if I have to narrow it down, Broadcast News and All the President's Men are two movies I could watch anytime.


[11:41:21] AVLON: Now we want to turn the spotlight on ourselves in the spirit of transparency. This past week, there was some controversy and confusion around the announcement that CNN would be hiring Sarah Isgur Flores. A Harvard Law graduate, a longtime Republican operative, and most recently, the spokeswoman at the Trump Department of Justice.

First, let's clear a few things up. There was a mistaken idea circulating that Sarah Flores would be directing CNN's political coverage in the 2020 election. That's false. We have a political director already, David Chalian and an extensive political team which she's joining in.

In addition, she won't be working on Democratic debates or town halls because we already have an extensive special events team doing so. But let's cut to the chase. A lot of the fallout stems from the fact that she's a veteran of the Trump Justice Department. So, discuss that and more, I'm joined by NPR media reporter and host of NPR's on point podcast David Folkenflik. And S.E. Cupp, host of CNN's "S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED". S.E., happy birthday. But first, David, let me start with you.


AVLON: There is a long history of people moving from politics to journalism. For example, Bill Moyers, what for being LBJ's press secretary to being the publisher of Newsday.

Diane Sawyer was a Nixon aide before she became one of the most iconic anchors of her generation. Tim Russert who would I argue was the greatest political anchor of all time. Was a senior aide to Senator Moynihan and Governor Cuomo.

NBC's Pete Williams served as a spokesman for Dick Cheney and Bush 41's Department of Defense before becoming one of the best Pentagon reporters on T.V.

And finally, George Stephanopoulos, who held the war room for Bill Clinton's 92 campaign and ran his communications in the White House, before becoming the widely respected host of GMA and this week.

I myself, started in politics, working as a speechwriter for Rudolph Giuliani. So, David, against this backdrop, shouldn't Sarah be granted the same opportunity to prove herself?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think that you set up the principal nightly -- nicely. I think that as in your case, people can take a turn through the revolving door. A turn and decide to shift their career, shift their lives, and their livelihoods that makes every sense.

The question here is, the particular, and there's problematic on two grounds.


FOLKENFLIK: It's hard to know which way to start first. Let's go first to CNN. CNN hasn't expressly said why made this hire in a way that's clear to the public. They haven't really conveyed it to their own staff.

I mean, your colleagues here at CNN have raised this question with me with other people and said why is this happening? What is the justification and why are there such questions?

It's her affiliations not simply as a partisan figure. CBS hired, I believe, a Republican figure as its political director not so long ago. It's a question of the attitude toward the press.

The Trump administration, her boss at the Department of Justice. Jeff Sessions also antipathetic to what the press does in his rhetoric, and how he approaches it or, at least, how he talked about approaching it. It seems to me as though, she needs to come forward and CNN needs to come forward and say I am embracing journalism and this is why.

AVLON: So just to boil it down, you think the key difference is that there's a difference with the Trump administration, and how its treated the press that's breaks president with all previous presidents, and that's why there's a higher standard of scrutiny you've been.

FOLKENFLIK: Given that, I think CNN needs to own this in a clearer way, in a more expressed way. Kudos for addressing it on a show like this, but nonetheless, address it with the public, say why this decision is the right decision.

AVLON: Well, let's continue to do that. S.E., you obviously are card-carrying conservative, a critic of the Trump administration. But in other networks. What's your perspective on what David just said in this hire?

CUPP: Well, a couple of things. I know Sarah for a long time, and I've worked with her in all of her capacities when she was at the House, when she was at the DOJ when she was running a presidential campaign, and she's a professional. She is very smart, lovely to work with, she's loyal. She'll be good at this job as she's been good at all of her jobs, frankly.

But I think the problem was, to David's point, the confusion. There was internal confusion about what she would be doing. I'm glad that you, John, addressed that.

The sense I got internally was not so much this person is coming from the Trump administration, but what will she be doing? Will she be overseeing our editorial decisions? And once that was cleared up, I think a lot of the confusion and the concern went away.

But, let's be clear, having those concerns is healthy. It's appropriate. I wish that of all of the transitions between administrations and journalism going in both directions, I wish that was met with the same healthy concern every time.

For journalists to be concerned about someone coming from the administration into a journalism outfit is appropriate. And we just have to watch and let her do her job and have a chance, and see if she can do this. I believe she can.

[11:46:04] AVLON: And David, look, I mean, ideally, public service and journalism are two sides of the same coin, right?

I mean, it's about you care about civic debates presumably. But there obviously is a different tone and tenor with this administration. Let me clear up some of the things that both of you have raised.

I mean, the expectation is that she will play a coordinating role across digital and T.V. so that the right-hand knows what the left hand is doing. And I think the larger question and the larger opportunity is the role of ideological diversity in newsrooms.

Talk a lot about diversity as we should. But don't you feel that ideological diversity is an important asset to a news organization that's not simply trying to play to the base and compound the problem with polarized media?

FOLKENFLIK: So, this is in some ways a larger version of the problem that I have with the way in which the cable news employs partisan figures as paid commentators for the networks as opposed to saying we have somebody who is an outside voice for partisan thing.

You know, it's like you have on CNN or an MSNBC or Fox, you know, team right, team left, team Trump, team anti-Trump, and they're in house. And that's weird and premature who is the loyalty to?

I am in favor of ideological diversity and geographical diversity backgrounds. Economic, all the kinds of different ways of backgrounds and ways of life that's helped to flow together to form a larger understanding of the tapestry of America.

AVLON: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: That's really important. On the other hand, if what her role is and we just don't know, it has been articulated is simply to say, at the table, I'm going to represent the views of those who have been Trump world, including those who were hostile to what journalism stands for, that's a problem.

If she comes out and embraces journalism and says this is my future and my life, you can see a different path for her.

AVLON: S.E., I see you're shaking your head.

CUPP: Yes, that's not going to be her job. Her job is not going to be to represent or even speak for the administration. But I will say as a conservative, CNN's interest in having a diversity of views, and also backgrounds is a really good thing.

The fact that she's -- you know, Texan who's worked in Republican -- a Republican administration, for Republican members of the House, a Republican presidential candidate, also, famously though, defended Elena Kagan in the Obama administration to the detriment of her fandom among Republicans. This is all a good thing.

Her job is going to be coordinating -- as you said, John, digital and T.V. She is not there to be a Trump spokesperson. But we are lucky as a journalism outfit to have someone from that environment. And we'd be doing ourselves a disservice if we decided to just ban people from this administration who might otherwise be qualified on having that perspective as part of our journalism outfit, can only help us.

FOLKENFLIK: You know, a got her (INAUDIBLE). It can't just be that you hire people from politics for political diversity, there are point of view journalists who coming through -- you know, combat conservatism through journalism itself. What I want to hear from CNN and from Flores herself is a commitment to journalism and journalistic principles that you aren't hearing from anybody, really in major positions in the Trump administration.

AVLON: That is certainly, I think consistent with the mission of CNN. And I will say, there's a benefit to having people understand the politics and practice as well, as just theory. But this is an important clarifying conversation that a lot of debate.

And I want to thank you, David. Congratulations on the new baby. And S.E., congratulations on everything. Thanks for joining us.

CUPP: Thanks.

AVLON: All right. Now, here's "NEW DAY" co-host Alisyn Camerota on her favorite journalism movies.

[11:49:36] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, my favorite journalism movies are in this order. Number one, Broadcast News, because I love the Holly Hunter character who, of course, we all know is Susan Zirinsky who has just become the first female president of CBS News. So, I love her story and I love that movie.

Number two, the one that really is basically a documentary, Anchorman, who among us doesn't know a guy in T.V. news just like that. And number three, To Die For, which is Nicole Kidman who I think perpetrates a murderer. And I feel that it sort of accurately captures the dark humor of newsrooms. You're welcome. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AVLON: Venezuela in chaos. Sources say, at least, five people are dead and 285 injured as Venezuelan security forces fought with protesters near the Colombian border this Saturday. The Colombia Committee to Protect Journalists says one reporter is among the injured.

And it's just the latest dangerous situation that reporters are facing around the globe. I'm joined by Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist, and president of PEN America. Jennifer, thank you for joining us. At a time when so many journalists are imprisoned around the world, I think it's so important that organizations like yours are shining a light and helping people remember that they're not -- it can be locked away forever. How do you see your role?

[11:54:59] JENNIFER EGAN, PRESIDENT, PEN AMERICA: Well, the point of imprisoning a journalist is to silence that journalist, and the sense erase him or her. So, the goal at PEN America is to make that impossible by bringing world attention to these imprisoned journalists. And making it more uncomfortable to leave them in prison than to release them.

AVLON: And does it work?

EGAN: It does work sometimes. I mean, of the 42 journalists that we've honored with our freedom to write award, 37 so far have been released. And we've had some great successes and all others that were still really actively working on.

AVLON: It's a tangible sign of hope. Final quick question for you, as a novelist, you said you see society in terms of a story. Where do you see our story going in today's America?

EGAN: Well, in terms of suppressing the truth, to me it seems like the last gasp of an old order. I mean, it just doesn't work. You know, look at climate change. It comes whether you say, it doesn't exist or not. And I have a lot of faith in whatever will come next in terms of facing these problems and tackling them. I have a lot of faith in American ingenuity.

AVLON: Hope, faith, and confronting the truth. That's a great note to end on. Thank you. That's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. See you right here, next week.