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The Right And Wrong Ways To Cover Marjorie Taylor Greene; Left- Wing Media Outlets Rising In The Post-Trump Era; Fact-Checking Biden's First Week In Office; Opportunity For Change In American Newsrooms?; Rick Davis Retires From CNN After More Than 40 Years. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired January 31, 2021 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey. I'm Brian Stelter live in New York and this is RELIABLE SOURCES, where we examine the story behind the story, where we figure out what is reliable.

This hour, the right and wrong ways to cover Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Also, right wing media villains are heroes to left wing publications. So what is the power of the progressive press in the Biden era?

And later, the changing of the guard at major newsroom from coast to coast. Who will take over as top news outlets search for new leadership?

We also have a farewell interview coming up with a living CNN legend. Our editorial compass, Rick Davis.

But, first, there is up in the sky information pollution. And the polluters are trying to deflect blame. Dishonest cries of censorship are filling Fox's airwaves, with charges that these guys right here are being suppressed. The word censorship has been invoked almost 400 times on FOX this month alone, and more than 300 times on Newsmax.

You know, post-insurrection, a book publisher decided that it does not want to be in business with Senator Josh Hawley. So he's been on a national TV tour saying he's muzzled. And Tucker Carlson is telling viewers that this network, CNN, is trying to force Fox News off the air, which is patently false.

It is predictable as the sunrise. Democrats win elections and Republicans say they are being silenced. But while some cry cancel culture, let me suggest a different way to think about this, a harm reduction model.

Most people want clean air and blue skies and accurate news and rational news. In that healthy environment that looks beautiful, then we can have fights about taxes and regulation and health care and all the rest. The vast majority of people can agree that disinformation about, let's say, the pandemic is unhealthy. It's harmful.

So, how can that harm be reduced? Well, big tech platforms say they are removing lies about vaccines and stamping out "stop the steal" BS and QAnon content. Now, do these private companies have too much power? Sure, and many people would say, yes, of course, they do.

But reducing a liar's reach is not the same as censoring freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is different than freedom of reach, and algorithmic reach is part of the problem.

Now, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seems to agree. Here's a headline from "Politico". He's pledging to depoliticize Facebook.

Zuckerberg says one of the top pieces of feedback we're hearing from our community is that people don't want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our services.

Well, he's -- he's several years too late. But that is a real issue and he wants to now try to clean up Facebook.

But this is bigger than Facebook. This harm happens all over the place. In the words of a recently fired FOX News editor, news consumers are both overfed and malnourished at the same time, gorging on empty informational calories, indulging their sugar fixes of self- affirming half-truths and even outright lies.

It is impossible to make those lies go away, but they can be reduced. All right? Harm reduction.

But instead, we get this over on Newsmax. Look at this: Biden's plan, to destroy America. It looks like some crazy comic book movie or something, some action movie. That's what we get on Newsmax.

Here's what we get on Fox. Tucker Carlson declaring that unity for Dems means locking up their opponent. And, quote, you can now be arrested for saying the wrong thing. What? And the government is at war with its own people. What?

This apocalyptic stuff is day in, day out on these channels. It is part of a radicalization pipeline that pits neighbors against neighbor and lets fear overpower courage. And it poisons American politics.

To borrow the pollution metaphor again, the people who live closest to the factory, who ingest most of the pollution, they get the sickest. But everyone is affected by this toxic information world. So, most of the criticism of Facebook is not aimed at stopping social media, stamping it out. It is about making the platform actually more social, helping friendships, not ruining them.

And most of the criticism of Fox News is not aimed at shutting it down, which will never happen anyway. It's about making Fox better, putting the news back in Fox News. They keep going the other way.

If Fox is going to keep transitions into the 24/7 Tucker channel, then maybe it belongs next to sci-fi on your channel lineup, not MSNBC. These need to be nuanced conversations, not edicts, not orders.


This is complicated, but a harm reduction is possible.

Harm reduction is possible by adding more news and less opinion to the content. Harm reduction is possible by pushing some of the QAnon craziness out of your newsfeed on Facebook. This is not ultimately about freedom of speech. It's about freedom of reach.

And with me now is someone who has thought a lot about this, Nick Kristof. He's the author and "New York Times" columnist who recently penned a letter to my conservative friends, had some really important messages in this column.

Nick, thanks for coming on and talking about it.


STELTER: You have been saying a lot lately about Fox and I'm interested in hearing about it. What overall is the message that you believe right wing, you know, Trump voters are hearing from their media outlets of choice and how are those messages deceiving them?

KRISTOF: Well, Brian, I am speaking to you right now from the family farm I grew up on rural Oregon. And I have a lot of pro-Trump friends here who are glued to Fox. And it's been really sad to see them absorb a message that the coronavirus is nothing serious, that masks don't work, that Trump won re-election, that the big danger is from Antifa rather than the right.

And, you know, I -- I believe in diversity of opinion as much as anybody. I believe we need a marketplace of ideas. But we all know that there are red lines. We wouldn't let a KKK grand wizard preach racism, divisiveness on a cable channel.

And it seems to me that Fox and OAN and Newsmax have genuinely cost lives with the way they have reported, quote/unquote, the pandemic. And, you know, I think that that red line needs to be drawn in a way that will minimize the kind of damage that I see here and that we have seen nationwide. It's not about censorship today (ph).

STELTER: On the pandemic, we're at the last day of January. This is the deadliest month of the pandemic in America thus far. There are some signs that we're trending in the right direction, starting to come down from those awful high levels of hospitalizations.

But this month, this has been the worst month in the pandemic and that story is not frequently told from these pro-Trump right wing sources. And they are still very much pro-Trump. I know Trump is the former president, but these outlets are still more Trumpy than they are Republican. That's an important distinction.

You wrote in your column that you feel like a lot of folks are being deceived by these outlets and they're being conned. You're saying the profit models are the problem, right?

KRISTOF: Yeah. Exactly.

I mean, look, I had friends here who reached out to me because they were concerned after watching Fox that they were going to be locked up in reeducation camps for supporting Trump. And, you know, at one level, that was ridiculous, but it also pained me and, you know, this is the kind of thing that led Ashley Babbitt to go and invade the capitol and get shot. And it's what leaves Fox viewers to disdain masks, to avoid vaccination.

You know, I think we recognize that if a major network were encouraging people to drink arsenic to improve their complexion, then advertisers would desert that network and cable companies wouldn't carry that network. And it feels to me as if some of the extreme right wing media organizations are doing something very similar.

STELTER: Fox News is definitely the Trump administration in exile now. Steven Miller all over the channel. They just hired Larry Kudlow. They're in talks with Kayleigh McEnany.

Your message in you column is that people shouldn't be forced to subsidize Fox News in their basic cable packages. Now, Tucker will say you're trying to destroy the channel.

What are you actually arguing?

KRISTOF: You know, I'm trying to save a right-wing opposition, which we need to keep us honest. And, you know, I'm progressive. I think it's really important that there are sensible right-wing critics who hold my feet to the fire, who will disagree with me.

But that doesn't mean that we need extremists who are preaching things that end up killing people, and at the end of the day, it also strikes me as deeply offensive when we all byproducts that then support that kind of hatred and disinformation. And when we have to pay, as you say, for cable packages that then subsidize companies that are doing a lot of damage, mostly to their own audience but to some degree to the country as a whole.


STELTER: Hmm. I got to tell you, the sources I have at Fox, they are concerned about the extremist content on that network. They are worried about it, just like you are.

So, you're far from the only one.

Nick, thank you so much for being here.

KRISTOF: Delighted to be with you.

I have been getting lots of viewer e-mails like this one from Brian in Minnesota.

Subject line: Marjorie Taylor Greene.

He says: Are we giving this appalling representative too much publicity? She has dominated the news this week, clearly loves the publicity and has fund-raised off of it. Certainly, news outlets have been exposing Representative Greene's

history of hate. But is the coverage also building her up, raising her profile, causing folks like former President Trump to cheer her on? Well, this was a constant conversation in the Trump era and it is still top of mind today with many journalists expressing concern about the volume and the tone of coverage.

Astead Herndon commented on all the people reacting to Green, condemning her, mocking her, saying, you all are going to, quote, tweet her straight to the 2024 nomination.

But you will notice that on pro-Trump outlets, Greene is barely getting attention. Their eyes instead are set on Congresswoman Liz Cheney, because of Cheney's vote to impeach Donald Trump after the Capitol Hill riot.

So, Greene is getting attention from traditional outlets. She's being scrutinized. But Cheney is being torn down from pro-Trump media.

It's important to recognize that Congresswoman Greene is a smaller piece of a larger movement, of a larger phenomenon, other Republicans who are also QAnon curious and are playing to a base that is conspiracy-minded. So, this is something that's going to keep coming up over the next -- probably next four years.

Let's talk about this attention war strategy and what it means that currency (ph) -- attention -- attention is the currency of the 21st century.

Let me bring in a reporter who has been recovering Representative Greene quite closely, Tia Mitchell. She's a Washington correspondent for "The Atlanta Journal Constitution".

CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy is also here with me.

Tia, have you all at "AJC" talked about this -- this challenge, about covering a very controversial, newsworthy congresswoman, but not building her up or amplifying her inappropriately?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Yes, it is something that we have been talking about for months because it became clear, you know, once she won her runoff primary in August, it became clear that Marjorie Greene was going to be a member of Congress.

And so, part of my job description is covering Georgia's congressional delegation. And so, ignoring her is not an option for me. But what we have talked about is how to do it responsibly and to not feel that we have to cover every controversial tweet or every -- chase every other article that may be reported about her in other outlets.

And also to give it context, you know, and focus not just on the more problematic thing she says but what does that mean for her constituents? What does that tell us about the Republican Party?

STELTER: Right, right. Oliver, is Trumpism still winning the attention wars even in the Biden



Brian, there is a saying that sunlight is often the best disinfectant. And that's something a lot of people in the press adhere to.

And I think in a healthy intention economy, the healthy information economy, that is the case. But right now, we have an information economy that allows people like Marjorie Taylor Greene to avoid accountability. And in this case, I start to wonder, does the sunlight actually help grow these people? Does it help build them up?

I think that's something we talked about in the Trump years, and we have to think about going forward, particularly like this QAnon congresswoman. There -- she's certainly not going to be the first and there's going to be many more after her, you know, given the current state of the GOP.

So we need to think about the attention that we give these people and whether we're actually helping to build them up or hold them accountable. And I think there's a hard balance between the two.

STELTER: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to Greene as not a Republican but a part of the Q party, says, you know, Representative Greene, QAnon.

Are we going to hear more of that, Tia, from the Democrats trying to turn the GOP into the QAnon party?

MITCHELL: Yes. I think Democrats see an opportunity to create more contrast not just between themselves and Republicans but to show that the Republican Party itself is in this, you know, crisis of identity as to whether they're going to become -- go back to the more establishment side or keep on this MAGA Trump side.


MITCHELL: And we've seen how that division has led to Democratic success, you know, more -- most recently with Georgia's two U.S. Senate seats.


MITCHELL: So I think it behooves Democrats to highlight this division, but also it also allows Democrats to say that is the Republican Party's problem to deal with it. Don't put it on Nancy Pelosi to decide what happens to Marjorie Taylor Greene.

They're putting it on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and they're saying Republicans need to decide if this is the type of person they want to welcome and elevate in their party -- and again that shows what type of party the Republicans want to be.

[11:15:11] STELTER: Right. This fight about the party, I just asked the control room to pull up headlines about a GOP civil war. There's lots of press about this.

But, Oliver, is there really a civil war raging in the GOP?

DARCY: I have been a little frustrated, Brian, watching some of this coverage over the past week. I think all political reporters, what they need to do is they spend a few hours every week watching some Fox, listening to some talk radio, scanning these right-wing Web sites that really control the keys to the Republican Party.

They tell you what the current state of the Republican Party is --


DARCY: -- and where it's going. And if you pay attention to right wing media, you can really easily understand that there is no actual, you know, civil war going on. That there might be a couple of people who are --

STELTER: It's all about punishing Cheney. It's about punishing the dissenters --

DARCY: Exactly, exactly.

STELTER: -- who dare, who dare to impeach the former president.

And the idea of a Senate trial -- it's crazy, you know, to even think about trying Trump is crazy in right wing media.

DARCY: Right.

STELTER: Here is what the former Fox News digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt said in an op-ed for "The L.A. Times" this week. He was fired recently and he wrote this about his experience.

He says: The rebellion on the populist right against the results of the election was partly a cynical, knowing effort by political operators and their hype men in the media to steal an election or at least get rich trying.

I read through this op-ed, Oliver, looking for words like Sean Hannity, and Jeanine Pirro, looking for names of Fox stars who were guilty of this, Maria Bartiromo, Pete Hegseth. None of their names are in the op-ed.

What's going on here?

DARCY: Perhaps Stirewalt had some sort of, you know, non-disparagement with Fox when he separated with them. We don't know if that was preventing him.

But I think the overall point of the column was good. However, there is -- you know, to equate what MSNBC does or some of these other outlets do with what Fox does is nonsensical. There are outlets that have been opinion hosts but they're playing in the real world, in the world of facts, and reality. And Fox is spinning its own reality.

And so, to suggest that there's equivalence between the two, I think is not accurate and something we should really be -- be careful to avoid.

STELTER: Oliver, thank you. Please stick around.

Tia, thank you for being here as well.

We never want to lose sight of the real-life consequences of this garbage information out there, all this hateful rhetoric.

The other day, a man in California was charged with sending threatening texts to relatives of both Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and ABC's George Stephanopoulos. His text messages were sent on a day of the capitol riot, allegedly telling a relative of George Stephanopoulos that the anchor's words are putting you and your family at risk. We are nearby, armed and ready.

Those are one of the threatening messages.

Look, many members of the media and many lawmakers receive threats all the time. This is an important piece of evidence about how it happens, about the harassment affects families, and why it's important to have follow-through and accountability and punishment.

Up here on RELIABLE SOURCES, we're going to get into the vacancies atop major media mash heads. But, first, the surprising truth about some of Biden's critics. Meet two progressive media power players, next.



STELTER: The media landscape is ruptured, it is fractured, but the left and right do have one thing in common. They are both keeping a critical eye on President Biden.

You probably heard me talk a lot about the pro-Trump media in the recent years or in recent minutes. It's a colorful cast of characters, of proud right wing participants. But what about the progressive media universe, the actual liberal media? I'm talking about "The Jacobins," "The Democracy Nows", "The Nations", "The Mother Jones".

There is a lot of progressive power players out there getting more attention now in the Biden years.

So joining me now to discuss the real, actual liberal media, Elizabeth Bruenig. She's a "New York Times" opinion writers, Dave Weigel is "The Washington Post" national political reporter, and Briahna Joy Gray, former national press secretary for the Bernie 2020 campaign and the co-host of "The Bad Faith" podcast.

Elizabeth, you're at "The New York Times" as an opinion writer. There is, of course, giant "New York Times" newsroom. Some folks say the newsroom leans to the left.

How do you see the difference between what you do, what you write for "The New York Times" versus the reporters who cover Biden and cover the left?

ELIZABETH BRUENIG, OPINION WRITER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think that, you know, broadly speaking the newsroom is going to be fairly adversarial based on anyone who is in the office. They're going to be trying to, you know, keep the objective middle path. And I can understand why some people feel like that's a little liberal slanted. But on my end of things, I am very upfront and very forward about my left-ward views, my sort of Democratic socialist approach.

So in terms of covering Biden, I think, you know, my job is to try to keep the administration somewhat honest in terms of the promises they were making to progressives during the primaries.

STELTER: Right. And hold them accountable from that point of view.

Same question for you, Briahna, there is this sense out there that, you know, liberal media bias. The media is biased in favor of bide Biden. But actually, if you listen to podcast like yours, the media is quite conservative, right? There are conservative values in the news media.

Tell me about those. What do you see?

BRIAHNA JOY GRAY, FORMER NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY FOR THE BERNIE 2020 CAMPAIGN: Yeah. I think the division isn't so much left/right in many respects but top down. They feel like there isn't a willingness to be critical of the Democratic Party and the ways in which it is itself an obstacle to the kind of economic equality that we're all looking for in this country.

So, it's not enough to say Republicans have this terrible tax cut that accrued overwhelmingly to the top 1 percent, right? You also have to say, okay, why is it that 88 percent of Democrats support something like Medicare for all, but not even half of Democrats in the House, the Democratically controlled House, are willing to push that kind of policy through?

Yes, Biden believes in science, but why is it that he's issued 31 new drilling permits in the first few days of his presidency. Those are the kind of questions we're willing ask in progressive media.

STELTER: Dave, you inspired me to start talking about this segment because you have been writing for "The Washington Post" about Biden and Biden being pressured from the left.


But, you know, think about progressive media, which is obviously a very important thing. We'll put the graphic back on the screen of some examples of the progressive media universe. There is not the same structure as there is on the right with Fox News.

Is that fair to say?

DAVE WEIGEL, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think that's fair to say in really fundamental ways. Conservative media in the Trump years was really rotating around the president, was rotating around what Trump said, what he tweeted. He would call into shows. He'd influence their coverage. And you had almost a closed loop of commentary and comment sometimes pushing the administration in ways that Trump won, but his staff was not ready to do.

You don't have that with left wing media for some obvious reasons. I mean, who is a billionaire media owner who wants to have a socialist podcast? I can't think of one.

But you also have no allegiance to one particular political leader. Even Bernie Sanders campaign slogan was not me, us. It was not, listen to what I'm saying and follow it, it is I'm going to listen to activists and what they demand and push that into the mainstream.

And that is what, if you follow this kind of media, that's what you hear. It's less, let's worship this one politician, let's stand here and put an animated GIF crown on her. It's, what do people need? What did we promise them? What are the problems in their communities?

Which can be a more innervating style of listening, of entertaining that some conservative media, which is, you know, what's the outrage of the day? What college professors said something crazy?

STELTER: People-powered media has a nice ring to it.

We lost Liz. We're going to get her back. Everyone, please stay with me.

Quick break here and then we're going to talk about the retiring legend Tom Brokaw. He wants journalists to get on a plane. Hear from him, coming up.



STELTER: Fact checkers were more like lie debunkers during President Trump's time in office. The President Biden, so far, it is different. This New York Times fact check of 20 claims from Biden's first week finds it all but three of the claims were accurate. And one of the three was merely overly optimistic, and another Biden corrected almost immediately.

It is quite a change in just the span of a few days. Dave Weigel, Elizabeth Bruenig, and Briahna Joy Gray are back with me. We're talking about the real liberal media, the power of the progressive press in the Biden era. Dave, how's the media environment changed since the last time a democrat moved into the White House?

WEIGEL: Oh, by leaps and bounds. I mean, if we were in 2009, very little what we're talking about existed. You didn't have the rebirth of just democratic socialism as an ideology as an organizing principle. You didn't have many of the media outlets were talking about. You had kind of in the progressive media, a bunch of outlets that wanted Barack Obama to succeed, but didn't know how to apply pressure. And that's the difference now.

That's why as a reporter, I pay very close attention what's coming out of progressive media, progressive columnist, socialist media, because Republicans are not wrong that this has a bigger voice in the Democratic Party, the Democrats are listening to it.

And a lot of what Briahna was mentioning the last segment, this is stuff Joe Biden ran on not because Joe Biden woke up one day and said, I'm going to run on this. He was pressured by progressive organizers who are not taking their cues from -- no offense, but you know, cable news or the mainstream media that might be on in the congressman's office every day.

STELTER: Right. It's also podcasts, et cetera. And Briahna, that's why voices like yours, I think need to be on cable news. Sometimes it seems like Fox talks more about, you know, progressives, but with a Boogeyman, you know, filter versus other news outlets, Briahna.

GRAY: Yes, occasionally, that's true. Look, the reality is that you're much more likely to see Fox have someone like Glenn Greenwald on to talk about a progressive issue like Julian Assange and press freedoms than you are a network like CNN or MSNBC sometimes. But the reality is that the division between Fox and the liberal networks is a fiction, in large part when it comes down to what people in their homes are actually thinking about. There's actually a lot more unity among Americans when it comes to the issues.

Three-quarters of Americans favoring a wealth tax. Majorities of Democrats and Republicans supporting Medicare for All. Majorities of all Americans supporting a living wage, et cetera. And so, what people are looking for is fewer networks that push us into our balkanized categories, and more that are willing to talk about the fact that kind of corporate capture of Congress, both parties is really motivating why these kinds of issues aren't being delivered, especially in a time of immense crisis.

STELTER: And Elizabeth, how can publications and Web sites and Podcasts help push Biden home accountable? How do you -- how do you describe that role of the left media?

BRUENIG: Well, I think one of the huge important things left media has to do right now is to consolidate a political identity for the left, so that you have all of these people who are sort of coalescing around a generally left worldview, but they don't know if they need to be all in favor of the Democrats, like Dave was talking about, or if they need to have a sort of antagonistic posture, or if they need to kind of weave back and forth between the two.

And so, left media presents, I think, an image of a left political identity, and whether or not that can consolidate into something enduring is the difference between whether the left remains active and able to apply pressure or whether it fades.

STELTER: Right. Liz, Briahna, and Dave, thank you all for being here.

WEIGEL: Thank you.

GRAY: Thank you.

BRUENIG: Thank you.

STELTER: And after the break, seismic shifts among media's top figures. So, who is next in line? We're going to take a look, coming up.



STELTER: Along with the transition of power in D.C., there are big transitions across the American news landscape, as well. This week, Washington Post editor Marty Baron announced his retirement. A few days later, ABC News boss James Goldston said he is stepping down. Reuters, Wired, HuffPost, Vox, and the LA Times are all searching for new leaders, as well.

One recent change just took effect at MSNBC, with Phil Griffin stepping down and Rashida Jones stepping up to replace him. With such a big search there -- big search is underway at these top news outlets, it's a real opportune moment for the media business, for the media industry. Let's talk about it with CNN's Oliver Darcy. He is back with me. All right, I -- you know they're different changes, different outlets for different reasons. But big picture, this seems like a chance to help ensure newsrooms and newsroom leadership looks more like America.

DARCY: Yes, I think that's exactly right. You know, not to say that these leaders haven't done a great job leading their newspapers through a tumultuous time over the past few years, for sure. But this allows newsrooms to perhaps appoint people who look more like America, you know, a lot of the newsroom leaders happen to be white, older males, and now this has put the other folks, you know, as candidates to lead these influential newsrooms and to really guide the conversation in America.

You know, for a long time, it's been guided by people who look very similar to each other, and now this might open that conversation up, allow other voices to come in. And I think that's important.


STELTER: It's moving more toward gender equality, hopefully, for these major newsrooms, moving -- bringing in younger, more digital savvy voices, you know, you think about someone, Marty Baron incredibly (PH) the Washington Post, who really made the paper into an international powerhouse, and a digital subscription, a huge digital subscription business. But in his goodbye note, he said, you know, we've got a lot of work to do.

We need to keep diversifying this newsroom, and he recognizes that. Hey, there's this interesting interview, Oliver, with Tom Brokaw. He is retiring from NBC. And in an interview with the A.P.'s David Bauder, he talked about the coastal bias of national news outlets. He said, the national media is far too wedded to the east and west coasts. He wants more reporters in Salt Lake City, in St. Louis, what do you say to that?

DARCY: I think that's spot on. And I would even say that it's far too wedded to the east coast and the not enough to the west coast. And I think we saw that, for instance, with the coverage of the Coronavirus crisis in Los Angeles, where if that were happening in New York, or another major eastern city, it would have gotten a lot more attention from the national news media than it did because it was in L.A. Brian, I'm from the west coast.

And I can tell you, every time I go out there, I'm wondering, why is the news so centered around what's going on the East Coast? Sure, that we have D.C. and New York out here, but there's Los Angeles, there's San Francisco, and Seattle out there, the tech centers are out there.

And so, you know, I think that diversifying geographically is extremely important, not only from the East to the West Coast, but also to from all the cities in between, from Salt Lake City, to Chicago, you know, and down south, there is a lot of news to cover. And it's important that we have organizations that are spread across the country and not just focused on one center.

STELTER: Right. We were having tech issues earlier with Farai Chideya, but here she is, the cameras working now. So, let me bring in Farai on this topic of diversifying newsrooms in many ways. What are your priorities as everywhere from the Washington Post, the ABC, the LA Times looks for new leadership?

FARAI CHIDEYA, CREATOR, OUR BODY POLITIC RADIO SHOW AND PODCAST: Well, first of all, thanks for having me on. Secondly, this is not just a priority for these news organizations. It's a priority for civil society. Right now, the news industry is in one of these kind of deep breaths moments, where in many ways we survived a crisis of democracy. But we can't be too self-congratulatory. We missed a lot of the narratives in the news industry, about the rise of nativism and the rise of weaponized xenophobia.

And I think that one reason for that is that the newsroom leadership does not come from communities, not just communities of color, but also low-income white Americans or people whose family of origin is low income and white are not seen in newsrooms very much anymore. So, we just have to realize this is a matter of survival.

And one thing I would argue for is thinking about all of these changes, which include, you know, after the first round of articles, ABC News is going to have a change in leadership. There are some great people there, like Marie Nelson, who was there during the post 9/11 period and came back again as an SVP.

To think as a cohort of rebuilding trust in American journalism, what can this spate of leaders do to be more collaborative than in the past? I think that there's been a lot of, you know, people going around trying to win the top journalism awards, which is great, but how can you work as a cohort to rebuild trust?

STELTER: Absolutely. Farai and Oliver, thank you both for being here. And Oliver, of course, is my co-pilot on the nightly Reliable Sources Newsletter. Signup for free right now at Coming up, we're going to celebrate the man here at CNN, who saves us from ourselves. Standards boss, Rick Davis.



STELTER: Rick Davis is a living legend. He's a CNN original, and the longest serving executive in cable news history. He was there at the beginning of 1980. And over the decades, his fingerprints have been on so many shows, including "INSIDE POLITICS," and this program, RELIABLE SOURCES. Davis was the founding executive producer of RELIABLE back in 1992.

For the past 22 years, he's been the executive V.P. of standards and practices for all of CNN. And today, he is retiring. So, let me introduce you to this indispensable man, starting with the standards process that he oversees. Here at CNN, we call it the Triad.

RICHARD DAVIS, CNN EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, STANDARDS & PRACTICES: The Triad really is a combination of our colleagues on the row, which are senior editors, veteran journalists who've been working in the business for a long time, the legal department and standards. And frankly, we triple team these tough stories and challenge our colleagues to make sure what they're doing is accurate.

What have they left out? What do they need to go back and check out? Have they been fair to the other side? And that's really what's, you know, CNN's main asset is its credibility and its trust. And I think certainly the way the audiences have come to us on television, and digital, particularly in the last year, particularly in the last quarter, particularly in the last month, shows that they trust these three red letters to deliver news that's accurate, fair and responsible.

STELTER: Yes, you are, I believe, the longest serving executive in cable news history. Since CNN was founded in 1980, you are the executive producer for CNN Sports from 1980 to 1987. So, let's start there. Let's go back in time to the launch of CNN. What do you remember from the launch?

DAVIS: Well, first of all, oddly, CNN started on a Sunday, not a weekday, you would think we'd started on a weekday. But we actually started at 6:00 on a Sunday, with Ted Turner outside and my team, the sports team, actually preparing the second hour of news on CNN.

So, I wanted to tell you about the fact that outside what Ted Turner was saying to the group assembled on the line, with something I want to repeat right now, because I think it was really important. You know, Ted was our leader, he was our Skipper, you've obviously had won the America's Cup, and he was a sailor, and he knew to look, you know which way the wind was blowing, in which way to sail. And this is what he said on that first day, when he was dedicating

CNN, "To act upon one's convictions while others wait, to create a positive force in a world where cynics abound, to provide information to people where it wasn't available before, to offer those who wanted a choice for the American people whose thrist for understanding and a better life has made this venture possible."

And I think those words 40 years ago, you know, have been our guiding light for the generations of CNN journalists and colleagues of mine, friends of mine, who've worked around the country, and around the world in some really dangerous places to provide news across the country. And to, you know, maybe 200 countries around the planet.

STELTER: Yes, those words from Ted Turner are our compass; they're our North Star. If CNN is ever lost, go back to there. I know that we get a lot of slings in arrows, and we deserve a lot of them. But the foundational role of CNN to gather the news around the world is so important. Even CNN's fiercest critics should want us out there in the field, gathering the news. So, I am so thankful that you and your team keep that foundation strong for all of us.

DAVIS: Well, you know, Brian, about the criticisms, I do want to talk about that. You know, we're not perfect. We do our jobs, we get up in the morning, we're really, you know, hungry to do the job and provide the news to our viewers and readers everywhere. But we pump out a lot of content. And, you know, we check what we do.

And if we get it wrong, we correct it as soon as we can. And we've had some mistakes. In fact, my department was set up because of the biggest earthquake in CNN's history back in 1998, called Operation Tailwind. And we haven't had anything like that, but we have had a couple of hiccups. But when you think of all the news and information that this giant news organization is responsible for, I stand by that record.

STELTER: As the founding executive producer of RELIABLE SOURCES, why do you think this program has sustained for so long? Why has it been relevant for so long?

DAVIS: Well, it's relevant to on a cable news channel, because people watch cable news, care about the news. And so, I think that one of the reasons why I think it's the longest serving show with the same name, it's CNN. So, it certainly is sustaining because there's a place every week, you know, on our air, and on Fox, frankly, for people to go to who really care about these issues that we've been talking about. And it was the same way when we started. And I think it's on steroids now in terms of how people feel about the media.

STELTER: Right. Right.

DAVIS: And we know that because we hear about it all the time. And I think when -- let's be honest, there's a lot of reporting and commentary on CNN about the impact of conservative and right-wing media. And there's a lot of discussion in conservative media about the mainstream media, the evil mainstream media. And so, the people who are the viewers and the readers and the

listeners of those channels, and those outlets, hear about it from the people who are the opinion leaders, and they're interested in that, and they talk to me about, you know, if I go to a party or I go to meet somebody or even if I'm on the golf course, and somebody says, so what do you do? And the minute I tell them what I do, oh, my God, you'll hear about what they love, and you'll hear about what they hate, depending on whether they love us or they don't.


STELTER: What do you think this program should be doing more of?

DAVIS: I'd have to think about that. It's a tough question. More of I think, frankly, yes, I can tell you that. I think you need to strive to have more voices on the show from right and center. Responsible voices from right and center on the show. And I think from occasionally when you can, you want to have some newsmakers on who can express to you how they feel about the media, particularly if they feel like the media got it wrong. And let them talk about it and hear --

STELTER: But to hear what it's like to be in the glare. When they -- when they know what it's like to be covered by the news media. Yes.

DAVIS: Right. And if you have the opportunity, wouldn't it be great if you had a writer who wrote the story and the newsmaker who felt like he got -- he didn't get a fair shake?

STELTER: You've still got the producing chops in your wreck. No doubt about that. It has been a great privilege to work with you and to learn from you. You've taught so many of us. So, what do you want us to remember? What's the most important thing to remember?

DAVIS: Never stop learning. Never stop reading. Somebody said something to me the other day that I thought was brilliant. It's so simple. Your career is kind of learn, earn, return. And so, you know, I've earned -- I've learned so much. I've earned so much from the people that I've worked with, and had the opportunity to be in meetings, in places I never thought I'd be with executives and journalists and courageous work correspondents who become my colleagues and friends.

And now, it's time to return, and I'll do my best to try to pay back some of that in the word I really don't like, retirement. But my after-working years.

STELTER: And Rick will keep on giving through several scholarships he has endowed. And a new fellowship in journalism established by CNN at UMD. Rick's team stays in place and Calvin Sims takes over tomorrow, keeping CNN's standards high. Thank you, Rick, for making us a reliable source. We will see you right back here this time next week.