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CPAC Rhetoric; The Role Of The Press In The Post-Trump Era; Should Social Media Platforms Subsidize News?; What "The New York Times'" Diversity Report Reveals; Newsrooms Grapple With Diversity Deficiencies; Marty Baron On The Future Of The News Business; The Week's Biggest Story: COVID-19 Vaccine Progress. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired February 28, 2021 - 11:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: But in other parts and in other ways, it has become yet another tool of authoritarian government control -- one more sobering and unintended consequence of the great information revolution.

Thank you to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.


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 and try to figure out what is reliable these days.

This hour, the White House press secretary addressing the declassified report about Jamal Khashoggi's murder. Will President Biden be pressured to take a stand against Saudi Arabia?

Plus, Australian lawmakers making Facebook pony up and what started there in Canberra is not stopping there. U.S. lawmaker David Cicilline will join me live.

And later, "The New York Times" releasing a damning self-assessment about diversity. So, what now? What's going to change? Deputy managing editor Carolyn Ryan will have answers.

And we have some words of wisdom coming up from retiring "Washington Post" editor Marty Baron. That's all coming up in the next few minutes.

But, first, let's look at how the hive mind of social media is making us all mindless. One of the week's big political stories is CPAC, the big conservative conference.

What I've been listening to the CPAC livestream, what I've been hearing are distractions. It is an airing of grievances, a festival of resentment that doesn't help anyone. There are also a lot of big lies about the election that are actively harming democracy.

CNN's fact-check of the first day of CPAC came in at 3,300 words. That's an entire book chapter. And it reflects the fact that some of the CPAC rhetoric is just straight up disinformation, lies about the last election that stoke conspiracy theories and provide a pretext for voter suppression to try to stop people from voting next time.

But true versus false is not the only dividing line in the media. Stuff can be true but practically irrelevant. Look, another dividing line would be serious versus unserious, significant versus silly, something that matters a lot versus something that matters only a little.

On the Internet, everything looks the same. Everything is the same size. This problem doesn't have a label like disinformation. But distractions and drivel are warping the public discourse, creating less space for the big stories and the big debates that we need to have.

Now, I know some of this is as old as the human condition, but social algorithms and ratings, the star (ph) of the TV networks accelerate it, obsessing over the minor, while missing the major.

And here are three examples from this week. Disney slapping a disclaimer on old episodes of "The Muppet Show" that most people will never watch. Hasbro rebranding Mr. Potato Head to promote inclusion. Democrats and Republicans battling over mean old tweets posted by a Biden nominee.

All of these do matter a little. You might argue they symbolize bigger changes in the culture.

Okay. But there is something wrong when so-called cancel culture gets more attention than the struggles that millions of Americans are facing and the importance of a COVID relief deal.

You know, Fox's Pete Hegseth actually kind of nailed this while speaking from the CPAC stage. He's a Harvard and Princeton grad. He lacked all self-awareness while he mocked Ivy League culture.

But he said something about the folks he interviews at diners. Here's what he said.


PETE HEGSETH, CO-HOST, "FOX AND FRIENDS WEEKEND": They're not talking about esoteric things that the Ivy League talks about or MSNBC talks about. They're talking about the Bible and faith and prayer and their family, hard work, supporting the police, standing for the anthem.


STELTER: You see there? He takes a turn down Fox's propaganda path, talking about the anthem. But there's a glimmer of truth in his words -- family matters, hard work matters.

So, then, why was Mr. Potato Head mentioned 35 times on Fox News and Fox Business this week? Thirty-five times.

Well, the answer is because it's easy. It's cheap. It is really easy to do. But it's so distracting.

Potato Head distracts from the suffering so many people are going through. The Muppets controversy distracts from dire inequality. This gets hyped up and passed around on Twitter, where lots of reporters, myself included, spent away too much time.

And the risk is it warps our judgment and makes sidebar stories seem so much more important than they really are.

And that causes even more chatter and that's why you wind up with Jeanine Pirro walking around CPAC asking people, have you seen Hunter Biden? Like she's a bad meme come to life.

On Friday, I was about to go get dinner for my kids when Donald Trump Jr. attacked me in his speech at CPAC. Something about me looking like a gender-neutral Potato Head, and then the tweets started rolling in on my computer.


People telling me about Donny Jr. insulting me and I thought of some really cutting responses, some clever ways to reply, some way to go viral. But then I stopped. I didn't post anything.

It was just another distraction. He wanted me to respond. This was just more B.S. fuel for the culture war. And it does not matter.

The best thing we can do for each other in this world of tweet storms is to refuse to be confused by that noise, is to refuse to be distracted. There is too much real news going on. There is no time for Potato Heads.

With me now to talk more about this is David Weigel, national political reporter for "The Washington Post." He's in Orlando covering CPAC. Farai Chideya is also with me, creator of Our Body Politic radio show and podcast. And Jill Filipovic, weekly columnist for and author of "OK, Boomer, Let's Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind".

Dave, you're there. You're covering. You're watching all these distractions and drivel. Is there any substance at CPAC or is it mostly distractions?

DAVID WEIGEL, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: There is substance m, and the argument at CPAC, if you can sum it up is basically that there's an election. Donald Trump is no longer president. It doesn't mean that he lost. His ideas remain popular.

So, you're not seeing as much criticism of the first 35 days of the Biden administration, a little bit. You are seeing celebrations of Trump policies, of energy policies of Trump on China. There is policy here.

But I think what you were talking about run through CPAC in this way, when Democrats were in opposition, they were opposed to President Trump and the conservative movement. Conservatives at this moment have taken this advice that kind of carried from Andrew Breitbart to Donald Trump, and -- is universal now, which is that politics runs downstream from culture and culture is everything.

So, you are seeing attacks on, you mentioned, Potato Head, attacks on the video, attacks on people being censored on Twitter. It all ran -- and none of those people that you can beat an election, but the premise is, the conservative movement is not really fighting Joe Biden. It is fighting all of that. It's fighting the entire infrastructure that we get our media from.

And the point I make about that is some of the censorship talk is a way to not discuss January 6th, and how that ranked up the censorship. You will hear people talk about Twitter accounts being banned, people being silenced. They won't talk about January 6th as much.

So, it's kind of creating a reality in which the policies, they're already right, the conservative movement and Republicans have an electoral majority which they don't at the moment. But that's the reason, is that they're running against the culture.

STELTER: Yeah. I think in this world of tweet storms, the challenge is to find the newsworthy needle in the haystack.

Farai, I think the newsworthy needle this weekend is, all of this big lie talk about the last election is about the future. It's about trying to disenfranchise people in future elections.

FARAI CHIDEYA, CREATOR, OUR BODY POLITIC RADIO SHOW AND PODCAST: Absolutely. And I couldn't agree more with the analysis on the ground that David is giving, that this is really about culture war politics. I have been trying to sound this alarm for pretty much since 2015, that we were entering a culture war and people would act based on their team, not based on facts. So there is something that some sociologists called blue lies, which is basically lying for your team.

And what we're seeing at this stage of the culture war is that people who know far better are repeating stuff they know is lies because they're doing it for their team and because their team frankly can be quite dangerous. I think one thing we have to remember is that some lawmakers are now afraid of their own constituents. That is part of the reasons some of them were supporting the president.

There was a Democratic lawmaker who talked about his colleagues crying before the impeachment vote because they were like our families could be targeted. So let's not forget that that's the point we have gotten to.

STELTER: How real is the problem, Jill, of Twitter warping journalism judgment? How real is the problem of this social media echo chamber, do you think?

JILL FILIPOVIC, WEEKLY COLUMNIST, CNN.COM: I think it's incredibly real. I think you see it in this discussion. Of course, the conversation about Mr. Potato Head and, you know, trans kids and whatever the culture war narrative is are a huge distraction. But part of what they distract from is that the Republican Party does not have and frankly doesn't want to have any legislative solutions to those non-problems. What they discuss is a pretext for touching on things like the

traditional family, like the ways in which America is culturally changing. I think when we hyper focus on these distraction issues, we miss the fact that, you know, when it comes to some of the big underlying problems, family instability, poverty, these are pretty solved public policy questions.


You know, we see marriage being pretty stable among affluent, highly educated families in blue states. We know that if people have money, if they have resources, if they have the ability to work for pay in a job that is meaningful, that isn't working them to the bone and pays them fairly, we know that people do better. They're healthier, their families are more stable.

And so, when you hear Republicans talk about Mr. Potato Head and the Muppets and cancel culture as this kind of pretext, we're talking about left wing attacks on the traditional family, I think what we really is that Democrats and progressives are the ones out there proposing actual legislative solutions that would help to solve the problems that families, traditional or not, in the U.S. are facing.

STELTER: Brilliant. Very well said, and I wish I had said it that way in the very beginning of the show.

Let me make another point about CPAC before we move on. Trump, of course, is expected to take center stage later today. My reporting indicates most networks will not carry his speech live. Fox News will, Newsmax will, most networks will not.

At this point, CPAC is basically a live taping of Fox. Many of the speakers have been current and former Fox stars and commentators and the network is reportedly paying $250,000 to sponsor the conference. There's a business model for that.

Fox is trying to go its streaming service called Fox Nation, trying to promote the streaming service to get more subscribers. And so, the channel has been giving CPAC a lot of attention as well as sponsor funding. CPAC getting ample of time on Fox, which is how the pro-Trump media operates.

Let's turn from Republicans to Democrats and the latest on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo who stands accused of sexual harassment now by two former aides. "The New York Times" broke this news of the new accuser last night. And I want to show all how this happened. The aide, Charlotte Bennett, had posted her support for the first accuser in a, honestly, largely unnoticed tweet several days ago.

But a reporter at "The New York Times" did notice the message and she said -- this is why the reporter reached out to Ms. Bennett and said, would you be able to talk on the record about your experience with the governor? Bennett did so. She shared the details and now they are the lead story on "The New York Times" home page, the lead story on "The New York Post" tabloid cover today. And I want to make one more point from Harry Siegel of "The New York

Daily News" who is pointing out that, you know, Cuomo was the media star certainly this time last year, but he has now gone missing. Cuomo not holding briefings for several days.

So, Dave Weigel, you usually cover Democratic politics, all over progressive politics. How is this Cuomo story going to end?

WEIGEL: I don't know how it's going to end. I mean, I congratulate the reporters who broke the news on this.

As a political story, it is revealing how the Democratic coalition operates differently from the Republican coalition. There have been knives coming out for Cuomo this broke, Democrats in the assembly and the state senate calling on him to resign. You have not seen -- you've seen basically a mixture of quiet and that. You have not seen a rattling around and people saying this story can't be true.

And it's similar to what you have seen in the confirmation hearing I think you are referring to at the top of the show. The commonality here is there are Democratic politicians and figures who are not necessarily beloved by the left and are definitely not beloved by conservatives. And the response they get from both sides kind of blends together.

So I don't know how it will end. I'm not entirely surprised. This is a governor who before COVID was -- he had two primary challenges from the left. So seeing people come out of the woodwork to oppose him for reasons they have been saying for years and now they have a basis for, not entirely surprising. So, I'm waiting for who else -- seeing who else comes out asking Democrats what else they're going to say.

STELTER: Look, watching them -- the channel my wife works at New York 1 this morning, they are openly talking about possible further accusations and whether that means the governor will be forced out of office. That's the conversation in New York politics. It is severe.

Farai, what's your view of how Cuomo is being covered in the press?

CHIDEYA: Well, I think that when you look at "The New York Times" story, there is a lot of now -- I mean, going back to Twitter, the quote from Representative Kathleen Rice, you know, there must be an independent investigation. The accused cannot appoint the investigator period. I think that the focus in the press is going to be about Governor Cuomo's pivoting to essentially appoint the team that's going to investigate this.


CHIDEYA: And I can't help but flash back to New York -- former New York attorney general, Eric Schneiderman. There is a new book out called "Assume Nothing" by Tanya Selvaratnam, who dated him, and he -- she was part of a big investigation by "The New Yorker".

And, so, I think that this is also chum in the water that, you know, a being like "Assume Nothing" gives a tick-tock of how the media covers stories like these.


And there are reporters deployed to cover this and to talk to a ton of people. So we'll see a lot more coming out.

STELTER: Yeah, that's the case. "The New York Times" vetted the allegations, went and read the text messages from "The Times", so this wasn't just, you know, something they slapped out -- slapped on to the website with an hour's notice.

All right. Dave, thank you all. You get back to the conference. Farai and Jill, please stay with me.

Coming up, later this hour, Marty Baron's final bow. Hear what he says about the future of news and newspapers.

But, first, President Biden offering some hope amid a weekend of conspiracy theory talk at CPAC.


STELTER: Hoax. It was one year ago today, February 28th, 2020, when then-President Trump infamously used the word "hoax" to downplay the coronavirus.



DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried it over and over. And this is their new hoax.


STELTER: The virus was silently spreading across the United States. The public needed to be prepared, but instead the president gave his fans license not to worry, license to view it as a hoax the Democrats were trying to hurt him with.

Now, flash forward one year later, the Biden administration is focused on COVID response. As of this morning, we're close to 75 million people vaccinated in the United States and the administration projects by the end of July, as many as 300 million could be vaccinated.

It is a stark shift from hoax to hope.

Now, back with me now, Farai Chideya, Jill Filipovic. And joining the conversation is Katie Rogers, White House correspondent for "The New York Times."

Katie, we see the president holding events about COVID, holding events at vaccination sites, et cetera. We see him a lot. Are we getting the access for question and answer that the White House press corps wants to see? He's been more than a month now and there's been solo press conference

by the new president.

KATIE ROGERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. And both of his most recent predecessors, Donald Trump and Barack Obama, had held a solo presser within the first month of their presidency. The White House press secretary has said that President Biden will hold a solo press conference, but not last week. They haven't given a time frame for when that will happen.

The president is somebody who has been kept on a pretty tightly constricted messaging streak lately. He didn't -- you know, when he spoke yesterday, it was about a minute long. The need to pass his $1.9 trillion relief package in the Senate.

They don't have the sort of legislative margins to really let him hold a solo press conference when they need to pass such a massive relief bill. So, they have said he will come out and answer questions, but they're sort of in a precarious moment with both the relief bill and the appointments they need to pass through for his cabinet.


And speaking of that, Jill, I want to ask you something many media insiders have been talking about this week, harassment against reporters. A "Washington Post" reporter has come under intense criticism from some liberals about the tumultuous confirmation hearings involving near Neera Tandem.

Here's the photo that circulated on Twitter showing reporter Seung Min Kim showing Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski an old tweet that Tanden had posted slamming Senator Murkowski.

So, journalism 101, doing your work on the Hill, interviewing sources, but Murkowski is a key swing vote in the confirmation of Neera Tanden. So, this photo lit a match for liberals on Twitter, some sending hateful, sexist, racist comments to Kim online. "The Washington Post" came out and defended Kim's reporting saying no one deserves this treatment for doing their job.

And this is really important, the New York -- there are signs the White House is obviously doing the right thing, not going along with this crap we have heard for four hours.

Here's Chief of Staff Ron Klain retweeting stories that support "The Post" reporter. So, you know, Twitter is not everything, is not real life, but it is an important gesture to see the chief of staff defending "The Washington Post" reporter from all this left wing criticism.

Jill, this idea that liberals are getting angry at the press for the basic job of reporting, this is not brand-new, but this is going to be an issue going forward, I think.

FILIPOVIC: It is. And, of course, it's been incredibly frustrating and disheartening to see self-identified liberals attacking the press generally and then attacking a female reporter in such racist and sexist terms. I think what it reflects is this real frustration with the asymmetries that any Democratic president is going to have to contend with when it comes to press coverage.

Republican presidents have an entire right wing media apparatus that supports them. When a Democrat is in charge, that apparatus is on the attack. And then the mainstream media, places like CNN, places like "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times," they interrogate whoever is in power. So they're also going to be holding a Democratic president to a higher level of accountability and transparency.

And so, I think for a lot of folks on the left, that feels like it is unfair. And it is different than what, for example, President Trump faced. But I'm not sure that -- obviously the answer is not then to attack reporters.

And I'm not sure it is even a solvable problem. You can't then ask the mainstream press to go easier on the Biden administration even if the Biden administration is more transparent, more honest and more competent than the administration before it.

STELTER: Farai, what about you? What's your view of this?

CHIDEYA: Yeah, I would just echo that. I think one thing that's important, too, is that people are beginning to question the role of access journalism, meaning access to anyone, including the president.

In the absence of access, you still do your job. You get out there. You report the story. You find the facts.


And so, I think that we also have to realize that, while important, these pressers should not be the center of any form of political reporting.

STELTER: Katie, many are criticizing President Biden for not taking action against Saudi Arabia in the wake of this declassified report about the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. We heard from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki this morning, she's asked about this.

Here is what she said on the issue.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We believe that anyone who threatens journalists should held to account and should have their -- potentially have their travel visas revoked. That's a global issue and one we took action on on Friday.

At the same time, Dana, it needs to be clear our relationship with Saudi Arabia is one that is in the interest of the United States to maintain while still being clear, it will be recalibrated.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: So there are some visa restrictions and sanctions on some officials but Biden declined to apply sanctions to the crown prince himself. Is this going to continue to haunt the Biden administration?

ROGERS: I mean, I think that, you know, the promises President Biden made as a candidate about making this country's reputation better in the eyes of the world was an actual real factor in why people were attracted to him after four years of Donald Trump.

So on the campaign trail when President Biden was saying, we will told Saudi Arabia to account and treat them like the pariah are, that is the promise and that is not something that seems to be carried out in the presidency. A lot of presidents learn that the things they say on the campaign they become limited once they're in office.

Saudi Arabia is a strategically important relationship that the United States does have. This administration is being transparent about that as they make decisions on the aftermath of Khashoggi's murder. What will happen, though, without, you know, personally punishing the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is that leaders around the world who use violence to hold United States citizen in jail, to crack down on journalists, leaders like that around the world really don't see any material punishment coming out of sanctioning 76 people who are not the crown prince.

STELTER: That's the bottom line. Yes, it is. Katie, thank you very much.

Katie, Jill, Farai, thanks all for being here.

Up next, the push and pull between Facebook and the news business. Meet a lawmaker who is pushing for change in this relationship. David Cicilline is up next.




STELTER: With Democrats in full control of D.C., what's on the agenda about big tech and the news industry? All media eyes were half a world away this week, watching Australia pass a law that pushes Facebook and Google to pay big news publishers. Critics say the law mostly benefits incumbents like Rupert Murdoch.

But the bill is a starting point for other countries to follow suit, and demand that hugely profitable tech platforms pony up for news gathering. So, here's the United States next in line. Congressman David Cicilline joins me now. He's the chair of the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee. Congressman, should the United States adopt the same model as Australia?

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): Well, Brian, we have been looking at this issue as you know for some time. We just completed a 16-month bipartisan investigation of large technology platforms. In the last Congress, we introduced legislation called the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act to get that exactly the same issue. And this is a real challenge. I mean, local news is on life support in this country. Two-thirds of Americans get their news through Facebook and Google, those two platforms control the digital advertising online.

And so, there are real challenges here. And we're seeing local newspapers close regularly, layoffs all throughout the industry, and a real decline in local journalism. And we've got to do something about it. And the reality is, this is not just kind of the sale of widgets.

This is about access to trustworthy, reliable local news, which is central to our democracy. It's how you hold power to account. It's how you expose corruption. So, this is a real challenge. And we will be having a hearing in the Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee on March 12th, on a set of proposals to save local journalism.

STELTER: Is one of the proposals to have this bargaining code like Australia now has that forces Google and Facebook to pay up?

CICILLINE: Well, actually, the legislation we introduced in the last Congress that I introduced, that I will reintroduce with the ranking member of the subcommittee in the coming weeks, that does exactly that. It allows the publishers and online producers of content to band together for purposes of negotiating with the two large platforms to-- so, there's a level playing field.

So, they have the ability to negotiate a number of areas that will ensure that local journalism is protected. So, we're going to look at that proposal and a set of other ideas. But we have to take action, because the monopoly power of these two platforms is resulting in a significant decline in local journalism, because the business model is not working for local newspapers and online publishers, and we have to do something about it.

STELTER: And then, the question is, how big should big tech be allowed to get? And you are looking at that from an antitrust point of view. But -- well, what is realistic? What can the government actually do with these companies?

CICILLINE: Well, the good news is we study this marketplace very carefully, as I said, for 16 months. We generated an almost 500-page report with a set of serious recommendations. Most of them are bipartisan, and I expect that we're going to move forward in the coming months with legislation that will ensure that there's real competition in the digital marketplace with things like interoperability and portability that will prevent companies from referencing their own goods and services.


And we're also going to look at some structural changes, separating out functions of marketplaces and people who sell goods and services. So, everything is on the table. There's a lot of really good ideas and recommendations in our report. The days of self-regulation are over. These companies are monopolies. And we have to ensure that we restore competition in the digital

marketplace. And the good news is, there's really strong bipartisan support to do most of the things that the report recommends. And those recommendations are about to be implemented by way of legislation in the coming months.

STELTER: And what's the timeline? What's the timeline here, a year from now? Will Facebook be subsidizing news coverage in the U.S.? I mean, by the way, they contribute a lot. But, you know, will they be forced to do more?

CICILLINE: We're going -- the timeline is we're going to introduce legislation in the coming months. I hope the House will move quickly, then we'll send them to the Senate. They will propose really significant reforms that will bring competition back into the digital marketplace that will prohibit these companies from using their market dominance to unfairly treat competitors, to block.

You know, they act as gatekeepers that prevent real competition. And the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act will allow the small publishers and newspapers to band together to have a level playing field for negotiations. All of this we're going to move forward in the House, and there's significant support in the Senate. I think you'll see real reforms in this Congress.

STELTER: Congressman Cicilline, thank you so much for being here. Thanks.

CICILLINE: My pleasure.

STELTER: A quick reminder, we cover all of these stories six nights a week in the Reliable Sources Newsletter. Sign up for free right now, Up next, The New York Times coming to terms with its shortcomings, releasing new findings about diversity. Deputy Managing Editor Carolyn Ryan is up next.



STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, I'm Brian Stelter. The New York Times is one of many newsrooms undergoing a reckoning with race. This week, the news outlet shared stark findings from interviews with more than 400 staffers, showing where its culture falls short.

Asian American women employees spoke of feeling, quote, invisible and unseen. Sudden experiences of being mistaken for colleagues. The report showed low ratings from Black employees on fairness and inclusion and noted that Black and Latino staffers hold fewer leadership positions at the organization.

This self-review comes in the wake of several controversies that have shaken The Times newsroom. And while the paper says it is committed to change, what does change look like for the paper? And what does it mean for journalism? Carolyn Ryan is a deputy managing editor who oversaw and co-authored this diversity report. And she joins me now. Carolyn, thanks for coming on.


STELTER: What surprised you most when studying how the New York Times' employee base feels about diversity?

RYAN: I don't know if it surprised me the most. But I guess what I would say is, if you look at The Times, we have made significant strides in diversity. Over the past several years, we've added hundreds of staffers of color to our company into our newsroom.

But our culture really hadn't changed. Our workplace culture was essentially the same culture that was there when Dean Baquet came to The Times in the 90s, when I came to The Times. Even when you came in '07 and that is a culture that, in a lot of ways, is sort of a sink or swim culture.

There are unwritten rules for how you get ahead, how you get the good beats, how you get the good assignments. And that kind of culture really hurts people of culture -- of color. I mean, that culture hurts everyone on the staff, but especially people of color.

So, our work now is to really create a culture where people, regardless of their background, can do their best work. And much as we transformed our business in the past, in our journalism more recently, our work now is to transform the culture.

STELTER: People who recently about controversies involving Don McNeil, longtime staffer who left the paper. There was a controversy about him making -- possibly making racist remarks. Is this study or this report related to the recent controversies?

RYAN: This work started far beyond -- before the Donald McNeil story. It started last summer, it was about nine months. It involved talking to people, I think over 400 people throughout the company. So, it was not triggered by a single event. But this work essentially speaks to people throughout the company and throughout the newsroom.

And people sometimes talk about are there different camps within the New York Times. And what I find when I'm talking to people is that most people, whether they have been there a long time, or just arrived, feel like there are some basic things that we need to preserve about The New York Times, our mission, our desire and commitment to report without fear or favor.

But there are clearly things that need to change. And that's where the work starts. And that's what the workplace culture work is really about.

STELTER: What you're raising in my mind is there's this effort underway in many newsrooms to make sure they better look like America. Look like a change in America. There's that. And then, there's another level you're talking about, which is, once people are in the door, do they feel welcomed? Are they able to move up the ladder? And it sounds like that's where some of these issues are? RYAN: That's exactly right. That's the deeper work. That's the structural work. And that's the work we really want to make central to the New York Times. I mean, if you think about -- we talked about this a lot. What is the biggest story that American newspapers missed during the 20th century? It was the great migration.

You know, 6 million Black Americans moving from the south to the north. And why did we miss it? Because we had too few black journalists, black editors, black reporters shaping our coverage. So, having a more diverse newsroom is a start, but building on their work and making sure that everyone can do their best work is where we are now. And that's what we're committed to do.


STELTER: And let's broaden up beyond The Times. There's many other outlets taking on these matters in different ways. Recently, the Kansas City Star published an apology letter on the front page. An entire special report about its role in reinforcing racist stereotypes over its 140-year history. The Los Angeles Times also issuing its own self critiquing apology. We've seen a lot of newsrooms, including CNN expand their teams covering race and diversity. So, how will all of this, Carolyn -- you're talking about the culture. How will it affect news coverage?

RYAN: Well, I mean, I think you're already seeing from our report the gains and the benefits of having a more diverse newsroom. I mean, reporting, as I say, is about understanding. It's about empathy. It's about having the greatest number of voices. And you're already seeing in our coverage, if you look at perhaps the political campaign, you just see people coming at these stories with a wider range of perspectives. And our readers are really responding to that. And that's what we're going to keep building on.

STELTER: All right. Carolyn, thank you so much for coming on the program.

RYAN: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: We have more on the future of journalism. After the break, front page news in the Washington Post. Washington's Marty Baron, the editor, retiring after eight remarkable years. Hear from him about the future of news, next.



STELTER: A legend stepping down but not stepping away. Today is Marty Baron's last day as editor of The Washington Post. So, I peppered him with some questions the other day, beginning with the state of the industry, and whether cash strapped local news outlets can learn from the national success of The Washington Post.


organizations have a tremendous challenge. There's no question about it. And in many ways, their challenges are greater than ours, although ours are pretty substantial, as well. But they have to come up with their own model. That said, there are things that I think local news organizations can take away from our experience and the experience of other news organizations like the New York Times.

So, for example, charging for news, having a paywall, requiring people to subscribe. There is no question that news organizations are going to have to require the public to pay for quality news, otherwise, there won't be quality news. And we already see some examples of local news organizations that are having some success at that.

The other aspect is to use technology to our advantage. We use technology a lot to determine who's the who are the most likely people to subscribe. What are they? What are people most interested in? What causes them to convert from being casual readers to being subscribers?

That is the use of technology to advance our business needs and interests. And local news organizations are going to have to do that, as well as use technology for to get higher rates on their advertising. And there are some potential solutions out there for that, as well.


STELTER: It's a very good point. Now, during Barron's eight years of the post, digital publishing became predominant, though, the print front page still does matter, somewhat. I asked Baron about processing the slow decline of print.


BARON: I've been around for a while. I've been in the business for 45 years, and I've been leading news organizations for 20 -- three different news organizations. But I got past the point of mourning what we were losing in this business. And fundamentally, we were losing sort of the physical newspaper. And I came to realize fairly quickly that that doesn't really matter so much.

What really matters is the caliber of the journalism that we're practicing. And we can practice that in a digital form. We can deliver that kind of journalism on a mobile device, on a desktop, a laptop, you name it. It doesn't have to be in a physical newspaper. And doing it digitally means that we're going to reach more people. And it also means that we can use more of the tools that are now available to us, such as videos, such as interactive graphics, such as animation. And that makes for very powerful storytelling.


STELTER: More ways to tell more stories. And finally, I asked Baron to debunk some misconceptions about the Washington Post. What's the reality?


BARON: I think it's a perception of the people who work here that we're all sort of elitist, that we went to elite colleges, that we grew up on the East Coast, or the West Coast, all of that. That is just -- those are stereotypes. That's a myth. We have people from all corners of America who've had all different sorts of life experiences.

We have people who've been combat veterans. We have people who grew up in evangelical homes. We have people who grew up on family farms, and small rural communities, you name it. So, I think there's a stereotypical perception of who we are.

There's also this notion that we're somehow ideologically attached to a party, the Democratic Party, and that's not true. We are completely independent. We held the Obama administration to account. We fully expect to hold the Biden administration to account. And we're just -- we're just not a branch of any of any party. The Trump administration tried to describe us as the opposition party. But they did that for their own political purposes not because that reflected reality.


STELTER: Baron says he's not looking for a new full-time job now, but will remain involved, advocating for the news industry. Hear the rest of the interview on the Reliable Sources Podcast. We'll be right back with more news in just a moment.



STELTER: On this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, we saved the best news for last. Later today, the CDC about to sign off on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci on T.V. emphasizing just how great this news is that there are, quote, three highly effect -- I'm not going to get that word right-- highly-effective vaccines.

And there's this, just crossed the CNN wire. Today, for the first time since early November, there are fewer than 50,000 people in the U.S. hospitalized with COVID-19. That's according to data from the COVID-19 tracking project. We know the numbers were, of course, so painfully high in the winter. They are still high today. 48,000 patients.

It's still a huge number, still highly stressful for the healthcare system. But there is clear progress being made. After so much pessimism, so much darkness, more and more optimism is appropriate, and it's coming through in the news coverage. And that's an important thing to see from the nation's news media.

All right. Quick plug here from RELIABLE SOURCES to reliable sauces. Stanley Tucci is back tonight. CNN has renewed this series because it's such a ratings hit. And you can tune in for the newest episode tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time here on CNN. We'll see you right back here this time next week.