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What Does The Future Hold For Murdoch's Empire?; Iowa Reporter On Trial After Covering BLM Protest; Ring-Wing Media Baselessly Claims Biden Is In Hiding; Royals Coverage Is Big Business For British Press; How Social Distancing Transformed The News; Room Rater's Impact On Doing Interviews From Home. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired March 07, 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 and try to figure out what is reliable these days.

This hour, the chilling prosecution of a local journalist on American soil. A top news executive is here to call attention to the trial.

Plus, Dr. Sanjay Gupta like you've never seen him before. We're taking you behind the scenes of pandemic era TV news.

And later, the British press, look at these front pages, versus Harry and Meghan. See how their impending interview is being covered in the U.S. versus the U.K.

But up first, media royalty, and Lachlan Murdoch's comment that raised a lot of eyebrows this week. In news, in politics, in pop culture, all roads lead back to the Murdochs, but rarely does anyone take a step back and make the necessary connections involving this media empire.

Maybe that's because the two men are actually rarely heard from. Father Rupert presides overall the Murdoch Empire's media assets from "The Wall Street Journal" to "The Sun" to Fox News, et cetera. One of his sons, Lachlan, runs Fox Corporation. That is the company that actually oversees Fox News.

So they wield enormous power, but they almost never talk about it in public. They never come face to face with any form of accountability. They stay behind the scenes, and maybe that's by design.

I mean, critics often call out the millionaires who star on Fox's shows, but the responsibility really rests with the billionaires, with the men in charge of this propaganda and profit machine.

And that raised a fundamental question: should any single family have this much power? Especially this family?

Well, we would ask if we could ask. But like I said, the Murdochs usually lay low.

However, they do occasionally speak to Wall Street analysts trying to impress investors, and that's how Lachlan raised eyebrows the other day, when talked about the Trump years and now the Biden years. He said MSNBC was the biggest beneficiary of the Trump years. And then he said that's what Fox is going to be in the Biden years.


LACHLAN MURDOCH, FOX CORPORATION CEO: Loyal opposition, right? They're calling out the president when a -- when he needed to be called out. That's what, well, our job is now with the Biden administration. And you'll see our ratings, you know, really improve from here and will do so for at least the next four years.


STELTER: He's trying to tell investors, don't worry about our relatively weak ratings. We are coming back. Our ratings are coming back, the audience is coming back.

And on one level, he's just stating the obvious, admitting Fox is anti-Democrat, saying the network is awakening from its Trump era slumber, and calling out President Biden. What about the news side anchors that Fox always touts? Remember the slogan "fair and balanced" going back decades? Are these news anchors part of the opposition too?

Of course, Fox is cutting back on actual news coverage, reducing its reporter ranks and tripling down on fact-free opinion on behalf of the GOP. The programming now is all about fights, not facts.

And that brings me back to Rupert, age 89. He is turning 90 on Thursday. Think about what he's built. Think about his legacy.

He has a big extended family, generations of kids and grandkids that are a whole lot more liberal than he is. All roads may lead to them some day.

This week, two news outlets published big stories about the future of the empire. "The Financial Times" was first. It raised questions about whether Lachlan wants to keep running Fox. He's into doing digital deals, but, quote, the 49-year-old is less interested in daily grind of running Fox and has grown weary of the relentless controversies surrounding Fox News. Interesting.

So, will they some day sell the rest of Fox? Will some Trump-aligned backer try to buy Fox News? Will Rupert recombine his TV and print assets?

These questions matter because the news you consume is so impacted and sometimes so distorted by one family.

A brand-new story in "The Economist" frames it this way. Rupert prepares to hand over his media empire. So maybe it's not a very happy 90th birthday for the succession style patriarch.

Joining me with reporting and analysis is Sara Ellison, a staff writer at "The Washington Post," Oliver Darcy, CNN senior media reporter, and former Fox News reporter Diana Falzone, now a contributing reporter at "The Daily Beast".

Full disclosure here, Falzone filed a discrimination lawsuit against Fox in 2017. She settled and left the company in 2018.

So, Diana, you have been on the inside at Fox. How influential are Rupert and Lachlan?


Do you feel like this is a company, you know, that profits off Fox News but doesn't actually stir the ship? Because I often hear people say there is a lack of leadership at Fox News.

DIANA FALZONE, CONTRIBUTING REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: I have been covering Fox News as a journalist now for several months. What I'm hearing from Fox News insiders say is that Fox News's CEO Suzanne Scott is little more than a figure head, that Rupert Murdoch and Lachlan are steering the ship and that Suzanne Scott is, quote/unquote, a good soldier. A good soldier to the Murdochs. She listens to what they say and executes their orders just as she did, quote, unquote, for Roger Ailes.

STELTER: So, that suggests that they are very important, that they're not, you know, ignoring what is going on there. Isn't it true that Rupert and Lachlan give the hosts so much autonomy, you know, that's why you see all this propaganda and these conspiracy theories in prime time?

FALZONE: There is with opinion programming. But when it comes to their fact-based journalism, we have seen recently in January what was called an ideological purge of fact-based journalism by staffers inside Fox News on the digital side. So they feel like they're being so controlled and there has been a larger pundit to go more into right wing opinion programming.

STELTER: Hmm, interesting.

All right. Let's listen to more to what Lachlan Murdoch said to investors the other day. He was talking about the brand going forward and who Fox represents. Watch.


MURDOCH: We very much focus on the center right. We think that's where America is. You know, 75 million people voted for a Republican president, you know, sometimes in spite of his personality at times. And, so, they believe in those politics. They feel strongly about those political and policy positions, and that's what we represent.


STELTER: Okay. So, no more fair and balanced, right? He's just freely admitting what Fox is. It is for the Republican Party. It is for Republican voters. Maybe, Oliver, this is a good thing, just give up the game. OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: To some extent it was refreshing, right, Brian, because people like us have been covering the network for so long and pointing out that this is the opposition, the anti-Democratic network and the network has insisted it has a, quote/unquote, fair and balanced news commission. So, hearing Lachlan come out and say, you know, we are the opposition. This is our role in the Biden years, to some extent, was refreshing.

STELTER: It is just so head spinning because for four years they were in this slumber.

I thought it was really striking how NBC reacted to Lachlan mentioning MSNBC. He said MSNBC was the opposition. Now, it's our turn.

Here's what NBC said in response. They said: Our role and the role of any legitimate news organization, whether it includes an opinion section or not, is to hold power to account regardless of party. So, basically, NBC was like, get our name out of our mouth. Do not compare us to you. We are not the same as you.

Sarah, you have been able to talk to Rupert Murdoch recently. I think -- what do you do? You just e-mail him questions and he writes back? He doesn't go around PR, he doesn't decline interview request the way he does with everybody else, right?

So, you know what's been on his mind. What can you share with us?

SARAH ELLISON, STAFF WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I mean, I would say that it's -- I e-mail him and he e-mails back. I haven't spoken to him. But I think that he's boast more involved and a little removed from this. He does like for his hosts to, you know, have some leeway.

But for his entire career, Rupert Murdoch has taken the conversation in a direction that punctures the elites the way he thinks about it, punctures the elites and it scandalizes pop and he makes a lot of money doing that and this is really no different.

STELTER: Yeah. Do you have an impression of where he sees the business going? I know he's not going to reveal his secrets to you about that. But looking at the tea leaves, the company moving further to the right, these stories about Lachlan maybe not wanting to stay involved.

We know the more liberal son James is waiting on the sidelines, waiting on his turn. He hopes to take over some day in the event of Rupert's death. He hopes to take over and on his view remove the outrageous programming on Fox News.

Is that possible or is that a liberal fantasy, Sarah?

ELLISON: Well, we're going to see a lot of -- this is something people inside fox have been watching for a long time. No one loves the news business more than Rupert Murdoch, none of his children. And, so, regardless of what happens, what Rupert's succession drama is going to bring is a moment of reckoning for Fox. And whether it's Lachlan, whether it's James, whether it's someone

else, it's going to bring big changes to that network and we're just going to have to see how that shakes out.

STELTER: Right. Nobody knows when or how that could happen. It is just something on the horizon. We don't know how distant it is.

But it is noticeable these stories are pointing toward some change to the empire. I mean, look, to see why our politics is so poisoned and polarized, you just have to look at what FOX talk shows prioritized. This is a great example in the past week. I watched coronavirus denialism on Fox.


I watched QAnon flirtation, immigration fear-mongering, culture war desperation, and I'm sure you saw this, too, dozens of segments about the Dr. Seuss brand shelving some books that I had never even heard of. Have you heard of the books they're getting rid off?

And then some people started hoarding other Seuss books that were totally unrelated, maybe uncancel culture is out of control now, and the story lines that Fox selects matter because the GOP follows Murdoch's lead. That's why this is important. That's why House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy was reading "green eggs and ham" while Democrats were passing a stimulus bill.

TV is not reacting to D.C. D.C. is reacting to TV. And I wonder, Diana, how you view this as a former Fox News employee. Was it like this four years ago when you were at Fox?

FALZONE: I will tell you that, as a journalist covering it, that what was going on during the Trump administration, staffers were asking, are they working for state TV or are they working for propaganda network? There was always something to be outraged out.

And I think the blue print that Roger Ailes left behind was one of sensationalism and click bait. He knew how to play upon the vulnerabilities and the fears of his audience. And what we're seeing now is that staffers are telling me that they are digging in further right. They are digging in further into sensationalism and they are really looking to elicit a response from their audience.

So this idea on the war on Christmas, the war on cancel culture, they are trying to get back to their ratings so that they're not going to ever see their ratings flounder again to Newsmax or OAN.

STELTER: Yeah, this is entirely driven by ratings. It's all it's about.

And some of the audience is coming back, Oliver, is that fair to say? The viewers who were disappointed in November by the election, they are starting to come back to Fox.

DARCY: Definitely. Fox is seeing somewhat of a rise in their ratings back to maybe normal levels. I thin the bottom line is, this is profitable. The Fox audience wants to see this stuff. This is what the Fox audience wants. And Fox is happy to feed it to them regardless of whether it is harmful for society or good for society or actually informs their viewers.

It's profitable, and that's what Fox's bottom -- you know, what seems to drive Fox more than anything is profitability.

STELTER: On the occasion of Rupert's 90th birthday, Sarah, how does this current, you know, narrative about, culture war drama on Fox, Dr. Seuss all day long, how does this relate to Rupert's career in his entire lifetime?

ELLISON: Well, I would just say that one of the things that Fox and Rupert Murdoch have been able to capitalize on is the culture wars. It's the most unifying element that you can find in the Republican Party. Even among independents.


STELTER: More so than Trump -- more so than Trumpism, Sarah?

ELLISON: Culture wars are something that unified the audience, with a sort of divided Republican Party right now, it's a great message for Fox News to dive into the culture wars in the way they have been, and Rupert knows that, and he's been somebody who has profited off that for a very long time.

STELTER: Is he still holding his nose about Trump? You know, they had a mutually beneficial relationship that devolved and fell apart. Do you see him trying to avoid Trumpism in some ways?

ELLISON: Well, it was interesting. He did always resent the hold Trump had on elements of Fox News, and he likes the ability for Fox to appear and be independent in its thinking. I think that now, what's happened though, is that Trump has a sway over a large part of the Republican Party.

And there's been something created there that Rupert doesn't really have control of, which is why I bring up the culture wars, because that's something that does appeal to everyone. It is the most unifying part of that message, and I think that he likes the power that Fox can have apart from Trump, but Trump is the elephant in the room and he's not going away.

STELTER: He is the Frankenstein, as you've said and I have written, and will continue to be for some time to come.

Diana, thank you for coming on.

Oliver and Sarah, please stick around for later in the hour.

Coming up here, banner headlines about the Senate approving the $1.9 trillion in aid for an ailing nation. But are journalists doing a good job explaining its potential impact?

And why is this American journalist about to go on trial? A top news executive is here to explain what's gone wrong with Iowa. That's next.



STELTER: This is a scene you should not expect to see in the United States.


ANDREA SAHOURI, IOWA JOURNALIST: I was saying, you know, I'm press, I'm press, I'm press. Police literally took me, I'm just doing my job as a journalist.


STELTER: "Des Moines Register" reporter Andrea May Sahouri was arrested in May while covering a Black Lives Matter protest. She was pepper sprayed and detained and charged with failure to disperse and interference with official acts. She was one of many journalists arrested last May and June.

Most of the charges, most of those cases were dropped, but not in this case. The fact that these misdemeanor charges are still pending and that there's a trail set to begin on Monday is stunning to many press freedom advocates. It's created a lot of concern across the country.

So, joining me now to talk about this case and what's going to happen is Maribel Perez Wadsworth. She's the publisher of "USA Today" and the president of news at Gannett Media, which owns the "Des Moines Register" and other newspapers.

So, Maribel, you're trying to draw attention to this case. What has happened so far? Why is this actually moving to trial?

MARIBEL PEREZ WADSWORTH, PRESIDENT, NEWS AT GANNETT MEDIA: It's really inexplicable. I appreciate you having me on this morning. The fact that in the heat of the moment, one can argue that perhaps, you know, the police didn't understand, even though as you heard her, she's very clear that she's identifying herself.


She's following the instructions of the police at the time.

The fact that in that moment, perhaps, they didn't understand fully she was a working journalist can be understandable. Nine months later, it is simply inexcusable that she's still facing these charges and going to trial tomorrow.

STELTER: Is there any chance this will be resolved before tomorrow? It sounds like it's not.

WADSWORTH: Goodness, it sure hasn't seemed that way. For reasons that just escape us, the county attorney in Des Moines, the police have seemingly dug in their heels and have -- STELTER: Well, that's because they say she looked like she was

participating. That she wasn't wearing a press credential. It seemed like she was participating in the protest.

Is there anything to that?

WADWORTH: No. No, that's simply not true. She was -- she was absolutely working. She had been at another protest nearby before attending this one and covering it. She had another colleague of hers, another reporter at the "Des Moines Register", who was also nearby, who vouched for her, who explained she was on assignment.

There's absolutely no question that she was a working journalist at the time.

STELTER: Here's the big picture story from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker showing the arrests of journalists in the midst of their jobs covering protests has risen markedly in the past few years. Now, that is partly because of the uprising last May and June. You see 127 arrests and detainments in the U.S. in 2020.

Are protests the most dangerous place in America for journalists now?

WADSWORTH: I think they absolutely are. And I think one of the other key stats from the U.S. press freedom tracker is that among those arrested, more than a third are actually assaulted in the process of that arrest. So this is absolutely a significant issue. And one we're going to have to address.

You know, the press freedom is one of the, you know, most signature freedoms enshrined in our First Amendment. This is exactly the oxygen that our democracy lives on. And it's where we hold government to account.

And so an attack on a journalist like this trying to do her job, trying to report the truth, trying to help people sort fact from misinformation, that's not an attack on a media company. That's an attack on the First Amendment. That's an attack on democracy.

STELTER: Maribel, thank you. We will stay in touch on this.

WADSWORTH: Thank you so much.

STELTER: Zooming out now, beyond the U.S., the global picture for press freedom is pretty bleak right now. Here are three cases that we're monitoring around the world.

Beginning in Myanmar, an "Associated Press" photographer and several other members of the media are behind bars in Myanmar for trying to cover anti-coup protests in that country. The violence there keeps getting bloodier.

The "A.P." says that Thein Zaw was simply doing his job and must be immediately released.

Turning to the Middle East, a journalist in yeomen who has worked with CNN and other major outlets has been behind bars for six months. Human Rights Watch says Adel al-Hasani has been treated deplorably.

And in Egypt, columnist Gamal al-Gamal was recently detained and accused of spreading false news. CPJ says he must be released immediately and allowed to work freely in the country.

These are the world's eyes and ears and when they're blindfolded, we are all blinded. Persecution of journalists is part of what some activists call a global erosion of democracy.

Shifting gears now from persecution to self-policing, a "New York Times" columnist under criticism for a Facebook conflict of interest.

Plus, how one year of the pandemic has changed this medium forever. That's next on RELIABLE SOURCES.



STELTER: It is one of the most progressive economic bills in generations. And it's so big, so expensive than many viewers and readers may not know all it entails. The COVID relief bill pushed by President Biden has passed the Senate, pretty much intact, and it's been the lead story almost everywhere, but the bill means different things to different people based on their media diets.

Oliver Darcy and "Washington Post" media reporter Sarah Ellison are back with me.

Oliver, how have you seen right-wing media frame this bill versus the rest of the coverage?

DARCY: Well, it's important to note that right-wing media has largely, you know, not covered this bill pretty much. I think previous iterations of right-wing media would be outraged at the spending here, but in this case, it's not getting that much attention.

When it is get attention, you're seeing Fox, for instance, yesterday emphasize and talk about how this bill would give money to convicted murderers, and things like that. It's not getting the same coverage that it is in "The Journal" or "The Post" which is talking about tax credits, the stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, et cetera, et cetera.

STELTER: Do you think, Sarah, the press is doing enough to explain what is in it? All of these tax credits, funding for states and local governments, et cetera, is that getting through to the public?

ELLISON: Not yet. I mean, the coverage has been mostly at this point what's had to drop out of the bill in order to get it passed. So you had a little bit of coverage about the progressive priorities that have dropped out of the bill, but you haven't really seen any intensive coverage on what's really in it, even from the right-wing media like what it costs and what it's going to mean for the deficit.

I expect that to be a much bigger part of the coverage, but we're just -- people -- I think most reporters hardly know what's in it themselves. And so, we're going to play out for the next weeks and months.

STELTER: Interesting.

Now, President Biden has been under pressure for not holding a press conference. We brought this up on RELIABLE SOURCES last week. It has since become a big talking point, especially on Fox.


But also among White House reporters who are asking where the President -- not where he is, but why he hasn't held one of these big solo press conferences the way that most presidents do shortly after being sworn in. Oliver, I know this is not the biggest deal in the world. I acknowledge that. But press conferences are a symbol of transparency. So, is the pressure from the press going to result in a presser, a press conference?

DARCY: It does seem like that. Jen Psaki said Friday that they expect to hold a press conference by the end of the month. And I think, you know, reporters do have the right and the-- and the responsibility to pressure this administration to be transparent.

The last president did give a lot of, you know, was taking questions from the press a lot. He lied in turn, but this administration has promised me be better than that. And so, that does come with taking questions for reporters and giving answers to the American people.

STELTER: Yes. And both things are -- there's a couple things that are true at the same time, right? Biden is not in hiding the way that Jesse Waters and Jeanine Pirro like to claim, and that's just, you know, baseless B.S. from the campaign about Biden hiding in the basement.

So, there's that narrative out there that Tucker Carlson is pushing questions about Biden's mental health, all this nonsense it's out there in the-- in the-- in the right-wing press. But at the same time, it is a symbol of transparency. And there are a lot of questions that reporters do want to ask the new president. So, it's a legitimate I think story and a question out there.

Hey, Sarah, can you tell us about what's going on with New York Times columnist David Brooks. There's been a lot of report in the past couple days from BuzzFeed, about Brooks having this other job, a paid role with a think tank called the Aspen Institute. Now, Brooks has resigned from the Aspen Institute. What happened here?

ELLISON: Well, you outlined it well. I mean, Brooks has had to relinquish this position with the Aspen Institute. It was a paid position that he had to promote a project called Weave, which was about building community. The issue came up because readers didn't recognize that when he was writing positively about some of the funders, including Facebook, to Weave that he wasn't disclosing that to immediate -- the readers of his New York Times column. He also had written on Facebook, Facebook's own platform, praising

Facebook there. So, it's an issue in terms of transparency with readers. And it's also just completely out of the bounds of normal journalistic practice to promote someone that is paying you in the pages of your -- of your column, or in the interest of your column.

STELTER: Right. And when there's not that disclosure, then that's especially damaging. People don't know where you're coming from. He claims this was all public, but it looks like it was not all public. And Buzzfeed was really onto something in this case. Sarah and Oliver, thank you both.

Oliver and I do co-write the Reliable Sources Newsletter, so make sure you sign up for free right now at Coming up live to London, and the untold story of Oprah's special broadcast with Harry and Megan.



STELTER: Millions of dollars, hundreds of headlines all about one interview. It is this interview, Oprah Winfrey sit down with Megan Markel and Prince Harry coming up later today on CBS. I keep hearing this is highly anticipated, then actually, I've been saying that, too, haven't I? But let's step back and ask why.

Why is there such fevered interest in this couple? Why is Megan Markel one of the most trolled people in the world? Well, for one thing, the Royals are big business for the British press and beyond. There is a media system in place to profit off their celebrity. Look at hundreds of headlines tick tocking through the tit for tat that culminated in Oprah's exclusive.

It is an exclusive that according to The Wall Street Journal, Oprah's special company sold to CBS for $7 to 9 million. And of course, there's going to be a lot of interest from advertisers. And this special is going to be aired around the world.

So, let's follow the money here. Think about the profit behind these stories. I think what's happening this weekend is the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are trying to balance out the playing field. They've barely been heard from a year. So, they are trying to tackle what they believe is misinformation about their lives by taking the mic and speaking with Oprah.

But will it work? And who profits from this? Who benefits from all these stories and all this commentary? Well, joining me to discuss the attention economy is Daily Express Royal Correspondent, Richard Palmer. He's in the U.K. for us. And in the U.S., royal watcher and author Kristen Meinzer.

Thank you both for coming on. There is something of a U.S.-U.K. rivalry here. We can talk about that, too. But Richard, you were very much a part of this system of media coverage, studying the royal family, coming up with new stories every single day. Are you a part of the problem, Richard?

RICHARD PALMER, ROYAL CORRESPONDENT, DAILY EXPRESS: Well, Harry and Megan clearly think I'm part of the problem because they won't speak to me any longer, and they won't speak to my paper. Their press officer did say it has nothing to do with anything I'd written or little to do with it. I'm not really quite clear why that is.

STELTER: Well, look at all these headlines. Look at all these attacks. We put on screen some of the, you know, just I don't know, like, eight of the examples of Anti-Megan stories that come from your paper, come from the Daily Express. Why are there so many of these stories? Is it simply because that's what your audience wants to read?

PALMER: Well, I mean, I would say that over the -- over the 2-1/2 years, they've been pretty well-balanced. And certainly, when they got engaged, when their romance first emerged, when they got married, they were hugely popular, and they got a lot of very positive coverage. But things turned a bit sour, and I think they handled things badly.

I'm sure the press could have done better, as well. It takes two to tango in an argument. But the upshot is that they decided they didn't want to deal with sections of the British media. I mean, in the same way as sometimes (INAUDIBLE) political parties during election campaign only want papers that support them at some of their press events. And I think we've seen that with Donald Trump when he was in the White House, as well, sometimes.


STELTER: As you pointed out to me off air, Royals coverage is sort of this combination of politics, and entertainment, and celebrity. It's all of these things rolled up in one. Kristen, what's your view from the U.S. of how the press treats Harry and Megan. We know that in this interview with Larry today, Prince Harry is going to talk about what he says is the toxic British press and the toll that it's taken. So, what's your take?

KRISTEN MEINZER, AUTHOR & ROYAL WATCHER: Toxic is absolutely the word for it, as well, as racist, misogynistic, abusive, there are so many words we could use. Both Harry and Megan have admitted that this has been very tough on their mental health. And we can see in a court of law that this has been a problem.

Megan Merkel's invasion of privacy lawsuit, she won that in a court of law. People have been doing things on behalf of the press, including, you know, publishing private mail, hiding in the bushes and taking photos of her. These are not fair ways to cover the Royals.

And I just have to point out that the Daily Express, what we're dealing with there has not always been fair. One of the most famous examples of treating Kate very well. And then, being very critical of Megan, under the same circumstances was right there in the Daily Express of, Oh, look, isn't it wonderful that Kate gets to have avocados for her morning sickness. And meanwhile, the Daily Express when Megan Markel said that she liked avocados, there was a headline linking her to human rights abuses, worker abuses, and climate change. This coverage has not been fair.

STELTER: Richard, your reaction?

PALMER: Well, no, I don't think that's true at all. I mean, I'd like to say I've not -- I've not ever written a story with what avocado in it.

STELTER: Everyone loves avocados. We can agree on that. But what's the idea of this double standard, Richard? Is there a double standard?

PALMER: No, I don't believe so. But I think what Kristen is talking about is such that there are online news Web sites. So, my paper has a Web site, which is a separate operation from the -- from paper. And they write dozens of stories, and often sort of typically 20 stories a day about the royal family. And there will be a mixture of positive, negative, neutral stories. And I think it is possible sometimes to drip to find one example of a negative one example of a positive for somebody else.

I think all members of the royal family helped come through tough times with media coverage in Britain and around the world. It's just the nature of things that, you know, the queen is our head of states, the head of states family that perform an official taxpayer-funded role as diplomat, you know, high school diplomat stories.

They're there to provide a sense of national unity and continuity. And unfortunately, this couple, I think, really through the mainly through learned behavior have ended up being forces for disunity, it seemed, and become very unpopular with certain sections of the population.

STELTER: And Kristen, that makes for a great story, doesn't it?

MEINZER: Yes, but I refuse to see unless you give me evidence of what these things are that they've done wrong. I've yet to see any evidence that they've actually done anything that is disrespectful to the crown that is out of line, they have not their husband, no proof that they've done anything wrong. So, I don't actually know what Richard is speaking of when he says that perhaps they brought this all on themselves.

STELTER: And Kristen, and the idea of a profit system here, is this all about profits at the end of the day for everybody involved for the Royal commentators like you for everybody. Hey, for me right now on CNN?

MEINZER: Well, I mean, obviously, there's money involved here. Let's be realistic about this. The media empire is huge. And the interest in the Royals is huge. A poll that was just done this last week by Morning Consult, found that nearly half of Americans would welcome more royal content. So, there's absolutely a hunger for this.

However, I just have to point out also that a yougov poll this last week found that even among Britons, only 25 percent believe that the coverage of Megan Markel has been fair. So, we want more coverage, and yes, there's money there. But at what cost? At the cost of writing false and abusive stories? STELTER: And now, Harry and Megan want to take the mic back. That's what tonight is about. Richard and Kristen, thank you both for being here. Up next, in honor of --

MEINZER: Thank you.

STELTER: -- one year of pandemic-era T.V. news. Notice where both those guests were. We're going to go behind the scenes with some CNN talent at home.



STELTER: Do you feel the optimism in the air? Let me show you. The pandemic continues to impose real pain across the U.S. and around the world, but there is visible light on the horizon in the form of vaccines and more. And it's happening at the one-year mark. The one- year mark of this pandemic in America, which made us think all about the major changes T.V. news has made in order to adapt.


STELTER (voice over): Pandemic-era T.V. is full of surprises.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, it's been a week since I've seen her. Hi, this is my cat. That is the perks of working from home.

STELTER: Social distancing has transformed the news in some ways forever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's kind of crazy.

STELTER: From Dr. Sanjay Gupta to lawmakers to celebrities. Everyone has adjusted to at-home studios. And rarely are they very fancy.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is my basement. Get an idea. It's got old tiny window there. Not pretty. That's my bed where I spend a lot of time staying and sleeping at night because I don't want to wake up the whole house.


STELTER: Yes. Gupta has been educating the world about COVID-19 from this spare space. He has a closet for podcasting, too.

Others have set up in kitchens, living rooms, home offices, and everyone has been improvising, whether for remote school or remote interviews.

MARGARET HOOVER, CORRESPONDENT, PBS: Here is John Avlon, from that hit that he just did. Here we have a light here.

JOHN AVALON, CNN HOST: Our home set.

HOOVER: This is our home set. We have lights on both sides. We have children's toys and a fireplace behind me.

STELTER: CNN uses Cisco Webex for live shots. Other networks use Skype, sometimes Zoom, even FaceTime. And most of the time, it works surprisingly well. Here's how national security analyst Juliette Kayyem goes live.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So, when the time comes, I stick this in my ear. I stick this up my shirt; that's a microphone. I press this handy dandy button, just for me. And I should be into CNN. Let's see if that works. Oh, there I am. Like magic. OK, get me out of this room, though, I am sick of it.

STELTER: That's how a lot of us feel. T.V. shows are slowly returning to studios. But many anchors are still in these small remote rooms. At CNN, we call these flash cams. And some anchors still work from home, like my wife, Jamie, did last spring, hosting live T.V. while our kids watched right there in bed. Now, these setups involve professional gear installed by T.V. networks with cellular or fiber or satellite connections. But things still sometimes go wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have lost all of the incoming guest remotes.

STELTER: Every so often a reminder that this is not normal, and that everyone is just trying their best.

KAYYEM: There's the earpiece and the microphone and the lights and the camera and the dog and the WiFi and the kids. And you just have a lot going on in your head when you're on air.

STELTER: From local to international news, reporters trade tips about the best ring lights, tripods, and mics. I invested in blackout shades and soundproofing. Though, it didn't really work. There's only so much you can control. Home live shots are a source of T.V. drama during a stressful time. Staircases and doors leave viewers wondering, will somebody walk in? Will a kid interrupt? Will there be a surprise guest appearance? Or maybe two. And how will the guest handle it? I quickly learned to lock the door before every hit. But you know, sometimes it is more fun not to.

DEBORAH HAYNES, FOREIGN AFFAIRS EDITOR, SKY NEWS: David Cameron was talking about-- oh, I'm really sorry. That's my son arriving.

STELTER: Hey, reporter Deborah Haynes's son just wanted a snack.

HAYNES: Yes, you can have tea biscuits.

STELTER: Sky News cut away, but it's better to just embrace the chaos. Embarrassing moments are humanizing moments. And the media needs more of that. Being live at home is relatable, and revealing. Although, sometimes a little too revealing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They will scale up the program if it is successful, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very cool. We love it, Will. STELTER: Next time he wore pants, but hey, I can relate. This was me

live on CNN with just two minutes' notice, talking with Wolf Blitzer about Trump's Twitter account being banned. Later that night, I changed rooms, switching up the backdrops. And that's when my phone blacked out.


STELTER: Every T.V. guest has a story like that, where they're going live from a car.

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): This is about protection of our Constitution.

STELTER: Or the attic or the basement.

GUPTA: We have two dogs who have been wonderful dogs through this pandemic, but they just started going absolutely crazy where I couldn't hear what was being said.

STELTER: Monitoring all these moments is a Twitter account that has gained hundreds of thousands of followers, Room Rater.

JESSIE BAHREY, ROOM RATER: It was kind of an accident.

STELTER: This couple, Claude Taylor, who runs a liberal PAC and Jessie Bahrey use a one to 10 scale to rate T.V. backgrounds.

CLAUDE TAYLOR, ROOM RATER: It was kind of an instant success.

STELTER: They say plants, books, pillows, lighting are instrumental to creating an eye pleasing background.

TAYLOR: We don't care how -- you know, how much money you make, or you know, what -- you know, you don't have to live in a mansion.

STELTER: But it does take some flak, they say, blank walls looked like hostage videos. And excessively putting your own book behind you is also a drag. But photobombing children and pets are always welcome.

BAHREY: We just took the view that everybody's in the same boat. Everybody's trying to get their kids on Zoom classes and dealing with rambunctious pets. And for us, it was normalizing and it was fun.

STELTER: Over time, big names like Carl Bernstein have improved their home setups, raising the camera and tweaking the audio.

TAYLOR: A lot of people have upped their game. And, you know, naturally, we take full credit.


STELTER: Now, I will admit, I did grovel for a 10 out of 10 rating by going to the grocery store and buying a pineapple for my shelf, because Room Rader loves pineapples. Twitter critics aside, Web cams and iPhones are keeping the T.V. magic alive. It's less expensive for networks and less time consuming for guests. Producers say hard-to-get stars are easier to book nowadays, because they just fire up their computer from home. So, this formula will live on long after COVID.

TAYLOR: I think we'll start to see more of a hybrid, more of a mix. But I think -- I think the at-home T.V. is here to stay.

BAHREY: I personally love it because it makes me feel like we're all in this together. I mean, obviously, selfishly, we hope it lasts.


STELTER: It's true. Guests are just a click away, thanks to these devices. Will take my live shot there. And see you next week for more RELIABLE SOURCES.