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Reliable Sources

The Past, Present and Future of Media; Threats to a Free Press Around the World; Examining The Past, Present And Future Of Media; Reliable Sources: Then And Now. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired August 21, 2022 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I am Brian Stelter. I am live in New York. And this is still RELIABLE SOURCES.

All right. Here we go. One of the biggest media stories of the week is right here. It's the end of this show.

CNN has canceled RELIABLE SOURCES. Yes, the longest running program on the network.

"NPR's" David Folkenflik broke the news on Thursday. And I have a lot of thoughts about it, but I'm going to save those for later this hour.

As most of you know, CNN has a new owner. Warner Bros. Discovery is making big changes across the company. And there's going to be more change all across the company, including here at CNN. And I'm sad that I won't be here to cover it.

But since this is our final episode, we're going to do something a little bit differently today. This entire hour, this special hour, and it's about change. It's about change all across the media world.

What's changing? What might change? And what must never change about the accountability function of journalism.

You know, I love this show. This small but mighty show punched above its weight for so many years. Even a former president commented on the cancellation.

RELIABLE SOURCES has been a one of a kind show, and a popular show. This is one of CNN's highest rated weekend shows. So I want to say thank you to all of you watching around the world.

I was lucky to be a part of it for nine years. But it began 30 years ago right after the Gulf War.

So here's what the iconic former CNN CEO Tom Johnson said on Facebook when he heard the show was canceled. He said about the show's origins, it was founded by Ted Turner and leaders of CNN who felt very deeply that media organizations have a responsibility to report and to evaluate the journalism profession itself.

That was the idea. It was a great idea. It is a great idea. And I know many of you are just like Johnson. You're going to miss the show.

I want to say thank you to the thousands and thousands and thousands of emails and tweets that I've been receiving this week. I'm going to share them with the staff, because they are the ones that have made this possible.

You know, the thing about TV is it's ephemeral, right? It's fleeting. It evaporates up into the air, and a lot of it is not meant to be -- a lot of it is not meant to be remembered.

But this program transcended that. It's a part of journalism school curriculum. Teachers across the country and in other countries outside the U.S., teachers use segments from this show all the time in classrooms, in lessons, guiding and teaching the next generation.

You know, founding host Bernard Kalb and founding executive Rick Davis said this program was meant to be a critical lens on the media. Such a special phrase, a critical lens on the media.

And this week, thanks to CNN management, we've been given the gift of signing off on our own terms and actually talking about the media industry.

So let's not waste any more time.

Let's bring in legendary journalist Carl Bernstein, CNN political analyst, co-author of many books, including "All the President's Men", and most recently, the author of "Chasing History."

Carl, thanks for being with me on this final program.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to be with you, always.

STELTER: I want to know, we have talked so many times over the years about the role of the press. But it's changed a lot in the 30 years this program has been on the air. In the 50 years for example since Watergate.

What do you think is most important about what has changed and what do we need to make sure doesn't change about American journalism?

BERNSTEIN: I think the essential bottom line of reporting is to reach the people, the readers, and the viewers with what Bob Woodward and myself for 50 years have called the best obtainable version of the truth, which means even in some of the commentary or a lot of the commentary, that it ought to be repertorially based. I hope I try to do that when I'm doing commentary.

But more than that, you know, in this book "Chasing History," the most important line in the book, it's about what I learned as a 16, 17, 18- year-old going to work in journalism, is a line that I was taught about great reporters covering civil rights. That is, the truth is not neutral. The truth is not neutral.

That doesn't mean that we have to be fair in all we cover. We have to give acknowledgement to two sides. We have to be judicious but not judicial. I know there's been a lot of angst for instance calling Donald Trump not only on this network but all over a criminal.

You know, we called Nixon a criminal president in reporting on Watergate. In fact, he never was convicted of a crime.


But he was a criminal president.

Donald Trump is a serial liar, as I once called him on the air, and I said to myself, I hope that doesn't sound pejorative, because that's what most Republicans in the Senate in the United States regard him as.

So I think we've got to do explaining what we do and how we do it, and the bottom line has to be the best attainable version of the truth, a and the truth is not neutral.

Ask yourself this question, is a lynching neutral? I've covered those kinds of stories. It's not neutral.

STELTER: It's not neutral. I didn't know if the former president's name was going to come up so early in the hour, but it's appropriate, because I think about my tenure here at CNN. He's the story. He's been the story. He's been the defining story for the last decade, for better or worse, of all the above.

So, when we think about the media's response to Trump, maybe we got some things wrong. Have you thought about what we got right and wrong in the past decade?

BERNSTEIN: Yeah, I think we've gotten a number of things wrong. And I probably have myself. But I think the primary thing we got wrong in cable news especially is when Donald Trump was running for president in the primaries, we gave him unprecedented free air time.

And I think that unprecedented free air time, because we thought it was such good theater, that we covered his plane swooping down to a campaign rally. We were there waiting breathlessly. I think it was a kind of irresponsible coverage that we did, all the cable news networks did it.

It gave him free ammunition to spread lies, to essentially give campaign speeches with us not making a decision about what is news. And that's the other thing that we do as reporters, editors, what is news is as important a function as we do.

STELTER: Can we unpack that for a minute? I've been thinking so much about this lately, that some of the biggest stories in the world barely ever register as news. Certainly the climate crisis getting more attention.

But you think about homelessness, the inability for future generations to own and invest and own homes. All of these economic conditions, because they happen slowly, because we have drip, drip, drip things that are happening in this world, they don't get the attention that the sudden burst from the fire hose does. How do we fix that, to make sure the most important stories are

treated like they're news? How do we make sure it's news?

BERNSTEIN: First of all, I think all of the areas you mentioned can come under the heading of the following, which I believe is the most important story in the world today, that all news organizations, especially this one need to be covering in great detail.

And that is the pendulum swinging against democracy all over the world. In Western Europe, in the former communist east, in this country where more and more we see authoritarianism. Not just in the presidency of Donald Trump, but in the state legislatures, in the campaigns that we're watching now.

But the decline of democracy, and its metrically possible to measure it. The number of countries in the past ten years which have gone from democracy to authoritarianism is increasingly rampant. We need to cover it, even if it's not sexy. It goes to everything you've mentioned, climate change, all priorities.

STELTER: What if it is uncomfortable? What if there is pressure not to do it, Carl? What if it's scary? I mean, I'm playing devil's advocate, so you can tell us -- guide us as journalists what to do.

BERNSTEIN: Well, I think this is a function of news organizations and the reporters and editors. You know, it's not very often, in my 60 something years as a reporter -- 60, I don't want to think how many years -- that a good editor or a good news organization turns down a good story.

I think as reporters and editors, we need to go to our management. If somebody has said no, you can't put that on the air, and we need to say look, here's why this is a great story.

You know, there's a -- and I think both Jeff Zucker and David Zaslav, have been commit through their years to understanding what good journalism is. When Zaslav came over to Warner, he was asked in an interview with Oprah, what is your favorite movie at Warner brothers? He said "All the President's Men." What is "All the President's Men"?

It's about all the things that we're talking about, how you go about getting the best attainable version of the truth. I think Jeff Zucker was committed to that.


It's basic. It's what we do. And, again, it is not about neutrality, it's about fairness, it's about doing the reporting, it's about getting the multiple sources.

All of cable news has commentary. It ought to have commentary. It should be labeled perhaps a little better as commentary. But that's a function, too. Just as newspapers and old news organizations had editorial pages.

We have room for both. We need to be doing both. But both need to be of the highest caliber.

STELTER: I agree with you, and I love you, Carl Bernstein. Thank you for coming on. You gave me an idea just now, you mentioned "All the President's Men," it's actually streaming on HBO Max. I think I'll watch that later today.

Carl, thank you for the inspiration.

BERNSTEIN: Good to be with you always. Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: I've got some time. I need some movies to watch.

All right. Up next, freedom of the press is under fire. It's exactly what Carl just mentioned.

So we have two more really important guests to talk about it. Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of "The Atlantic", and Jody Ginsburg, the president of the Committee to Protect Journalists. They are both up next.



STELTER: And welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, where, for over 30 years, we have been talking about the role of the press in society around the world. The press has continued to come under assault in many countries, increasingly right here in the United States.

We have seen threats. We have seen murders of journalists in some countries. We have seen illegal detentions. We have seen so many attempts to stifle freedom of speech, including just recently, here in New York state, with the stabbing attack against author Salman Rushdie.

I'm showing you some clips and examples of our coverage over the years. That's just a small snapshot of the examples.

So here to talk more about the risk to journalists and what can be done to defend the free press, Jodie Ginsberg, she is the president of the Committee to Protect Journalists. And Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor in chief of "The Atlantic".

Thank you both for being here.

Jodie, tell us what viewers need to know about the climate of the free press.

JODIE GINSBERG, PRESIDENT, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS: One, how vital journalism is to democracy. We don't talk about freedom of the press because journalists are special creatures that need special defense, but journalists plays a vital role in holding the powerful to account and keeping us safe and providing information, think about COVID, that keeps us safe.

At the same time, this vital pillar of democracy is under threat like never before. Already this year --

STELTER: When you say never before, compare that for me. What has changed in 10 or 20 years? Why?

GINSBERG: Well, what's changed in 10 or 20 years is a few things. Firstly, increased political polarization, right? We're seeing a decline in democracy worldwide.

Carl Bernstein alluded to this earlier. Countries that should be democracies, upholding basic human rights, fundamental freedoms, are not doing so. In that decline, there is also increasing their verbal attacks on the press, their discrediting of the press, because in discrediting the press, that enables them to avoid scrutiny.

And we have seen that in the likes of Donald Trump, who calls the press enemies of the people. We've seen that in Bolsonaro in Brazil.

STELTER: So, so around the world. But the counterargument, at least here in the United States, the media has failed the country, the media has failed the public. Trump is channeling the appropriate anger of the public. What do you say to that?

GINSBERG: I think what you need to recognize that journalists have -- do an incredible job worldwide covering issues that matter to the people. Whether they do that this their local context and frankly, that's where they're under most threat, actually, local journalists, reporting on local issues around the --

STELTER: Very important to remember that, yes.

GINSBERG: They're not all working for CNN. They're not all working for Fox News. There are journalists in the local communities reporting on local issues. Think about "The Boston Globe" exposing the issue in the Catholic church. Think about local journalists covering the tornadoes last year in Kentucky.

Those are not journalists who are out of touch, as is presented by the likes of Trump, with the people. Those are the people. They're inside their communities reporting on issues that are important to their local communities, and often those are the people who are most targeted. When we look at the journalists being attacked worldwide, being killed, most off they are local journalists.

STELTER: I think it's really important for people to understand. What we have seen is backsliding in democratic countries, so I want to bring you on that, Jeffrey. These backsliding in democracies, leaders trying to turn the public against the press. What are you thinking about in your newsroom, how are you trying to counter these threats?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE ATLANTIC: Well, the important thing is not to be fooled, right? Authoritarians obviously see the press correctly as an adversary, trying to get the truth about their authoritarian tendencies and behaviors. Authoritarians in order to stay in power need to convince the people that the press is the enemy. What we need to do I think -- well, we need to do a couple of things. The first is to stay the course and report the truth plainly and fearlessly.

And the second thing we need to do is a better job as an industry. I'm not a person that believes the media is one thing. Obviously, we need to do a better job as individuals and organizations of explaining why we do what we do, why it's important for people that we do the things that we do.

And going back all the way, going back to the founder of what this country said 200 years ago, talked about the indispensability of a free press, and we need to educate people about the indispensability of what we do to make democracy work.


When you have an authoritarian in power in this country or anywhere else, obviously, they're going to be working directly against that interest.

STELTER: Thomas Jefferson once said the press is impotent when it abandons itself to falsehood. But in some corners of the American media, that's happened. They've abandoned -- they've accepted falsehood instead.

Jeffrey, is the rest of the media doing enough to call it what it is?

GOLDBERG: I can't speak for the rest of the media.


STELTER: By the way, I think "The Atlantic" has. We tried to here. But I wonder if we're not actually meeting this moment and speaking about the threat to democracy.

GOLDBERG: Look, we are -- we are obviously like anybody else. We have our traditions and our norms of the way of doing things. But what's happened in politics in the last six or seven years is abnormal. It's not normal in the usual way that things have gone in the United States.

I think we have been -- many organizations, many individuals have been slow, and I understand it. It's completely normal. I think we were slow -- I remember six years ago, you know, not wanting to use the word "racist" to describe Donald Trump, and, you know, looking for all these descriptions, racially charged rhetoric, and all this kind of stuff.

And, finally, you realize, you know what? You have to speak plainly and directly and call things what they are. So we do use "racist", you know? And we did not use "lie" to describe lies for a long time. But now we do. So I think we're catching up.

But we have to -- we also have to explain why we're doing that. We are defenseless in a kind of way, because we assume -- we've made ourselves defenseless, because we assume everybody understands who we are, what we're doing, why we're doing it, and how we do it. And I don't think that's enough any more because there are people who are casting aspersions on the role and methodology of a free press.

STELTER: Right. Look, they're calling the media evil when in fact the media is just flawed. We're just flawed.

Jodie, how do you react to what Jeffrey said?

GINSBERG: I think that's right. I think we haven't always done a great job of explaining why journalism is important and showing our workings, right? How do we do things? How do we know something?

I think what is increasingly challenging at the moment is, when facts become up for grabs, that's when it becomes difficult. The job of a journalist we always say is not to ask people whether or not it's raining and take both sides, it's to go outside and feel the rain falling on you.

But we are in a moment where we go outside, and you feel the rain falling on you and tell someone, they might say fake news, right? So, part of our job has really got to be to reengage people, reinfuse people about facts, the importance of facts, the importance of agreeing on some key fundamentals and some key information.

I think the other thing that's really important, and we have to keep doing is making sure that journalists are properly supported, that we have the financial support that journalists need, but also that they have the backing of those in authority.

When those in power have done great journalism, journalists become fair game. And what you see that is morph into online harassment. We have seen a huge escalation in online harassment over the past 30 years. And that, unfortunately, quite often then morphs again into real world violence against journalists.

STELTER: Here's the fear that I have, Jeffrey, and I'd love to hear how you react to it. That online harassment is describing an environment of toxicity around journalism that is much more poisonous than it was the first time you are on this program, Jeffrey. It's gotten so much more toxic, right?

And doesn't that scare off some writers and turn off some reporters? Don't we news a generation of great journalists because they don't want to be a part of that? They don't want to be harassed? They don't want to be a part of the mess?

How do we ensure we're still getting the next best class of journalists to join in this profession and tell the truth around the world, when we are under this poisonous cloud?

GOLDBERG: Right. That's interesting. I don't know if I worry about as much about recruiting young people into journalism. You have to have guts and you have to want to take risks in your life and you have to not want to make that much money. You have to do a bunch of things to qualify to be in journalism.

And we're seeing good people come into journalism. Of course, it's a worry, but some people who don't want to come in won't come in. I'm worried about ownership level as much as what happens in the

newsrooms themselves. I mean, I think which need to make sure that owners understand that they have a responsibility -- you own a media outlet in America. You have a responsibility.

You almost have -- I don't want to call it constitutional responsibility, but a civic responsibility. It's very different from owning a chicken restaurant or a car company or whatever. I mean, you have to -- you have to be willing to stand up to authority.


You have to be willing to lose friends. You have to be willing to -- you have to be willing there's going to be government pressure against you. And that's why -- I mean, that's a larger anxiety because they control the paychecks.

STELTER: I was so proud to be here for the years that CNN -- and I'm talking of only the past, I don't know what will happen in the future. So proud to be here, Jodie, at the time when CNN was setting up so strongly. Not because they were standing up to Trump's threats but standing up to a government threatening the press.

Regardless of political party, the press has to stand up to that pressure that Jeffrey is describing. So, anyway, we get out of it. I want to give you the final word.

GINSBERG: Of course we have to stand up to that kind of pressure. I think we have to recognize that's becoming increasingly difficult. If you think about the pressure for people like the Nobel laureate Maria Ressa, who was subjected to graphic, constant online harassment, that is something that is a real challenge particularly for female journalists to deal with in the modern age, and is frankly unacceptable.

We have to be doing more to support those individuals so we don't find a whole generation that is put off from journalism, or indeed self- censors, which is even potentially worse.


Jodie and Jeffrey, thank you both for the conversation on this.

Up next, information overload. Do you feel it? What can we do about it? I'm going to ask a panel of all-star media reporters and critics. That's in just a moment.



STELTER: Now, today we're talking about 30 years of RELIABLE SOURCES, 30 years of change across the media industry, and what might come in the future, so joining me now, three of my favorite guests over the years, NPR TV critic Eric Daggens, Claire Atkinson, the chief media correspondent of Insider, and David Zurawik, CNN media analyst, professor of Media Studies at Goucher College. Welcome, everybody.

Eric, you once guest hosted the show, actually more than once, so you get to go first. Let's talk about the last 30 years of media. What's been the biggest change in the media world in the 30 years this program has been on the air?

ERIC DEGGANS, TV CRITIC, NPR: Well, I want to talk about, from my point of view, as a person of color. I wrote a book called Race-Baiter that talks about how media outlets use prejudice and stereotypes to make money. And I think one of the things that we've seen is that that's become much more obvious.

There's been much fewer codewords used. We see people like Tucker Carlson talking about the great replacement theory. We see this disingenuous debate about critical race theory.

And indeed, you know, the last segment of the show -- the very first show that I guess hosted, you know, when we were transitioning from Howe to you, I talked about how media outlets use prejudice and stereotypes to fuel their ratings, to fuel their success, and how viewers needed to resist that.

And I'm sad to say that all the trends that I identified in my book have only gotten worse. They used to have to decode what they were doing. Now they say it outright.

STELTER: What about --

DEGGANS: And I think what's much more important for people to resist that kind of thing.

STELTER: What about diversity in the media in 30 years? I would hope you'll -- hope you'd agree that it actually have been some strides in representation, but not enough.

DEGGANS: There have been strides, not enough. And certainly, I think we're trying to resist the groupthink that happens in media, where even when you have people of color, they're approaching covering the news from a white male perspective. And I think that's something that the industry has resisted. And that's why we're seeing you know, these fights at organizations like the Washington Post and The New York Times.


DEGGANS: We even -- at NPR, sometimes struggle with that. We have younger reporters that are pushing us to be better on diversity and to reflect a wider range of perspectives and yet we have this orthodoxy inside some news organizations that make that more difficult. And I -- and I think that war is going to continue.

STELTER: Continue. Let's get to Claire Atkinson. For 30 years of change, what would you say is the biggest change you've seen or covered and 30 years of media?

CLAIRE ATKINSON. CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, INSIDER: Yes. Well, I guess big tech has had an incredible effect on how we all do our jobs. Whether it is --

STELTER: 30 years ago, no cell phones, no internet, yes.

ATKINSON: Yes. Everybody's a journalist these days.


ATKINSON: You have a phone, you can record things, you can share them.


ATKINSON: One of the negative consequences is that everybody who has a social media account is suddenly a media critic. You know, we talk about trust in the media. So many people have criticisms and conspiracies. it's fascinating to see what gets shared on social media. As we know, Alex Jones has been able to profit off of that, no consequences for lies. It is a crime to lie in a court. It is not a crime to lie in a political ad.


ATKINSON: In fact, there's no rules.


ATKINSON: Facebook is able to share those ads and there's no accountability. On the flip side, we've been able to share all our work --

STELTER: Please tell me something positive, Claire.

ATKINSON: Share all our work.

STELTER: Right, it's true.

ATKINSON: And be able to, you know, create ourselves as individual brands that people want to follow. And people will clearly want to know what you have to say about the media well beyond CNN's tenure.


DAVID ZURAWIK, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: It's not the biggest but I think it's really important and it fits in with what Claire was saying. It's a subset of democracy under assault. And it's the accelerated demise of local journalism. And that may be a euphemism for what's happened to local journalism.

STELTER: Yes. And you and I, Marylanders at heart.


STELTER: We've seen it firsthand, yes.

ZURAWIK: I -- you know, I had to bear witness to it. I -- you know, 30 years -- 1989 when I came to Baltimore Sun. Two papers, the Sun had foreign bureaus in London, Africa, and South America, it was -- to say it's hollowed out is another euphemism.

STELTER: It's an understatement. Yes.


ZURAWIK: It's another euphemism.

STELTER: Another euphemism.

ZURAWIK: And here's what worries me.


ZURAWIK: Yes, papers were owned in its glory years by rich families but they did have a civic sense of responsibility. They did see themselves as partially public service. They were invested in the community. Now you have hedge funds like Alden, taking over those papers, and there's one thing, make money. And there is -- to me, that's why I left the Sun.

I mean, we talked about this in their podcast. I left it. But think of some of the cities 30 years ago, the kinds of papers they had, in Buffalo, in Cleveland, anywhere, St. Petersburg was a -- was a great -- it was a great paper, that's gone. And I'll tell you, it's so true it's so -- become a cliche.

But when you take away that local coverage and I mean by good journalist, journalists who could be working elsewhere, and not people minimum wage where they can't afford to live because they take people young, and as soon as they join the guild, make enough money, get rid of them, and they get other people who are cheaper in there.

When you take that away, the so-called public servants, the politicians will just run wild.

STELTER: That's right.

ZURAWIK: At the state capitals --

STELTER: That's right.

ZURAWIK: At City Hall. And I've seen it. I've seen it in Maryland. I've seen it in Baltimore, and it kills me because I live in Baltimore.

STELTER: Right. And that's why we need these outlets, the Nationals, and the locals to remain strong and healthy. And what we can do well is consumers that subscribe.


STELTER: We can all put our money where their mouths are, sign up for your local outlets, support your local news outlets, just a few dollars makes a big difference. Let's talk about the next 30 years. In this program, I think we should run some of the great interviews. It has been some interesting, weird, crazy interest in this program. Glenn Beck once walked off the show on live TV. Well, we'll show some of these clips as we talk here.

But as we think about the next 30 years, Claire, let's talk about CNN first. Where -- what do you -- what do you see as the future of CNN, and what is its role? What is its place in this crazy world?

ATKINSON: Well, I think your new owners, John Malone specifically would like to -- well, they want to bring it back to the center. Quite what that means, I guess is a conundrum when the news cycle is about the former president who removed documents from the White House. The January 6 committee --

STELTER: Crimes and crimes and crimes.

ATKINSON: And it --

STELTER: Claire, let's get this context.


STELTER: John Malone, who as he told viewers who he is.

ATKINSON: He is a libertarian multimillionaire, owns a lot of ranch land in America, is the father of cable in many ways. He came up with broadband and made it a business.

STELTER: He's an amazing cable icon.

ATKINSON: Absolutely.

STELTER: He's a hero of the cable business.


STELTER: But the reason this is important. Here's what he said to the New York Times. He said -- in an e-mail in the New York Times, Malone said he had nothing to do with the cancellation of RELIABLE SOURCES. Malone said he wants the news portion of CNN to be more centrist, but I am not in control or directly involved. Have you been reporting this out? I know that's strange for me to ask, very well.

ATKINSON: Well, I think that's a good question that people are asking. Is John Malone responsible for axing your show? I don't know the answer to that. I think people might suspect it's political. He is a libertarian who believes in not paying taxes if he can avoid it. But the question is -- you know, he said he's not directly involved.

STELTER: Right. To be clear, he denied it.

ATKINSON: So that's an interesting quote. Yes.


ATKINSON: But then I think he's a businessman. He's looking at where the money is, where the audiences and the viewership on the left is split between CNN and MSNBC. And the viewership on the right is all at Fox News. They have a bigger audience, lots of money. STELTER: OK. Yes, that's true.

ATKINSON: And perhaps he's saying, you know, what, if we shift a little bit this way, maybe we'll get that to be acknowledged. In the meantime, there's going to be the possibility of people leaving CNN and the possibility that ratings go down.

STELTER: Right. And then definitely will be more change. I only know one thing. I know, I'm going to be rooting for this place for the rest of my life. David, centrist, it's -- what -- is there -- is anything wrong with that word? You know, it's a pretty innocent word, centrist -- let's be centrist.

ZURAWIK: Sorry, nothing wrong -- nothing wrong with it. But here's what happens. People reduce this conversation and they say, don't -- just facts. Facts, just give me facts. Facts is not enough. Yes.

STELTER: Well, why?

ZURAWIK: Facts first, facts context.


ZURAWIK: Explanatory journalism, which this show, it does. You have to explain the situation.


ZURAWIK: You have to explain why is the CDC doing -- it had been doing such a lousy job and information on COVID in the early stages of it. That's an explanatory journalism story. You can give the facts but sometimes the facts don't tell you anything.

If you don't give a context, a historic -- you know, on all of Trump -- president -- when he was president, President Trump stuff, you regularly had Carl Bernstein on and others putting it in a historical context, comparing what he did to what President Nixon did, or what LBJ did or someone else. You need to do that.

I think if Pulitzer Prizes for explanatory journalism, by the way, it's reputable but people say oh just facts. Going online to say oh, give us facts. No, this is a larger thing.



ZURAWIK: We also set --


ZURAWIK: We also set the parameters of what did -- of the Civic conversation of American life. That's what you also do on this show. My hope for CNN, I see in -- just as I said, local news is pretty much gone, and you have these big papers, The Times, The Post, Wall Street Journal, a few others. It's the same thing in TV news. Local TV news is not very good as you know, in a lot of cities. I don't think it's very good in Baltimore --

STELTER: Except for my live show. No, oh yes.

ZURAWIK: No, no, no. New York is -- New York is different. New York now --

STELTER: You're absolutely right. Local TV news has been hollowed out.


STELTER: It's part of that challenge.

ZURAWIK: And so my hope for CNN more than ever, this is the most important cable channel, I think right now, to set a standard for journalism, Brian.

STELTER: All right.

ZURAWIK: And I pray to God they do it. They keep doing it.

STELTER: I'll tell you what. My old mentor, David Carr, he had to say and he would say, oh, it's getting spicy. It's getting spicy now. Let's keep it going. Eric, last word in this block to you. How it -- what would you add to this conversation about CNN, the future of the media?

DEGGANS: Well, I think -- I think the problem is that people put a political lens on top of something that is about preserving democracy, and about holding politicians accountable.

When you have one politician who's denouncing the press as the enemy of the people, when you have one politician who insists that he won an election that he did not win, when you have one politician who's blaming immigrants unfairly for America's ills, you have -- you have to have a journalism apparatus that is free to call out those excesses without fear of being accused of being unfair.

And I think that's the problem. I hope that what we're not going to see CNN do is institute some sort of false equivalence, where the extremism of one party is balanced with the regular dysfunction of another party.

We need to be free to call out when someone breaks the law when someone breaks norms when someone introduces prejudice and stereotypes into the public debate. We need to feel free to call those things out without being accused of being unfair politically when what we're really doing is trying to see things very clearly and root out the most negative anti-democratic impulses that have risen to the fore in a lot of our public debate.

And, you know, I'm concerned also, that it will be hard to hold on to viewers if all you do is just give them facts. They do need context. They do need free and fearless exploration, even when you have to look hard at a political party or look hard at a political candidate and say this person is breaking the law or breaking norms. Will CNN have the courage to do that? I hope so. STELTER: You know, I've always been a producer at heart, so let me say take camera three. Let's get back the camera three, this is a panel. Eric Deggans, David Zurawik, Claire Atkinson, thank you all for the conversation.

ATKINSON: Thank you, Brian.

ZURAWIK: Brian, thank you.

ATKINSON: We'll miss you.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

ZURAWIK: Thank you for what you've done on the show.

STELTER: Thank you.

Up next here, we're going to end this program the way it began 30 years ago, you're going to like this. The very first guest from the very first episode of RELIABLE SOURCES will join me live with a message about the future of the free press.



STELTER: All right, are you ready for a little RELIABLE SOURCES" trivia? Who was the first guest on the program, the very first program? His name was Brian Karem. He appeared on RELIABLE SOURCES on March 7, 1992, when Bernard Kalb was anchoring. There was a segment about "the fine line between rudeness and toughness in questioning the president."

That's because Karem, you see him right there, he shouted at President George H. W. Bush during a press briefing. Now, at the time, Karem was a reporter for KMOL-TV in San Antonio, and he was fired for the incident. That's why he was on RELIABLE SOURCES then, and now he's with us for the final episode.

Brian Karem is the author of the book Free The Press and the host of the podcast, Just Ask The Question. So, Brian, my question for you is -- gosh, you haven't aged today. Look at you. How did you do that? How do you --


STELTER: No, that's not my question. My question is you've heard the guests this hour.


STELTER: What do you want to add to the conversation about what journalists need to be doing today and in the years to come?

KAREM: Well, I think, Brian, all of your guests have hit on a couple of really good points. And I want to go back to something that Jeff said. I mean, I'm a former president of the Maryland Delaware District of Columbia Press Association so I know well what the problems are. And you, being from Maryland know them as well.

But the problem is in local journalism are brought about by the government, right? That's the bottom line over the last 40 years, beginning with Ronald Reagan, the rails have been taken off. Consolidation in the news media business means today, though, all of their twice the number of people on the planet as on the day that I was born, there's about half the number of reporters. You need to hire more reporters.

Diversity is an issue because we don't have diversity of ownership. When you have diversity of ownership, diversity of thought comes into play. And then, of course, we've always -- you asked earlier about, you know, attracting the right people. Journalism has always attracted the right people. It's hard keeping them. When I first walked into the Brady Briefing Room in 1985 --


KAREM: It was Helen Thomas, who introduced me to the world, and it -- and it was, of course, my mentor, Sam Donaldson who said, Brian, take a look at that first row in the Brady Briefing Room. There are seven people in that first row, there's 200 years of experience, of course, he said Helen had 190 of it. And they exchanged the -- you know, a couple of clips between each other after that. But he was -- he was right.

And today, you have reporters that are hired and brought in to major beats, not just the White House, but Congress and others that have had no experience. We need experienced beat reporters to do the job.

Vetting facts is our coin of the realm. When I ran newspapers, I would have reporters come to me and say, hey, this is what I think and I go, I don't -- I don't care what you think. I barely care what I think. What do you know? Vetting the facts and framing them.


And putting a narrative out there that frames the facts in a useful way so that people can use the information is the chief problem that we have today, and it's what we will face going forward. And it's -- I think the future actually is bright.

I think the future does portend well for reporters and for -- I mean, we can never be first anymore. Social media is going to beat you to the -- to the -- you know event. If there's a fire, whatever, shooting --

STELTER: Good point. Right.

KAREM: There's going to be someone with a -- with a phone there before we are. What we are the coin of the realm, and what these shows do like yours and others is make sure that we have vetted facts. We're first with vetted facts. That's the most important thing. That's what makes us relevant, and

will always keep us relevant, no matter what the platform if we remember that going forward.

STELTER: I'm glad we ended here on a positive note. Brian Karem, Thank you for being the first and the last guest on this program.

KAREM: And thank you for having me. It was always a pleasure, Brian.

STELTER: Thank you. I want everybody to know, CNN's media coverage is not going anywhere. It's going to continue. The Newsletter will be back in the coming weeks.

Oliver Darcy will be leading a team of reporters and you should sign up at And if you want to know what I'm thinking right now, let's just wait -- let's take a break, and then maybe I'll have a few more thoughts.



STELTER: Hey, look at the time. You know this is a really, really unusual day, TV networks rarely have a show like this, a show all about the media. And networks even more rarely cancel a show, but still, let it have one more live episode. I don't know if I've ever seen this happen before, OK? So here we are, together in a super strange situation.

So let's talk about it, OK? The phenomenal RELIABLE SOURCES producing team has been working around the clock on this special hour, ever since Thursday. No one from CNN management has reviewed my script ahead of time.

They have no idea what I want to say. And as the control room very well knows I typically go off script anyway, so I want to thank a few people, and then tell you what was on my mind.

First, I want to thank my wife. This is a selfie that she snapped on the very first day. The very first day I had the honor of hosting the show. It was right before we're about to get married, before all the kids, before all the craziness.

But every Sunday, I was here with you. My home team was working too. So thank you, Jamie. And to my kids, my amazing kids, you know, sometimes I see -- it feels like the only time they ever really want to play with me at home is when I'm running out the door to work. They will be in for a surprise this week, right?

Thank you to Jeff Zucker for believing in me, for having the back of this organization for so many years, for having my back through everything, even through the death threats.

Thank you, Damian Tellez (PH) for calling me that day and asking me to try out for RELIABLE SOURCES. Thank you to Andrew Mores for letting me expand the Sunday show into a newsletter and a podcast and more. And this might sound weird but thank you to CNN's current boss Chris Licht for letting us say goodbye. Thank you to everyone at "CNN BUSINESS" for digital leadership. Thank you to my hero and executive producer Jonathan Auerbach, and the producing team that makes this possible.

Jamie, Diane. Eden, April, I will do whatever I can to help you all in the future. Thank you to the technical staff, the control room geniuses, the editors, the floor directors, the PR people, the camera operators, the desk readers, the makeup artists, you are CNN's sources of strength, and we need strength.

Some of you know I've been a media junkie for a long time. I was that kid who spent his days building the school website and person the school TV show. And deep down inside, I think I'm still that kid. I never thought I will actually be on TV.

I might have dreamed about it. I never thought it would happen. I just liked writing about TV. I know this is going to sound like BS, but I actually thought I didn't have enough hair to be on TV.

I am just that kid who loves television and loves the internet, and thinks that these are incredibly powerful forces in our society and believes that we need to interrogate that power and face it head-on and figure out how to make these tools work for us, not against us.

That's what it's all about, right? That's what "RELIABLE SOURCES" have been about. It's documented and dissected the changing media world for 30 years.

I mean, we're living through an era of dizzying change. We have supercomputers in our pockets. We are all members of the media now. That's probably the biggest change that's happened while this show was on the air.

And by the way, that's why it's a fool of me to say the media is the enemy of the people. The media is that people. People are flawed and opinionated and curious and hopeful and believing in accountability. And that's the watchword here, accountability.

So this shows going away, but there's going to be so many more. We need to have room for media criticism and debate and discussion. And we will. So much of the media ecosystem in 2022 is garbage. But so much of it is spectacular.

The hard part is sorting out the treasure from the trash. These are thorny, complicated things. I know I didn't -- never had all the answers. I didn't even always have all the questions. But it was the gift of a lifetime to get to confront these issues on international television with the backing of CNN.

Here's what I do know. I know it's not partisan to stand up for decency and democracy and dialogue. It's not partisan to stand up to demagogues. It's required. It's patriotic. We must make sure we don't give platforms to those who are lying to our faces. But we also must make sure we are representing the full spectrum of debate and representing what's going on in this country and in this world.

That's why CNN needs to be strong. That's why I believe CNN will always be strong. You viewers at home, it's on you. CNN must remain strong. I know the 4500 staffers are going to do their part to make it stronger than ever.

But it's going to be on you to hold CNN accountable. And not just CNN, you got to hold your local paper accountable. You got to hold your local digital outlet accountable. It's on all of us. We are all members of the media, all helping to make it better. That's what I believe.


I can't wait to be watching CNN, seeing what happens in the future. I'm going to be rooting for it. I want CNN to be strong. I believe America needs CNN to be strong. I believe the free world needs CNN to be strong.

And it will continue to be because all of us are going to help make that happen. The free world needs a reliable source, so for RELIABLE SOURCES for the last time, I'm Brian Stelter. Thanks for being with us.