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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Crisis in Syria; The Buildup to Battle; The Passing of David Frost; Interview with Glenn Greenwald

Aired September 1, 2013 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BRIAN STELTER, HOST: Thanks, Fredricka.

Reporters are trying to cover every side of the deepening conflict in Syria, but access to the country is severely restricted and that affects what we see here on the news and what we read online. YouTube videos have shown the world that Syrians are suffering, but the basic tenets of journalism, the whos, the wheres, the whys the hows are awfully hard to pin down during a war.

To talk about these challenges, CNN's Frederik Pleitgen joins us now from Beirut.

Fred, you were able to spend several days in Damascus this week. How did you get in and why did you have to leave?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was interesting. We got in because we got an official visa. We've been getting these official visas over the past year, really. This was the fourth official visa that we've gotten.

And so, you go in via Lebanon. You go in from Beirut to the highway to Damascus. And on the ground, the restrictions are that you can only shoot in Damascus. You get a film permission for the Damascus area. It doesn't cover the areas where there's trouble going on. So you have to ask for special permission to try and go there.

And then, it really isn't that restrictive in that you get monitored or anything. That's actually quite OK. But they do stop you at checkpoints when you try to get into the areas where there's actually something going on. We quite frankly had to leave because they didn't extend that visa. What they have been doing in the past times, they give you a seven-day visa and then, usually, they extend it by about three to four days.

But this time, we didn't get that. They were saying it's because so much media is coming in. I'm not sure whether it was, whether we might have said something they didn't like. But that was their reasoning they didn't let us stay in there.

STELTER: And, of course, in a situation like this, they don't tell you if it was something you didn't say right. You don't really know if they were happy or unhappy with your coverage.

PLEITGEN: No, they don't say anything. STELTER: What sort of --

(CROSSTALK)

PLEITGEN: Well, I mean, they will tell you if --

STELTER: Yes.

PLEITGEN: Well, it's interesting, they'll tell you if they're very unhappy with your coverage. They do let you know that. But if there is something that's angered someone along the food chain, you never know who might have a say in denying you a visa. Then they won't tell you that. You can reapply, try to get another visa and then we'll see what happens.

So, I mean, we are hopeful that we might get another one. But if they really don't like something that you said, and especially if you use video and comments that are from the other side, from the opposition side that's something they're very touchy about.

Now, of course, this time was really a special situation. I can't even tell you how different the mood was in comparison to other times with this whole thing with chemical weapons looming over them. They're very, very touchy about that subject. They're very touchy when you get firsthand accounts. We were able to get some from the areas where all of this happened. We were actually able to send a crew into the areas where all this happened and get video back.

That's something they're very, very touchy about because they sense that this is an issue that will cause something big internationally. I mean we've seen the reaction from the U.S. and they were just sensing how vital and how high the stakes were for all of this.

STELTER: And now that you're in Beirut -- I'd like to read a question from a viewer from a couple of days ago. The person wrote, when journalists can't get into Syria firsthand to report, what are the best options for getting the facts?

PLEITGEN: That is a very good question. I mean what we try to do is we try to build a string -- we try to build a web really of people that we can rely on. There are some people in Damascus who we can call who we work with when we're on the ground there that we can talk to and get information from. But a lot of it will of course be blurred.

I mean, you'll have official government statements, which of course you have to take with a bag of salt really. And then you'll have the opposition, which really isn't much better. I mean, there's a lot of stuff that they put out that you can't really believe that either.

So you try to verify things lie calling several sources. The main thing really is that you try to build up a web of people on all sides of the equation -- the rebels, the government, and also then some independent people that you can actually sort of trust to try to get the facts right. But, of course, the first thing that we learn in journalism school is that the first casualty of war is the truth. And, of course, everybody tries to spin it their way.

And on top of that, I want to give you an example I thought was really interesting. We went to the government-controlled areas where the military said that they had been hit by gas. Every soldier on the ground, the first thing they said, this was sarin gas, we could smell it. I wanted to tell them sarin gas doesn't have a smell. But the first thing that you hear also when you talk to people on the opposition side, we've been hit by sarin gas.

So, all of a sudden, everybody knows everything about the chemical attack that happened. They know exactly which gas was used but, of course, it's thing they're getting fed from other people. They obviously see a couple of things that they might interpret different than they really were.

So, it's really hard to get the actual facts of what happened on the ground there.

STELTER: I was struck by the U.S. intelligence report on the chemical weapons attack that was alleged. They said over 100 videos have been attributed to the attack. But having to verify where those videos come from and what they show is a Herculean task, isn't it?

PLEITGEN: Oh, it is absolutely. It's a Herculean task.

And also some of them are really difficult to interpret and a lot of them are not very well shot. I mean, I got so much information when we were able to get a crew into that area that I had no clue about before. People there were telling us that, first of all, the attack -- this was the Zamalka district, the place that had the highest death toll of any of these. It's in the northeastern suburbs of Damascus.

And they were telling us interesting things. I had heard before that people who were sleeping on the roofs of houses were the ones who are most likely those who had died.

But these people said people fleeing to the tops of houses were the most likely to survive because the gas didn't get up there.

So, it was those kind of things that you got from them where a lot of times the video is I inconclusive. You don't exactly know as you say where it's from, what exactly it shows and what sort of state these people are. So, unless you have eyes on the ground, it really is difficult to verify what exactly is going on. What sort of symptoms these people have. It really is quite hard.

I'm sure that the folks in the U.S. government that are having to vet and verify all this are having a very, very difficult time as well.

STELTER: It makes me think that sometimes a photo is not worth a thousand words.

So, Frederick, thank you for joining us from Beirut.

PLEITGEN: Thank you.

STELTER: On Twitter this morning, we're live tweeting with links about this story and others with more information. Check out Twitter.com/brianstelter and join the conversation using the #reliable.

Later, we'll look back with Piers Morgan on the career of David Frost who died last night.

Then we'll go live to Rio to speak with Glenn Greenwald.

When we come back, a skeptical press is what this country needs whenever war looms. But is that what it's getting right now?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: We keep hearing it on TV, and it's true. Syria is not Iraq. But it's understandable why the anticipated U.S. military action against Syria has reminded a lot of people of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq over a decade ago.

Back then, in that fear-stricken period right after 9/11, newspapers and television networks were criticized for all sorts of things, for going right along with the Bush administration, for failing to raise questions like what happens after the bombs fall, and for ignoring anti-war voices.

This time are we seeing more caution from the press? Joining me here around the table to discuss that is Michael Calderone, the senior media reporter for "The Huffington Post", Matt Lewis, a senior contributor to "The Daily Caller", and Laura Rozen, a foreign policy reporter for "Al-Monitor".

Thank you all for joining us. I appreciate it.

And, Michael, you've been writing and tweeting all week about the media coverage. Do you sense the shadow of Iraq looming overall of this?

MICHAEL CALDERONE, HUFFINGTON POST: Definitely. I think you see some lessons learned from Iraq and maybe some forgotten. You know, there has been some cover over the past week where it seemed very similar to pre-Iraq coverage in that you had the government basically disclosing bits of information. This is before the government's assessment on Friday.

And reporters running with these anonymous sources basically suggesting that the government is certain, without necessarily explaining why the government is certain. I think that's where coverage has been problematic.

At the same time, I've talked with several editors who say we're pushing our reporters to think about Iraq. Not that the two conflicts are the same. They're very different. But to think about when you're looking at the government's case, are you being skeptical enough? Are you getting a chance to personally scrutinize the information or have sources that scrutinize the information versus just what you're hearing in a background briefing?

STELTER: Right, right.

Matt, I thought you wrote a really interesting essay this week about how the media beats the drums any time there's a conflict. You suggested there's really a bias in favor of war among the media. Why is that? And what do you think that is?

MATT LEWIS, THE DAILY CALLER: What is deja vu in a perverse excitement. It reminds me living here in D.C. when a snowstorm is imminent and the meteorologists get giddy about it. And it's really bizarre and disturbing.

But look, Michael made a good point, I think, about print reporters getting it right and vetting and do a good job. But I think to me the story now is 24-hour cable, which I think as a medium is predisposed to beat the drums of war, even more than print. Because, you know, print is more about logic and I love TV, so I don't want to attack TV, but TV is about emotion, it's about graphics and imagery and theme music. And I think cable TV is where I've noticed more this time where it's really just like Iraq until what happened yesterday, of course.

STELTER: There was a change in the tone both in the media and in the administration.

Laura, do you agree there's that bias toward war in the press?

LAURA ROZEN, AL-MONITOR: I think it was stunning yesterday that you had, you know, all the media kind of going live to the White House Rose Garden, waiting for Obama's statement.

(CROSSTALK)

ROZEN: Breaking into sports coverage -- right, and the White House had to, when they saw that expectation building, the White House had to, you know, indicate that he wasn't going to be imminent action. You had Syrian state TV covering the speech live with translation because they're wondering when the missiles were going to strike.

So, the gap between expectations was stunning.

STELTER: And it still sort of is. We're seeing now the stories online and on television about what has changed. It seemed to me early in the week the media was expecting imminent action. And maybe that's because the administration was as well.

ROZEN: You're talking about the bias towards war. I think the administration has been building momentum for their case. Secretary of State Kerry made a very powerful speech Friday. You know, the world will judge us extraordinarily harshly if Assad gets away with it. So, they were making the case, they were selling it. Kerry is again on TV this morning selling the necessity for Congress to authorize this.

STELTER: Right, right. Michael, you pointed out you're hearing terms from an administration that we did hear before Iraq.

CALDERONE: Right. Is it a slam dunk going right back to the Bush administration and George Tenet giving his assurance to George Bush, is this a smoking gun. This came up in a "New York Times" story just this week. We're hearing the same metaphors and I think that's what be evoking this pre-Iraq sense of what's happening, even if the conflicts are quite different.

And I think the media needs to be careful in overusing these sort of terms. Even on today on "Meet the Press", I think John Kerry said he wants to take slam dunk out of the national security conversation. So, he's making his push. We'll see what the press does.

STELTER: We've seen a lot of anonymous sources and I wonder if there's any way around that. Because when readers and viewers hear anonymous sources, they're very skeptical. They wonder if they should trust the information. You'd been talking to some of these sources. Should we trust these anonymous sources we're hearing? Can they come on the record and talk?

ROZEN: You know, it's very interesting. Before the administration released this four-page declassified assessment of their intelligence, which is pretty detailed, the associated press had a story last week where they used slam dunk where they had anonymous intelligence officials telling them that Assad's inner circle having ordered the alleged chemical weapons attack was not a slam dunk.

So, "The A.P.'s" skepticism was quite clear but they were arguing against the case the administration wasn't making, which was that Syrian forces did it. It doesn't matter if Assad ordered it or not.

LEWIS: But, you know, the enabling that I think happens with especially cable TV, media, and the run-up, the skepticism sort of goes out the window. Everybody is sleep deprived. They're hungry for sources. They want to break news.

There's a conflict of interest. We like to -- you know, we like excitement. We like to imagery, and I think also the emotion.

Remember with the sarin gas attack or gas attack, use of chemical weapons. When you show imagery of people foaming at the mouth and suffering, Americans are compassionate. They will wants to get involved.

Now, the logic goes out the window, who did it, is there anything we can do about it almost doesn't matter. TV is an emotional medium. So I think with cable TV, there will be a push to war.

STELTER: Let me put up a tweet on the screen that I thought was really interesting a couple of days ago. The person wrote are progressive war critics, the folks who were right about Iraq, are they right about the war again? I've seen a lot of anti-war voices on television. Do you feel like both progressive and conservative libertarian anti-war voices are getting a fair shake?

LEWIS: Absolutely. You have Alan Grayson on one side and you have Rand Paul on the other. And I think that a big difference between this time and a decade go is you have more prominent anti-war voices. Like Rand Paul is now in the U.S. Senate. It didn't happen a decade ago.

But I almost -- I hate to beat a dead horse about beating drums, but it almost doesn't matter.

The talking heads can be saying that war is bad, but you've got the graphics. Crisis in Syria. You've got the theme music and you've got the B-roll footage of people suffering. The words that are said almost go out the window.

CALDERONE: I think that Twitter is playing a big role here.

STELTER: In amplifying these voices.

CALDERONE: Right. I mean, a lot of people speculated in 2003 if some of the critical skeptical reporting had gotten amplified, you know, how would that affected the rush to war? Articles in "Knight Ridder" and "McClatchy" who were critical article its before Iraq just don't get the play that "The New York Times" does or "The Washington Post" does.

So I think you're seeing a lot of different voices. Whether from members of Congress who are skeptical, whether from progressive activists, libertarian activists or, you know, reporting that is quite critical getting a little bit more play.

STELTER: You've been prolific on Twitter, Laura, I like how you've been responding to critics and responding to people and explaining what the administration is thinking on a one-to-one basis. It's pretty powerful.

ROZEN: It is extraordinary. You had, you know, people in Lebanon, people in Syria really bracing in the past day for imminent action, U.N. inspector --

STELTER: Right, their posts from Damascus --

ROZEN: Right. And you have pro and con. You were hoping for people who were afraid of it. Very few people knew what to expect. A lot of people don't understand that this is what Obama has been talking about is a limited action not to reverse Syria's civil war all by itself.

But two days of missile strikes, to punish and deter the use of chemical weapons. So, this is not about redoing Iraq, going in for ten years, but there's an extraordinary amount of debate really worldwide.

STELTER: Right. And it may end up going on for a month before anything happens.

Well, Laura, Matt, Michael, thank you all for joining us.

CALDERONE: Thanks.

LEWIS: Thanks.

ROZEN: Thanks.

STELTER: Coming up on RELIABLE SOURCES: he was the broadcaster who got Nixon to apologize. David Frost has died. We'll look back at his life with CNN's Piers Morgan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Welcome back. This morning, we learned that the British broadcaster Sir David Frost died of a heart attack last night. He was 74. Frost was legendary for his interviews from everyone from the Beatles to Tony Blair. But it was his interrogation of Richard Nixon that he'll be most remembered for.

Earlier today, I asked CNN's Piers Morgan for his reflexes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: Piers Morgan, thanks for joining us.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST (via telephone): My pleasure, Brian.

STELTER: This morning when you learned of David Frost's death, you said on Twitter that he was a hero of yours. Tell us why he was a hero.

MORGAN: I think for anybody in the world of television interviewing, he was the fearless interviewer. David was somebody who for the last four or five decades had interviewed, I think, every living British prime minister, every living American president, almost every world leader and of course famously the great interview with Richard Nixon in which he got him to finally apologize to the American people.

And I think for anyone in the world of journalism and television journalism, Sir David was the best.

STELTER: That Nixon interview is the one, of course, that's most famous to American viewers. Are there other interviews that stand out maybe to you that maybe American viewers didn't see or could look up at YouTube that showed off his skills?

MORGAN: There are some you can't look up on YouTube. There was a famous one with Rupert Murdoch in which it's reputed that it was so confrontational. I think it was in the late '60s, early '70s, that Rupert Murdoch made sure he didn't speak to David Frost for the next 30 years. I don't know if that's all completely true but that was certainly the rumor. He was a very ruthless interviewer in his early years. He did some memorable interviews with a lot of people, but I come back to the Nixon interview because I'm not sure how much people realized just how much David Frost invested in that personally. He couldn't sell it to the American networks because it was deemed checkbook journalism because he was paying Richard Nixon for that interview.

So, yes, he raised, he told me, over $2 million back in the '70s to go and sell it virtually station by station around America, getting his own sponsors at each individual state and territory. In the end, he was able to pay Nixon himself I think $600,000. David Frost made a small fortune himself and the rest is history. But that was a real piece of bold, risk-taking, innovative journalism and television broadcasting, the like of which I don't think has been done before or since.

STELTER: And from it, we remember that famous line from Nixon, if the president does it, that means it's not illegal. After that point, David Frost just tries to keep -- have Nixon keep talking to say more and more about that. To me, that's a lesson that can be learned from David Frost, to get your guests to keep talking.

Are there other lessons that you've taken away from his career?

MORGAN: Yes. I used to see David quite regularly and we'd have lunch. He was actually the last great interviewer who did shows on both sides of the Atlantic. We used to laugh because when he did it back in the '70s, he used to use Concord to commute and now, 40 years later, it takes twice as long to get from London to New York. So he certainly got the better of that situation.

But he was somebody that said to me, there are two things you really have to focus on as a television interviewer as compared to a print interviewer. One is exercising the power of silence. He said you really have to know when to shut up and let somebody, your guest fill the gap because particularly somebody like Nixon who's so intelligent and so combative.

It was the silences in that interview which teased out a lot of the confessional material from Nixon. He also said that you could never over assert for an interview. With Nixon, he did 28 hours of tape with Richard Nixon. And the amount of preparation that David Frost had to do, he told me weeks and weeks and weeks of really immaculate preparation.

And what that meant was that he was then able to go anywhere that Nixon went and know where he was going, second guess him and in many cases be ahead of him. And that was incredibly powerful tool in the David Frost armory. So, you look at the Nixon interview and it has to be the template not just of David Frost's interview style but for anyone following him. You can never do enough preparation.

I think he had a beguiling charm. I always called him the charming assassin because he would be so seductive and friendly and nice and polite, and then he would ask the most brutal questions with this lovely smile on his face and get out the most extraordinary revelations. That was David Frost. He was the quintessential British gentleman and he used all of that. He was kind of the James Bond of interviewers if you like, where before you knew it, he gunned you down.

STELTER: A lot we can learn from him. Piers Morgan, thanks for joining us.

MORGAN: My pleasure. Thanks, Brian.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: Up next, an update on Syria.

And later, Glenn Greenwald says the world's reactions to the NSA spying scandal have exceeded his wildest dreams. We'll ask him what he means by that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. More RELIABLE SOURCES in a moment. But first a check of this hour's headlines.

This morning on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," Secretary of State John Kerry revealed the U.S. now has hair and blood samples indicating sarin gas was used in the August 21st attack that killed some 1,400 people in Syria. See the full interview with Secretary Kerry coming up at the top of the hour.

And in a few hours, the White House will hold a classified briefing for members of Congress. President Obama wants lawmakers to approve the use of force to punish the Assad regime.

And in South Africa, Nelson Mandela has been released from a hospital. The 95-year-old former South African president had been hospitalized since June for a lung infection. He remains in critical condition and will continue to receive care at home.

In Japan, a sharp spike in radiation levels is reported in pipes and containers holding water at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Tokyo Electric Power Company says only a single drop of highly contaminated water escaped the holding tanks. The company is confident its crews can deal with the problem safely. The Fukushima plant was severely damaged in the March 2011 tsunami that hit Japan.

Yemen's prime minister is OK after escaping an assassination attempt. A government spokesman says an unknown gunman fired on the prime minister's three-car convoy. Saturday's incident came only a day after a car carrying Yemen's information minister was fired upon.

And journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the NSA spying story, is next on RELIABLE SOURCES, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter. If you've had trouble keeping up with all of the NSA surveillance news this summer, don't worry, you are not alone. Since Memorial Day there have been new revelations every single week about America's pervasive phone and Internet surveillance programs, all thanks to Edward Snowden, who provided documents to "The Guardian" columnist Glenn Greenwald.

The latest on Saturday came from a German newspaper, "Der Spiegel." The documents apparently show that the NSA hacked into systems belonging to the Arab news broadcaster Al Jazeera.

This has been the media story of the summer. So as fall approaches, does the reporter who broke the story have more revelations to come? He joins me now from Rio de Janeiro.

Glenn, thanks for being here.

In these last three months, what have you personally learned from all of these disclosures?

GLENN GREENWALD, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, I think the main point is that the thing people most did not know is just how limitless the NSA's goals are when it comes to spying. What they're really doing is creating a spying system that literally has as its goal the elimination of privacy worldwide.

The motto of General Alexander, who runs the NSA, which was pioneered in Iraq but then moved to American soil, is "Collect it all."

In other words, every form of electronic communication that human beings have with one another should be collected, stored, monitored and analyzed by the NSA. That's a very extraordinary thing to happen in a democracy with no public debate and no public knowledge. I think that's why the story has resonated the way it has.

STELTER: When I read about a week ago in "The Wall Street Journal" that some NSA employees have been spying on their either lovers or ex-lovers and NSA found out because it was self-reported later by those same employees, I wondered how many more of these sorts of stories are we going to see. You probably know the answer to that better than I do.

Are we going to continue to see a drip, drip, drip of these new revelations?

GREENWALD: Well, I think the critical thing to realize here is that if you look at what the NSA is saying about what Mr. Snowden did, they're saying that they still have no idea what it is that he took; they have no idea what it is that he even did, which shows just how poor their system really is.

At the same time they're building this enormous spying system that allows all kinds of abuse, which means they can't even keep track of what their own employees and contractors are doing with this incredibly invasive information. As you said, the reports about the illegality and the abusive spying have been things that have been self-reported.

So how much abuse is there that they personally either haven't detected or haven't reported?

And I think a lot of the stories over the next two months are going to focus on exactly that question, just how much abuse is there in this system.

STELTER: You know, you and your partner, David Miranda, seem to have come under government scrutiny. Last month David was stopped at an airport in Britain for nine hours. He was held by the authorities.

Do you worry that your movements, your travel will be restricted in the future?

And is that going to in any way inhibit your reporting?

GREENWALD: Well, Thomas Jefferson warned 250 years ago that those who most fear investigations of their actions are always the first to attack a free press.

Obviously the idea of trying to criminalize investigative journalism, the idea that if you have classified information that you're responsibly reporting on, that that means you can be detained under terrorism statutes or even declared a criminal is exactly what Jefferson was warning about.

Of course the U.S. and the U.K. governments are furious, not that we're exposing things that harm national security, because we haven't, that we're exposing things that harm their political interests and their credibility.

And so, of course when the world's most powerful governments start attacking you, start targeting you and your family members, start making threats, it's something you take into consideration.

But as I said from the beginning, it will never, ever deter us from continuing to report. We're going to report every last document that we have that ought to be in the public domain.

STELTER: You continue to get criticized from people, including David Frum; let me show his tweet, from people who say that you're not a journalist.

He wrote earlier this week, "There's a word for delivering classified national security documents to an unfriendly foreign government and that word is not journalism."

What do you make of people who say you're not a journalist; you're an advocate.

What do you make of this idea of journalist-on-journalist warfare, as David Carr wrote about in "The New York Times" last week?

GREENWALD: One of the odd things about American political elites like David Frum is that there's no accountability or consequences ever paid. David Frum authored extraordinarily destructive lies that led to the war in Iraq when he worked for President Bush and yet holds forth on who is and is not a journalist. It's one of the real oddities of American political discourse.

But what I would say in the broader question of journalism is to me, what journalism is about, is providing an adversarial force against those who wield the greatest power, to shine light on what it is they're doing to inform people in democracies about what political leaders are doing in the dark.

And everything that we've done and will continue to do on this NSA story has been to inform people about what those in power are doing.

Obviously people appreciate it, as you see in the massive shifts of public opinion about how they think about surveillance, about the reforms in Congress. That's what journalism is about, not serving as a servant to those in power, but as a check against them.

STELTER: I was really struck to your point about public opinion, about what you said to truth.org recently in an interview. They asked you about the world reactions to these revelations and you said it exceeded your wildest dreams.

What did you expect people to do and how did you expect people to react three months ago when you started publishing these stories?

GREENWALD: Well, I've been writing about surveillance issues and the NSA for a long time, back ever since 2005 when it was revealed that the Bush administration was spying on Americans without warrants. And sometimes these issues can be complicated.

Sometimes Americans think that, well, there's probably good reason why my privacy is being invaded. And so sometimes these stories don't resonate.

As you just suggested, not only has it resonated incredibly in the United States but around the world.

There's huge debates taking place for the first time about the value of privacy and Internet freedom and the dangers of the U.S. surveillance state here in Brazil and in Latin America, in Europe, in Asia, all throughout the world.

And I think the reason for it is, is that people understand that we're at this crossroads where the Internet can either be what it was always intended to be, which was an incredible weapon of democratization and liberation and strengthening those who are working against those in power or alternatively it can be history's worst instrument of control.

If we allow the government to use the Internet to destroy privacy, to monitor everything that we're doing, it really radically changes our relationship to the governments around the world and the kind of life that we can live. And I think that's why the debate has been as intense and as global as it's been. STELTER: And exceeded your wildest dreams, yes?

GREENWALD: Yes. I mean I think, you know, when we got these documents, we knew that there were some very significant revelations. But you never know how people are going to react.

And I think the other issue about it is that when you look at what the NSA is doing with corporations like Facebook and Google and Microsoft, communications are now completely global.

The Internet that we use, the companies through which we communicate are completely global in nature. So when privacy is destroyed for Americans, it's really destroyed for people around the world.

And the Internet, the ability to communicate with privacy, has been crucial to the Arab Spring, to working against repressive governments. And so although it does exceed my wildest expectations that I had when I began, I've now had some time to think about why it has resonated so globally and I think that's the reason.

STELTER: And I know you're working on a book that's going to come out next year. It sounds like that's not taking away from your reporting for "The Guardian" though. You are continuing to work on leak stories.

Is that right?

GREENWALD: Absolutely. "The Guardian," as you know, Brian, has partnered with "The New York Times" on certain documents relating to the GCHQ, the British intelligence service. There should be some very significant articles about that.

We are continuing to work on very significant articles about what the NSA is doing to the American people that I think Americans will continue to be shocked by.

We're working on stories in Germany.

There's going to be an enormous revelation tonight in Brazil about NSA spying on Latin America that I think will shock lots of people around the world, so there still are very significant revelations to come, thanks to Edward Snowden.

STELTER: That was quite a way of saying stand by for news. Glenn, thank you for joining us.

GREENWALD: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: Coming up, we're going to take a very sharp turn and talk about 4 million reasons why Miley Cyrus matters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: This week was BuzzFeed's highest trafficked week ever. And for that, the website can thank the MTV Video Music Awards and Miley Cyrus.

Was it her nude-colored bikini or her, let's just call it, creative use of a foam finger?

Or maybe it was that provocative dance move. You know the one I'm talking about; it's the one we've all been talking about.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twerk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twerk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twerking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twerk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twerking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twerk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twerk?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twerking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twerking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twerking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twerk-a-thon.

MORGAN FREEMAN, ACTOR: Twerking.

STELTER: Twerking.

BuzzFeed's list of Miley's 15 craziest moments has had 3.1 million views since. Its list of 22 things Miley looked like has had a whopping 4 million.

So in proper BuzzFeed fashion, let's run through the seven reasons why we're all still talking about Miley Cyrus a week later.

Joining me now in New York, Whitney Jefferson, BuzzFeed celebrity editor.

Thanks for coming on.

WHITNEY JEFFERSON, BUZZFEED CELEBRITY EDITOR: Thanks for having me, Brian.

STELTER: So, Whitney, I was there; you were there, we were at the Barclays Center. I notice when Miley Cyrus was supposed to finish, when it was the other performers' turns, she kept dancing with that foam finger off in the corner.

That leads us to number one.

She wants us to talk about her, doesn't she? She wants this attention?

JEFFERSON: She absolutely does. Get ready, world, this is the new Miley.

I work for the Internet, obviously, so we've been keeping an eye on Miley. She's kind of been like this since she got her hair cut last September.

She gave a quote to "The Toronto Sun," saying she never thought a haircut would change her entire persona, but it did.

She also is kind of defending herself. She also has mentioned that she's been called names since she got her hair cut, so she's kind of proving herself to be the new Miley.

STELTER: She sure is.

JEFFERSON: Not Hannah Montana anymore.

STELTER: The second one, the reason why it's a legitimate media story is that her behavior was truly cringeworthy, wasn't it?

JEFFERSON: Oh, yes. I was in the press room; I know you were in the show.

When she came on, we kind of just went silent and we were all looking at each other like, is this real?

It was just almost embarrassing. Like I felt like her mother, like, just stop, Miley. Yes.

STELTER: To be fair, it was the only entertaining moment so far in the show. I was kind of bored until she came on.

You mentioned Hannah Montana. Number three, I think, is that the public still thinks she is Hannah Montana. This was a wake-up call.

JEFFERSON: Absolutely. So we last saw her in Hannah Montana; her last album was in 2010. She had "Party in the U.S.," which is kind of a family-friendly, fun, patriotic song and now all of a sudden she's "we can't stop," singing about drugs and twerking. And not Hannah Montana anymore.

STELTER: Not at all.

So number four, it's a legitimate story, it's a serious story. There a long history of sexualized teenage stars. And she fits into that history, it seems like.

JEFFERSON: Absolutely. She's kind of another one of those Disney stars trying to prove something. Sexualization, even at the VMAs itself, has definitely happened nearly every year. You could even say that Miley was paying homage to Britney Spears' 2000 "Oops, I did it again." Dance, you know, she ripped off the suit and had the sparkling rhinestones that was kind nude-colored as well.

However, Britney's performance was kind of seen as iconic. And Miley's is more of a face-palming, like not a good moment.

STELTER: It does seem to be that these stories wrote themselves. To me, that's the number five reason. These stories were easy to write, the Parents' Television Council came out and condemned it. There was an easy storyline here.

JEFFERSON: Absolutely. And you couldn't ignore it, either. I think there's definitely a change from search to social. It was all over everyone's news feed on Facebook, on Twitter. You couldn't ignore it.

STELTER: Well, that's what's so interesting about BuzzFeed's coverage. This is something designed to be shared.

I know it's -- in the BuzzFeed, I went to -- for a link to send my girlfriend that night, to say, here is what you missed when you were sleeping, Miley Cyrus dancing, because you all broke it down in a way that was very digestible.

JEFFERSON: Yes. And we had a lot of fun with it, as well. We aren't Miley haters. We don't think she's doing a bad thing. We're not chastising her. We love Miley.

And so we put it all out there for you to react yourself. You can say, oh, my God, that's so weird, but we're just like, this is Miley, this is her thing; do your thing, girl.

STELTER: Right, right.

My two favorite reasons for this list -- my two favorite items, number six, the second to last one is this one: there were all these reaction shots. And we live now, it seems like, in the era of the reaction shot.

You noticed this at the show, there were all these cameras set up to show what the celebrities were thinking, right?

JEFFERSON: Yes, MTV was very smart this year. They set up cameras all over the Barclays Center that allowed users on the Internet to zoom in on their specific celebrity and you could watch them for the entire show.

So this led to tons of reaction shots. There was Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift the next day; we saw video of them kind of doing the mean girls thing, laughing and hiding their face and whispering to each other. There was the epic one of Brianna rolling her eyes.

I would argue, even at this point, that people tune into the award shows to watch the audience reactions, because it's almost more interesting than what's going on onstage.

STELTER: I think you're totally right. I think that's an interesting trend that we're seeing now.

And then number seven, the last, probably most important reason why still we're all talking about Miley Cyrus a week later, is that the Internet loves a good gift, right?

JEFFERSON: Gifts are irresistible. I'm sorry, video, but there's just something so -- they're so easy to digest. They're so fun. I love them.

And the Internet does love a good gift and there were a million, anyway you looked at it. The big competition Sunday night was "Breaking Bad," and there was a big good gift set of Skyler watching Miley Cyrus and shaking her head. It was just like -- you could give it from any way possible and it was just so viral, all over everywhere.

STELTER: It seems to me the Internet has a good sense of humor. And that's why these things have a life of their own.

Well, Whitney Jefferson, thanks for joining us. We'll see you online.

JEFFERSON: Yes. Definitely.

STELTER: Coming up, I've got nice things to say, really, nice things to say about Bill O'Reilly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Before we go, a few highs and lows, beginning with a man not exactly known for self-examination: Bill O'Reilly.

On Wednesday when Democratic leaders gathered for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, O'Reilly was outraged about the fact that Republican leaders were excluded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: All Republicans and no conservatives.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: If it would have been me, I certainly would have invited President George W. Bush.

O'REILLY: So you see that was a mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: But Republicans were invited. They chose not to come.

So on Thursday, O'Reilly followed up with this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'REILLY: Now, the mistake, entirely on me. I simply assumed since all the speakers were liberal Democrats, Republicans were excluded.

So here is the tip of the day. Always check out the facts before you make a definitive statement. And when you make a mistake, admit it. By the way, I'm sorry I made that mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: That, ladies and gentlemen, was something that's all too rare on cable news: a correction. It was a media low turned into a high.

Now, this on the other hand, this was nothing but a low.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the Syrian Electronic Army's logo. People started tweeting that this image was popping up for them on their computer screens when they were trying unsuccessfully to refresh the broken "New York Times" website.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Yes, "The Times" website was hacked by a secretive band of cyber criminals. Their digital fingerprints were found on the "Huffington Post" and Twitter, too.

And on Saturday, there was this warning of maybe more to come, relayed by my "New York Times" colleague Michael Schmidt.

"The government," he wrote, "has also taken the unusual step of warning federal agencies and private companies that American military action in Syria could spur cyber attacks," the official said. "There were no such warnings before previous military operations, like the one against Libya in 2011."

Hopefully those fears will be unfounded.

Now let's finish with a high for next week.

Back to school time for three RELIABLE SOURCES.

Robin Roberts, who left "Good Morning America" one year ago for a life-saving bone marrow transplant, says she feels well enough to resume a five-day-a-week schedule. Since February, she had been working part-time.

And Brian Williams, who has been out for knee replacement surgery for nearly a month, is feeling better, too. He says he'll return to "NBC Nightly News" on Tuesday.

His friend, Jon Stewart, is also back that day after a summer break from "The Daily Show" to shoot a movie. I wonder if he'll have anything to say about Bill O'Reilly's apology. We'll see.

That's all for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I hope you had a great summer and have an even better fall. I'll be chatting after the show on Twitter, so tweet me, @BrianStelter, or use the #reliable.

By the way, if you missed anything, you can catch all of today's conversations on CNN.com. Or go to iTunes and check out the podcast. Join us next Sunday morning right here at 11:00 am Eastern. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley, with guest host Gloria Borger, begins right now.