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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Syria Crises: Covering All Sides; Interview with Charlie Rose; Journalists Excited Over New Apple Product; Interview with 'The Onion's' Will Tracy

Aired September 15, 2013 - 11:00   ET

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


PATRICK GAVIN, HOST: Just one week ago, the Syria story, already changing on a daily basis, seemed destined for a congressional showdown over the president's plan to strike Syria. But then --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN: A huge, breaking developments regarding whether the U.S. will strike Syria.

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS: There's an important late breaking development on Syria.

ERIC BOLLING, FOX NEWS: Syria news is breaking fast and furiously.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

GAVIN: A dramatic turn of events as Russia becomes the center of that story.

We'll ask NPR's international correspondent Deborah Amos about how that news is playing in the region and about new comparisons to the buildup to the Iraq war.

We'll also speak with Charlie Rose of CBS and PBS about his exclusive interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Plus, if you thought Syria was the only big story this week, think again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN: It's that time of year again when Apple announces that you no longer have the hottest phone on the market.

NEAL KARLINSKY, ABC NEWS: Apple's latest and greatest isn't the new iPhone. It's two new iPhones.

CARTER EVANS, CBS NEWS: The new iPhone 5S is faster with a better camera and a fingerprint scanner for security.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

GAVIN: The annual Apple frenzy leaves some reporters breathless. But why all the hype?

And do you know what happened in this parking garage?

One of the most infamous sites of the Watergate era may be slated for demolition. We'll take what may be a final look at no ordinary parking spot.

All of that and "The Onion" editor-in-chief Will Tracy will talk about 25 years of fake news.

I'm Patrick Gavin. And this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

(MUSIC)

GAVIN: Good morning. I'm Patrick Gavin. Thank you very much for joining us.

Cautious optimism appears to be a common feeling in the wake of an American and Russian agreement to set framework and timetable for the removal of Syrian's chemical weapons stockpiles. But as the fighting continues and refugee streamed out of Syria, is that feeling widespread in the region and how difficult is it to report on it?

Joining me from Lebanon is Deborah Amos, international correspondent for NPR.

Deborah, thank you so much for joining us.

I want to get straight to news that Damascus is going to welcome the international communities overlooking of their chemical weapons. I wonder if some of the diplomatic efforts that we saw this week are at all going to translate into your job as a reporter. In other words, have diplomatic operations perhaps put a thaw to reporting on what's a very, very difficult country and region to report out of?

DEBORAH AMOS, NPR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I came this week. I thought I was coming to be a witness to perhaps a U.S. strike on Syria and it turned into a diplomatic story overnight. So, it's been a dramatic swing for many reporters who came here to the region.

I think some of what we do won't change. I think that we'll still continue to cover the refugees.

There's been fighting across Syria all the while the diplomats have been in Geneva. That hasn't changed. It perhaps explains why the opposition in Syria and the rebels are very much against this agreement in Geneva. For them, what they see, is that only 2 percent of those who have been killed in Syria have been killed by chemical weapons. Everybody else has died from conventional weapons on both sides of the conflict.

And, second, because there's been this diplomatic agreement, it's clear that Assad will stay for a while because both the United States and Russia need him to be able to dismantle this chemical weapons arsenal.

So, for us covering in the region, some of the story is the same. Some of it has moved to Moscow, to Geneva and to Washington.

GAVIN: You know, Deborah, maybe it's just a Washington phenomenon but so much of the coverage this past week was about sort of politics of it and what the heads of state were doing and how much we can read into these things. And, you know, you've covered the refugee crisis there extensively.

I wonder, do you worry that as the talk now becomes about politics and heads of state, that we may lose sight of the real horrors that are taking place on the ground there, especially with the refugee crisis?

AMOS: I do. I think a lot of reporters are dedicated to making sure that story gets the same priority because that hasn't stopped.

First of all, it's a crisis in every Syrian -- for every Syrian neighbor. I'm in Lebanon where this September for the first time ever you will have more Syrian children in Lebanese schools than Lebanese. One out of every four persons in this country is now a Syrian.

I'm going to Jordan next week. We have half a million Syrians who have come into Jordan straining every resource in the country. I think we can't look away from that part of the story because it is so destabilizing for all of Syria's neighbors.

I'm not sure if that message has gotten through. I think that there's been a lot of great coverage of the refugee crisis but, you know, it is true that one refugee is a tragedy and anything more is a number. So, it's always a struggle to find out how to tell individual stories so you get a sense of the magnitude of the crisis, of the refugee crisis.

There's been nothing like it in generations. It is the tragedy of the century as U.N. officials continue to say but we have to find ways to make people understand how serious that crisis is and it does get overshadowed by the diplomacy, especially this week, because there was so much optimism about there was a breakthrough, a diplomatic breakthrough but this doesn't really change what's happening on the ground, and I think that it's really important to remember that.

GAVIN: Deborah, before we let you go, as you know, there have been a lot of comparisons in this story to Iraq, not only because of the drum beat to war but also the use of chemical weapons. You've covered Iraq. You're covering Syria now.

Are those comparison accurate or do you think that we're perhaps trying to fit something into a spot where it doesn't fit, in terms of comparing those two different situations?

AMOS: I think maybe better comparisons are with Rwanda and Kosovo rather than Iraq.

Also, as a correspondent covering both, there's been such a difference in how open this conflict is. When I first got to Iraq, we were excited because there was a blogger named Salam Pax and we had river bend to read. Now, there are thousands of bloggers, there's thousands of videos coming out. The Free Syrian Army has seven YouTube channels.

There's never been so much information in a conflict. In fact, on the morning of August 21st, I was certainly alerted that something had happened because all of a sudden, my e-mail was filled with messages, videos, testimonials from the ground. And so, this is a different kind of conflict and different way to cover it.

And I think that we know more. We have to verify more because many of us can't go to Damascus. They are restrictive in giving out visas.

Right, there are few Americans in Damascus. And so, we've got to work harder. But we have more information to work with than we ever had in Iraq.

GAVIN: All right. Deborah Amos with NPR -- thank you very much for joining us. This is an important story. You're doing great work on it. Thanks again.

AMOS: Thank you.

GAVIS: Of all his interviews with numerous world leaders over a distinguished 40-year career, none have been more timely.

When Charlie Rose sat down with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus last week, he became the first journalist to interview Assad since his alleged use of chemical weapons, trigger a crisis that could result in American military action.

Charlie Rose joined me earlier from the set of "The Charlie Rose Show" to share his details on a Syrian scoop.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GAVIN: You have interviewed just about every big name there is. Your interview with Bashar al-Assad was not only a big name but it came during an absolutely crucial point in our discussion about Syria.

Was that the biggest interview of your career?

CHARLIE ROSE, HOST, CBS THIS MORNING & THE CHARLIE ROSE SHOW: I think so. I mean, if you measure it by the response by the moment, by the quality of the conversation in terms of touching on the important issues and questions to be asked -- I mean, I think it's -- for me, it's always been important to make sure that you ask the right questions and that you in a sense have capacity to ask the "yes, but" question, or the follow-up question. Often follow-up is more important.

But questions set a narrative in terms of understanding a crisis and here we had, you know, an hour to do that. And it came at a moment in which he had not been heard from, had not done other interviews with Western reporters, and so -- I mean, by that American. He'd done I think "Figaro" and print publication, and obviously "Le Figaro" in Paris, and I think he'd done some German publications, but he hadn't done an American television program in more than two years. So, we hadn't heard from him.

Secondly, developments because of August 21st and red lines and the threat of a military strike made it a pregnant moment.

GAVIN: Well, let me give you a chance to do some media analysis or some bragging. Why you? Why did he pick you?

ROSE: I don't know. They never said to me we're picking you because.

He -- the only thing he said to me is, he says, you have an influential audience. I think he meant, the audience that we believe watches "Charlie Rose", the nightly PBS program. I didn't negotiate with him. I negotiated with his press office.

GAVIN: Did he seem nervous coming into the interview? Was there a lot of small talk or just strictly sit down and do the interview and head out?

ROSE: So he came in. I ask about how was living with the stress. You know, he said it was difficult, hard time. I said, about your family. You know, he's got a number of kids. Several, I think two or three kids.

And he said, you know, they are old enough -- it was a human conversation. They're hold enough to know something is going on, but when I come home I'm not president, I'm a father.

He gave us all the time that we asked. They made no editorial suggestions or questions at all. There were moments in which he would have to ask for a word, you know, because he didn't understand. I said to him, don't you have any remorse and he didn't understand the word remorse so I said sadness.

GAVIN: I'm curious. I mean, you mention how -- you're in this position where you've got a lot of different jobs. I think this interview is great example of how you are able to pot a lot of those plants with this one interview.

You know, obviously, you're associated with CBS. But, you know, your PBS show, "The Charlie Rose Show", is sort of your baby and has been for decades.

Is there part of you that is particularly proud or excited that in fact that format in a couple of instances has proven more preferable for the interview subject in the sense there aren't a lot of shows that are ad free that you can go for the full hour and as you are seeing, now some interviews subjects are picking that show for that very reason. That's got to be a big source of pride for you.

ROSE: It is enormous. I can't tell you. I mean, you know, I've been doing this program with a very loyal and distinguished group of people for more than 20 years.

You know, and this is not our first -- we have had a lot of important interviews with a lot of important people at difficult times in their life. The interesting thing about the Assad interview is people talked to me about the content of the interview. They're always curious about how you got the interview -- your question.

But they are also interested in -- they're always interested in what was it like in that room with that man. But in this case, what has pleased me the most is that some of the best journalists in this country and overseas have communicated with me by e-mail about how their own assessment of this interview and they have given it fair to say and I say this not to flatter me, high marks.

GAVIN: Charlie, we've got to go. Before we go, though, you have been working on this interview since this spring. Break some news here, what other interviews do you have in hopper that you work that we may see three or four months from now?

ROSE: Well, I mean, I'm obviously going to interview the president of Iran when he comes here.

GAVIN: All right.

ROSE: Since I've interviewed the other presidents of Iran. I mean, the person I really want to do more than anyone else right now is Vladimir Putin.

GAVIN: It's a good interview to get.

All right. Charlie Rose, thank you so much for joining us. Really appreciate it. And congrats on the big interview.

ROSE: Patrick, thank you so much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GAVIN: You can see the full version of my interview online on our Web site, CNN.com/reliable.

And coming up on RELIABLE SOURCES, if you are having trouble understanding the crisis in Syria, our next guest might be able to help.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GAVIN: Covering any story demands that reporters and commentators stay on top of compounding events. That's even more true and more difficult for a story like Syria, that changes every single hour. For those who consume news, sorting through it all can be daunting, especially if you're not already familiar with the history.

Recently, "The Washington Post" worldview blogger Max Fisher wrote a story called "Nine questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask." And the response was overwhelming.

Earlier I spoke with Max Fisher about why his piece struck a cord.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GAVIN: Max Fisher, thanks very much for joining us.

Your article, "Nine questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask" has totally gone viral. You were telling me that it has 3 million hits and usually you have done these lists before and they get about 100,000.

First of all, whose idea was this article/list?

MAX FISHER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, it was my idea because I was thinking, you know, I have a lot of friends that aren't foreign affairs nerds like me and they are always embarrassed to ask questions about it. And you kind of get these moments when they say, God, I know I should be paying attention to Egypt, or Israel, or China, but I don't want to come out and say that I don't know anything about it.

So, I think just being able to, like, just go to people and say, hey, you're kind of embarrassed but you're always smart and curious and an intelligent person and I'm going to talk to you like I respect you, but acknowledge that you don't know where Syria is on a map.

GAVIN: Yes, some of basic things you point out is number one what is Syria? Number eight, what's the big deal with chemical weapons?

FISHER: Right.

GAVIN: You know, you have done these lists before and they haven't been as successful. What about this one hit that sweet spot for you or for your audience?

FISHER: Right. I think that it was kind of that people have known for a while that what's happening in Syria is really important but stories like this are kind of broccoli on the news plate. You know what I mean?

GAVIN: Yes.

FISHER: It's a little. It's tough. You kind of don't want to. They finally said, OK, OK, I've got to learn about it. But nobody is writing for people who are just coming into it.

I mean, we have this tendency, people like me who write about foreign affairs, to write for the other experts, to write for our friends at the Council on Foreign Relations, or we kind of make the mistake of assuming, OK, people don't know anything about it because they're not very smart and I should talk down to them and condescend a little bit.

But I think there were intelligent people who just -- you know, people are busy. They didn't have time until right now and finally they said, man, I have to figure out what's going on.

GAVIN: And I want to read some of the accolades you've got, and you've got the publisher's award from Katherine Weymouth at "The Washington Post", citing this as being excellent. "BuzzFeed" has even kind of done their own parody, which is nine questions about the new iPhone you were too embarrassed to ask.

Jeff Bezos, your new boss, has cited it twice in meetings, I hear. And also, I don't know if you know this but Perez Hilton, the gossip blogger, actually put it in his recommended section. Yes, it's quite an honor.

You know, I'm sure you've gotten this. How do you walk the line between doing this, which obviously has tremendous success, but also not making it seem as though you're dumbing this news story down.

FISHER: Right. You know, a lot of people say, oh, it's about lists. It's about the trick. It's this. It's that.

I think it's actually really simple. There is this Venn diagram that we kind of implicitly think about in foreign affairs news where people who know all about the story and there's everybody else. And there's nobody really thinking about the intersection between people who are really smart but people who don't know about what's going on in Syria. You just -- if you just assume people are intelligent and if you just assume people can be smart and curious but they don't know about it, and you just talk to, like, your aunt.

GAVIN: Yes.

FISHER: She's a smart lady. She doesn't know anything about Syria. But you just speak to her like a human being, you know? And then people will really kind of key into it.

GAVIN: Well, tell me what gap in current news reporting business this type of article was filling, in a sense when I read a lot of these questions, why are people in Syria killing each other -- part of though, well, isn't every news article in essence supposed to answer those questions and maybe not your music break but the basic facts should be included in a news story.

So, are they not being included or do you think by just teasing them out, that's the real added value?

FISHER: No, I think -- I think they are included. I have huge respect for people like Liz Sly at "The Washington Post" who's been reporting on Syria for years.

Her job is to follow what's happening on the ground every day tracking developments. There's a lot happening. It's really confusing. It's really hard to write what Liz Sly is writing when she's got to keep on top of that and to also take a step back, kind of take this pause and it's kind of the Internet has given people an opportunity to be smart on subjects but also to be kind of a seventh grade civics teacher sometimes.

And you also see, you know, people will dumb it down and patrol for clicks, but there's a huge audience out there who will have moments that say whoa, whoa, whoa, what is -- what is Syria? Literally what is Syria?

GAVIN: Before we go, there has to be a ton of pressure on you now to -- when you got 3 million hits. I mean, are your bosses like give me, I need a list like this every single day?

FISHER: I'm actually resigning later today.

GAVIN: Are you really?

FISHER: Yes, I'll never clear this.

GAVIN: What's the next one from you, though, I mean, it wouldn't be shocking if you did it again.

FISHER: Right.

GAVIN: Did you feel now this became so big, some either pressure, internal/external, to keep on doing that?

FISHER: No, I'm actually not worried about it because I think that it's really simple. As long as you just assume people are smart but people haven't been following it, if you remember those two things, then I think it does great.

GAVIN: Can you top this?

FISHER: Never.

GAVIN: Really?

FISHER: Never. Oh, my God, no.

GAVIN: All right. Max Fisher of "The Washington Post," thanks very much for joining us.

FISHER: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GAVIN: To talk more about how the press took on many facets of Syria this week, I'm joined by Andrea Seabrook, host of the Web site and podcast "Decode D.C.", and Emily Cadei, foreign policy reporter for "C.Q." and "Roll Call".

I want to get right into the pundits role in this debate over Syria. I want to read from this is from "Politico's Playbook," Bill Kristol is a yes. Peggy Noonan is a no. "The National Journal:" has a Syria scorecard. Follow your favorite columnist as America debates war. It almost seems as if the way we tally Congress about their support, we are tallying pundits and their support of the war as well. Is that good and normal and way discourse should happen or too much emphasis on what Peggy Noonan thinks or Bill Kristol thinks, or what "The National Journal" scorecard says?

ANDREA SEABROOK, DECODE D.C.: Besides the fact that these aren't people who have the daily intelligence to be able to know what's going on on the ground, just the idea that you can break down something like this into a completely binary situation, yes or no, that's what we're set up to ask the question. You know, yes or no? Yes or no? It's actually a much -- the universe of ideas about this is much larger than should we go or shouldn't we? And, in fact, surprisingly the person that made us realize that this past week was Vladimir Putin when he came forward with something we weren't considering.

GAVIN: Emily, let's get some straight from you. You have been covering foreign policy for a while. But not everybody on Capitol Hill who are taking these tallies of what congress people want to do with regards to Syria know as much about Syria as perhaps you do. Have you noticed colleagues on Capitol Hill or just around town having to bone up on Syria, an issue that probably a lot of folks were used to covering the budget or things like that are not as knowledgeable about?

EMILY CADEI, CQ: Absolutely. I mean, you just see it in Congress the last few weeks. The number of people that have suddenly come up to the Capitol Hill is enormous. All sorts of people who don't cover Congress, I don't think, are really coming to this debate that died down again.

I think it's a complicated issue for all of us, because like Andrea said, very few of us on the ground in Syria. It's hard for us to judge some of the facts and figures that people are debating. But it's particularly hard to get up to speed and Congress is its own beast. The debate there is a very unique forum.

So, It's been -- I've seen colleagues, I talked to colleagues, who is that senator? Who just said that? That's so and so, unfortunately.

GAVIN: Does that bleed into coverage? Do you see gaps in coverage? Do you see so and so doesn't quite know the context in Syria as perhaps they should, or are reporters doing a good job getting up to speed, learning about the area and giving it context?

CADEI: I think some of what we're seeing in some of these articles sort of this pundit, you know, list. It becomes more of a horse race than actually -- you lose context about Syria because you are focused on the personalities in Washington that people do know and the same way people cover campaigns, this is not a campaign but it's been covered a little bit like a campaign.

GAVIN: And are you worried about that? I mean, obviously, there is a necessary and good political context in the diplomacy world and here in Washington. But there are horrible things happening on the ground. There's a refugee crisis.

Are you worried that now that sort of debate has risen to heads of state level, that in fact what's actually taking place on the ground in Syria is going to get overlooked and now, we're just going to care about what John Kerry says or what Vladimir Putin says?

SEABROOK: Yes. And, actually, this last week, it became, you know, who is winning Rand Paul or John McCain? I mean, it's practically -- we all -- I include myself in the Washington media. We click into this mode that covers the who is winning and who is losing, the red or blue, which side is up and down -- instead of the fact that more than 1,000 people with hundreds of children were actually killed by a fog of chemical weapons on the ground in a civil war that actually in the long run determines or can be determinative of the Middle East. And that has a huge effect on the United States.

GAVIN: You know, Emily, I want to -- we're going to throw up on the screen some of the breaking news tweets that we saw this week. "The New York Times," "The Associated Press", al Jazeera, we saw on September 10th, and this is a look right here, just a stream of breaking news that it was coming in fast and furious that day. Some of it held up. Some of it didn't.

As a reporter covering this beat, when you get this onslaught of information coming in on breaking news, how do you handle it? How do you sort out what you want to focus on versus what might be noise?

CADEI: I follow all of those people on Twitter so I get inundated with that sort of stream.

I think the thing is, you have a few reliable sources, people in the administration, people on the Hill that you're talking to, to try to sort out what they're focusing on, what you should be paying attention, and what the process is happening on the ground because like I said, there's things happening in Geneva, there's things happening in New York, there's things obviously happening in Damascus.

So, it's really trying to -- reporters were as good as our sources. So, we have to really help drill down that way.

GAVIN: All right. Emily Cadei, Andrea Seabrook, thanks to both of you for joining us.

Coming up next -- from Syria to Siri. Get it? What is about this new product events held by Apple that make tech reporters froth at the mouth? We'll ask one tech expert who was there for the latest iPhone event.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GAVIN: Nothing -- and I mean nothing -- gets tech-savvy journalists more excited than the launch of a new Apple product. The company's presentations may have lost some of their spark since the death of Apple's founder and master innovator Steve Jobs, but Tuesday's announcement of two new iPhones still attracted plenty of media attention.

So let's find out if these Apple events are really as much of a love-in for reporters as at least I seem to think that they are.

Farhad Manjoo, technology columnist for "Slate" joins us now from Stanford, California, just an iPhone store away from Apple's headquarters.

All right. Let's just get right to it.

Why do you go to these things? FARHAD MANJOO, TECHNOLOGY COLUMNIST, "SLATE": Oh, I mean, they are the biggest events in the tech world every year. They are because of the history there. This is the company that unveiled the iPhone and the iPhone is sort of the biggest thing to come along in the tech industry in the last decade, certainly if you look either by sales or money.

It's kind of the biggest game in town. So you want to keep seeing what's the newest thing, what they're going to do to keep pace and keep beating rivals. And at this point it's particularly interesting for Apple. This was the first product announcement they've had in about a year, which is a long time for Apple.

They usually stagger these throughout the year. And we're at this time in Apple's life where we're wondering whether they can stave off increasing competition from Google's Android platform and from rivals like Samsung, which use that platform. And so it is interesting to see at this point what they're doing and whether what they're doing is going to work.

GAVIN: Well, Farhad, I want to show you, I got two breaking news e-mails that day from "USA Today." At 1:35, Apple announces the iPhone 5c; nine minutes later, I get another one, Apple announces the iPhone 5s.

Does it seem like a bit much in terms of the coverage, even if it is completely fair and balanced coverage, just the sheer volume of it?

As you mentioned, these are big events, but at the same time the iPhone hasn't had enormous overhaul in quite some time. So obviously you could have justified this from the iPhone launch, but to still see this kind of coverage now, does it ever seem like a bit too much for you?

MANJOO: I wouldn't have sent out two breaking news alerts for that event.

I guess, you know, it sort of depends on what kind of outlet you are. If you are covering the tech industry, there is sort of -- I think that -- I don't think that the tech industry can miss out on these events and, you know, they cover other companies in the same way.

The difference is that Apple attracts mainstream press in a way that no other tech company does. So if Microsoft, if Nokia, if Samsung had one of these events, which they do all the time, they attract the tech press. They don't attract the mainstream press in the same way, because I think numbers are there, the readership.

If you write about Apple, you're going to attract a lot more readers than if you write about the latest Samsung phone. It sort of -- I think they are catering to an audience that cares, whether justifiably or not, about what Apple does more than what other companies do.

GAVIN: Do you ever get the sense that reporters would ever want to boycott these things? Because they think they are going to these events and yet they're not exactly getting a new breakthrough product, or pretty much if you're invited, you go to those things?

MANJOO: I think if you're invited you go to these things because they invite people whose job it is to cover these things. So if you're a tech reporter and you cover phone launches, you sort of have to be there. At some events, they invite a wider swath of media and, in those cases, I mean, it's debatable.

If you write for some publication that doesn't really cover the iPhone and doesn't cover the tech industry, it's debatable whether you should care about some new iPhone announcement when it's not the latest and greatest thing.

I think that this -- I actually think that this announcement is more interesting, it was more interesting than previous announcements or the actual announcement wasn't but that kind of -- the theory for why you should cover it was.

Because Apple has been having trouble lately. And the trouble is about their difficulty to sell their phones to -- in lower price markets like China and India, emerging markets, where they are really being beaten by low-cost Android phones. So what they were trying to do this year is release this cheaper iPhone that actually turned out to be not a cheaper iPhone. It was actually the same price as they would have sold the iPhone 5 for this year.

So this question about --

GAVIN: Farhad, I got to bump into live television. We got to let you go.

Thank you so much for coming on. One of these days I'll get invited to an iPhone unveiling. But until then, ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, if you want to tell secrets in the exact same spot Deep Throat did, you may only have a little bit longer to do it.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAL HOLBROOK, ACTOR, "DEEP THROAT": You tell me what you know and I'm confirm. I'll keep you in the right direction if I can, but that's all.

Just follow the money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GAVIN: That clip we just showed you is Hollywood's version of the Watergate garage. This is the real version of that garage. We're here in Arlington, Virginia, Spot 32-D; this is where Bob Woodward met his source, Deep Throat, aka Mark Felt, back in the '70s. It is slated to be demolished maybe in a couple of years. And journalists are freaking out about what would be the destruction of one of journalism's meccas.

But how important was this garage to that Watergate story?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GAVIN (voice-over): For this I turn to Dr. Mark Feldstein, the Richard Eaton professor of broadcast journalism at the University of Maryland, who has studied the role journalists have played in the Watergate scandal.

GAVIN: So, Mark, this is the actual garage.

This is the garage where Hal Holbrook and Bob Redford made it famous.

GAVIN: Has that whole Hollywood movie kind of sensationalized this story?

How important was this actual garage to the story of Watergate and Woodward and Bernstein?

FELDSTEIN: It was a great visual for Hollywood. It was much less important for history. It's exciting. It's dramatic. It's eerie. But how much the garage mattered, how much Woodward and Bernstein mattered, is still something that scholars are debating and more or less thinking is much less important than the movie portrayed, much less glamorous.

GAVIN: Well, one thing I wondered is why -- I mean, we're here in Arlington, far away from the White House, far away from the Capitol.

Why...

FELDSTEIN: Why here?

GAVIN: Arlington. Why Rosslyn, Virginia?

FELDSTEIN: It was out of the way and it was on the way for Mark Felt as he drove home from the FBI.

GAVIN: What is the history that we accept on what took place here, how many times they met, what they talked about, what kind of information was exchanged, what do we know?

FELDSTEIN: We only know what Bob Woodward says because by the time Mark Felt corroborated things, he was sick with dementia. So --

(CROSSTALK)

GAVIN: Is there any reason to doubt Woodward? Or we take his story at face value (ph)?

FELDSTEIN: No, but they had a two-source rule at "The Washington Post" during Watergate. This is a one-source story at this point. Woodward says they met six times here in this parking lot, that they met here, out of the way where no one would see them.

But it was convenient for Felt, who lived in Virginia. And that this is where Felt passed on leads and tips that were guidance rather than anything he quoted.

GAVIN (voice-over): Around the 40th anniversary of the Watergate investigation, Arlington County erected a sign to mark this historical spot. Many people walk by every single day without having any idea of the famous meetings that took place right here.

GAVIN: So even if that parking garage gets renovated and 32-D gets razed and demolished, this sign will be here forever. But you actually noted that this isn't entirely accurate.

FELDSTEIN: No, the sign, like the prevailing mythology, credits Deep Throat -- Mark Felt -- with a lot more impact on bringing down Nixon.

GAVIN: And, again, is that because of Hollywood, because of the movie?

FELDSTEIN: Pretty much. The Hollywood mythology lives on separate from the historical reality. It's like Paul Bunyan or Davey Crockett. There's a folklore now that's in the public consciousness regardless of the reality.

GAVIN: All right. So what's your take?

As a reporter, do you think that we should care about parking Spot 32-D being uplifted or -- ?

(CROSSTALK)

GAVIN: (Inaudible)?

FELDSTEIN: Not really. I mean, the whole thing has been grossly exaggerated. But more importantly, there are many more historical monuments of import that have been torn down for commerce to build new buildings.

As long as it lives on in popular memory, as long as signs like this bear witness, we remember it, the good, the bad and the ugly.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GAVIN: Property managers say local officials still need to approve the redevelopment, so any demolition is still some time off. So relax, everybody.

Coming up, when it comes to Syria, "The Onion" trading satire for substantive journalism? Heaven forbid. I'll ask the editor-in-chief right after the break.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GAVIN: As you know, "The Onion" is known for its satirical headlines, but recently the fake news organization has been getting a lot of attention for its out outspoken commentary on Syria.

"The New Republic" noticed taking to its own opinion pages, writing, quote, "'The Onion' has figured out a way to do a high-wire trick. They've made moral outrage funny without slipping into moralizing, as 'The Daily Show' sometimes does.

"It's not always laugh-out-loud; the site's most trenchant commentary is often rather morbid and can rub some people the wrong way. But 'The Onion' structurally bypasses the worst failing of many an op-ed columnist: taking themselves too seriously. 'The Onion' won't cop to even having an opinion."

Joining me now from Chicago, Will Tracy, editor-in-chief of "The Onion".

First of all, Will, congratulations on 25 years.

Did you have any idea that you would make it this far?

WILL TRACY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "THE ONION": No, no. I didn't even expect to make it myself to 25 years. So for the company to make it that far, I think, is a tremendous honor, yes.

GAVIN: Well, you obviously saw the quote from "The New Republic" we read. And you -- a lot of your coverage on Syria is getting attention. It's been pegged by BuzzFeed as "something resembling a serious issue campaign." Dave Weigel at "Slate" called it "ego- pleasing but unfunny.

"The Christian Science Monitor" says, "No kidding, read 'The Onion' if you want to understand Syria."

You've got the floor. How would you characterize what you guys have been doing on Syria?

TRACY: I mean, I think that -- I don't think we've taken a particular side. I'd like to think that we sort of have acknowledged both of the dominant viewpoints or the many dominant viewpoints.

So for us it's very difficult, though, because Bashar al-Assad is a friend of "The Onion." He's a close personal friend of mine. I was at his wedding. I'm getting dinner with him next week.

GAVIN: Right.

TRACY: So it's very hard for me to say things about my friend that I think would be damaging to his presidency.

At the same time, I think that, the rebels, we would like to support them as well, because we support the jihadist movement.

GAVIN: Like a true Washington reporter, you've got conflicts of interest all over the place. Let me ask you, are all these articles about your coverage and noticing trends and things like that, are we overstating it or are we reading too much into it?

Or, in fact, are you right, that this is kind of a change in the tone of your site?

TRACY: No. I don't think so. I mean, I think what we've always kind of played the role of the gadfly here, where we just kind of take shots at everybody. I think we've done pieces that some people see as being in support of an intervention, other people see as being against an intervention.

I think we like to keep people guessing in that way. And I think always what we try to do is bring attention to the issue in general, because for a long time we were running pieces that nobody clicked on and nobody cared about Syria because people weren't that interested in it prior to a month or two ago. So we've just tried to draw attention to it and I think tried to humanize the Syrian people as much as we can.

GAVIN: You know, it's interesting, obviously when you started your paper, now you're probably known primarily for your digital outlet.

But I'm curious, is because of that transition, because of the fact that your website is how a lot of people now read "The Onion," do you then feel the pressure on things like Syria or other topics to now be more tropical whereas back in the old weekly newspaper days, you could do more evergreen stuff?

TRACY: Yes, we certainly do -- we do just as much evergreen if not more than we do before, but topical content is a bit more of what we do, because I think if we're going to accurately parody a news organization in the year 2013, we have to kind of be on top of stuff.

So there's a little bit more pressure but there's also more opportunity for us to get out there first and make a comment and make, I think, a very honest and candid comment that maybe some of the other common (ph) institutions can't do. So to me, it's just -- it's part of what we do.

(CROSSTALK)

TRACY: (Inaudible) it's great.

GAVIN: Well, lastly, before we let you go, obviously you've read a lot of the commentary about what you've all been doing on Syria.

What are you hearing from your readers in terms of what they like, what they're used to at the site?

Is there a response on some of the more topical stuff, overwhelmingly positive, or do you get a little bit of pushback from folks who just want, I don't know, Joe Biden stories, not that there's anything wrong with that? TRACY: I think that -- I think our readers are terrified of us to know that if they want to complain in any way or issue any sort of negative comment that we will intimidate them, eventually hunt them down and destroy them.

GAVIN: Perfect.

TRACY: So they live in fear because they are cattle. And so I think that that is how we like to keep it. I think that's really the mission of journalism.

GAVIN: That's a great way to respond to commentators online, I guess.

All right, Will Tracy, thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate it. Good luck on the next 25 years.

TRACY: Thank you so much.

GAVIN: All right. Next, what happens when reporters and "Politico" switch jobs?

Plus, we'll take a listen at what happens when you put six news anchors in the same room at the same time. It's like the real world but journalism style. We'll be right back.

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GAVIN: All right. Before I let you go, a few thumbs up and thumbs down for this week. A big thumbs down to the revolving door of journalism.

First, to all of these reporters jumping ship to join the Obama administration, this week we learned that "Time" magazine managing editor Rick Stengel will soon become undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs over at the State Department.

"The Atlantic" actually crunched the numbers and says this is the 21st reporter, by their count, to make such a move, the most recognizable of which, of course, being White House press secretary and former "Time" magazine reporter, Jay Carney.

Now the Obama administration is hardly the first to poach reporters, though they do seem to be doing it at a record pace. And it's just not a Democratic phenomenon, either.

And "The Daily Beast" reminds readers that even Abraham Lincoln's private secretary was once a reporter.

And the door does swing both ways. There are tons of former Republican and Democratic White House staffers now on the payrolls of news organizations. But let's face it. Even if it is only about making a living and not about political agendas, the appearance of it threatens to make readers suspicious and weaken confidence in the news gathering process.

Reporting and politics are not light sentences. And Stengel and others are free to take on whatever new career they want. But they should know every single time they move to the other side of the microphone, they risk leaving the rest of us with a big mess to clean up, not a terribly nice parting gift.

Speaking of revolving doors, there was this. Mere moments after Anthony Weiner's bid to become New York City's next mayor fizzled out, the question was asked, when will he become a cable pundit? Who will snatch him up first? It was as if the question went without saying. Of course he'd join a cable news channel.

I say, stop all of this.

Is cable news just a fall back for politicians?

And is politics just a backup plan for bored reporters?

This is not how it's supposed to work, people.

All right. But now some good news. How about a thumbs up to news anchor collegiality? Before six television reporters sat down with President Obama on Monday to talk Syria, they all gathered together for a friendly photo-op. PBS' Gwen Ifill tweeted this picture and gave CNN's Wolf Blitzer credit for the idea.

Who says TV's such a cutthroat business?

And lastly, a very rich thumbs up to whoever gets this job, mansion reporter. Yes, that's an actual job.

"The Wall Street Journal" -- only in New York, right? -- has an ad out for a reporter to quote, "break news on real estate deals each week in the paper's section on high-end real estate."

(Inaudible) New York's finest homes? Nice work if you can get it.

That's it for this week's edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Patrick Gavin. Thank you so much for joining us.

If you missed a program, you can go to iTunes on Mondays and check out our podcasts or download a video version, or just go to CNN.com/reliable. And if you have something to say about today's show, tweet at us with the hashtag @reliable. And join us here again next Sunday morning at 11:00 am Eastern. STATE OF THE UNION with Candy Crowley begins right now.