Return to Transcripts main page
CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Media Talent Takes Off; Interview with Ryan Seacrest; Blame the Press
Aired December 8, 2013 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning and welcome to a very snowy Washington. My name is Brian Stelter.
Ten years ago, I started a blog about cable news. It's called "TV Newser". And I started it because I believe that the media and cable news in particular shape our society in all sorts of important ways.
I've been reporting and writing about CNN and its competitors ever since. And today I'm the new host of RELIABLE SOURCES.
Since this is my debut, I want to talk about what this show is, why it's so special and what it represents. We have so much media news to cover first. So, let's get to it.
This week, there have been major media departures. Sam Champion said goodbye to "Good Morning America." And Martin Bashir resigned from MSNBC, even after his apology for some revolting comments about Sarah Palin. What does that resignation tell us about television standards? We'll tackle that.
Plus, President Obama uses a mainstream media interview to attack the media.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people are good and they are decent. And yes, sometimes we get very divided partly because our politics and our media specifically tries to divide them. And splinter them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Was that a fair shot? Or are we being too sensitive? I'll tell you what I think.
And how sensitive should news outlets be about the anniversary of the Sandy Hook School massacre? We'll hear from a reporter who lives in a town where it happens.
And later, an interview with a man who's name is synonymous with "American Idol", New Year's Eve, and so much more -- Ryan Seacrest. How does he juggle it all?
(BEGIN VIDE OCLIP)
RYAN SEACREST, HOST, AMERICAN IDOL: I have said to all of my partners when I signed on to each of them, that I will work 110 percent for you. I will work just as hard for you as if I only had one job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: And who would you name is most important media person of the year? The Web site I want media has surveyed thousands of people and we will reveal their answer.
See, we do have a lot to cover, so let's get started.
It's time for RELIABLE SOURCES.
STELTER: Thank you for tuning in.
You know, one way to learn about the state of the news media these days is the comings and goings of talent. This week, Sam Champion, "Good Morning America's" long-time weather anchor and a key part of the morning show's family left from broadcast to cable, from ABC to the Weather Channel. And Martin Bashir, who once worked for ABC, in a move to cable, gave up his job this week under pressure, in the wake of his comments about Sarah Palin on MSNBC.
Bashir was outraged back in November when Palin compared America's foreign debt to slavery. So he went on his MSNBC show, explained his point of view and then went a step too far, he suggested that she deserved a vulgar punishment.
If you want to know what he suggested, just go ahead and Google his name. We're not going to repeat it here.
Bashir later apologized on air, but apparently it wasn't enough. He resigned this week after meeting with the head of the cable channel.
What can we learn from this mess?
Well, joining me from Tampa, Eric Deggans, TV critic for NPR. And here in Washington, Paul Farhi, reporter for "The Washington Post", and Jane Hall, journalism professor at American University.
And, Jane, I'd like to ask that question to you first. What can we learn from an incident like Martin Bashir's?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, I think we can learn that how controversial -- what a premium there is on controversy and how you can go way too far. It was a vile punishment. It was a produced piece, so it was planned.
STELTER: Right. This is not spontaneous. HALL: I think that MSNBC, if he had not left, is going to be in an uncomfortable position of seeming not to care as much about a vile depiction of a woman as they did about anti-gay homophobic remarks made by Alec Baldwin.
STELTER: Right, just a week earlier, right.
HALL: I think they were really in an uncomfortable position, a lot of women have had a lot of ugly things said about them -- and on television and otherwise -- and there's not the same -- sometimes not the same degree of consequences as there may be for other people.
STELTER: Do you feel like, Paul, do you feel like MSNBC took too long to make this kind of decision?
PAUL FARHI, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, they dithered. They took their time. They put their thumb to the wind and found out that there was outrage about this. But there was a particular sort of outrage, the outrage was from the right, the idea that Sarah Palin and, by the way, a woman obviously was being attacked was part of the outrage and the campaign that just did not quit.
STELTER: I wonder, Eric, if you think these sorts of cases are proxies for broader political fights that we have now between conservatives and liberals in the media, as well as in the political arena?
ERIC DEGGANS, NPR: I think there's no doubt. But, you know, what concerns me about this issue is two things, consistency and hypocrisy, because you have these cable news anchors who to make waves and to be successful, they have to push the envelope in terms of how they talk about these issues. And then, when they cross a line, there's no sense of what's the procedure for disciplining them.
Who else made the decision here to allow this to be aired and why haven't they been punished?
MSNBC resisted taking any responsibility for what he said and then, finally, he resigns and there's no sense of accountability, what other producers were involved. I think they should have -- MSNBC should have admitted he made a mistake. They should have suspended him very publicly. And then, there'd be a sense that there's some procedure for when you cross the line as an anchor -- and everybody know where is the lines are.
STELTER: Let's put up MSNBC's statement by the way, because I thought it was kind of revealing. MSNBC's President Phil Griffin had this to say: "Martin Bashir resigned today, effective immediately. I understand his decision and I thank him for three great years with MSNBC. Martin is a good man and respected colleague. We wish him only the best."
Sometimes when anchors leave networks under clouds like this, we don't see kind statements at all. Maybe it's telling that they do appreciate what he brought to the network? FARHI: On the other hand, do we really believe that Martin Bashir walked out under his own power? I think the reality is probably that he was asked to leave. That is to say he was fired, but in the legal world in which we live, perhaps they couldn't exactly say that.
STELTER: Couldn't say that.
HALL: Well, you know, a lot of people really liked him. I mean, a lot of my students really enjoyed his really opinionated commentary. I mean -- so, you can't throw the guy completely -- you know, say he never did anything good. I think that's probably why Phil Griffin was saying what he said.
But I agree, I doubt it was entirely his decision to leave.
STELTER: Alec Baldwin, of all people, had some really interesting tweets about this.
He wrote, "Broadcasters on certain networks are called upon to offer analysis of events and public policy, day in, day out. Often with tremendous aggression and scalding language. If over the course of hundred of hours on the air, they commit a foul, then it's like high-sticking in hockey, or a late hit in the NFL. Throw a flag. But to end someone's job?"
I suppose that's the tension that many in cable news and on television in general face.
FARHI: Well, look at the different responses in the media, around media organizations to outrage and controversy. "60 Minutes" did not fire Lara Logan for the flawed report that she put on the air. MSNBC waited to essentially ask Martin Bashir to leave. "A.P." fired three journalists for a mistake that they made.
Suspension, firing? What's the standard? We don't have a standard.
STELTER: That's a great point.
Let's change the topic to "GMA's" Sam Champion.
STELTER: Sorry. Go ahead, Eric.
DEGGANS: No, I was going to say, one of the things that also bothers me is that I feel like the institutions are acting to protect themselves at the expense of learning what happened and journalistic transparency.
One of the things that I think that we see in common with the "60 Minutes" case and with MSNBC is that CBS News and MSNBC seem to be trying to shut down the controversy before it harmed their brand publicly. Rather than being journalistically transparent about who made decisions, how the mistake actually happened, and what we could learn about the situations going forward, both them as a news organization and us as viewers.
So, we have no sense of where the line is for MSNBC, except you can't embarrass MSNBC without getting fired. And that's not a great lesson.
STELTER: That's a great point.
Briefly, let's talk about change that does not involve scandal at all. That's, of course, Sam Champion going to the Weather Channel.
Eric, do you think "Good Morning America" will be affected at all by having an anchor leave in this profile way?
DEGGANS: Well, I think, you know, to contrast this departure with, say, the departure of Ann Curry from "The Today" show, you know, Sam's going to a better job, they had the handoff publicly and he was very gracious and everybody was happy. There was no sad faces other than, you know, people missing him on "GMA", of course.
And I think there's a sense that Ginger Zee is already apart of the "Good Morning America" family.
DEGGANS: People who like the show and like Sam probably know and like her too. So I think this transition is very important, everybody wanted it to happen. Everybody understands he's going to a better job.
And so, I think fans of "GMA" have another reason to tune in because maybe the anchor mix will just be different and newer and fresher.
STELTER: That's interesting.
Jane and Paul, I was kind of surprised to see Sam Champion go. I thought ABC would find a way to get the gang together.
So, I dug around at three difference sources at all these different places and said, part of the reason why it was so appealing to Sam Champion, is he's not just getting a salary. He's also getting stock in Weather Channel's parent company. That way, he's got an investment in the future of the channel.
Maybe that's one way for these cable channels to attract talent.
HALL: Well, I think that's probably true. And, you know, it's interesting, because you and I both wrote a lot about morning television and the idea that family is sometimes faux, you know?
And you had Ann Curry's teary departure where she said who she really felt about feeling she was pushed out. There's genuine -- seemed to be genuine sadness that Sam Champion was leaving. I think it is interesting he has a managing editor role, and if you're an employee of the network, you're going to have stock. You're not going to have stock, you may have stock, but you're not going to have, as you said, skin in the game to the degree that you could have here.
STELTER: Right. That's right. He can -- have a management role as well as being the face of the network.
FARHI: Right. But I have to take issue with what Eric said. I do think it affects the viewership of "Good Morning America." You knock this idea of family, but that is what people watch on television. They don't watch the news. They watch the people on the news.
FARHI: Sam Champion was a very big part of "Good Morning America". He's not the lead anchor or the co-host. Nevertheless, you mess with that at your peril.
HALL: Jane, Paul, Eric, stay with me. We've got lots more to discuss.
But, first, I've got an exclusive interview with the media maker whose career spans entertainment, sports and news, from "American Idol", to "The Today" show, to his ever expanding work as a producer -- how does Ryan Seacrest juggle all those desks?
I asked him and you'll hear it, coming up next.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. One block down, five to go. I'm Brian Stelter.
From "American Idol" to American Top 40, the Ryan Seacrest media empire knows no bounds. Tens of millions of people believe he's a reliable source. So, I wanted to ask him about his career, where it's been, where it's going and what's been most rewarding about it.
And, I've got to tell you, getting on his calendar takes a long time. But we found time on Friday in Los Angeles, as he prepared to host the annual jingle ball concert there.
So, this is Ryan Seacrest.
STELTER: Ryan, thanks for joining us.
SEACREST: Good to be here, in the basement.
STELTER: I hear screams outside, where are we?
SEACREST: They're cheering for you, your fans have arrived. We're actually at the Staple Center in downtown Los Angeles.
STELTER: And this is your dressing room?
SEACREST: This is my dressing room. Isn't it opulent? (LAUGHTER)
SEACREST: We are putting on an annual holiday show, where we take the biggest acts, the biggest pop artist of the year, put them all on one stage and celebrate the year that was pop music.
STELTER: And, you know, that points out that radio is a big part of your career?
STELTER: You've been part of Clear Channel, this is for Kiss-FM.
SEACREST: Yes. This is something that I have done every day of my life. I have gone to a radio station since I was 15 years old. And so, it occupies the first half of my day, every single weekday and we have since, when I started in radio, it was just radio.
But we have since launched digital, iHeartRadio, and the iHeartRadio Music Festival, and the iHeartRadio Music Festival previews. And so, it's become more than just radio. It's now -- as is everything, it's media.
STELTER: It's almost like we need a new word for it.
SEACREST: Yes, right?
STELTER: Radio is a small word for what it all is.
SEACREST: I used to come dressed in a hat and not shave at all for radio. And now, I just haven't shaved.
STELTER: You mentioned that first half of the day is radio. That makes me wonder about your schedule. Everybody always wants to know how you juggle everything.
SEACREST: I don't go out for lunch. I don't think I have been out to lunch in five years. And actually I joke about it. But I find that the second half of my day is very, very efficient. I don't like a lot of down time. I'm pretty good at going from one thing to another. But, you know, once I finish the radio broadcast, I'm up at the production office setting at my desk, having some sort of salad out of a plastic container.
And then the day depends. It depends on what we've got to do. I mean, last week we had a series of meetings with the staff.
Some days I've got "American Idol", it's live. Some days, I've got to travel for the auditions. Other days, I've got to travel for the Olympics for NBC. It just depends on the day.
STELTER: Yes, there's deals with -- let's see -- ABC, FOX, and NBC, and Clear Channel.
STELTER: You know, how do you try to keep all of those companies happy?
SEACREST: Well, usually when you're on the air, you try and say the right company name. And that's the first step. You want -- when you're on ABC for New Year's Eve, you want to say ABC not FOX.
STELTER: I'll try to remember CNN in my job.
SEACREST: When I'm on FOX, I want to remember FOX. The mics (ph) can help sometimes, if you get lost.
You know, honestly, I have said to all of my partners when I signed on with each of them, that I will work 110 percent for you. I will work just as hard for you as if I only have one job and I treat them all that way.
And I really do. I really believe that every single one of those partnerships is equally as important.
STELTER: You must be pretty bullish about the future of TV, to have so many relationships in the TV business.
SEACREST: Yes, it's fun because when I first moved to Los Angeles, I didn't know one person in the TV business. Not one single person.
I knew one guy who let me drive the radio station van, he gave me the keys to the van to drive around and give out bumper stickers. But, truly, I didn't know one person in the television business when I moved here.
STELTER: Well, now, I felt like you're as much a producer as a host, even though people may not realize it. Your company is producing so many different shows. Do you feel like more of a producer than a host at this point?
SEACREST: I think I'm used to wearing so many different hats, you know, being conditioned as a kid that did radio and hosted TV when I was, you know, 16, 17, 18, 19, I'm used to running around doing different things.
STELTER: Yes, good point.
SEACREST: But I will say that -- you know, the tremendous success of the Kardashians and that franchise has helped us build that company and opened the door to produce other series and other shows.
So, my nights sometimes are with a stack of disks or something on a computer that I've got to look, that's a show that we're looking at for the next day's delivery. But I enjoy all of it.
STELTER: And remember, a couple of years ago, people like me were writing about maybe you hosting the today show some day, you've got this big deal with NBC, so is that still a possibility?
SEACREST: Look, I mean, as far as I'm concerned, everything is a -- I hope everything is a possibility. You know, I like to leave every door open. If it is open, I think that's up to them to decide.
STELTER: Yes, you've been contributing a few pieces.
SEACREST: Yes. I mean, I certainly -- I am a type of person that likes to try and leave every door open and say yes to as many things as I can. So, hopefully, you know, if that door is open -- sure.
STELTER: Yes. But it is the kind of show that you would enjoy doing?
SEACREST: I like --
STELTER: You have to wonder sometimes if you're too big for the "Today" show. You've got too much going -- what I mean is you got so much going on already.
SEACREST: Well, I like live broadcasting and I think that, you know, morning shows have evolved. There's been a paradigm shift in the style of those shows. You know, the style of show that I watched when I was a kid and you watched when you were a kid is a little bit different than it is now. So, yes, I'm hoping to. If I truly thrive, just like hearing this music here, this concert, I truly thrive off of being on air or on stage in a live environment.
STELTER: That brings up the biggest one of all, "American Idol".
STELTER: You've with it since the beginning. It's not as big as it used to be, though. I wonder what's going to change in this coming season?
SEACREST: I'll tell you, we obviously did not deliver as -- the numbers that we wanted to deliver last year. And --
STELTER: Is that because all television is down? Or for specific reasons, you think?
SEACREST: I think it's a combination -- I think it's a sum of all parts. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't lose sleep over it. You know, I have been on the show since the beginning, I have hosted every single episode of that show for 13 years.
I want people to watch and I want people who perhaps didn't watch last season to come back and see their "American Idol" this season because we have put the show back together in a fun way and in a way that I think those who love watching the show, or who have watched, maybe didn't watch it last year, will be satisfied and happy to see it back.
STELTER: Your "Idol" contract is up at the end of next season, I believe. Will you continue to host after next season?
SEACREST: I hope to host as long as they want me to host. So --
STELTER: It's the kind of show you can't imagine being without, I guess?
SEACREST: I guess, I'm so used to it. After doing something for over a decade, it becomes part of your every day life. So, as long as they're asking me and willing to have me back, I think it's a good option.
STELTER: What part of your work or what part of your life are you most proud of right now?
SEACREST: I would say cutting out gluten.
STELTER: Does that work for you.
SEACREST: Well, apparently not. But in the last three days, I have tried. It seems to be the thing.
No, seriously, I would say that I get a chance to do a lot of different things, from being on the radio to hosting different TV series and specials. But one of the things that I'm most proud of is the Ryan Seacrest Foundation.
And this is -- it's something that I thought of with my folks, we were talking about how we could give back and I visited a children's hospital that day and I talked to parents and they've told me that their kids -- I would talk to them outside the room, I said, what do your kids do? They said they get bored, they run out of things to do. You know, they're going to be in this bed, we don't know how long.
So I thought we have got to build something in these hospitals that they can use and play with, and even the kids who can't come down and call in. So we built little media centers in children's hospitals, we built six of them so far and we're going to get to 10 by, well, I guess mid next year. And they really are radio and TV studios for kids to use in the hospitals. And if they can't get out of a bed, they can call in just like you can call in from your car and listen to a radio station.
STELTER: So, they can be entertained, but they can also learn about broadcasting, it sounds like.
SEACREST: That's the thing. I'm probably going to be sorry I did this because somebody is going to be up and coming and better than I am and be discovered in one of these studios. But also allows -- you know, in each community, we have the colleges used the interns to help run the station. So, you know, everybody's -- hopefully everybody's winning and it distracts the kids from what they're going through.
STELTER: All right. Ryan, thanks for joining us.
SEACREST: Thanks, Brian. Great to see you.
(END VIDEOTAPE) STELTER: Got to get a plug for the Web site in here. If you go to our Web site, CNN.com, you can see one of Ryan's other projects, which got a lot of press this week. It's a keyboard that attaches to your iPhone.
When we come back, President Obama calls out the media for dividing the American people. I wonder, can we get through a segment without inadvertently proving his point? Watch and find out.
STELTER: Welcome back. President Obama gave Chris Matthews an extended interview on MSNBC on Thursday. The appearance raised a few eyebrows, given the recent trouble the liberal news channel has had with Alec Baldwin and Martin Bashir, and it also riled up some media types.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The American people are good and they are decent. And yes, we get very divided partly because our politics and our media specifically tries to divide them and splinter them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Yes, President Obama as media critic. I personally love when any president jabs the press because it gets us talking about fairness, both the medias and the administrations.
Well, let's bring in our panel and see what they think. In Tampa, Eric Deggans is the TV critic for the NPR.
And back with me at the table, Paul Farhi of "The Washington Post", and Jane Hall of American University.
Jane, you used to be a long time FOX News contributor. So, I wonder, do you think the president's right?
HALL: Well, I think that -- yes, I think he's right and I think he believes it. I mean, he was speaking to an audience of young people at my university, and he was saying that the idealism of young people was a great thing. Clearly, he wanted to address that audience and it is true that the media are divided ideologically in cable news.
And I think he was making a point he believes. You can disagree, but I think didn't want to call out FOX necessarily because they haven't figured out how to deal with FOX, frankly.
HALL: But his point is there's a split in the media. And, yes, there's splits in the media.
STELTER: Eric, I wonder if you think it's hypocritical to come on a channel that's known for catering to liberals and criticizing the press, criticizing the press for being divisive.
DEGGANS: Not at all. I think that's a great place to do that kind of criticism. And as you know, I spent 250 pages in my book that came out last year, "Race-Baiter", talking about this exact issue, that there are cable channels and other media outlets that segment the audience. And one way they do that is by pitting people against each other. And they may use race, they may use class, they may use other hot button issues to divide people.
But the idea is to segment an audience and super serve that audience their world view in your coverage, and sometimes that can be very harmful whether you're talking about FOX or MSNBC or even, you know, a radio show or a Web site.
STELTER: I'm going to change gears here, because the end of the year is coming up. And one of the my favorite media digests, IWantMedia.com, has completed it's 12th annual poll to pick the media person of the year. I mentioned this at the top of the show.
Two years ago, it was Steve Jobs. Last year, it was the BuzzFeed's founder Jonah Peretti. And this year, let's cue the cheesy drum roll, it is the head of Amazon and the new owner of "The Washington Post," Jeff Bezos.
And after this week, I'm wondering if he's also marketer of the year. Take a look at this clip from "60 Minutes" last Sunday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF BEZOS, AMAZON FOUNDER: Let me show you something.
CHARLIE ROSE, CBS NEWS: Oh, man. Oh my God!
BEZOS: This -- this is -- these are octocopters.
BEZOS: These are effectively drones, but there's no reason that they can't be used as delivery vehicles.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Now, I personally can't wait to get my "Washington Post" delivered by drone. But, Jane, this was a "60 Minutes" infomercial for Amazon?
HALL: Well, I think they got the better of them. I think that -- I mean, I really like Charlie Rose, but I think this was gee whiz, business journalism. They got the access and they said this is a great company.
There's nothing about whether this is a good idea, whether we want these things surveilling us while they're dropping off our "Washington Post." They just were completely credulous about it.
And it was great p.r. right before Cyber Monday, so they got the better of them, I think.
STELTER: It's been a little while, Paul, a few months, since he did take over "The Washington Post.
Since you're there, has a lot changed yet, or is he still figuring out how things work there?
FARHI: I would say nothing has changed. It's almost impossible to find any fingerprint of Jeff Bezos on "The Washington Post," other than the fact that he now obviously owns us.
But we haven't seen any changes. We know they're coming. We just haven't seen them yet.
STELTER: Right. And we'll see what the new year brings.
And one more topic to bring up. It involves this own network here, CNN. On Monday, Chris Cuomo, the anchor of "NEW DAY," interviewed his brother, the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, and of course, by the end of the day, there were people online and some at other networks saying it seemed like a big conflict of interest.
I want to first play what he said, defending himself at the end of the day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": I knew there was no conflict here. There's no question of conflict, because he's got a job to do, so do I, This was all fact-based and it's something that didn't involve him in terms of the accountability.
See that changes everything. If there's something that's been done wrong on the state level that he deserves to get hammered, he's got to answer for it, right?
I wouldn't put myself in that position.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Paul, you just mouthed the word outrageous when we were listening to that clip.
FARHI: That's outrageous for a network like CNN that prides itself on its hard-hitting news reporting, straight up, for him not to say there's a conflict of interest.
There is obviously a conflict of interest. That's why I don't interview my mother on television or in print.
You have to have an impartial person interviewing people. That's the way you get information.
STELTER: Jane, was that your impression as well?
HALL: I think he came on very strongly about that, but -- STELTER: And I'm glad that he defended himself.
HALL: The revolving door between politics and media is spinning. Chris Cuomo is a terrific reporter, but I think to say that -- to declare there's no conflict, you know, there may be a conflict.
What if the state is engaged or involved in some way that we don't know after this accident? We don't know that it's not a conflict. It's the appearance of a conflict, for sure.
STELTER: My impression was that it was great television. It was great to see them next to each other.
Maybe it wasn't great journalism, and, of course, in TV, there's both elements involved.
HALL: I don't think people care as much about these things. I don't sense that people care as much as journalism critics care. I don't know the viewers care about this as much.
STELTER: Jane, Paul -
FARHI: If I could break in -
STELTER: -- thank you so much.
Coming up, how should the press handle the one-year anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School?
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.
There was a lot of talk this week here on CNN and elsewhere about how about the national media should approach the one-year anniversary of the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Maybe they should take their cues from local media in Connecticut. Brian Koonz, the metro editor for Heart Connecticut newspapers, joins me now from New York.
Brian, thanks for being here.
BRIAN KOONZ, METRO EDITOR, HEARST CONNECTICUT NEWSPAPERS: My pleasure, Brian. Thanks for having me.
STELTER: Tell me about what your plan and what your newspapers plans are for covering the anniversary, considering the fact that the families in some cases read your newspapers?
KOONZ: No, that's absolutely true and we're keenly aware of that.
I think our plan is, we wanted to do something that was really insightful, thoughtful, intelligent.
To be honest, I really don't know how much you gain by going to Sandy Hook on Saturday and collecting quotes and going to the local diner or Starbucks or those sort of places.
To us, this is a very personal story. I live in Newtown. Many of our employees from reporters to editors to the folks who distribute the newspaper, they live in this community.
And what we wanted to do was to really find a special way to acknowledge the victims, to acknowledge the families that lost loved ones that day, and really acknowledge a community that's very much in the stages of grieving.
I don't think the grieving process in Newtown is anywhere near over.
You know, I look at some of the obvious stories, how Newtown has shaped the gun debate, how Newtown has shaped the mental health debate, the police response debate.
These are obvious stories, but they're also obvious because they are obvious.
What we're trying to do is really be a little bit more provocative, rather than predictable, so what we've tried to do all this week starting with today, we've reached out to members of the community and, with today's picture -- newspaper, you might be able to see from Sunday -
KOONZ: -- we have, as I look through the monitor here, thank you very much.
We've got George Hochsprung, who is the husband of Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School. who was killed that day
And what we have on the front page of our paper and our other papers with Hearst Connecticut newspapers are excerpts from diaries that they shared, from sailing diaries -- and if I could, I'd like to take the liberty of just reading one excerpt from Dawn Hochsprung's diary.
"I love you. I want to be with you in all ways for the rest of my life. Trust me to love you the way you deserve to be loved.
"I am good for you and I'll help you as you help me. We can be each other's strength and support.
"We can laugh together and cry together. You are the piece of my life that's always been missing and you fulfill me completely. I love you forever."
Now, a story like this, you don't get arbitrarily. You don't get from dive-bombing journalism.
I think this was a story that came to us through Eileen Fitzgerald, a wonderful reporter, who had established a relationship with George Hochsprung, really a relationship of trust.
And that's how we plan on really marking this anniversary throughout the week.
We're going to have essays on the front page of our newspapers in Danbury, as well as we're going to be picking those up in our other papers in Bridgeport and Greenwich and Stanford, Connecticut.
We're going to have a Connecticut resident who's an expert on mass shootings whose wife is a minister in Danbury, which isn't too far from Newtown.
We're actually going to have an accomplished banjo player to kind of talk about -- who lives in Sandy Hook, to talk about how music can be a healing force.
We're going to have a novelist in -- who lives in Sandy Hook, also describing their reaction, and how they have changed, how the community has changed, a year later.
So I think that approaching it this way, trying to find some kind of meaningful insight outside the confines of just doing this pack- journalism mentality, I think for us, certainly, is the way to go.
I mean, we don't, you know, take any kind of pleasure in people's misfortunes in this tremendous heartache that people have experienced in Sandy Hook.
However, what we do take pride in is the job that we've done, and I think we have been very careful to report with clarity, with accuracy, with honesty and, perhaps most of all, compassion.
STELTER: In the 30 seconds we have left, tell me, do you think the national media should be in your backyards this Saturday? Or should they stay away?
KOONZ: You know, what I do think, I don't think they should necessarily in the backyard. We've had our first selectman, Pat Llodra, in Newtown who's similar to the function of a mayor, has said that she would appreciate that.
There are no public memorial services.
Again, I understand that this is a national story. I think folks might be better served about what has been the impact of this Sandy Hook shooting in your local community and perhaps using Newtown as a focal point.
STELTER: That's a great point.
KOONZ: -- to get back to my earlier point, I don't what's really to be gained by collecting quotes through Newtown on that day, on the anniversary, the one-year anniversary.
STELTER: I predict that most people, most reporters, will stay away that day, and we'll find out for sure on Saturday.
Brian, thank you for being here. We'll keep -
KOONZ: Thank you very much, Brian.
STELTER: you and your neighbors in our thoughts and our prayers this week.
KOONZ: I appreciate that.
STELTER: Coming up, there's no doubt that it was the biggest news story of this week, the passing of Nelson Mandela.
Hear from the writer of "The New York Times'" epic, 6,000-word obituary who actually got to interview Mandela for it, right after this.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
At around 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, there was a flurry of activity at CNN's newsrooms in Atlanta, New York and here in Washington. South African government sources were privately signaling that Nelson Mandela had died.
Anchors were notified and special events producers were called in, but this network and all of its rivals waited until the official announcement at 4:45 before beginning wall-to-wall coverage of Mandela's death, and more importantly, life.
Nobody wanted to get it wrong.
Of course the Mandela obituaries have been ready for years. Which brings up an interesting question. Would you cooperate with a writer if you knew they were working on your obituary?
Well, Nelson Mandela did. In 2007, he allowed Bill Keller to come to South Africa and spend time with him.
Years earlier, Bill had been the Johannesburg bureau chief for "The New York Times." He'd since become the executive editor of the newspaper.
Now, full disclosure here, I was a media reporter at "The Times" until about two weeks ago, which means Bill was my boss for several years.
He is now a columnist, and I spoke with him earlier in New York.
STELTER: Bill, thanks for being here.
BILL KELLER, FORMER MANAGING EDITOR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It's nice to be here. STELTER: So you were able to interview Nelson Mandela for his obituary on one condition, and what was that condition?
KELLER: The condition was that we didn't call it an obituary interview. In fact we didn't call it an interview at all.
The whole idea -- it's a fairly common thing in the news business, that you interview a subject for his advance obituary in the hopes that he would be a little analytical about his legacy, maybe say some things that he wouldn't be so comfortable saying in this life, but opinions or revelations.
Reporters think it's a perfectly normal thing to do. Subjects generally think it's kind of creepy. Mandela's people thought it was incomprehensible.
So what we eventually negotiated was that we wouldn't call it an interview. We would call it sort of a visit for old times' sake.
I brought along my 10-year-old daughter who was traveling with me in South Africa. He's great with kids.
And we had a time -- I was allowed to take notes, but no taping, and we chatted for a while.
STELTER: Must be a cherished memory now.
KELLER: It's particularly cherished because my daughter got a chance to actually meet this towering figure and was even, at age 10, cool enough to realize that this was really somebody special.
STELTER: In the days since his death, what are your impressions of the national and international media coverage of Nelson Mandela?
Do you feel like his more controversial parts of his past have been glossed over?
KELLER: In a lot of the coverage, yes. There is a sort of tendency to sand off the rough edges, which I think is a shame.
Because there's no question he's one of the towering figures of the 20th century, and everybody who covered him pretty much came away with a bit of awe of the guy.
But he was a complicated human being, and he had rough edges, and he was not universally revered in the early days, the way government regarded him as a terrorist.
A lot of blacks who hated the idea of apartheid thought that Mandela was an accommodator, was too soft. He gave away the store, a sellout.
And there were a fair number of black who really didn't want to rock the boat at all because they were just afraid of the reprisals that would come.
So he was a controversial figure in black South Africa and white South Africa at the time.
STELTER: It was a hell of a story for you as bureau chief of the time in Johannesburg.
KELLER: It was a gift. He was a gift to journalists. Not just Mandela, the whole -- you had history. You had drama. You had the suspense of not knowing -- knowing that white rule was over, but not knowing quite how it was going to end, whether with a bloodbath or an election.
And then you had all these amazing characters, Mandela first among them. And one of -- maybe a dirty little secret of South Africa is that it has first-world infrastructures.
So unlike a lot of other places where you're covering upheaval and bloodshed, the airplanes fly on time. There are rental cars, well- paved highways, fast-food joints, telephones that work, gas stations.
So you may be traveling to scenes that feel like the third-world upheavals, but you're doing it, most of the time, with a kind of first-world comfort level.
STELTER: That's interesting.
How do you characterize his relationship with the foreign press over the years? Did he seem to seek out that attention? Was he aware of the benefits of bringing in foreign reporters?
KELLER: He was very shrewd about the press. I always had the sense that he knew exactly what he was doing, and you could see he was sort of gauging what he had to give and what he needed to do in each interview.
If it was somebody who was sort of dropped in from the foreign world that just wanted to bathe in the presence of Nelson Mandela, they would get a very uplifting speech, which was a good speech, but one he had given a thousand times and could give in his sleep.
If it was somebody who was based there and that he sort of knew and had been interviewed by a few times -
KELLER: -- he knew he had to be a little more analytical.
And sometimes he would give you, I mean, I remember a couple times talking to him about F.W. de Klerk. The two of them shared a Nobel Peace Prize.
KELLER: De Klerk was his partner in the negotiations, but there was this deep mistrust and very complicated relationship and, you know, he didn't talk about that a lot.
But if he sort of -- he knew if it would be something useful to you, he would get fairly personal about analyzing his rivals and collaborators in the anti-apartheid movement.
He once actually let me spend a day tagging along with him, which I --
STELTER: It's hard to imagine many other presidents allowing that.
KELLER: No. I just read Doris Kearns Goodwin's book on Teddy Roosevelt who used to invite reporters in when he had his midday shave. He would -- he gave that kind of access.
I think, since Roosevelt, nobody has come close to that, but it was quite amazing and he knew what he was doing.
STELTER: And he was giving it to an American reporter. He knew the audience he was speaking to.
KELLER: He knew if he gave it to an American reporter only, that would cause some controversy, so he -- after I had negotiated this deal with him, he invited a South African reporter along, as well.
And the two of us had the day flying from Pretoria down to Cape Town in his presidential plane and then tagging along while he did all of his sort of -- most of his -- he didn't let us in on the security briefing or things that were sensitive, but spent a fair amount of time sitting in his office listening to him do business.
It was -- he was a gift to journalists.
STELTER: It's hard to imagine having to write that 6,500-word obituary that you filed probably, what, years ago, and it was finally published on Thursday.
KELLER: Yeah, my wife tweeted that it took me 20 years to write that obituary, which it was 20 years since I landed in South Africa.
I actually wrote the first draft, I think, eight or nine years ago at the point when everybody was sort of recognizing that he was getting old. He'd been out of sight and out of public life.
And it was good to have the time, actually ,to do it because there's a mountain of material, some really good documentary films footage that the producers gave me transcripts of.
So I had a combination of my own and sort of everybody else's stuff, and then the obit interview with him -- the obit visit was a little sort of sprinkles on the cake.
STELTER: Those are the obituaries we'll remember, the ones that have been in the works for decades.
Bill Keller, thanks so much for being here.
KELLER: It's great to be here.
(END VIDEOTAPE) STELTER: After the break, my thoughts on what RELIABLE SOURCES is all about.
STELTER: Welcome back. I'm Brian Stelter.
We made it to the end here. This program, RELIABLE SOURCES, was created in 1992 to cover how the media views the world.
Howard Kurtz provided what he always liked to call a "critical lens" on the media. It's an honor to take Howe's place starting today, although I have to admit this is all a little strange.
For years I've been on the side of the camera you're on, writing about CNN at my blog, "TV Newser," and at "The New York Times."
The bosses at this network liked some of the stories I wrote there, and strongly disliked some of the other stories I wrote there. That's probably how it's going to be here, too, and that's how it should be.
I believe this program matters more than ever. Just think about the name, RELIABLE SOURCES. These days everyone and everything is a source.
People with cell phones publish news. Presidents, athletes, celebrities, they all bypass the press by making their own YouTube videos and Vines.
Advertisers are producing things that look like news, and news organizations are producing things that look like ads.
And the ways that we consume all of this are rapidly changing.
These days everyone's a source, but who is reliable? What's reliable? And how do these sources shape our views of the world?
That's what this show is about. And that's all for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
This was pretty fun, I think, and I am new to television, like I mentioned.. I've got a lot to learn, so I'd love to read your feedback about this debut show and about what you'd like to see or not see next time.
You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook. My user name is BrianStelter.
And I hope you will join us on CNN.com where my colleagues and I will be covering the day's biggest media stories, seven days a week.
Then we'll recap these stories right here next Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern. I hope to see you then.
"STATE OF THE UNION" starts right now.