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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Interview with Sharyl Attkisson; Interview with Glenn Greenwald; Interview with Chet Kanojia, CEO of Aereo
Aired April 20, 2014 - 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 RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter. And happy Easter Sunday to you at home.
Up first this morning, serious accusations of journalistic wrongdoing. It involved one of the country's most respected news organization, CBS News. They come from Sharyl Attkisson, an investigative reporter who resigned from CBS last month after more than 20 years there.
Since her resignation, he's appeared on FOX News twice. And that has stirred up speculation that she may be hired there in the future, and that comes amid allegations that unanimously sourced news stories that say Attkisson left CBS because she sensed liberal bias. In other words, because supposedly, liberal executive and producers at CBS did not like the stories she did, stories critical of the Obama administration on polarizing topics, like the president's health care overhaul and the killing of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Now, when I sat down to talk with Attkisson this week, it turns out she had a story to tell that she had not told before, of a new organization that she claimed will cave corporate interests and let political bias dictate what stories got to air. I also asked her some important questions that FOX News had not asked her, about claims of a lack of accuracy and journalistic rigor in her own work.
Listen to her story.
STELTER: Sharyl, thank you for joining me.
You worked here at CNN for a few years in the 1990 and then 21 years at CBS News. So, what led you to decide to resign?
SHARYL ATTKISSON, JOURNALIST: There were a host of factors, but I would say primarily in the last couple of years, there was a declining appetite on the broadcast for original and investigative reporting, at least the kind that I was offering, and it did get to a point where it didn't seem like there was a lot left for me to do.
STELTER: CBS News' slogan is, original reporting. You said there wasn't much of an appetite for your kind? ATTKISSON: I think in general, the correspondents will tell you at CBS and other places as well that there is a declining appetite for this on the broadcasts. And in some cases, I think it's seen as maybe too much trouble because of the push-back and the organized campaigns that come to bear on us when we're working on these stories and afterwards as well.
STELTER: What kind of campaign?
ATTKISSON: Special interests. Government has adopted campaigns that remind me much of what corporations have always done. E-mail campaigns, telephone calls.
STELTER: You mean complaints about a story after it's aired, that kind of thing?
ATTKISSON: Prior to it airing when they get wind that it's going to air. As it airs, after it airs. There are surrogates who act in the capacity of bloggers. Some of them I think hold themselves out to be independent and really are not independent at all, but they've launched this sort of opposition campaign or effort that starts very early, as soon as they catch wind that a controversial story might be done.
STELTER: I remember in the radio interview in March, you said, "The various stories, you get the idea that at some point, that they just want you to stop." And it's not just political stories. You went on to say it's the stories that go after other interests, corporations, different things.
Who are they in those cases? Is that CBS producers or executives, someone else?
ATTKISSON: Over the years, it's been a variety of people, but I would say more recently, the unstoppable force has been the broadcast, the programs that the producers that decide what gets on the air in a given day.
STELTER: The executive producers of "CBS Evening News" or "CBS This Morning" or other programs?
ATTKISSON: For example, yes. The executive producers, senior producers.
STELTER: Can you tell me a concrete example of a story that seemed to get squashed along the way or shut down along the way?
ATTKISSON: There was a story that look to the corporate interest, a very powerful corporate interest that I know have been calling around on Capitol Hill and to analysts to try to squelch reporting on the topic. And I assume they were speaking with CBS because that's the normal process. And I thought it was a terrific story. My two producers thought so as well, as did some of the managers who looked at it.
And in the end, that story was never to air. It was not said to me that it wasn't airing because there was a corporate interest at stake. We were told instead that at the last minute, after it had been approved and done and people liked it, that it wasn't perhaps very interesting or that perhaps we should wait until the government came down and made up its mind on the controversy at hand, and then perhaps we could do the story.
STELTER: What are the reasons, so far as you can tell, for why you had increasing amounts of difficulty getting on the air? We're talking about, as I mentioned earlier, a 21-year history at CBS. So, are there specific reasons you can cite for why you think you were having a hard time getting stories on?
ATTKISSON: We had a big -- an almost total change in management. In the time after Katie Couric left, the top managers who are very much in the stories of government waste and government oversight --
ATTKISSON: -- all of them left at one time.
ATTKISSON: So --
STELTER: New president came in, new chairman of CBS News, a bunch of new bosses as well.
STELTER: Let me read this from "The Washington Post." This is in March 10th, right around the time you were resigning from CBS. And Erik Wimple wrote, according to a CBS News source you felt you were being kept off "CBS Evening News" because of political considerations.
Did you feel that way? I mean, were there political considerations at times?
ATTKISSON: You know, it's fairly well discussed inside CBS News that there are some managers recently who have been so ideologically entrenched that there is a feeling and discussion that some of them, certainly not all of them, have a difficult time viewing a story that may reflect negatively upon government or the administration as a story of value.
STELTER: So you're saying they are liberal or Democrats?
ATTKISSON: I don't know what their registered party is, I just know that the tendency on the part of some of these managers who have key influences has been they never mind the stories that seem to, for example, and I did plenty of them, go against the grain of the Republican Party, but they do often seem to feel defensive about, almost, personally defensive about stories that could make the government look bad. Even if it's something as simple as a government waste story that doesn't pinpoint anybody in particularly and it takes on both parties. It seems as though some of them were sensitive about any story that might appear as though it criticizes the government. STELTER: A couple of news story about your resignation cited one particular executive, Patricia Shevlin, who was executive producer of the "CBS Evening News", as someone that you clashed (ph) with. Is that an example of someone you felt had this ideological stand and was uncomfortable with stories about the administration that were unflattering.
ATTKISSON: Pat Shevlin was the executive producer of the "Evening News", and I think there's no secret that there were a number of people at CBS News that had some serious issues, but it wasn't isolated to that alone. I think --
STELTER: You said serious issues. What do you mean?
ATTKISSON: There were discussions about certain types of stories that got on the air. There were discussions about the heavy-handed editing. In other words, we had not experienced -- at least I had not experienced and some of them said they had not experienced the extent to which some of the editing went on.
That may not be just her. There are certainly a group of managers in what they call the fishbowl of New York who are responsible. So, it's hard to say it's all at the guidance of her, but that she is executive producer of the show.
STELTER: The president of CBS News in the last couple years has been David Rhodes and his brother Ben Rhodes is a speechwriter at the White House. Do you think it had any effect on their interest or lack of interest on stories involving the administration?
ATTKISSON: In one or more conversations that David and I had, he was very much in tune with -- he told me at least -- the types of stories that I do, the types of journalism he thought we should be doing, and I would say we had a meeting of the minds on that that didn't translate to the broadcasts.
STELTER: Is there a pattern you detected if you were to pitch a story about Republicans that was troubling that it would get rejected, or if you pictured a story about Democrats that was troubling, it would get supported? Was there a pattern?
ATTKISSON: In general, there was a pattern of more -- many more stories in recent years being embraced if they were seen as being positive to government, the administration and even certain corporations, that if they were stories that were pitched that could be perceived as negative to government, administration and certain corporations.
STELTER: And is that -- just to get the timeline here, is that after 2009 or is that at all times, including when a Republican was in the White House?
ATTKISSON: I don't remember having political troubles per se. You're asking me a question I really have to think hard about and I don't have the time to go through it right now. I would say, in general, I don't remember any of the same kind of problems when we had the last management of administration. Rick Kaplan was executive producer, Paul Friedman was vice president, Sean McManus was president of the news.
In that era, I proposed stories and no one ever asked me where they were going and what side they might come down on in the end, because we often didn't know. You know, we would cover a story and it ended up where it ended up.
I think the change now is, there are managers in New York who wants to know how the story is going to come out, and if it doesn't come out the way they like, for many different reasons, it will, as I said, die the death of a thousand cuts and probably not air.
STELTER: Right. When I asked about the timeline because there is a difference potentially between avoiding stories that would hurt the Obama administration and avoiding stories that would hurt whatever administration happened to be in power.
ATTKISSON: I didn't sense any resistance to doing stories that were perceived to be negative to the Bush administration by anybody ever. I do -- I have done stories that were not received well because people thought they would reflect poorly upon this administration.
STELTER: I need to fit in a quick break, but when I come back, I want to play a key part of my interview with Sharyl Attkisson digging into her own journalism. There are some critics who say she just got stories just plain wrong. You'll want to hear my answers. We'll be back in two minutes.
STELTER: Welcome back.
Returning now to part 2 of my interview with former CBS investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson.
She told me a story she hasn't told before. She talked about how the esteemed news division of CBS is, she says, supervised by people whose bias affects the so-called original reporting the network promotes. She says those people didn't seem to have the stomachs for tough, adversarial stories.
And there's another important aspect of Attkisson story that she also talked about with me, accusations that you can look up on line of repeated errors in her own reporting. Here's what she had to say.
STELTER: On the flip side, you've been treated harshly by some on the left who say you are presenting conservative bias. You got these dueling impressions of you. Is there truth to that? How do you feel when you've heard that?
ATTKISSON: I do think, again, that's a campaign by those who really want to controversialize the reporting I do so you wouldn't listen to it, because if anybody took a few minutes really just do a Google search, you would see the dozens and dozens of stories I've done that were, in many cases, complemented by liberal press and other liberals as being a very good story, and I have been criticized by the conservative side in the past.
So, I think it wouldn't take -- it wouldn't take much for someone --
STELTER: Do you think that's what Media Matters is doing? Media Matters has been campaigning against you and saying you've been inaccurate in your reporting, is that what they're doing? They're just trying to controversialize the issue?
ATTKISSON: Media Matters, as my understanding, is a far left blog group that I think holds itself out to be sort of an independent watchdog group. And yes, they clearly targeted me at some point. They used to work with me on stories and tried to help me produce my stories, and at some point --
STELTER: That's interesting.
ATTKISSON: Well, I think they call -- don't they call you? I mean, they call journalists and they're trying to --
STELTER: Right, they're always emailing things, making us --
STELTER: -- try to act outraged about something, right?
ATTKISSON: And I was certainly friendly with them as anybody, good information can come from any source. But when I persisted with Fast and Furious and some of the green energy stories I was doing, I clearly at some point became a target, that they -- you know, I don't know if someone paid them to do it or if they took it on their own. But they were very much --
STELTER: Do you think that's possible that someone paid them?
ATTKISSON: Well, they get contributions from -- yes, they get contributions from --
STELTER: But specifically to target you?
ATTKISSON: Perhaps, sure. I think that's what some of these groups do, absolutely.
STELTER: I want to take a chance to see if you can respond to a couple of the criticisms that I've read online, that I've seen charged when it comes to your stories, because these have come up in the wake of your resignation from CBS. One of them is from last November.
You reported on the security risks on the Healthcare.gov Web site, and you had received a partial transcript of a product (ph) manager's testimony about it, by the Web site's problems, and he said it seemed to him like his original testimony had been leaked by the Republicans. And it seemed to him that his words had been taken out of order. He said, I think there's been some rearrangement of the words that I used during the testimony.
Of course, that was broadcast on the "CBS Evening News", that these words that he says were rearranged, that were misleading.
ATTKISSON: Well, if you would check, you would see -- I don't know what you have access to, but there wasn't any rearrangement of words. So just because someone says this, someone who works at the administration who's being questioned at the congressional hearing who's is under pressure, perhaps, for system management or misdeeds just because he says something doesn't mean that's the case.
And in fact, many times with the Obama administration and quite frankly sometimes with the Bush administration on various stories, just because the administration or someone who works for them says something doesn't mean it's the truth. So, I don't -- I think it would be a mistake to take the words that were put out by one side or the other out of hand, without doing the checking yourself and believing it.
STELTER: When you see -- you know, this was something that was written about by the "Washington Post", it's not just a liberal group but also newspapers that tried to be objective -- when you see those cases, when you see that happened, do you feel that's them trying to controversialize your reporting, as I mentioned earlier?
ATTKISSON: Sorry, I didn't understand the question.
STELTER: When you see "The Washington Post," for example, write about something that they, you know, they are basically saying you're inaccurate on that story, do you feel they're trying to controversalize it, they're coming after you for some reason?
ATTKISSON: Well, it was my understanding what "The Post" did was just take the word of the Democrats who put out a press release and some information afterwards, which was once again inaccurate.
STELTER: The loudest criticisms that I've heard of your reporting had been about a series that you did years ago, linking -- it was about childhood vaccinations and whether those are linked to a rise in autism, you know? And you would portray I think at different times as a debate that was continuing to happen in the scientific community. Do you regret those stories, now years later?
ATTKISSON: No, I think those are some of the most important stories I've done and I would like to continue along those lines. At some point, it continues to be a very important debate.
STELTER: And yet you hear doctors say that framing that as a debate has hurt people, has damaged people's understanding of medical issues, by encouraging them not to get vaccinated.
ATTKISSON: Well, you can believe that. I'm not here to fight doctors. I'm just saying that factually, I'm not here to advocate for one side or the other. I'm just saying factually, there are many peer-reviewed published studies that do make an association, and the government itself has acknowledged a link.
And again, people can do their own research. They certainly don't have to believe me or even, you know, one doctor over another. I think they need to dig deep and look for themselves.
STELTER: If there is one takeaway you think that the viewers should have about your experience at CBS, especially toward the end, what would it be?
ATTKISSON: I would say generally look at the big picture, gather information yourself, do your thinking, be suspect of but maybe not overly suspicious, but suspect of the material that you see when we're not listening to the firsthand source because there are very sophisticated efforts to manipulate the images and the information that you see every day, in ways that you won't recognize. And I think we can all be a little more savvy about that.
STELTER: Sharyl Attkisson, thank you so much for joining me.
ATTKISSON: Thanks for having me.
STELTER: I want you to know, I shared portions of this interview with CBS ahead of time, hoping they would comment, and the network declined to respond directly. My impression is they want to go separate ways as quickly as they can. It's pretty much the same way the network treated Dan Rather after he departed a number of years ago.
A spokeswoman did send along this statement, the same one CBS put out when she resigned in March. Quote, "We appreciate her many contributions and we wish her well."
Coming up, another big interview, Glenn Greenwald has not spoken out since he and his former colleagues at "The Guardian" received the Pulitzer Prize last Monday. He's here, back in the United States. And my exclusive interview with him is right after this break.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
In the previous segment, Sharyl Attkisson talked about how some people tried to controversialize her reporting. And I think my next guest, Glenn Greenwald, knows exactly what she's talking about. He may well be one of the most controversial journalists in the business right now and he might like it that way.
Using NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden, he has helped to uncover the U.S. government's mass surveillance and he's infuriated U.S. officials by doing so.
Last June, right after the first leaks, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York even said Greenwald should be prosecuted for his journalism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Not only did he disclose this information, he has said that he has names of CIA agents and assets around the world and they're threatening to disclose that. But in this case, when you have someone who has disclosed secrets like this and threatens to release more, then to me, yes, there has to be -- legal action should be taken against him. This is a very unusual case with life and death implications for Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Now, for the record there, Greenwald never actually threatened to release the names of CIA agents. Neither he or any of his colleagues have ever done so. For whatever reason, the congressman's office declined our interview request about Greenwald and Snowden.
But I want to play that clip because it's incredible to think about the distance between that and the Pulitzer Prize for newspaper and online writers. The Pulitzers are the most sought-after prices in journalism. And last Monday, Greenwald and his colleagues at "The Guardian" where he worked last year shared in the highest Pulitzer of them all, the Prize for Public Service.
In a statement, Snowden said the decision was a vindication. Quote, "This decision reminds us that what no individual conscience can change, a free press can."
So what does Greenwald think? He hasn't really commented on the Pulitzer this week, but now he joins me with an exclusive interview.
Glenn, thank you so much for joining me.
GLENN GREENWALD, JOURNALIST: Great to be with you.
STELTER: Where were you on at 3:00 p.m. Monday when the awards were announced? And what was your initial reaction?
GREENWALD: I was actually having lunch. I didn't want to pay too much attention to it or try and follow it too closely, but I had my phone on the table and I knew that the hour was upon us.
And so, you know, as I said, I think there was an expectation that the committee had to recognize the reporting in one way or another and the question was going to be how. And so, to learn that it was a Public Service Award and that it was given to "The Guardian" and to "The Washington Post" for the work that we had done was really gratifying because I think that is what the idea was, that we always try to fulfill, which was doing the reporting in public service.
STELTER: We saw Congressman Peter King, one of your sharpest critics right on Twitter on Monday right afterwards. He said awarding the Pulitzer to Snowden enablers is a disgrace. Anything you'd like to say back to him about that? GREENWALD: I mean, I look at Peter King's condemnation as an enormous badge of honor. You know, if you look at what people were saying about Daniel Ellsberg and "The New York Times" in 1971, which was now widely recognized as extraordinarily heroic and noble reporting, the Peter Kings of that era were saying the same thing, they actually were threatening the "New York Times" with prosecution, they impaneled a grand jury to consider prosecuting them.
Senior Obama administration officials were suggesting what we were doing is criminal as well. And that's just part of I think what journalist is, if you want to be adversarial to those wield power, you have to expect that those who wield power aren't going to like what you're doing very much. And not only that doesn't that bother me, I see that as a vindication that what I'm doing is the right thing.
STELTER: Let me play that infamous now -- a now infamous clip of David Gregory talking to you last year on "Meet the Press."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, MEET THE PRESS: Why shouldn't you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?
GREENWALD: I think it's pretty extraordinary that anybody who had called themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: For what it's worth, I think David Gregory knew the answer to that question that he was asking you, but I wonder if you think the Pulitzer Board was sending a message with this public service award to people who may actually wonder why you weren't charged with a crime. Were they trying to make a statement by presenting this Public Service Award?
GREENWALD: I think it made a statement. Whether that was their intent or not, I don't know. I assume it was. That people on the committee are long-time journalists and presumably interested in basic press freedoms.
And, Brian, to me, this is one of the most important things that I think has happened in the story is, it wasn't just David Gregory, it was a series. And it escalated recently on not just people like Peter King, but Mike Rogers and James Clapper and Keith Alexander, allied governments in Canada, explicitly calling me personally and my colleagues criminals for reporting on the story, and they wanted to create this climate where there was a serious possibility that those of us who re doing the reporting could be criminally prosecuted.
I think one of the reasons why I was willing to come back to the United States when I did because I knew that the Polk Awards as well the Pulitzers were this week and it would make them very difficult to follow through on those threats. But that climate of fear was deliberately cultivated at the highest levels of the U.S. government and I think the Pulitzer board did answer that rather resoundingly. STELTER: Let me ask you about coming back to the U.S. When we spoke on this program before, you came to us from Brazil where you spent most of your time. You hadn't come to the United States since the Snowden stories began to be published. Tell me about the decision making process. It sounds like the awards were part of it.
But did you also seek out assurances from the U.S. government that you would be able to enter the country freely?
GREENWALD: We did. I mean, I had lawyers working for several months, including many who have -- or at least some who have connections at the highest levels of the Justice Department trying to get some indication about what the government's intentions were if I tried to return. And they were given no information, they were completely stonewalled, the government wouldn't say if there was a jury impaneled, if there was indictment under seal, if they intended to arrest us, they wanted to keep us in the state of uncertainty.
And when you combine that with al the threat that I just referenced, there clearly was some risk of coming back. At the same time, we felt on principle that I was no longer going to be -- well, I was no longer willing to be kept in a single country and kept out of my own country based on these sort of implicit threats and bullying techniques, and if they really wanted to do something, I wanted to force the issue and make them do it.
STELTER: Your critics might say you trumped up this possible threat. Did you really feel you were concerned about coming back, that they could actually, for example, stop you at customs and interrogate you or even arrest you?
GREENWALD: The senior official, national security official at the Obama administration is James Clapper, who repeatedly called us accomplices, which is thinking from the criminal law. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Michael Rogers, explicitly called me a criminal and thief and tried to convince FBI Director James Comey to arrest me.
The U.K. government detained my partner for nine hours under a terrorism law. Of course, it was a threat, and they wanted us to think it was a threat. We didn't concoct those statements for those actions. They did that themselves on purpose, to try and create this menacing climate.
STELTER: And I believe you have a book coming out very soon. It's coming in May, right?
GREENWALD: I do. So, that's one of the reasons why I intend to come back to the U.S. I think the material in the book, which includes a lot of new stories from the Snowden archive, has a lot of impact for the United States, and I want to be able to come back and talk to the people most affected by that story, which are Americans.
And so, that's --
STELTER: I thought the book was mostly going to be about the reporting so far, but you're saying it's also going to have new information from the documents?
GREENWALD: Yes, there were stories that I felt from the beginning really needed the length of the book to be able to report and do justice to. So, there's new documents, there's new revelations in the book that I think will help inform the debate even further.
STELTER: Do you feel the Pulitzer the Polk Award and the other awards you are going to be accepting in the future for this reporting as well legitimizes the reporting in a way that might change people's minds, maybe take a random person who doesn't believe the documents should have ever been leaked, and maybe persuade them that they, in fact, should have been leaked? Or do you think people's minds are already made up about this topic?
GREENWALD: No, I think we have seen a lot of flux in public opinion polls, where large numbers of people who originally were quite hostile to Edward Snowden and to the reporting have come to view the disclosures much differently.
And, sure, if it were just a matter of a single award, I don't think that would persuade anyone, but given that pretty much every single major journalism award in the Western world has recognized the vital importance of these disclosures, I think the accumulative effect of all of that is to convey to the public that this information needed to get out, and it was in the public interest that it did so.
And I do think that can sway a lot of people to understand why Edward Snowden did what he did and why we did what we did.
STELTER: Glenn Greenwald, thank you so much for being here. Congratulations again.
GREENWALD: Thanks very much, Brian. Thanks for having me.
STELTER: As always, I would love to know what you think of the program today, about the Greenwald interview or any other part. So, please send me a Twitter or Facebook message. My username on both sites is Brian Stelter. And I will be responding to your comments right after the show today.
After this break, there is a war going on between President Barack Obama and President Vladimir Putin, a propaganda war. As the crisis in Ukraine worsens, who is winning this war of words? It depends on where you get your news.
My weekly look at "Red News/Blue News" is next.
STELTER: It's that time again, red and blue time. It's a look at how particular stories are told in completely different ways by the right- and left-wing media. And then we look at what's actually reliable.
We call it "Red News/Blue News."
And today's example is Obama and Putin.
Let me generalize here for a moment. If you have been watching a lot of MSNBC, you are probably pretty sure that Mr. Obama is showing strength in this case. He's a confident leader doing all the right things to blunt Putin's aggression in Ukraine.
On the other hand, if you have been watching a lot of FOX News, you are probably pretty certain that Mr.. Obama is a wimp who wears mom jeans. That's Sarah Palin's memorable phrase. And he all but cowers at the sight of the Russian president.
Let's start on the right with FOX. This was Jeanine Pirro on her show a few weeks ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS: With all due respect, Mr. President, Putin is a pig, but he's been bitch-slapping you since the Edward Snowden mess.
And speaking of perception, your Secret Service bozos passing out drunk in hotel hallways traveling with you in Europe makes you look weak yet again. Do you think Putin's KGB guys would dare do something like that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: And Eric Bolling on the FOX show "The Five" offered, well, he would say, compelling visual proof of what a weak leader Barack Obama is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC BOLLING, FOX NEWS: Leadership, I should just stop because a picture says 1,000 words. Here's -- watch.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my goodness.
BOLLING: Which one? Which one do you want leading your country?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going with the bike. I'm going to go with the bike.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You like the shirtless guy.
BOLLING: ... like the shirtless guy. holding the rifle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: That was not Russia Today. That was FOX News. I know I don't have to tell you it was a completely different story over on left-leaning MSNBC.
Listen to Ed Schultz from last month.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: President Obama, I think, is playing this very close to the vest. I think the president is playing it exactly right. He has to.
He's not jumping to any conclusions or jumping on the gun or anything like that. He's using diplomacy and sanctions and exhausting, I think, every diplomatic effort. It's the right thing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So there's red news. There's blue news. And then there's the actual news.
I have invited former State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin here to examine the propaganda about both leaders and get at the facts.
JAMIE RUBIN, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Nice to be with you.
STELTER: Why do you think the press tends to boil these things down into caricatures?
RUBIN: I think part of it is because it's easier to do that. Part of it is because both leaders would like this whole issue of Ukraine to be seen as a kind of single-player operation where President Putin is making every decision all by himself, or where President Obama, for that matter, is making every decision by himself.
I think more -- it's more true on the Russian side. On the West, you know, the response is going to matter of the whole West European countries, of France, of Germany, of Britain, and the American people. One of the problems here is that the American public has tended to look inward, doesn't seem to care about what's going on in the rest of the world, let alone in places where you can't pronounce their names.
STELTER: Is it a situation where the media can compel them to care or where no amount of reporting from Ukraine will really result in engagement by the public?
RUBIN: Well, I think the media can compel people to care.
It takes time. It takes compelling stories and doing the hard work of foreign correspondents on the ground telling the story as it truly is. But after Iraq and Afghanistan, it's a fact that the country is tired. And I think where the criticism of President Obama is somewhat justified is that I think it's up to our president to convince the public, convince the West, unify Europe and the United States behind this seminal principle that big countries don't get to gobble up little countries.
There's no more important principle in international affairs. I think all of us, the media, the Congress, and the president need, to do more to take this issue seriously, because there is no bigger issue in foreign affairs.
STELTER: I have heard some drumbeating from conservative media suggesting military action. I haven't heard a lot of that elsewhere. How much of that have you picked up on, and what do you make of some of that?
RUBIN: Well, I don't think there's any serious proposal for the United States to send troops into Ukraine to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia.
STELTER: Right. Right.
RUBIN: I think conservatives, what they tend to do is to try to attack the president and imagine that, if it was a Republican in office, things would be different.
Let's remember, George Bush was president in 2008, and Vladimir Putin essentially invaded the country of Georgia, and the president didn't do much about it.
STELTER: If both the right and left portrayals that we have been talking about are both incomplete, are both wrong in some ways, which one does more damage in this case?
RUBIN: Well, I think I have a tough time.
They're both pretty damaging. On the right, I don't think it helps our country or our foreign policy or our security for the American president to be mocked and made fun of, as if he hasn't shown great leadership on many issues over the last six years.
Similarly, I don't think the left does us any favors by imagining that President Obama has played this perfectly. He obviously hasn't. Russia's leader has gone step after step. It's not as if Obama is responsible. On the contrary, Putin is responsible. But, clearly, there is a lot more that we in Washington and the West can do to make clear to Vladimir Putin that aggression doesn't pay. Right now, he hasn't seen that.
STELTER: And since you consume as much as this media as anybody -- you're married to CNN's own Christiane Amanpour. You know how the journalism world works. Give me an example of intelligent journalistic analysis of this issue. What do you seek out? What do you read? What do you watch?
RUBIN: Well, I think in the last 24 hours -- I will give you a good example.
"The Financial Times" did a huge piece about the propaganda war that Vladimir Putin is undertaking, which taught me quite a few things about what's going on there. They're rewriting their textbooks. They're eliminating any alternative views to Putinism. They're creating a kind of Mussolini-like state, not fascism as it was in the '40s, but the idea that a few people get to decide what happens to a vast empire, are able to steal billions of dollars from the state, and are able to rewrite textbooks and tell a truth, what we used to call back in the World War II days, a big lie.
The "F.T.", I think, did a very good job in that case.
STELTER: Jamie Rubin, thank you so much for joining me.
RUBIN: You're welcome.
STELTER: Got to fit in a quick break here, but coming up, take one company's brilliant idea to connect thousands of tiny TV antennas to the Internet, and then add a pack of angry network executives. You get the most important Supreme Court case involving media that we have seen in 20 years. I mean this literally. Stay tuned.
STELTER: Aereo is a small company with a big idea. And it threatens or at least scares the big television networks and media companies so much that this week Aereo will be arguing for its life in front of the nine justices of the Supreme Court.
The idea behind Aereo is kind of absurdly simple. It's really throwback to the early days of television. For eight bucks a month, Aereo will give your very own rabbit ears, an old-fashioned antenna that picks up broadcast television signals, and beams them to you, but in a very new way, a brand-new way, an Internet stream to your laptop, your tablet, your phone, et cetera.
So, why is this upsetting the big networks so much? Why are they suing? It's because most people don't use antennas to TV anymore. They get CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX stations the same way you're getting CNN right now, through a pricey cable or satellite package.
The cable guys pay those stations for the right to retransmit them. They pay billions of dollars in the aggregate. But Aereo is not paying the broadcasters a penny, so it's undermining what has been a growing source of revenue for all those stations.
Aereo says this is perfectly legal. And they envision a bold new alternative to cable, which could disrupt the media status quo. The broadcasters say this is copyright infringement and it has to be stopped right away.
You can see how high the stakes are here. So I went out to Aereo's antenna farm in Brooklyn earlier, where they have thousands of tiny antennas basically the size of my thumb. And they use the antennas to pick up TV signals for subscribers.
That's where I talked to man who founded Aereo, Chet Kanojia.
CHET KANOJIA, FOUNDER AND CEO, AEREO: Sixty million people in this country today use an antenna in some way shape or form. This is according to the National Association of Broadcasters.
So, clearly, whatever perceived harm there is going to be with an antenna hasn't happened yet, because those people are peacefully coexisting in this ecosystem.
STELTER: These stations are technically free to air because they are broadcast over the public airways.
But most of us end up pay for them through the fees that are passed along by our cable or our satellite company. So you can understand why the broadcasters are up in arms about this, right? They were getting -- they are getting paid for most consumers who watch their stations.
And Aereo presents a way for them not to get paid.
KANOJIA: In the exact same way that an antenna allows you to watch it without an additional payment.
Now, here is the issue. Ninety-plus percent of that business is advertising. You increase audiences, you increase advertising. You create more creative technologies that take advantage of digital delivery, you increase advertising dollars.
STELTER: Right now, it's advertising-based, but these broadcasters say they need higher and higher retransmission fees in order to survive. And you're taking that away.
KANOJIA: We're not taking it away.
I think the question is, do they want to be broadcasters? Because if you want to be a broadcaster, you are required to program in public interest and convenience free to air. Anybody with an antenna can pick it up.
The debate -- I don't understand why the location of the antenna changes that equation in any which way, shape or form, when functionally they have been proven to be equivalent, and nobody has disputed those facts.
STELTER: So the broadcasters say, this is theft. You say it's what?
KANOJIA: It's consumers' right. They have a right to pick the technology they want to use, as long as they control it.
STELTER: Whether it's an antenna or Aereo?
KANOJIA: It's an Aereo antenna, a RadioShack antenna, a RCA antenna, or a TiVo DVR.
There is no prohibition, absolutely. The market is changing, unquestionably. Aereo is not forcing that change. This trend was beginning way before Aereo existed. Netflix is happening. All of these things put a lot of pressure on these companies.
And the challenge they face, which is why this lawsuit, it's a business model problem, because they sell these large bundles of products to consumers. And that's how they maintain their profits.
STELTER: By they, you mean the owners of the broadcast networks. For example, the owner of ABC also controls ESPN.
KANOJIA: Exactly. So, ABC also controls ESPN and Disney and a variety of these channels.
And you have got Comcast on the other side, which is the largest cable company, about to get larger, and controls a lot of content and programming. And for them, it is critical that the bundle stays intact.
STELTER: That's where this gets way beyond Aereo. You're really at the core talking about trying to break the cable bundle.
KANOJIA: We're trying to create an open system, because, in this closed, vertically integrated system, the following things have happened.
Rates have always gone up. Less choice has been available to consumers. Less technology has been available to consumers. All of these factors are anti-consumer, all built on a public spectrum grant.
So our -- the question we're trying to bring forward is, why should it be that only one or two monopolies are allowed in consumers homes, and why not a different set of technologies that legitimately make take use of spectrum that was granted?
STELTER: Where does Aereo go if it wins at the Supreme Court this spring?
KANOJIA: I think our hope is that we continue and accelerate our growth. We want to be in 50 markets as soon as we possibly can.
STELTER: Right now, you're in about a dozen?
KANOJIA: About 13 markets. So, that's a big objective.
We have to simplify our product more, so the common consumer who is not terribly tech-savvy can use this product. We have to start marketing the product, explain to people what we're trying to do, the sentiment behind it, and I think try to add more and more value in that.
I think it's important for us to not recreate the cable system. We're not interested in that, because then we have done a disservice to the consumer sentiment that supported us. STELTER: Let's say I'm a consumer. I want to buy the broadcast stations. I want to buy CNN, FOX News. Can I be mixing and matching different channels?
KANOJIA: Well, that would be ideal for consumers, but I don't think that is the future in any short-term view.
STELTER: Because these major media companies, the owner of CNN, the owner of FOX News, won't allow it?
KANOJIA: They won't allow it. And they will only allow these bundled products to exist.
So, I think our hope is, as these technologies become pervasive and as more people realize that there's different ways to think about their media consumption, and new creators come into the market, the market will evolve and change.
And it's a cycle that's gone on every time. The incumbents don't change their tune, they don't change their approach, because they make too much money doing what they're doing.
STELTER: Chet, thank you so much for joining me.
KANOJIA: My pleasure.
STELTER: I want you to know that the parent company of CNN, Time Warner, is among the media companies that stands opposed to Aereo.
Now, it's not a plaintiff in the case, but in a filing with the court, it supported the broadcasters and said: "The court's intervention is urgently needed now to set this vital area of copyright law back on course."
Now, I will be back in a moment and I will tell you the one piece of media news you should be watching out for this week.
Don't go away.
STELTER: And finally this morning, a look ahead to what will be making media new this coming week.
And this week, I think it will be that Aereo hearing that we were talking about right before the break. The oral arguments at the Supreme Court will be on Tuesday morning. And I will be in Washington for them, so check out my story on CNN.com right afterwards. I will try to recap what transpires in the courtroom.
You can find all of that and the rest of our media coverage all week long on the RELIABLE SOURCES blog on CNN.com. So check it out. And then let's meet right back here next Sunday 11:00 a.m. Eastern time.
And, remember, set your DVR if you're not going to be home live at 11:00 a.m.