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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Left and Right Battle Over Benghazi Story; Witness to the Execution

Aired May 4, 2014 - 11:00   ET

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


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In 2008, my slogan was, "Yes, we can." In 2013 my slogan was, "Control, alt, delete."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Erin McPike in Washington.

"RELIABLE SOURCES" starts right now.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning and welcome to "RELIABLE SOURCES." I'm Brian Stelter, coming to you from Washington, on the morning after the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

The dinner is the closest thing the city has to the Oscars. So, all the stars here -- and I watched what has become a tradition, the president roasting the media and himself, of course. And this year, President Obama saved some of his best zingers for us, for cable news. He seems to think CNN might be covering the missing Malaysian Airlines flight too much.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am happy to be here, even though I'm a little bit jetlagged from my trip to Malaysia -- the lengths we have to go to to get CNN coverage these days.

(LAUGHTER)

I think they're still searching for their table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: So right after that joke, I looked over at one of the tables where FOX News staffers were sitting. I could just tell FOX News was next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Speaking of conservative heroes, the Koch brothers bought a table here tonight. But as usual, they used a shadowy right wing organization as a front. Hello, FOX News.

(LAUGHTER) I'm just kidding. Let's face it, FOX, you'll miss me when I'm gone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: So, that got lots of laughs, of course.

The tension between the president and FOX News is palpable, it has been for years. And it was at the heart of this week's biggest media story: Benghazi.

So enough about the dinner. It was fascinating to be there, it was fun to celebrate the press corps. There is a lot to great reporting to celebrate, but there's also a lot to scrutinize. So, let's get to it.

Benghazi is a classic case of red news/blue news. FOX News presents the president handling of the Benghazi tragedy as a scandal, while left-leaning MSNBC pretty much dismisses it. One story has become two different stories on the right and the left.

So, the question for us today is, is there a real scandal and is the press paying enough attention?

It was September 11th, 2012 when four Americans were killed in Benghazi, Libya, in what we now know was a terrorist attack. On the right, including on FOX, there's been lots of talk of a cover-up to protect the president.

This week, there was a new development, an e-mail obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, written by Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. Included on the e-mail, some top White House officials. I'll get to that.

But first, the blue in red news/blue news. On MSNBC, Alex Wagner openly mocked the idea of a cover-up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC: If you hear it from a Benghazi truther, the smoking gun has been found. Not only was a senior White House official apparently following CIA guidance, he was also trying to manage political fallout before the 2012 elections. As Dave Weigel points out in "Slate", this was a major departure for most crises, when administrations tried to broadcast fear and panic. Dave Weigel is, of course, being sarcastic.

But sarcasm and apparently a sense of reason or proportion, those didn't seem to have been lost on conspiracy-obsessed conservatives who have turned this e-mail into the Watergate tapes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Now, cue Bill O'Reilly, who was furious with the e-mail didn't get more media attention right away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: That's a scandal, a scandal. That is proof the American press is dishonest, period. They're covering up a cover-up, as Krauthammer put it, which might lead directly to the president of the United States. And that failure by the national press to tell the American people the truth about Benghazi is for one reason and one reason only -- to protect President Barack Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: So, this morning I put together a blue ribbon panel of reporters to get at the truth of this, including Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame.

But, first, here in the studio, CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash and "Politico" magazine senior staff writer, Glenn Thrush.

Let's start with the e-mail which is being called the smoking gun. What does the email actually mean?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: (AUDIO GAP), obviously, Republicans are calling it a smoking gun because they believe this is proof of what they've been arguing for a very long time, which is that there was a political dynamic here and a political imperative here inside the White House to not call this a terrorist attack, because it was just six, seven weeks before the election, and the president was running on somebody who killed Osama bin Laden. So, this would have hurt that political narrative.

But it's not just the content, it's also the fact we haven't seen it. And it wasn't a part of the batch of documents the White House gave up when they were subpoenaed.

GLENN THRUSH, POLITICO: I was talking to a former and National Security Council official yesterday, and he said it was just nuts this wasn't part of the documents in May. We sat there for two hours in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, with senior officials who assured us this was it. We were going to see every single e-mail.

And, in fact, this thing shows up, and it is not -- by the way, in terms of its substance, I think we can agree it is not a smoking gun, it is more along the lines of just another piece of information in a larger case.

STELTER: But it was their interest to get everything out, wasn't it?

THRUSH: It was.

STELTER: (INAUDIBLE) about this.

THRUSH: Well, it was at the time. But you have to wonder -- I think the hidden story has, obviously, has a lot to do with politics, but it has a lot more to do with competing interests in the CIA, and the State Department and the White House. BASH: You saw that Jay Carney at the White House was, first of all, trying to say that the reason it wasn't given over was because it wasn't specifically about Benghazi, it was more of a regional discussion which, you know, nobody in that White House briefing room bought at all. It was pretty spirited.

THRUSH: For me, as a reporter who covers the White House, the fascinating stuff isn't the conspiracy theory stuff. It's just watching all these different players go at each other with knives.

STELTER: Where does the story go from here? A story that is daily on FOX News but rarely covered as extensively elsewhere.

BASH: Yes, I've noticed that -- I've noticed that a lot of frustration on my Twitter feed from a lot of conservatives out there saying, why are -- whatever story I do, OK, this is great, but why aren't you doing Benghazi?

This is fascinating to me because FOX is doing it extensively, and if you talk to Republicans, as I do on Capitol Hill, particularly those who are up for reelection, maybe even those who have primary challenges who are really trying to make sure that the base is with them, the Republican base is with them, this is a huge issue.

So, the question that I have, and I don't know if anybody can really answer this, is it's a chicken or egg question. Is FOX doing it because the Republican based viewership is interested or is the base interested because FOX is doing it all the time?

THRUSH: I see the same stuff on the Twitter feed. I get e-mails from my friends on the right who say, why aren't you covering this extensively? It is an important story to cover. But from my perception, as someone who covers the White House, it's important in terms of diplomatic security moving forward, our role in the world and this conflagration in the Mideast that we still haven't dealt with.

So, I think to a certain extent, having this so politicized, robs us of the ability to discuss what the real policy implication better.

STELTER: Because it gets called a FOX story --

BASH: Exactly.

STELTER: -- the other people can more easily dismiss it.

BASH: Exactly. Just for example, at the end of the week, there was testimony in front of Darrell Issa's committee. He's actually been one of the leaders in trying to investigate this, from a retired general, who was the first military person who was in the region on the ground at the time to testify before Congress.

He argued that the military should have done more, could have done more, you know, and that the reason they didn't is because there was a cultural deference to the State Department. You know what? Whether or not that's true, you know, there was certainly a divide politically, but it should be something that the government, that we should be interested in looking into.

Is there a problem with just basic bureaucracy and bureaucratic problems that could perhaps hinder trying to go help four Americans and more Americans -- four Americans died but more who are under attack in the post that they were sent to by this government?

THRUSH: Now, if I were on the right, I'd be angry with the Darrell Issa, who is the head of the investigations committee, because he drew all these conclusions at the beginning of the investigation. If he had brought reporters along step by step by step, without making the most -- the broadest accusations at the very beginning of his inquiry, I think you would see a level of interest in the story in the mainstream than you don't see.

So, I think, to a certain extent, the hyperbole upfront has really harmed as an issue which taken -- which would have otherwise taken root in the wider community.

STELTER: I think people are wondering this week, you know, is FOX -- this has been targeted as a FOX story. MSNBC has been dismissing the story. We've seen that on left wing blogs as well, referring to Benghazi truthers in a negative way.

I wonder if that will come back to hurt some of these folks who have dismissed the story entirely.

THRUSH: It's like -- I'm just getting a little tired of seeing the base talk to itself. It's like -- you know, I think we -- our function here is to sort of -- is to move beyond this partisan -- I wouldn't say shelling because I think there are fine journalists in all these places that we're talking about.

But I think in general it's just becoming noise. And finally, I wonder how productive it is. I mean, the FOX folks are watching FOX, the MSNBC people are watching MSNBC, I don't know who else --

BASH: Tune in to CNN!

THRUSH: I don't know they're selling here, right? I mean, like -- it doesn't seem like either argument is selling the larger group of people who either aren't tuned in to this or don't care about it much as a central issue.

STELTER: Ultimately, isn't this center of attention because of the woman on the screen behind us, Hillary Clinton?

THRUSH: Who?

BASH: Of course.

THRUSH: Ben Rhodes?

BASH: No, and I really do think that you're absolutely right. It is a legitimate story on its substance. But it does -- you're right as well, that it does get caught in the politics, and the politics of this is about the base now and whether there's a cover-up, but it's also looking ahead to 2016 and Republicans having their eye on somebody who they're worried is really unbeatable, and that's Hillary Clinton. And her Achilles heel, as far as they're concerned, is what happened in the State Department, the fact that she was the secretary of state at the time that one of her ambassadors died, the first time that's happened in 33 years, and trying to pin her with this.

And they have now infamous sound bite from her, which I guarantee you, we're going to see in ads over and over, if she does run, saying something along the lines of "what difference does it make?" which probably take out of context. But the bottom line is, you're right, Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time. She is the big political target for Republicans, and those two are actually related.

STELTER: Dana Bash, Glenn Thrush, thank you both for joining me.

And now, I'd like to turn to someone else who knows a great deal about Hillary Clinton. He wrote a book about her, and someone who's been following the Benghazi drama closely as well. Carl Bernstein is, of course, one half of the Woodward and Bernstein team that broke the Watergate scandal, so he knows plenty about political shenanigans.

Carl, welcome to the program.

You know a cover-up when you see one. So, do you sense one here when it comes to Benghazi.

CARL BERNSTEIN, AUTHOR & JOURNALIST: I think we need to back up a bit and say right off the bat that this is not Watergate or anything resembling Watergate. Watergate was a massive criminal conspiracy led by a criminal president of the United States for almost the whole of his administration.

We're talking total apples and oranges here. That doesn't obviate the fact that this particular memo should have been turned over by the State Department to those who called for it.

STELTER: When you see so much of the coverage of this especially programs on the right, especially on programs on the FOX News Channel, do you view it as a campaign to tarnish Hillary Clinton?

BERNSTEIN: This is about an ideological scorched-earth politics that prevails in Washington on Capitol Hill and by the media that goes way beyond FOX. It goes to the web. It goes to MSNBC to some extent. It also goes to general coverage.

Benghazi is a history that ought to be examined in a fact-based way, lower the temperature. It's not about criminal presidencies or anything of the kind. It's about finding out what happened, and it's not difficult to do in a sane atmosphere. We don't have a sane atmosphere.

STELTER: As someone who wrote a book about Hillary Clinton, do you look at the coverage and think it is clearly intended to link to her and her possible ambitions? BERNSTEIN: Of course, this is partly about Hillary Clinton and it should be partly about Hillary Clinton. Does FOX News, does the Republican Party, does Darrell Issa, does John Boehner want to derail her candidacy? Of course, they do. Is there an almost mad hatred for Hillary Clinton by the people over there at FOX and some other news outlets, by "The Weekly Standards", some others on the right? Sure, there is.

But that doesn't obviate the fact that there is a real story here to be looked at in context. I think we know most of the truth about what happened in Benghazi. If it were possible -- and I don't think it is -- to have a calm, non or bipartisan investigation, contextual that would once and for all it could establish a set of irrefutable facts? That would be terrific. But I don't think such a thing is possible in today's political or media atmosphere.

STELTER: These talking points -- we read so much about these talking points and they are clearly political points. But we're talking about a tragedy that involved the death of four Americans. Is that something that's been somewhat lost?

BERNSTEIN: I don't think it's been lost and I don't think there's anything surprising about talking points for the Sunday shows being in a political context. Every president and every secretary of state and undersecretary and member of Congress is always looking for political points, as well as simply intelligence and factual points. There's nothing wrong with that.

What occurred here, however, is the reaction to those political comments was furious, some of it perhaps understandably. But, so far, we haven't seen any great misuse of intelligence such as we saw, for instance, in the lead-up to the Gulf War by the president of the United States, vice president of the United States, misusing and misrepresenting intelligence to go to war. We've seen nothing like that.

What we do have here, though, is the Congress of the United States asking for documents that it is entitled to have. And the failure of the executive branch to turn those documents over, the omission of this one document in particular is troubling. And the White House ought to have a much better explanation than Jay Carney's double talk has shown so far.

But that is not to confirm in any way the wild assertions of the right and the Republican Party having to do with Benghazi.

STELTER: What I hear you saying is it's not a 72-point type story. It's not a blaring headline. But it is a 24-point or an 18- point headline. It is worthy headline.

BERNSTEIN: Look, I don't want to reduce this to headlines. I think that's part of the problem. I think that what we need to do is look at things in the news as context. And part of that is to look at the idle players, is to look at Darrell Issa and who he is and what his objectives are. To also look at what President Obama or Hillary Clinton or Susan Rice was trying to do at that moment. But in context, was Susan rice trying to go out there and deliberately lie about what happened? It sure doesn't like it to me. But take a look at the record.

But I do think that a scale to which the Republican right, the Tea Party right has made this issue -- tried to make it and over- politicize it and over-ideologically taint it is wrong, and has taken the thing wholly out of context.

STELTER: Carl Bernstein, it's always a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you for coming on with me.

Now, I've got to fit in a quick break.

But when we come back, these questions: whether or not you support the death penalty, would you want to see it carried out and actually witness an execution? Should we all be able to see what goes on in the death chamber?

Some tough questions and answers when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Welcome back.

I want to turn to one of this week's biggest stories -- in Oklahoma, where the execution of Clayton Lockett went horribly wrong. Lockett was put to death for the murder of a young woman who was buried alive. He died of a heart attack on Tuesday night, 43 minutes after the state's botched attempt to killing him with a combination of drugs.

When I told the news online Tuesday night, I told a friend I was with, then what happened? The same thing that probably happened in millions of homes this week, we launched right into a vigorous debate about the death penalty.

Let's put this data up on screen. More Americans support the death penalty than oppose it. CNN's latest polling shows that support now stands at 50 percent. Notably, that number has dropped a bit in recent years but it's still pretty strong.

It's natural to wonder if those numbers would change if people actually saw what happens in the death chamber. Occasionally, there is talk about actually televising executions. Some say if you support it, you ought to be able to watch it. Others claim that seeing it may change your mind about the issue.

When I was having my death penalty debate with my friend, she was surprised when I told her reporters do see it, that reporters are witnesses to executions whenever they take place.

Maybe you're surprise by that too. Those reporters in those cases, they are serving as our eyes and ears. They are there to report when things go wrong, as they did this week. So, let me bring in two of those witnesses now. Matt Trotter of Oklahoma Public Radio witnessed Lockett's execution. It was the first time he had been a witness.

Greg Bluestein on the other hand, has witnessed a number of them. He wasn't there on Tuesday, but it was his beat for years. He's now with "The Atlanta Journal Constitution."

Thank you both for joining me.

MATT TROTTER, OKLAHOMA PUBLIC RADIO: Thank you.

STELTER: Matt, let me start with you. I know it can't be comfortable coming on television talking about this, but tell me what you did witness on Tuesday.

TROTTER: Well, it was, you know, as you said, my first execution, and I didn't approach it lightly. To me, it was that extension of my duty as a reporter that it's a very extreme extension of it, but this is something I felt obligated to do. But that still doesn't quite prepare you for actually being there and watching it, especially when you see it starting to go wrong, and you hit that point during the execution where you and the rest of the media witnesses in the room are able to exchange quick glances with the people next to you and just go, oh, wow, this is really going wrong.

So, when it got to that point, I think the journalistic instinct for most of us, definitely for me, just kind of kicked in, and it was a lot of looking up at the clock, looking down at Lockett, looking at the clock, scribbling on the prison-provided notepad. So, I think I'm at the point where I haven't slowed down quite enough to process what I saw on Tuesday night, and I think it's going to be difficult when that does finally kind of catch up with me.

STELTER: Greg, since you've witnessed a number of executions. First, let me ask how many? And tell me, what changes over time when you've done this more than once?

GREG BLUESTEIN, ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION: Yes, I witnessed 10 executions. And the first one was my toughest, at least. I remember after I covered that first execution, I went back -- I had a story, of course, on the "A.P." wire service, but I also had to write a story about what it was like to go through that execution just to get it all on paper.

It's instinctively a secretive process. There's not much detail about it. In Georgia, at least only a few reporters get access to that death chamber but it's one that's essential. Just as Matt was saying, you sort of wrap yourself in the shroud of journalism, like there needs to be a dispassionate mutual observer when the government takes the final step of taking someone's life. But it doesn't make it any easier to do that.

STELTER: Can you relate to what matt was just saying about what it's going to be like when he finally gets to slow down and process what's happened? BLUESTEIN: It does hit you, because as reporters we cover awful things. We cover executions, we cover murders, we cover tornadoes and natural disasters. And it will hit you at some point.

What I did and what many of my colleagues who have covered those, that they essentially say this is a duty. Someone has to be there when the state does this final act. Often, for high profile executions in Georgia, I covered Troy Davis', which was an international story a few years ago, but most of the time, they're not international stories.

A few executions I've covered, maybe if you're lucky, two reporters are actually in the death chamber and one of them was sort of a rookie who had never been there before.

STELTER: You said just two?

BLUESTEIN: Sorry?

STELTER: You said just two reporters.

BLUESTEIN: Just two reporters. In Georgia, there is up to five reporters in the death chamber, but some of them I've covered, there was a local radio reporter plus me for "The Associated Press". So sometimes there's very little media attention on these executions. So, we have a duty to say what happens.

And I'll add, too, some executions, even the condemned man's lawyers or family or friends aren't even in there. The lawyer is usually back in Atlanta or Washington filing last-minute appeals and they don't have anyone there for them. Not that that's our job, but we also -- we have the right to write what is actually happening in there.

STELTER: There's been discussions over the years the idea of televising this. It's sometimes brought up by liberals who say the death penalty should be abolished. They say if it was televised, people would change their minds and be against the death penalty.

What do you think of that idea now that you went through this this week?

BLUESTEIN: I think if the government does take that ultimate step that the public should see it. It is jarring and it's not something that I would let my two young daughters ever want them to see, but it is something that I feel the public should know, especially given the number of executions that don't get the type of media attention that Matt is talking about.

STELTER: You're both reporters. You may not want to say what your personal view about the death penalty is, but does it change you? Greg, does it change your point of view having done this 10 times?

BLUESTEIN: My view is if the state is going to take this step, they better be absolutely sure of the guilt. And when there's questions about someone's guilt, it does get to you. I've seen executions where the final words were something along the lines of, "I apologize for the action you're taking against me and I forgive you." And that stuff haunts you.

So, my only hope is that when the state goes down this route, and in Georgia, prosecutors will swear up and down that every person they've executed in recent history was guilty of the crime, but still, you know, there's lingering doubts get to you.

STELTER: Matt, I know it's only been a few days for you, but have you felt your personal views changing at all?

TROTTER: Not really. I mean, honestly, my personal views on the issue are sort of up in the air and I'm figuring them out as I go. Even before I went, that was where I was at on the death penalty. So --

STELTER: Can I just say that's refreshing to hear, by the way? Sometimes on television it's as if everybody has their minds made up, but you're pointing out what I think a lot of people feel, is that they don't know about an issue as serious as this one.

TROTTER: Right, it's a hard one to come to a final decision on, just because there is so much information out there, and then you have to factor in your own personal feelings about things. It's -- you know, on one hand it's not a deterrent to crime, but on the other hand, there is certain crimes that we feel that should be the penalty for it.

STELTER: What do you think viewers or citizens in general should know about the process? What something that you learned this week that we at home should know?

TROTTER: It's not a pretty process at any stage of the game. From start to finish, whatever -- however the finish plays out, there's no real point in there that it's simple and you can just kind of sit back and accept what's happening.

STELTER: Greg, anything you would like to tell Matt given that you've been here before, though not in the case of a botched execution like this?

BLUESTEIN: Yes, I mean, it will hit you. My advice is when it does, just get out your pen and write. It doesn't even have to be for publication. I wrote something just for myself that ended up being published, but just write or have someone to talk to, because something like this, I can't imagine going through that as your first execution.

STELTER: Greg Bluestein, Matt Trotter, thank you both for joining me today.

BLUESTEIN: Thank you.

TROTTER: Thank you.

GINGRICH: And let me know what you think as well. Send me a Twitter message or a Facebook message. My username on both sides is @brianstelter and I'd love to hear your feedback.

Time for a break here but you'll want to hear my next story because it's about the biggest media moguls in America and who they're scared of. So scared they won't tell you what they really think. But we'll tell you, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Welcome back.

My next guest says the CEOs of the biggest media companies in the United States are afraid of Comcast, but that those CEOs won't say so out loud.

Let's take a step back here, back to February, when Comcast announced its plan to merge with Time Warner Cable. Right now, government regulators here in Washington are reviewing the deal. Comcast says it would like to have approval by the end of this year.

It would combine the number one cable company in the U.S. with the number two. Since they serve different cities and towns right now, Comcast says it's perfectly appropriate to combine the two. But many of Comcast's rivals disagree.

Comcast owns NBC Universal, which has lots of cable channels. When you talk privately with cable executives that own other channels, talking about companies like Disney or Viacom or the parent of this network, Time Warner, they will tell you they hate the merger.

But those executives will not say that on the record. Netflix is an exception here. Its CEO, Reed Hastings, came out against the deal last month. And this week, the chief executive of Univision raised concerns as well. But that's about it.

Here was the headline on the front page of Friday's "New York Times" about this: "As Netflix Resists, Most Firms Just Try to Befriend Comcast."

So what's this all about and why should consumers care?

Joining me now is the guest I mentioned, Peter Lauria, the business editor for BuzzFeed. One of his stories about this was headlined, "Why Big Media Won't Stand Up to Comcast."

So, Peter, thanks for joining me.

PETER LAURIA, BUZZFEED: Thanks for having me, Brian.

STELTER: So, tell me why big media won't stand up to Comcast.

LAURIA: Well, in a nutshell, it comes down to money.

And if you're big media, and Comcast is paying you millions and millions, if not billions, of dollars each year to carry your programming, you kind of don't want to bite the hand that pays you. So, that's one of the reasons. There are a bunch of others, one -- another being that, like, it takes someone with a special backbone to stand up to the bully in the schoolyard, right? And they're trying to do this stuff off the record behind the scenes. And I sometimes wonder, if they would have went on the record, you have an opportunity right here.

There's an opportunity with Reed coming out, Reed Hastings, the Netflix CEO, coming out and going on the record against it, and then Randy Falco at Univision coming out against it. You have an opportunity here. A window is open for maybe some of these powerful companies that you mentioned, which collectively are worth $360 billion, to say something on the record.

Maybe that carries more weight with regulators. I don't know.

STELTER: You just said Comcast is the bully in the schoolyard. Tell me how that's defendable.

LAURIA: Well, look, I'm speaking metaphorically, but when you're biggest and the strongest out there -- and there is no doubt that that's what Comcast is currently.

In its current configuration, Comcast is extremely, extremely powerful. Adding Time Warner on top of it, and, as I say in my story, going from owning 20 percent of cable television households in the country to 30 percent is a huge, massive difference.

And maybe they're not necessarily a bully, but they have got a lot of muscles to flex.

STELTER: Let's back up a bit and explain the economic model here to consumers. Comcast puts so much money in the pockets of these companies how? By paying subscriber fees, right?

LAURIA: Right, right.

Comcast's single biggest expense is what is called programming fees or, as you would call them, subscriber fees. I think they paid upwards of $9 billion in programming fees to various different network owners last year. I think that's what their annual report said.

STELTER: So, that means Viacom, for example, will get money for MTV and Nickelodeon and all of these.

And the "New York Times" story about this on Friday suggested that maybe, behind the scenes, these big companies are negotiating with Comcast, trying to get things out of Comcast while they're vulnerable, while they're trying to get a merger approved. Has your reporting backed that up as well?

LAURIA: Yes.

Look, that's obviously one of the things that they're trying to do. I mean, it's basically like, hey, we won't say anything publicly about how we're against this, but when we have to renew our next carriage agreement, I would like a sweetheart deal. I mean, this is all -- this is a mutually cooperative ecosystem here, right? Comcast needs the programmers. The programmers need Comcast. They can't go -- like, to use the "Godfather" term, they can't go to the mattresses against each other. There has to be a relationship there.

So, it's not so much that they -- they're trying to extract whatever they can in whatever polite way that they can, without going sort of nuclear.

STELTER: You mentioned earlier you think there is a sense of inevitability around this deal. Is that something that you think can be poked at by any of these big companies?

LAURIA: Well, I do think so.

Like I said earlier, I do think that there is an opportunity here, if they wanted to. I mean, I kind of feel like this is very similar to what's going on in another case in the media world, which is Aereo. And I feel like the regulators and the Supreme Court in that particular instance are kind of looking for a reason or a justification to reject this deal.

Right now, they're not getting it. And I sometimes wonder, if a Rupert Murdoch or a Les Moonves says something on the record, maybe that carries a little bit more weight than a Randy Falco at Univision. I don't know. But maybe it does. And maybe there's an opportunity. If it's just one voice screaming in the crowd, maybe you don't hear it.

But if it's seven voices that collectively are worth $360 billion, maybe you give a little bit more weight to that.

STELTER: In the meantime, a great story for you and me to cover.

Peter Lauria, thank you for joining me.

LAURIA: Thank you.

STELTER: We're going to stay on this story. And we're going to keep trying to book Comcast executives to tell us why they believe the merger is in the public interest.

I need to take a break here, but up next, a story so big and so gut-wrenching story, that I'm stunned by how little coverage it's getting in the media.

It's the week's most "Undercovered" story in just a moment.

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STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.

Time now for a segment we call Undercovered" about stories that should be getting more attention from the press. This Twitter message from a viewer caught my eye on Thursday. Here's what it says: "Question. Does anyone know how we can get CNN to give as much attention to 344 kidnapped children as they do to Flight 370?"

Every day this week, I saw a version of that comment, not just about CNN, but about the media in general. They were reacting to the abduction of girls in Nigeria. It happened back in mid-April, and it's a horrifying story.

The numbers are somewhat confused. There have been some reports that some of the girls have been -- have escaped or have somehow been freed, but the fact remains that a radical Islamic terrorist group called Boko Haram, which means "Western Education is Sinful," took the girls, reportedly for this reason, that they were going to school, that they were getting an education.

I first heard about the story through CNN's correspondent in West Africa, Vladimir Duthiers. He's based in Nigeria. And I think CNN deserves some credit here, because other networks barely have any presence in Africa at all.

But, until recently, the story has not gotten sustained attention from this network or from any others in the United States.

At a protest this week where Nigerians demanded more information, more action from their government, Vlad spoke to a man who said the Internet has helped fill in the gaps.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The social media has been a powerful tool for us in Nigeria, because traditional media has failed us. Information is sparse and almost non-available.

For weeks, people do not know the number of girls that were missing. So, we have been able to fill in the gap that traditional media has totally, totally failed.

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STELTER: For more on this, let me bring in Vlad, who is in Lagos, Nigeria, today.

Thanks for joining me.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks for having me, Brian.

STELTER: Since we're talking about a topic that hasn't gotten enough coverage, bring us up to speed. What is the current situation?

DUTHIERS: The current situation, Brian, is, on April 14, in Borno state, in the village of Chibok, armed attackers stormed a government girls college where some 200 young students were sleeping in the middle of the night. They set fire to the school after a shoot-out with some security guards that were on the campus. After they set fire to the school, they carted these girls away in buses and vans and other vehicles deep into the bush that borders Cameroon, along with Nigeria.

Now, over the course of the last two weeks, the military has said to us that they have launched a search and rescue campaign. But many parents that we have spoken to say that they haven't seen any evidence of any kind of rescue taking place.

Many of those parents and family members have risked their lives going into the bush armed with stones, with rocks, with machetes, anything they can get their hands on, to try and rescue these young girls. So far, they have been unsuccessful. The military, for their part, says that they're doing everything to try to bring these girls home.

But over the last couple of weeks, since these girls have been taken hostage, people in Nigeria have started to get angry. They have demanded answers from their government. They have demanded answers from the military as to why more is not being done.

STELTER: But is there a sense there in negotiate is that it's not getting the kind of global attention from the press that it should be?

DUTHIERS: There are challenges.

And it's true that you heard in the sound bite that you played of that young man, he said that the traditional -- the traditional media has failed in this particular case, and that social media is now driving the coverage.

But remember that, when people are attuned to an image or attuned to a story, for example, the South Korea ferry disaster or the Malaysia Air 370 disaster, there are images.

STELTER: Yes.

DUTHIERS: There are -- there is video. You have a dramatic rescue at sea. You have the tilting ship. You have family members that are crying and talking to the -- to reporters, wanting to get the word out as to what they're going through, what they're experiencing.

And in that, when that happens, people around the world can relate. They see those images, they hear those voices, and they are there. They are there with the reporters learning about the story as the reporters learn about it.

In Nigeria, in Africa, but in specifically Nigeria, there are a lot of challenges when it comes to reporting a story like this. This has happened in a part of the country that is very remote. There are challenges in getting signals there.

We, as journalists, cannot go to this area. The area where this occurred is considered a Boko Haram stronghold. Boko Haram is this Islamist terror group that has been accused of kidnapping these girls. To go into that part of Nigeria is very risky indeed.

So we can't bring images of the parents talking about their daughters. We can't bring images even of the young girls that have gone missing, because the government has been very, very -- they have kept -- they have been very close-guarded when it comes to releasing the names or images of these young girls.

So there's nothing for people to grasp onto. And print reporters have been doing this story, "The New York Times," the U.K. "Guardian," but, still, when you don't -- are not able to talk to those people, when you don't have those voices, we don't have those images, it's just hard for people to relate.

I think now, as the social media campaign has begun, the story really is simple. You don't really need all those images. You just have to imagine you are a parent. You send your kid to school. In the middle of the night, in their dormitory, they are abducted, and you never hear from them -- or you haven't heard from them in two weeks.

Any mother, any parent, anybody with a heart listening to that story will now start to understand what it is that these people are going through.

STELTER: Well, I am glad you are there to tell us about it. Thank you so much for joining me.

DUTHIERS: Thanks for having me, Brian.

STELTER: Send me your feedback on today's show. I am on Twitter and Facebook. And my username is Brian Stelter.

Right after this break, an explosive story about to come out about CBS News and one of its top reporters, I will tell you what it says right after the break.

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STELTER: Is Lara Logan ever coming back to "60 Minutes"?

That's the question that reporters and TV executives will all be asking tomorrow. And let me tell you why. "New York" magazine is about to come out with a feature by all-star reporter Joe Hagan, and the line on the cover -- here it is -- says, "Should Lara Logan Be Allowed Back on 60 Minutes"?

You probably remember what happened last October. It was about the topic of our first segment this morning, the tragedy in Benghazi. Logan interviewed a security officer she called Morgan Jones. And he told a story about being in Benghazi on the night of the consulate attack.

But after Logan's report aired, the story unraveled. In November, she came back on the program and said, "We were wrong to put him on air" and apologized. She has been on a leave of absence ever since. So, Hagan looked into what happened and into her past at CBS News. And in his story, he uses the word "toxic" to describe her. Hagan reports that -- quote -- "Logan's return appears less and less certain."

Now, some people at CBS say there is still a plan for her to come back on the air and that it could happen soon. But I think this magazine story will create even more uncertainty about that. CBS has declined to comment, and the story will come online tonight and in print tomorrow.

I have more RELIABLE SOURCES for you right after the break.

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STELTER: That's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, but check out the rest of our coverage, all of our media coverage on CNN.com.

And tune in this time next week, Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern time. In fact, go ahead. Set your DVR now. Record every episode, so you never miss us.