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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
CBS' Benghazi Problem; Interview with Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan
Aired May 11, 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 Seltzer, and happy Mother's Day to my mom at home in Maryland and all the moms watching at home.
Let's start right there actually with family, with one high profile family, and a huge perceived conflict of interest at CBS News.
For more than a year now, CBS has been hounded about its coverage of the 2012 consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya, and all its follow-up stories about the attack. Many of the complaints bring up this family tie. David Rhodes is the president of CBS News, and his brother Ben Rhodes is the deputy national security adviser for the Obama administration.
Ben was involved in writing the talking points that are at the heart of some of the lingering Benghazi controversies. At the beginning of May, a new e-mail surfaced, one that Ben Rhodes sent in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy in Benghazi, portraying anti- American protest in the Middle East as being rooted in an Internet video and not in a broader policy failure.
The evening newscast on NBC and ABC covered that story about that new e-mail and the conservative outcry about it. But the evening news cast on CBS did not.
The conservative Heritage Foundation circulated this graphic, made to be shared on Facebook and Twitter, that implied that the family tie was affecting news decisions.
CBS denied that, and the next night, the evening newscast there did a long report about Benghazi.
Here's one of the most interesting things about this Rhodes relationship. CBS has at times been so aggressive covering Benghazi that I've had sources describe it to me as overcompensating. In other words, a network perceived to have gone out of its way to pursue the story to inoculate itself against charges of a brotherly conflict of interest, and perhaps to appeal to conservatives and CBS sometimes gets tagged as liberal.
But it may be that very zeal that led to disaster. Last fall, Lara Logan's "60 Minutes" report on Benghazi originally cheered by conservatives when it aired fell apart. She's still on leave there. And this spring, Sharyl Attkisson resigned from CBS. Here she is on this program with me a few weeks ago. Attkisson investigated Benghazi and conservative charges of a cover-up for months, but said that overtime, she had a very hard time getting her stories on the air. She declares some managers on the air, not Rhodes, but some others, were sensitive about stories that challenged the Obama administration.
This week there was a big feature in "New York Magazine" all about this. It was looking at what went wrong with Lara Logan story, and then it went beyond that, looking for problems at CBS News.
So, let's bring in the author of that feature -- Joe Hagan, who is in New York.
And in Santa Barbara, California, Jeff Greenfield who worked at CBS in the 1980s and again in the late 2000s. He was the senior political correspondent there.
Joe, Jeff, thanks to both for joining me.
Joe, let me start with you and your reporting from "New York Magazine" this week.
What was at the root of the problems with that story about Benghazi?
JOE HAGAN, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Well, the problem was they trusted a source who they put on camera with a story that he had about Benghazi that fit, more or less, into a conservative narrative about it. It was published by a conservative -- I'm sorry -- the man who was on camera and published a book on a conservative imprint. None of this appeared on camera on "60 Minutes."
When it turned out his story was false, you know, I think it has since come to light that Lara Logan was maybe blinded by her own agenda and "60 Minutes" didn't check that, that there was a system failure, as it were, at CBS News, in fact-checking this piece and checking Lara Logan.
STELTER: Jeff, let me ask you, as someone who worked at CBS for news. You didn't overlap with David Rhodes, who is now the president. But another Jeff, Jeff Fager, the chairman of CBS News for the last few years, has called the Benghazi story there on "60 Minutes" as big a mistake as there has ever been.
Has CBS done enough to account for that mistake?
JEFF GREENFIELD, FORMER CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: One of the most amazing responses to me was the lack of an independent outside review. Ten years ago when a question was raised about a Dan Rather report about George W. Bush maybe having political influence views to get him into the Air National Guard, CBS brought in a former attorney general and a very significant journalist, Lova Garte (ph), to do an independent review. When I was at CNN and we stumbled through tail wind, that story about nerve gas in Laos, CNN brought in First Amendment attorney, Floyd Abrams.
In this case, CBS charged a veteran producer, a really good guy there to review this story. What that meant was he was judging the work supervised by Jeff Fager, executive producer of "60 Minutes", and then reporting to the chairman of CBS News, that same Jeff Fager. In other words, his boss.
That to me was a serious a mistake, as there are report in the first place because there is no transparency there, there is no guarantee of independence. And that raised some real questions to me.
STELTER: Jeff, is this relationship between David Rhodes and Ben Rhodes, is this a real conflict of interest or just a perceived conflict of interest?
GREENFIELD: I think it's more perceived. As I say, if David Rhodes was being influenced by Ben Rhodes, the Benghazi piece we've been talking about would never have aired because it shed bad light on the Obama administration had it been true.
But, you know, in my first days at CBS back in the '80s when I was a media critic, kind of doing kind of what you do, I've seen this over and over again where it's almost impossible to separate media criticism from public criticism. I rarely, if ever, saw a case where a conservative said that was a tough piece that CBS did about conservatives, but it taught me something. Or a liberal saying, that was uncomfortable news for me to hear, but that was good reporting.
People bring their political beliefs into judgments about conflicts of interest, into judgments about accuracy about stories, to a point where it's almost impossible to separate those two points.
STELTER: And, Joe, in your piece, there is a sense of low morale at CBS. Is that partly because there hasn't been a full accounting of what happened?
HAGAN: Well, it's that, and it's also that there is a lot of resentment around Lara Logan. Frankly, a lot of her coworkers there, you know, felt she had too much power. There's some kind of competitive grousing, of course, but they also felt like she tarnished the "60 Minutes" and that she should leave.
Now, I don't know if that's going to happen, but it did -- her error created a lot of resentment inside the network, and I don't think Jeff Fager has fully dealt with that. And that's why it's still there. A lot of people at the network talk to me. There was a lot of anger, there was a lot of -- and it was directed not just towards Lara Logan but toward Jeff Fager for not addressing this in a way they felt he should.
STELTER: Joe, in your reporting -- do you sense any self- consciousness in CBS about this relationship, this brotherly connection, or did you pick up on that at all? HAGAN: I didn't, though I did report that Lara Logan had a sort of infamous speech that she gave in October 2012 in which she made her opinions known about American foreign policy and supposed lies that were being propagated by the Obama administration. David Rhodes was in the audience when she said those things and helped coordinated the speech.
So, you know, there was awareness of their star reporter's political bent a year before her report. I never saw any evidence, really, that the Rhodes brothers were -- I think they probably were quite fastidious about this because all eyes were on that, actually frankly. So --
STELTER: Let me share with the viewers. We did ask David Rhodes to come on the program and they politely declined on his behalf. But they did send along this statement. Let me put it up on screen.
"CBS News has provided extensive and often groundbreaking coverage of Benghazi from the beginning, informed by correspondents in the field and in Washington. David and his brother have taken great care to avoid conflicts of interest for many years, since David was at FOX News and his brother was at the 9/11 Commission."
And for what it's worth, I found David Rhodes to be a standup guy and also one of the smartest guys in the TV news business.
Jeff, given the fact you've spent so many decades in TV newsrooms, have you experienced other situations like this, where there's a perceived conflict that notice by outsiders, but it doesn't actually affect the news report?
GREENFIELD: Yes, it's quite likely that people are going to be friends with or spouses or significant others with people in decision- making roles. And what the key to this, to me -- I'm very old school about this, Brian -- is show me what you're talking about.
When I was at CNN, the president of the news division or the president of CNN America, Rick Kaplan, was an old friend of the Clintons. I was there during the Lewinsky, impeachment stuff. I never got a hint that we were supposed to trim that story one way or another because of that relationship.
STELTER: But, Joe, what should CBS do about that perceived news story? What can they do to reassure viewers that there was no bias here?
HAGAN: Well, I'm not sure what they can do. I mean, they can be open about it and also be diligent about covering everything in as balanced a way as possible and obviously not shrink away from critical reportage, which I -- you know, the "60 minutes" report we're talking about, the Lara Logan piece of last year, would not lead you to believe they were trying to hold their powder on this.
Now, though, it's even more complicated by the fact that they're perceived as having tried to do something that came out to be looking like a political head job on the administration, and on the other hand, they have the brother, and people think they're going to give him too much leeway.
So, in a way -- in a weird way, it's already fair and balanced.
STELTER: That's what CBS would say. CBS would say we're getting hit from the left, and on the right we're doing our job and this is proof of that.
STELTER: On the subject of Benghazi, I was persuaded by a piece on Vox.com this week, talking about why people do or do not buy into conspiracy theories. It talked about how Benghazi is an example of this because once the whole group believes in the theory, believes something happened, that there was some cover-up in the White House, becomes very hard to disagree with that theory because then you are a member of the group.
Do you think that's what's happening in this case, Jeff?
GREENFIELD: No, I've seen this over and over again. This is just the latest example. Now, it isn't to say that the administration can't be faulted for spinning the story for trying to make it look good politically. That's a perfectly legitimate source of inquiry. But if you link it to a field theory of conspiracy that you know is true because of your general political beliefs, you're not necessarily going to get the best kind of information out of it.
STELTER: Jeff Greenfield, Joe Hagan, thank you both for joining me.
HAGAN: Thanks for having me.
GREENFIELD: OK. Thank you.
STELTER: And one more note about CBS before we go: this week, the network hired a former president of NBC News, Steve Capus to produce the "CBS Evening News". He'll also be the executive editor for the whole news division starting in July.
Time for a break here. But I've got lots more ahead for you this morning, including a dissection of all things Monica Lewinsky coverage.
And those dumb media comments about Cinco de Mayo. One of our country's best known Spanish language journalist, Maria Elena Salinas will weigh in on that.
But up next, Congressman Mike Rogers. Why is he trading politics for talk radio? His answer will surprise you.
So, don't go away.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. How bad a place is Congress to work? Let me ask that again. How bad a place is Congress to work that one influential representative is packing it in to become, of all things, a member of the media.
As chairman of the powerful House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers is already a media picture. He's ever present across the Sunday talk show landscape. He gets quizzed on everything from the drone war in Yemen, to the NSA's mass surveillance programs.
But the Michigan Republican has decided not to seek an eighth term. He is trading his access in the clandestine world to the very public one of public radio host, for Cumulus Media. He'll be joining right wing radio stars like Mark Levin, Michael Savage, and Don Imus.
I've been wanting to talk with Rogers about his decision ever since his deal with Cumulus was announced, and I recently had the chance to meet him in Washington and ask, why radio? And why now?
STELTER: Congressman, thanks for joining me.
REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN: Thanks for having me.
STELTER: Tell me why you decide that had radio was the next step for you.
ROGERS: Well, it wasn't something I was looking for. As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, it's a huge responsibility, 16 intelligence agencies, all the budgeting, all the oversight, all the policy work, all the real-time check-offs that we participate in and covert action in other programs. So, I've had a six-year term. This will be my fourth year, been on the committee for ten years, and somebody came to me and said, hey, have you ever thought about radio in order to maybe better broadcast out the kind of things you think are important?
It got me thinking and it got me to a point, and I think what won it for me was when they said, listen, we don't want a radio talk show host, we want a guy with your experience talking about the things that you believe are important on the radio. That sold it for me. That, I think, really made it interesting for me in this option to talk to literally millions of people every week across the country.
STELTER: Doesn't your job right now, though, give you that same ability?
ROGERS: You know, I have a lot of influence in the one lane that I have, which is this intelligence lane as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and then I do a lot of speaking on foreign affairs and public policy and foreign policy.
And so, you know, I have that lane, certainly that authority. But I'm very worried about the isolationism that's creeping into my party, the Republican Party, and that exists in the Democrat Party. We have tried this in America before. It's always ended up badly for us. And I don't see a counterweight out there in a national daily dialogue on why that's a bad idea and why Americans' prosperity is really tied to a robust engagement policy around the world. And I think they've given me a forum to have that conversation in a way I can't do it today.
STELTER: Whenever a politician moves to the private sector, I wonder if it says more about the Congress or about the private sector. Where does it come down for you?
ROGERS: Well, probably both. Certainly, the pay is better in the private sector. But, you know, there's -- it was a factor, not the factor. I mean, Congress can be an incredibly frustrating place.
STELTER: Right. That's what I wonder, if you just felt you couldn't make change anymore.
ROGERS: I've worked in a bipartisan way on our committee, I worked real closely with my Democrat ranking member named Dutch Ruppersberger from Maryland. We worked very well together on major national security issues in that committee.
And, unfortunately, it's a rare thing in Congress. I'm a conservative guy, but I'm a Reagan Republican. I believe if you can get 80 percent, you take it. Get up the next day and fight for the other 20 percent. That notion seems to be missing from Congress today.
STELTER: I bet people have asked you since you announced you were retiring and going to radio, are you viewing yourself as the next Rush Limbaugh, the next Sean Hannity? Is there a comparison there?
ROGERS: No, I don't think so. And I've told people -- I'm not trying to compete with Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or Michael Savage. They have their own shtick, and it's worked well for them. They have loyal listeners.
I'm not trying to take any listeners away from anybody. Radio is growing every year. I know every year, people say, oh, radio is dead. It's going to go away.
Radio has actually been growing every single year. And I think there are lots of viewers out there looking for something that's a little more engaging, a little more challenging, learn a little something when I turn off the radio, and that this just isn't there today, they're not meeting that demand.
So, I think they'll continue to prosper in radio, and I think this is a way for me to find this new niche that will also allow me in that kind of message to prosper in radio.
STELTER: You talk about the ratings. Some individual programs seem to have had a very hard time, though, even though the medium is healthier than it's perceived to be. I mean, Mike Huckabee was a Cumulus host. That show did not perform very well in the ratings. It has since been ended.
What's your takeaway from programs like that, like his, for example?
ROGERS: Well, again, there are lots of people who want to try to fill that void of going after that segment of radio listeners.
STELTER: Yes. Yes.
ROGERS: Now, Rush Limbaugh is the king of it, 16 million listeners a week. Nobody is going to touch that. Sean Hannity has a really healthy relationship every week.
And so, people are going to try to go in and emulate those shows and compete head to head with them on the very same kind of show.
I'm not going to do that. My show is not going to look like three hours of monologue that Rush Limbaugh can do. Nobody I think can do that. Nobody pulls that off like Rush Limbaugh.
STELTER: Did you hear what Bill Maher had to say when you announced?
ROGERS: I heard --
STELTER: He said, it makes perfect sense because the GOP has become talk radio. He calls it an echo chamber where people are not interested in actually legislating or compromising or fixing America, just screeching about how liberals have ruined it. And he said, so, why not do it on the radio? He said, the money is better.
What's your reaction to Bill?
ROGERS: Well, Bill Maher has his own shtick.
STELTER: You're getting into lots of these fights, aren't you, once you're talk radio host?
ROGERS: Well, you know, I'd be interested in having that fight with Bill Maher on the radio, I think that'd be great, because I think he's wrong on so many things. But, you know, the interesting thing about that is that my list of accomplishments is long.
This is my 20th year of elected office. And I think we have moved the needle on a lot of issues, everything from cybersecurity and some health care stuff I worked on, to server farm efficiency, believe it or not. All of those things I've been able to get done.
So, at some point in your career -- and I believe in a citizen legislature -- I had to make the determination, can I have a broader impact by talking to more people than I can talk to as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee? I believe -- and that's why I disagree with him so passionately, and by a guy, by the way, who engages in politics using TV as a medium to do that, that radio was a way to have that discussion. And it's not -- you know, I understand, I think, what he's trying to say which is don't turn off his show and turn on somebody else's. There it is -- I think that's what it was.
But in this case, all of it added up. So, my frustration was I had a fairly difficult two years in order to get anything done, and I think the environment in Congress is sour a little bit that way, unfortunately so. I think it's an important institution.
Can I help that institution? Can I help formulate and give people information so they can come to a conclusion about where they ought to be on certain issues? Because only messages I hear out there, especially on talk radio, is isolationism bent, and if you don't get 100 percent of what you want, you're not really a conservative and go home. I just think all that is wrong.
I think as a conservative, we have lost -- there's certain programs we wanted to reform, but because we had a strong group that said if we don't get 100 percent, then we want nothing, and guess what we ended up getting? Nothing.
So, I argue that we left lots of savings on the table because of that attitude. Meaning that we could have done so much to reform government, get spending under control, reform some of these programs, but you can't do it if you're not working as a team.
STELTER: But does the talk radio audience want to hear that?
ROGERS: We're going to find out. I think they are, because the only message that they get -- remember, a lot of people have the other message.
STELTER: I think Cumulus tried with Mike Huckabee and Geraldo.
ROGERS: Well, I think Geraldo is staying in New York and doing a more local show in New York, and that's great.
I think Huckabee had his own style. This is a different style.
I'm not telling you sitting here today it's going to be wildly popular. I think there is an interest. From all the people I've talked to anecdotally, people are ready for this.
STELTER: And Cumulus thinks so, too.
ROGERS: They're taking a bet, and I'm taking a bet with them. I think it's going to work. I'm betting it's going to work, and I think you can -- again, it has to be entertaining, it has to be compelling.
And I believe that smart controversy works. Let me give a great example. The NSA is a substantive conversation. What is the status of American surveillance?
Now, on a lot of talk radio, I hear absolutely incorrect information. It works great, people love it, they call in and say, yes, the government is spying on me. I happen to be the guy who knows the answers to those questions.
I'm going to challenge the listeners. They're going to challenge me. I'm going to bring in guests who know those answers, the former director of the NSA has already agreed. He said yes, if you have a show, I'm coming on. Keith Alexander.
To me, that's smart controversy.
STELTER: Congressman, thanks so much for being here.
ROGERS: Hey, thanks for having me.
STELTER: Coming up next, a Cinco de Mayo controversy. We'll look at how two television countries marked the 5th of May and ask, what the heck were they thinking?
STELTER: Cinco de Mayo -- Spanish for the 5th of May. And in parts of Mexico, it's a holiday to commemorate victory and battle. But this year, it was an ugly reminder that in the year of stereotyping, that war is still being waged.
Take a look at MSNBC's coverage that morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cinco de Mayo, let me just take a shot here to get the thing started, you know?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go. You got your go-go juice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The 5th of May celebrating Mexican heritage and pride. And it commemorates the Mexican Army over the French forces in Battle of Puebla back in 1862.
It's also an excuse to drink tequila on a Monday morning for Louis (ph).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Unfortunately, Larry Spencer over "Good Morning America" wasn't much better.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This holiday is also known as Cinco de drinko (ph)!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't you think of Pee Wee Herman?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: It's a cute hat, but come on.
Latinos are a diverse group, but together they're the largest minority group in the United States, representing about 17 percent of the population. But how is that translated into media count?
Joining me now from Miami is Maria Elena Salinas, co-anchor of Univision's flagship newscast.
Thank you for joining me.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS, UNIVISION: Nice to be with you, Brian.
STELTER: Those two clips I just showed, especially the NBC one, you know, got a lot of attention on the Internet. They were circulated widely. Tell me how you reacted when you saw those clips?
SALINAS: Well, actually, I don't particularly think that it's insulting, but it does show a lack of understanding of this so-called "holiday", if you can call it a holiday, and the lack of understanding of Mexican culture.
You know, it was interesting that they finally got it right, that it's Mexican independence day, it is the day they celebrate the triumph of the ill-equipped Mexican army over the French army in the city of Puebla. But this is not celebrated in all of Mexico. It's only celebrated in the city of Puebla.
But, you know, once you get into wearing the heat, and once you get into drinking, then I think it portrays what Cinco de Mayo has become, which is an American holiday with Americans drinking and portraying Mexicans as they perceived them.
STELTER: Lara Spencer then apologized on Twitter. And MSNBC apologized on air.
Were you struck by those apologies? Did they go far enough?
SALINAS: You know, I think so. I don't think they meant any harm.
I really don't think that purpose of doing this was to insult. But if, as a journalist, you want to be accurate, then you have to be completely accurate. Let's -- not only with the holiday and the date of the holiday, but, first of all, you perpetuate the stereotype of that picture of the Mexican taking a siesta under a tree wearing a sombrero. And that is not necessarily what Mexicans are all about.
STELTER: Let me read from the president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists that you just mentioned, a letter that he wrote on Wednesday. He said: "One of the most rewarding comments I received was from a local television general manager who said he used the MSNBC segment as a learning tool with his staff. He played the video and had a candid discussion about how to avoid such mistakes and the importance of being cognizant in their daily work."
Ultimately, that's why these things matter, I think. It's a learning tool, not just for the staffers that he was describing in that letter, but also maybe for viewers at home.
SALINAS: Exactly. And that -- I think that one was particularly delicate, especially when you say let's start off the morning at 7:00 drinking a tequila with a hat. In other words, the message there could be, this is what Mexicans do on a holiday like this. They take a shot of tequila early in the morning.
STELTER: I'm curious about how you and your colleagues at Univision cover other issues that involve race or ethnicity. There's been so much attention likely around racial issues in the media, the Cliven Bundy story, then the Donald Sterling story. Have you all given a lot of attention to the Donald Sterling scandal, for example?
SALINAS: We have.
First of all, we are -- when we talk about racism, we talk about racism across the board, not only against Hispanics, but also in this case against African-Americans. And in the Sterling case, there was a touch of also discrimination against Latinos. As we know, he had been fined before as a landlord for not allowing Latinos and African- Americans to live there, or at least suggesting that they not be rented in some of his buildings.
But one thing that's important, I know that we have been accused in the past of being biased. We have been accused of doing advocacy journalism, because we do give the point of view of immigrants. And the way that I see it, it's actually adding to a dialogue in this country.
Otherwise, it becomes a monologue where you have some media outlets accusing immigrants of all the ills in this country, and in a very negative light.
STELTER: I love the phrase you used, dialogue, not monologue.
Maria Elena, thank you so much for joining me.
SALINAS: Thank you. It's my pleasure, Brian.
STELTER: A quick reminder here about halfway through the show.
I think your feedback makes this program better all the time, so please look me up on Twitter or on Facebook. My user name is Brian Stelter, and I would love to see what you would like to see us cover in the future.
Time for a break here, but on the other side of the break, a story that affects all of us: climate change. Do some media outlets do us all a disservice by downplaying the dangers, by spinning, instead of owning up to what's really happening on this planet that we all share? Those are the questions next.
STELTER: It's time now for "Red News/Blue News," a look at a story that becomes two different stories when it's told on left- and right-leaning media outlets, this week, one of the biggest this of our lifetime, climate change, and the alarming study released by the Obama administration.
By now, you have probably heard the findings. It's online at globalchange.gov, if you want to dig into the actual document. Scientists from government, industry and the academic world all say climate change is here now and getting worse. They are predicting bigger storms, longer droughts, deeper floods.
We have talked here on RELIABLE SOURCES before about how there is a pretty reliable scientific consensus on this issue, but some conservative media big shots told their audiences this week that this is all just a political ploy.
Rush Limbaugh says Democrats are harping on climate change because -- quote -- "There isn't a single issue they can run on in the midterm elections" because -- quote again -- "everything they have done has blown up on them."
And despite the fact that so many scientists agree, some FOX News commentators this week continued to cast doubt on the science.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The idea that we who have trouble forecasting what's going to happen Saturday in the climate could pretend to be predicting what's going to happen in 30, 40 years is absurd.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scientists are not saints in white laboratory smocks. They have got interests like everybody else. If you want a 10-year track position in academia, don't question the reigning orthodoxy on climate change. If you want money from the biggest source of direct research in this country, the federal government, don't question its orthodoxy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: More about FOX in a moment, but now over to the blue news.
On MSNBC, which leans to the left, they were telling a wholly different story. The channel invited on guests how says they are being affected by climate change today. They have actually experienced it. I saw one interview with a pro snowboarder who is less worried about less wintry winters.
And MSNBC was taking the climate change report seriously. And every other TV news outlet we looked at, the ones that try not to be red or blue, they did the same thing. ABC, CBS, NBC, this network, I think they all deserve a lot of credit, because all of them had lengthy coverage of the real and of its real-world consequences. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Scorching heat, stronger hurricanes, floods, fires, torrential downpours and droughts.
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: Is this extreme weather all around us global warming or not? The president's answer is yes.
SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS: A new study says that climate change is being felt today in all 50 states.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, ANCHOR, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS": It's not about if or when, but the point of this report is to show it's happening here and now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: I thought CBS was particularly impressive. They had three reports back to back about climate change and extreme weather.
The liberal Web site ThinkProgress tracked coverage of this story on Tuesday. That's the day the report came out. And here's the graph they produced of the climate mentions on Cable News.
Al-Jazeera America, the new kid on this block, spent the most time covering it, followed by this network, CNN, then MSNBC, and way down at the bottom, FOX News.
So, for this week, at least, "Red News/Blue News" is more like red news, everyone else's news.
Coming up, another story that came out the very same hour as that climate change report. It was "Vanity Fair"'s essay by Monica Lewinsky. Yes, Monica is back, and I have the best two guests to talk about it. They will join me right on the other side of this break. So, stay tuned.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.
And here is my personal favorite line from Monica Lewinsky's much-dissected magazine essay. "It may surprise you to learn that I'm actually a person."
Now, that struck me as powerful, because, for so many of us, frankly, Monica Lewinsky is not so much a person as she is a media creation. When the Lewinsky scandal first broke back in 1998, it was perhaps the first viral Internet phenomenon before we all started using words like viral. Matt Drudge and his Web site The Drudge Report rose to prominence with scoop after scoop. Meanwhile, the story dominated newspapers and cable news. Maureen Dowd of "The New York Times" wrote column after column about Monica and Bill and won a Pulitzer Prize for them.
And, of course, CNN was all over the story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And with Monica Lewinsky ready to tell her side of the story under oath, Mr. Clinton's hold on the presidency could hang on whether he can prove he's telling the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Back then, FOX News and MSNBC were brand-new, struggling to find an audience.
This week, it sort of felt like we were reliving those days, rehashing the 1990s, and not always happily. The media pounced when "Vanity Fair" published Lewinsky's essay on Tuesday. No surprise, of course, since she's been silent for so many years.
And right now, the wronged wife in her story, Hillary Clinton, is at the center of a 24/7 media frenzy about whether or not she will run for president. And now the frenzy turns back to Monica all these years later.
But what's different about the way the media is treating her now? And what does it tell us about how much the media has changed since this story first broke?
Joining me now to talk about all of this, Naomi Wolf, a bestselling writer on women's issues, and Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's senior legal analyst. He wrote a book about the Lewinsky scandal. It was titled "A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President."
Welcome to both of you.
Naomi, let me start with you. And talk about how the tone of the coverage of Ms. Lewinsky has changed over the years. I mentioned Maureen Dowd in the lead. She was quoted of course talking all about Monica in the '90s. Amanda Hess at Slate did a good job of recounting this earlier in the week, quotes like stalker, ditzy, predatory.
This week, though, I thought the tone of the coverage overall was much more positive than it had been, generally speaking, in the 1990s. Was that your sense as well?
NAOMI WOLF, AUTHOR, "THE BEAUTY MYTH": Yes.
There was nothing like the misogyny that was aimed at this 21- year-old woman in the '90s. And that was largely because the two principals were one of the most powerful men in the world and his supporters, and this young woman with her story, who could easily be cast as this seductress, this destructive being.
To me, that's not what's most important. And, certainly the coverage is much more benign now toward Ms. Lewinsky. She's a grownup. And it's always better, any P.R. consultant will tell you, any campaign consultant will tell you, to get ahead of the story and put it in your own words.
The president had the chance to stand in front of the most powerful pulpit in the world again and again and spin the story the way he and his lawyers wanted to spin it. This young woman was silent, for complicated reasons that I don't fully understand. And now she's speaking. That's smart. It's sympathetic.
STELTER: Jeffrey, I was mentioning how it was a viral story, something that we at least now call a viral story. Do you think that played into it in the '90s? Was it bigger than it otherwise would have been?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, all of our modems were dial-up at the time, so nothing could go around very fast.
TOOBIN: You had to hear that "chhh" noise that...
STELTER: You're bringing me back to the '90s.
WOLF: ... remember that, yes.
TOOBIN: So, yes, it had some similarities to what we call a viral story.
But I think, today, the story is really drained of a lot of its political content. Monica Lewinsky is 40 years old, and, frankly, hasn't had a very happy life, it sounds like. And I think all of us, just at a simply human level, feel bad about that. She made a mistake. She got involved in an inappropriate relationship in her early 20s, and she's paid a very heavy price.
As for the politics of it, it just doesn't seem all that politically significant anymore. No one really wants to talk about it in political terms. The Democrats -- you know, the whole thing was just terribly embarrassing for the Clintons. The Republicans turned it into the fiasco of impeachment.
And it's really more of a curiosity now, I think, than an event with political significance.
STELTER: Finally, Naomi, you worked as a political consultant in the past. So, how would you advise Hillary Clinton now on how to handle the emergence of Monica?
WOLF: I think she should issue a very lovely, gracious statement, and neutral, lovely, gracious and always pivot.
It's called hit, bridge, sparkle. You hit. You acknowledge the issue. You bridge to what you really want to talk about, then you sparkle with what her agenda is for the future ahead.
TOOBIN: Oh, I can guarantee you that's not what she's going to do.
WOLF: That would be a mistake.
TOOBIN: She's going to say absolutely nothing.
WOLF: Yes. And that's a big mistake.
TOOBIN: I don't see any reason why Hillary Clinton needs to get involved in this.
Hillary Clinton, you know, is or is not going to run for president, but talking about Monica Lewinsky will not be part of the plan, regardless of what she does.
And it wasn't part of the plan then, which is why this story went on and on and on and on. This has always been Mrs. Clinton's weakness. She just locks down, instead of addressing...
TOOBIN: You think if Hillary Clinton had given a press conference about Monica Lewinsky, it would have tamped down the story? You don't think that press conference would have been the biggest story in history?
I mean, I just don't think there would have been anything to gain.
WOLF: Do you want me to answer, Jeffrey?
WOLF: Do you want me to answer the question?
WOLF: Yes, I think it would have -- if she had had a press conference and spoken from her heart, as a human being, acknowledging that this was a painful and difficult situation, obviously, as any husband or wife in this situation would find, and that what she really wanted was to focus on her family and to grieve in private, and to sort of put the pieces together, and acknowledge the difficulty of what she was going through, people would have put the story behind them much, much sooner. STELTER: The what might-have-beens, the other scenarios of how this could have ended up are one of the reasons why I think this story remains so fascinating to people.
Naomi and Jeffrey, thank you both for joining me.
WOLF: Thank you.
STELTER: I do wonder what's next for Monica. I wonder if we will be seeing a TV interview or some other media presence from her to come.
Well, after the break here, the one media star who will be making big news this week.
Don't go away.
STELTER: Finally this morning, a look at what's going to be big media news in the week ahead.
The TV network upfronts are coming to town. They're taking place this week here in New York. These are annual rituals where the networks woo advertisers and try to get them to fork over lots of money for their shows.
So, you will be hearing and reading lots about all the new shows, all the dramas and comedies coming to prime time. There will be lots of TV parties, but really the biggest party this week won't be for what's new. In fact, it won't be part of the upfronts at all.
It will be for someone who has stood the test of time: Barbara Walters. This is Walters' final week on "The View," the program she started in 1997. She is retiring from daily TV after six decades on the air.
Now, she will continue to donate to ABC News from time to time. The network is throwing a big party in her honor. And you will be seeing lots and lots stories and segments about her really trailblazing career.
Let me recommend one of them for your Sunday reading. It's in "Vanity Fair," the magazine we have been talking about here earlier on the program. Writer Curtis Sittenfeld worked on a profile of Walters for months. I remember seeing her at a taping of "The View" last August. I guess that's the beauty of long lead times at magazines.
And here's what she wrote in the profile.
"The ultimate compliment to Walters is that, once you start watching her, it's hard to stop. And, fundamentally, isn't that the true test of successful television?"
There's something to think about as the networks introduce dozens of new TV shows this week, most of which will fail that test.
Well, that's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. But our media coverage continues seven days a week on the RELIABLE SOURCES blog on CNN.com. So check us out all of our stories online.
And let's meet right back here next week, Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern time.
Remember, if you can't join us live, set your DVR. I can't tell you who I have booked next week, but I can tell you the person is definitely DVR-worthy.