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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

The Inside Story of "The New York Times" Mess; Interview with Robin Roberts

Aired May 18, 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 from Washington.

It's time for a jam-packed RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

And today, the single biggest star of morning star, Robin Roberts, is here talking openly with me about some things she hasn't talked about before. I think her candor is going to surprise you.

Let's begin with this week's PR disaster as the most powerful newspaper in this country, "The New York Times." There are new developments and I'll get to those in a moment.

"The Times" newspaper is in a real turmoil after the firing of top editor Jill Abramson. People there were stunned.

She was the first woman to ever run "The Times" newsroom. She is a role model for so many women and men, and as soon as she was fired, her allies claimed sexism, and unfair pay practices at "The Times". That's one competing narrative.

The other narrative is coming from "The Times" publisher, Arthur Sulzberger.

He and his allies say Abramson was a bad manager. On Wednesday, Sulzberger said he wouldn't give into the ugly details, but by Saturday, he had no choice. He released a statement and said his decision had nothing to do with her gender.

Then, he listed his problems with her. Look at this -- arbitrary decision making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication, and the public mistreatment of colleagues. Pretty strong stuff.

Now, I worked at "The Times" for six years. That means I worked for Abramson and the editor that came before her, Bill Keller. They were very different editors. Abramson was and is brilliant, but she wasn't necessarily a people person. She could be gruff, even rude.

When I told her that I was thinking about leaving "The Times" for this job here at CNN, her attitude made it easier to leave.

But, now, people are asking, beyond unequal pay or management skills, is this a case for unequal expectations for women in journalism? Abramson has not said anything publicly, but her daughter has. This is an Instagram picture she posted on Thursday. Abramson is wearing boxing gloves, #pushy. That's one of the words used to describe her managing style.

Now, I have four great guests to help get to the bottom of all this. And, first, let me bring in Ken Auletta.

Ken is the renown media columnist for "The New Yorker" magazine and since Wednesday, he has had scoop after scoop about what happened.

Ken, thank you for joining me.

KEN AULETTA, THE NEW YORKER: My pleasure.

STELTER: You and I were sitting together at a fundraising dinner, a journalism school fundraising dinner on Monday night. Arthur Sulzberger was there. He was sitting next to Dean Baquet. In retrospect, should we have known something was brewing? When did Abramson start to find out about this?

AULETTA: She was actually -- what happened was she was fired by Arthur Sulzberger, the Friday before that -- before that Monday.

STELTER: So, we should have looked at them at dinner, and thought something was up?

AULETTA: Yes, if we were better reporters, I'm sure that's probably true. But, you know, I -- in my inbox at 2:36 on Wednesday afternoon came this flash that Jill Abramson has been replaced as editor of "The New York Times." I was stunned.

STELTER: Were you as surprised as we all were?

AULETTA: Total. Total surprised, yes.

And what happened in the previous week, what happened in the previous two weeks is that Jill Abramson had found out that she was she thought -- she was being paid less than her male counterpart, the former executive director, and less than her former male counterpart when she was managing editor, and less than her successor as Washington bureau chief, all males. And she was upset, she went Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher, and she went to the CEO, Mark Thompson, and raised questions about it and complained.

So, she then hired a lawyer to talk to them and to negotiate. They felt it was kind of a war-like stance on her part. And that fed into a narrative that was growing in the mind of Sulzberger and Thompson that Jill was just a difficult person.

STELTER: How much do you think the pay issue ultimately feed in to the decision to remove her?

AULETTA: I think it fed into the narrative. I think it was just one factor of many factors. But if you think about it, she was basically challenging them and if she was paid less, she had any reason to challenge them. And in pay scale, she was paid less. The pay issue has gotten most of the headlines. But is it fair to say that management style and internal tensions were a bigger issue than the pay issue?

AULETTA: I think they all came together. I think there was a narrative in their mind, a single narrative, which was that Jill was difficult. I think the pay issue help contribute to that narrative, as is the way she treated some of the stuff, as with competition with Dean Baquet.

STELTER: In my experience, Jill could be difficult at times. I've worked with her for years. You've known her for years. Is it fair to say that she could be difficult at times?

AULETTA: Oh, absolutely. In fact --

STELTER: Of course, so could every editor.

AULETTA: Right. Well, I mean, Abe Rosenthal was famously difficult. And in fact, in the end, he was there about 11 years, in the end, he was fired because Sulzberger Jr., Punch Sulzberger, fired him because he thought he was too difficult at some point. Howell Raines was fired, in part, in large part, because he was such a difficult personality in the newsroom.

You know -- and yet, on the other hand, here's the conundrum. If you're a good editor, you're supposed to be difficult because part of your job is to tell people it's not good enough, get some other sources, get another rewrite. That's your job and you want an editor to be tough.

And she was and she's a fantastic journalist, no one is questioning that. The question was, was she a collaborative personality? Was she someone who brought people along? And some people thought she did, but many people, including most important, the publisher of "The New York Times," did not.

STELTER: Ultimately, this story is about the publisher. "The New York Times" is special in part because it's a family-owned newspaper. But I'm seeing a lot of people in the last few days ask about the competence of the publisher.

AULETTA: Well, you know, one of the questions is, the publisher has two tasks. One is to protect the journalism, and Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. has done a great job of protecting the newspaper and protecting the newsroom. I mean, that newsroom is still 1,100 people worldwide.

STELTER: It's very unique for that reason.

AULETTA: And it's a great -- the world's greatest newspaper, in my judgment.

But a publisher's job is also to protect the business side of the paper. And "The Times" as a business is not a good business. So, in that sense, he's failed. STELTER: When you read the innovation report that was circulated inside the newspaper in March and then leaked via "BuzzFeed" this week, you come away with the sense that the paper has a lot of catching up to do on the digital front, and that could be read as a real criticism of Jill Abramson.

AULETTA: I think it was.

And don't forget, the other thing that happened is that Sulzberger's son who was a chair of that task force and wrote the report, he was going around the newsroom and was basically finding out things about how people felt about the management, meaning Jill Abramson.

STELTER: It's hard to imagine working at any company and having the boss' son roaming the halls, learning about how you're performing.

AULETTA: Yes, I think that -- she felt close to him and felt he was a talent. But, you know, he is -- he represents the family and ownership of that institution, and he's going to give his father unvarnished advice.

STELTER: Before we go, let's talk about his last days and weeks of "The Times." You talk in your stories about her hiring a lawyer. It seems preposterous to me that "The Times" would fire someone who just brought in a lawyer about their employment practices.

Isn't that almost setting themselves up for a lawsuit?

AULETTA: Well, potentially there is federal and state law that basically says you may not terminate someone if they've come to you about their pay and you then terminate them. It's mostly done to protect women --

STELTER: Is a lawsuit possible in this case? What have you heard?

AULETTA: I don't know -- I know that Abramson's friends are very aware of this and have talked about it. Whether they're going to do something about it, I don't --

STELTER: Aware of what? Aware of the --

AULETTA: Aware of the question, did "The Times" fire her in some large measure because she complained about comparable pay?

STELTER: So, you think it is possible we could see someone fired.

AULETTA: I think it's possible. You know, one of the questions becomes her here, whether -- what does Jill Abramson want to do? Does she want to have she's gone underground. You can't get her on the phone. She's off "The Times" email.

I've left word on her cell phone, she doesn't respond. Obviously, I've talked to associates and friends. But, you know, is she going to want to be as combative as that picture of her on Instagram with boxing gloves? That's the question. I don't know.

STELTER: Ken Auletta, thank you so much for answering all of my other questions here this morning.

AULETTA: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: I've got to fit in the break here. But there is a lot more to say about this "New York Times" shakeup. And I have three guests on deck, including the reporter who first wrote about turbulence at the top of "The Times" more than a year. You're going to want to hear what he has to say and my other guests as well.

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: The story isn't over, not even close. That's what Jill Abramson's daughter wrote on Instagram on Friday, two days after Abramson was fired from "The New York Times."

This morning, we're talking about the outcry that has followed her departure. You know, the fact of the matter is that Abramson chose not to leave "The Times" quietly nor act like it was her decision. So, what's going to be next for her?

Well, this morning, CNN confirmed she is still planning on delivering a commencement address at Wake Forest University tomorrow. What might she say? Is she a victim of a double standard in the media?

We'd love to ask her but she and representatives of "The Times" all declined all our interview requests this weekend.

For Arthur Sulzberger, "The Times'" publisher, did issue a combative statement on Saturday, pointing out why he thought she was such a bad manager. We've put it on CNN.com for you to read.

Now, let's bring in three people who know a lot about this shakeup, who can help shed some light on this.

Dylan Byers, a media reporter for "Politico".

And Lisa Belkin, my former colleague. She wrote for "The Times" for decades and left in 2011. She's now the senior national correspondent for Yahoo.

And Rebecca Traister, a senior editor at "The New Republic".

Thank you all for joining me.

REBECCA TRAISTER, THE NEW REPUBLIC: Thanks for having us.

LISA BELKIN, YAHOO: Good to be here. STELTER: Lisa, let me start with you, in the middle here, since we both wrote for the times, are you as angry as I am about how badly this has all been handled?

BELKIN: I am mystified. Yes, I'm angry. I'm angry for Dean who deserved a better ascension to this job that he was always going to get.

I'm angry for Jill and that however she managed, and there is a lot of question about that, she deserved better exits.

And I'm mystified about "The Times". I mean, how can the premier journalism entity in the world handle a story so badly?

STELTER: And, Rebecca, following up on that, you called it humiliating for her. Describe what you mean?

TRAISTER: Well, I think I didn't -- I want to be clear about that word humiliating. I think that he way that it was done was disrespectful and sort of designed in some way to humiliate her, to make it clear that she was canned. Now, there's reporting being done that says she chose to be fired and not to resign.

But the sort of the wording and the sendoff that Arthur Sulzberger gave her, she's a historic figure. She's the first female editor in the 160 years at "The New York Times." This is a major event to have a female editor at "The New York Times", and her departure after only two and a half years deserved much more of a respectful sendoff, a sort of cataloging of what her achievements have been, whatever her failings may have been, whatever the reasons for her firing.

It's been disastrous on every front.

STELTER: Let's talk a bit about management skills because both of you brought up whether she had management failings.

And I want to turn to Dylan here in studio and talk about that, because you wrote that piece about a year ago that people now look back and say it was prescient, that you were the first to identify some of the problems.

In a nutshell, what were they, according to your sources?

DYLAN BYERS, POLITICO: Sure. There was a feeling certainly not among everyone, but among a large portion of the staff that she could be difficult to work with. That she could be brusque, is one word that was used, mercurial. Just -- essentially that she's an extraordinarily talented journalist with many years of experience, was not quite the right person to lead a newsroom.

TRAISTER: I'd like -- if I may, I'd like to talk about the characterization of her as brusque and her management style as bad and difficult to work with. I'm sure those things are true. I'm not questioning the veracity of Dylan's reporting on that and I've certainly heard about all kinds of -- you know, discontent about how things are in the newsroom and about her management style over the years.

I would say that brusqueness, directness, abruptness, short tempers are not unusual in newsrooms, in media, at the top of major corporations, and certainly not at "The New York Times." Where you know, there's a history of increasingly staff used to say -- there was one report at the time of his exit that he ruled the newsroom using fear.

Abe Rosenthal was probably a very brusque editor.

So, I think -- while it's not to say those accounts are inaccurate in some way.

It is true that we have to consider how we read those qualities versus how we've conditioned to accept them in male leaders.

BYERS: And if I may, Brian -- what I'm speaking to here, it's -- I think, deeper than that. I think certainly if you look at what the publisher Arthur Sulzberger has said, is that he had deep frustrations with issues relating to her management. I don't think these frustrations simply had to do with maybe tense conversations, you know, or maybe a feeling that she was being too forceful, I think the frustration certainly goes much deeper than that and have to do with ways that she managed that got in the way of the newsroom functioning in a healthy manner.

BELKIN: She's been paid less than a man in a similar position, she says, going back ten years now. And women are, as a rule, paid less in newsrooms than men are. So that has also caught fire as part of the narrative here. And that is concerning.

That is something that is larger than just Jill Abramson and whatever arguments she was having with Arthur Sulzberger.

STELTER: That's why this may matter in the long run. Speaking to female staffers at "The Times", my former colleagues at "The Times" -- I hear a lot of concern about issues of promotion and pay. Let me quote two female staffers, of course, on condition of anonymity because they're so concerned speaking publicly.

One said to me, we're so far behind where we should be. Another said to me, I'm really amused to see all the men I worked with, say, no, no, this isn't real. This is a real issue.

Rebecca, do you have that same sense? And more importantly, what can be done about it?

TRAISTER: Well, one of the interesting things is that under Jill Abramson's tenure, there was a lot done about it at the times. There were a lot of women promoted. One of things -- Amanda has wrote a terrific piece for Slate about young women at "The Times" who felt mentored and felt encouraged in their careers by Jill Abramson. And that's another element in this dismissal that, again, I'm not suggesting that she shouldn't have been fired because of it. There may have been any number of reasons that she legitimately lost her job. But there is a story about gender and parody in newsrooms, and of course, in any other realm across the country, when you lose women at the top who has done very public work in bringing more women up behind her.

BYERS: And, look, it would be impossible to suggest that questions of sexism are not at play when you're discussing the workplace, when you're discussing matters of equal pay. At the same time, I think that we do have to be open to the possibility that she might have legitimately been fired because of issues of management and that it was not an issue of gender. I think we have to be open to both those possibilities.

STELTER: In that case, I think the big mistake here, the big failing on the part of the times is not recognizing the gender dynamics at play, not recognizing that all this press coverage was going to happen.

BELKIN: They're not recognizing the story. They didn't recognize what the story was going to be, which is stunning. And they didn't have answers when the questions started being asked.

TRAISTER: I also -- I also like to jump in with really direct point in response to what Dylan just said. One of things -- we often talked too simplistically about sexism and racism and homophobia. It's often way more complicated that she was fired because of sexism, or she was fired because she was a woman, in a way that then automatically makes the firing illegitimate. It is simultaneously possible for her to have been dismissed for very legitimate reasons and for those legitimate reasons to also have been threaded or viewed through a lens that was related to her gender.

STELTER: Any guesses about what Jill Abramson does next?

BYERS: It's very hard to tell. I think most former "New York Times" executive editors have had a way of sort of slowly drifting off into relative obscurity against this sort of august position that they had. Certainly, Hal Raines, we no longer hear from him. Bill Keller is now doing something called the Martial Project, which doesn't have a great deal of relevance to the daily news cycle. It's difficult to tell what Abramson will do next.

STELTER: Rebecca, any prediction about what Abramson will do next?

TRAISTER: I have no idea.

STELTER: I don't think any of us do. I think that Instagram of her boxing is our only clue.

Lisa, Rebecca, Dylan, thank you all for joining me.

BYERS: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: And a quick reminder here, you can read more of my coverage of this mess on "The Times" on the RELIABLE SOURCES blog on CNN.com.

Let me know what questions you have about all of this. You can tweet me or look me up on Facebook. My username is BrianStelter. And I'll be responding right after the show.

But up next here, she's possibly the most beloved host in all of television news. And she has an incredible story to tell. Robin Roberts from ABC's "Good Morning America" has survived a terrifying illness and has helped "GMA" win the morning show awards. She is here with me right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Robin Roberts is the biggest star in morning television right now. In a moment, I'll show you my interview with her, but first, let me take you back two years, to the last time I sat down with her under very different circumstances.

It was August 2012 and I was interviewing her for my book called "Top of the Morning." Her top-rated show, ABC's "Good Morning America", had just ended for the day and Robin was about to go to a chemotherapy treatment. She had MDS, a rare blood disorder, and it was a successful bone marrow transplant that was the difference between life and death. After that transplant in September of that year, Robin's recovery was covered every single day on GMA.

But there's actually a lot she didn't share, more than I realized at the time. When I sat down with her this week, she shared really candid details about the illness, about the recovery and about working for "GMA" now, now that she's back and in some ways better than ever.

Robin has a new book out. It's called "Everybody Has Got Something". And I've got a full disclosure for you here because it's a media show and I'd try to be transparent. Robin's book and my book, they were both published by the same company, called Grand Central.

But even though I had that connection, this was very hard interview to get. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBIN ROBERTS, CO-HOST, GOOD MONIRNG AMERICA: You just want to live your life, because the moment you tell somebody about an illness, the tilt of the head, are you OK? And it comes from a great place and you realize that people really mean well, but you don't want to talk about it all the time, and you don't want to just seem like a Debbie Downer. Not that anybody ever made me feel that way, it just that I did.

And again, because the show was doing so well and there was such a -- it was such a happy moment professionally, that the last thing I wanted to do was to bring people down.

STELTER: A couple things surprised me toward the end of the book. You talk about seeing a therapist. I didn't know -- I don't think you had talked about that on air, for one thing, and you say it's actually pretty common for people after they've been through a traumatic experience, a giant surgery the way you did, to seek out help because they seem sad in some way. Tell me about that.

ROBERTS: I even talked to Amy Robach about that because she just completed one phase of her treatment, and I said, you know, you think you're going to be -- woo hoo, yes, it's over, the chemo, radiation, whatever it is that you've gone through, you're going to be celebrating, and all that. Well, you realize that even though it was uncomfortable, somebody was checking on you. Now, it's kind of like, go on. Go buy yourself. You know, figure it out.

I've been doing a lot more work lately with cancer survivorship and the millions of people who survived cancer after going through a lot of collateral damage with the medication and other things that have saved our lives, and I'm not ashamed to say that I needed help. I need to seek a therapist and do from time to time, just because of the psyche. Because when you not once but twice had been at death's door, you're still standing, and you go through this guilt of why am I still here and others who faced a similar situation? You hear from loved ones.

So, it is something that I think is very important. It's still a teachable moment for people.

STELTER: You write that I had been told that one day, I would wake up and not even think about cancer. Have you had one of those days since all of this?

ROBERTS: That's a good one. You know, I'm two years out. I still every six weeks have a mild form of chemotherapy that should stop at the two-year mark when I'm two years old. I didn't think I would not think about cancer before, and I did. So I'm sure I will again.

STELTER: It happened. You probably didn't notice for a while.

ROBERTS: I didn't notice. It just kind of like, it was days had gone by, weeks had gone by, and I was like, I haven't really thought about it. I feel certain the stronger I get and the more that I am just being able to do the things that I love to do that it will be in my rearview mirror.

STELTER: You right in your book about your girlfriend Amber, and you hadn't spoken publicly about her until last December, in a Facebook, of all things. Were you surprised that there was sort of a shrug, as opposed to lots of magazine headlines and stories and things like that?

ROBERTS: We were really surprised that there was just a big shrug of the shoulders. I love how one person said. It wasn't like I was trying to keep the closet door shut that tightly. People were very much aware. But yes, I had not publicly in that kind of way expressed my gratitude and my love for this person who has been standing by me.

And I've been talking -- so many people have come up to me, Brian, and it wasn't even a part of the story I was really thinking about or concentrating on, and the number of young people who have come up and said that they can now have a conversation with their parents.

Gayle said this -- Gayle King said this the other day that somebody came up to her -- and this catches me -- and said that a young man whose mother was having a tough time and said, if it's OK for Robin, it's OK for my son. I find it surprising that somebody in your own family that, you know, don't even know me, but for whatever reason, it helps you understand your own family member orientation, wow.

And I just never -- I've been so busy fighting for my life that I didn't even think about that aspect of the story, but I'm very grateful that it is creating dialogue for families.

STELTER: Michael Sam talks about thinking that maybe he will be a beacon for others. Do you think about it in the same way?

ROBERTS: I think that that's for others to determine. I -- I don't -- don't look at myself that way.

I'm flattered that people do say that about me, and -- but that's not for me to say.

STELTER: What did you think of Michael Sam's drafting, by the way, and then that kiss, the now famous kiss that was broadcast?

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: Oh, boy. It's amazing.

What was he supposed to do, shake his hand?

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: I mean, really.

STELTER: Right.

ROBERTS: And I think it was one of those moments also when you see it -- when you saw it happen, it was spontaneous.

STELTER: So natural.

ROBERTS: It was so natural. It was so quick. When you see the picture, it seems like it's different than what actually occurred. But that doesn't matter. That doesn't matter.

He's happy, like every other young man was happy and turned to somebody and showed their gratitude and expressed their love for the person that was next to them. His just happened to be his boyfriend. So, I think that he has handled it very well, and I think, overwhelmingly, the response has been positive.

STELTER: This is Barbara Walters' last week on "The View." ROBERTS: Oh.

STELTER: And we have seen so much media coverage about how she was a trailblazer for women, how she made jobs like yours possible.

ROBERTS: Yes.

STELTER: Did you ever experience situations like she did, where she was stereotyped as a woman or held back?

ROBERTS: I'm not even going to try and compare myself to Barbara Walters and try and -- all I'm going to say is this.

This woman, I wouldn't be here, you wouldn't here. There's so many of us, male, female, in this business that would not be enjoying the careers that we are if not for her.

Interviewed every president since Nixon, the first woman morning anchor, evening news anchor. I'll say this. When -- you know how it's made about, if you were a tree, what kind of tree will you be? She would be a strong and majestic oak, and her roots run deep and touch us all. Phenomenal.

STELTER: Do you think she's really retiring?

ROBERTS: No.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: No, no. I think she's saying it, and I think she means it, but she is just -- come on, just this week, you know, she has Mrs. Sterling, Donald Sterling's wife, Shelly Sterling.

STELTER: Right. Right.

ROBERTS: She's talked to her. She's talked to the two principals involved in that case.

Yes, she's going to take a lesser role as far as the amount of time, but she's going to be a player. She's going to be fighting us for those big interviews, I can tell, going forward, and rightfully so.

(LAUGHTER)

STELTER: You write about how people love to root for a perceived underdog.

But now "GMA" is on top. Now "GMA" has been winning in the ratings for two years. Do you feel like there's now rooting for a different team, for "The Today Show" instead?

ROBERTS: No, I that we are -- we're still the underdog, because we still act...

STELTER: How so? ROBERTS: We still act that way.

My book, when you strut, you stumble, we're not going around saying we're number one. We're -- we're doing exactly the same thing as we have done all along from the moment I have gotten here, and that's trying to produce the best show that we possibly can.

And it's very gratifying that the public is responding and making us -- they're making us number one, so by no means are we going around thinking we're top dog.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: Robin's book is out in hardcover now.

And, by the way, a little plug here.

The paperback edition of my book "Top of the Morning" came out just this week.

Now it's almost top of the afternoon, so coming up here, I'm sure you saw these sound bites all over the news this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD STERLING, OWNER, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: Big Magic Johnson, what has he done?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, he has -- he's a businessperson. He...

STERLING: He's got AIDS.

And I think you're more of a racist than I am.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: What was it like to sit across from Donald Sterling? I will talk to Anderson Cooper about how he got that interview right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.

The racial rant by L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been a made-for-TV story. It all started with that audio recording of his complaints about African-Americans attending his games, and then it's devolved from there.

I searched the transcripts for cable news and saw that his name has been uttered thousands of times since this all started. And that was even before he gave an exclusive interview to Anderson Cooper of this network, CNN.

It started to air here on Monday, and it was bizarre, to say the least. At one point, Sterling accusing Cooper of being a racist. And Sterling disparaged basketball legend Magic Johnson for having HIV, or, as he put it inaccurately, "those AIDS."

You could imagine how many TV bookers were clamoring for that interview.

So, I wanted to ask Anderson how it came about. And it turns out it's a fascinating story.

Watch what we told me.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: Anderson, thanks for joining me.

COOPER: Sure. Good to be here.

STELTER: So many people wanted this Donald Sterling interview. So, how did the process begin to lead you to it?

COOPER: I -- literally, I had flown to Los Angeles probably a week-and-a-half ago, two weeks ago, for a "60 Minutes" story that I was working on over the weekend.

And when I landed, I got a call that Donald Sterling was going to talk, had agreed to talk that day to Barbara Walters and to me.

And so I went to the Four Seasons Hotel and was in a hotel room on the 14th floor. I think Barbara Walters was on the 16th floor. And in walked Donald Sterling and V. Stiviano with one of her attorneys.

STELTER: Together? That's interesting.

COOPER: Together, yes, which, yes, really surprised me.

And they said, all right, the cameras off, and everything was off the record, what we discussed, but they...

STELTER: This was like a get-to-know-you session, I guess, to...

COOPER: Basically, yes.

STELTER: ... to see if they wanted to talk to you on camera?

COOPER: To see, I guess.

And it lasted for maybe 10 or 15 minutes. It was one of the stranger get-to-know-you sessions that I have had.

STELTER: I bet.

COOPER: And I'm not much of a salesman in terms of trying to get people to do interviews with me. I believe in just being honest with somebody and telling them the pros and cons of something. And for me -- this was with Donald Sterling -- what I said to him was, look, you need to get out in front of this thing. You need to say something. I'm not going to tell you what you need to say, but you need to say something, because you're being defined by all these people who are leaking tapes of you, and you just need to say something.

And he wondered if V. Stiviano should go on with him. And my advice to him was, I would not have -- I don't think you guys should be together. I think you need to say something on your own.

And they said that they would -- were going to do it, but they weren't sure what day; it wouldn't be that day. They left the room together. And then the next thing I know, she popped up on "Barbara Walters" that night. My understanding is, he refused to...

STELTER: And the meeting was off. They said no interview for you.

COOPER: Right. They said no interview.

And my understanding is, Donald Sterling decided he did not want to talk on that day to anybody. I have subsequently learned from Magic Johnson that he had approached Magic Johnson about doing an interview with Barbara Walters, with Magic Johnson kind of providing him cover, sitting there with him.

And Magic Johnson obviously said no. And so then I thought that was it. I thought it was done. And then a week went by. And I got a call saying -- last Saturday, saying, come out to L.A., he's going to do it.

And, Sunday, we did it.

STELTER: What kind of wooing happens for these big interviews? You said you will tell the person the pros and the cons.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Right.

Yes, I'm not -- I don't think -- I'm really not good at this. I'm not one to, like, try to sell myself. I sort of think, if somebody wants to talk, that's great. And I'm going to give them a fair chance. I'm going to ask hard questions, and -- but I'm going to be fair and allow them to get their voice out there.

And I always say to people -- I did an interview with the first juror in the Trayvon Martin case to speak. And I believe that interview was supposed to be on "The Today Show," and -- but I met with her, and she -- we talked for half-an-hour, and I was just very up front.

I said, look, if you -- I'm not going to tell you to do me. You can do whoever you're most comfortable with. And if you don't do an interview with me, here's who I would recommend you would do an interview with.

STELTER: Really?

COOPER: Yes. I feel like you should just, in all things -- I think journalists should be honest in everything they do. And I shouldn't be selling myself as the person they must talk to. I -- there's plenty of good people. And here's...

STELTER: I have a feeling sometimes that actually works for you, in your favor, though, to give the soft sell.

COOPER: I think if you just -- to me, it's not even a sell.

Just -- I just want to be honest with anybody I'm dealing with and up front in any -- in all my dealings. So, I constantly tell people, look, it's OK if you don't want to do me. I'm not going to be hurt. And if you don't talk to me, here's another program I think would be good for you, even if it's at another network.

I will give people honest opinions as a -- I just feel like it's my job to be honest.

STELTER: When you were sitting with Sterling...

COOPER: Which means I don't get a lot of the big interviews a lot of times, because there are more aggressive people out there, I imagine.

STELTER: We definitely, for better or worse, learned more about him through the interview.

COOPER: Yes.

STELTER: And that was ultimately the point.

COOPER: Right, yes, absolutely.

And, again, it was really left up to him to kind of decide how he wanted this interview to flow. And what you see is how he decided to handle this.

STELTER: Anderson, thanks for sharing the story behind the story with us.

COOPER: Sure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: By the way, story behind the story, what I said to Anderson at the end there, that was a Jill Abramson line. That was what she always wanted her reporters at "The New York Times" to do. So, you can hear me, having covered this story all week, even bringing it up with Anderson.

Hey, time for a quick break here. But stay tuned, because, on the other side, we're talking about a topic that's been under-covered on television, a topic that affects every single one of us and a topic that the government is now asking specifically the public for feedback about.

What is it? Are you curious? I will tell you right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: This next story is about something we all have a stake in, the future of the World Wide Web and all the news and information and audio and video that flow through it.

You have probably seen headlines like this one lately. This is from CNN's business site, CNN Money: "FCC Moves Forward With Fast Lane Plan."

The FCC is the Federal Communications Commission. It enforces the rules of the roads when it comes to telephones, broadcast television, et cetera. And it's considering new regulations that would allow companies like Amazon and Netflix to get prioritized access to consumers, in other words, a fast lane on the Internet

So, does that mean there would be a slow lane, too? Because that idea scares a lot of people who treasure Internet independence and see it as a space that should be free of outside restriction. Some of them have actually been camping out on the concrete outside the commission's building right here in D.C. These protesters are using tactics from the Occupy movement to get their message out.

So, on Thursday, we went and talked to some of them.

Here's what one of the organizers had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN HUANG, CAMPAIGN MANAGER, FIGHT FOR THE FUTURE: I think the movement is really building towards reclassification of the Internet as a common carrier, to really protect the Internet as an open and free resource for all. And so I'm really looking forward to the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: I want to get to that term reclassification in a couple of minutes. I hope we can explain this in terms that all of us can understand.

I'm joined now by one of the five FCC commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel.

Thank you for joining me.

JESSICA ROSENWORCEL, FCC COMMISSIONER: Well, thank you for having me. STELTER: Let's start with what it means to have voted to move forward with this, because we're just at the beginning of a public debate about a free, open Internet.

That's right, this is a process. And actually it began with a court decision back in January, when the court of appeals here in Washington threw out the FCC's open Internet rules that were adopted in 2010.

So, now the agency has to go back to square one and develop some new ones.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Right now, there's like no rules of the road?

ROSENWORCEL: No rules of the road at all.

But what we're going to do is, we're going to start a process.

STELTER: So, tell me where you stand on this, because even in the news coverage of this topic, I get confused trying to understand what fast lanes and slow lanes mean and what is actually possible.

ROSENWORCEL: Sure.

It's a really wonkish thing, but the reality is, we want to make sure that you can go where you want and do what you want on the Internet unimpeded by your broadband provider. That's something we have to keep in place. And for my part, I want to make sure that we do not have a two-tiered Internet.

I don't think fast lanes that speed the privileged few are a good idea if they leave the rest of us lagging behind.

STELTER: What would a two-tiered Internet mean?

ROSENWORCEL: Well, I think it would be the kind of environment where broadband providers would able to offer to content companies and others some premium service.

So, if a toll was paid, they would be able to reach their customers faster.

STELTER: And yet these protesters, some of these pictures we have behind us of these physical protests over something virtual, which I find so interesting to see outside the FCC, of all places, they say that the Democrats on the commission, you and the chairman, Tom Wheeler, are actually going to be endangering the Internet.

What do you say to them?

ROSENWORCEL: All right.

Well, I say, first of all, I actually called for a delay.

STELTER: Right.

ROSENWORCEL: I would have preferred that we did not proceed.

STELTER: Right.

ROSENWORCEL: Wasn't able to convince my colleagues.

So, if that's the bad news, here's the good news. This is day one in a process. We have simply asked for public comment on some of these proposals. And the most important thing now is that we hear from the giants of Silicon Valley, that we hear from broadband providers, but also that we hear from the American public. And that's what we're going to need to do to forge head.

STELTER: Let me get to the what the sound bite -- the person in the sound bite mentioned, which is the idea of reclassification. What does that mean?

ROSENWORCEL: So, there's a question out there, should we treat the Internet like a utility service? Should it be treated under the law like traditional telephone service, for instance?

STELTER: Right now, it's not.

ROSENWORCEL: Right now, it's not.

So, on the one hand, it could be highly regulated. On the other, it could be deregulated. For my part, I think all options need to be on the table right now, and we need to have a proceeding that discusses every option, every which way we can make this happen.

STELTER: So, tell us where this goes. The vote happened this week. Now people are invited to comment. How long is that process, and when will new rules actually be implemented?

ROSENWORCEL: So, we have a formal comment set up for July to September of this year. But we can take informal comments to. People are already sending us e-mails, lighting up our switchboard. And that's a good thing.

I think it's really important that we hear from the public and Internet users if we want to get this right.

STELTER: Thank you so much for joining me today.

ROSENWORCEL: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: Coming up, a warning for journalists everywhere, a case of plagiarism here at CNN. I will tell you what happened and what CNN did it about it next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Finally this morning: You would think, in this age of Google, that no reporter would ever dare to steal sentences from other sources.

But I'm sorry to say it recently happened here at CNN. On Friday morning, the editors in charge of CNN's Web site published this very unusual editor's note about a shocking case of plagiarism. They said that one of the news editors they employed in London named Marie- Louise Gumuchian used other writers' words without attribution in 50 stories, and maybe more. The investigation is going.

CNN terminated her when it found out. And now the place where she previously worked, Reuters, says it is also reviewing her stories from back then, looking for more possible instances of plagiarism.

CNN only discovered the plagiarism during routine editing of one of her stories. Then searches turned up more and more examples. Now all the stories have been corrected and some have been deleted altogether.

You know, writers love to tangle with their editors. I do it on a near-daily basis, but this case, it's a very rare case, but it shows how important editors are to the process. What an outrageous story.

That's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. But check us out online on CNN.com for media coverage all week long.

We hope to see you right back here next Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time. And if you can't join us live, make sure you set your DVR.