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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
U.S. Raids in Africa; Standstill in Washington; Interview with Congressman Scott Rigell of Virginia; Interview with Michael Smerconish
Aired October 6, 2013 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning from Washington. I'm Candy Crowley.
"RELIABLE SOURCES" begins in a few moments, but first, we want to update you on a pair of U.S. military raids carried out in Africa, one in Somalia, the other in Libya.
CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has details about the details about the operation in Somalia.
Barbara, what can you tell us about that?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Candy, what we know is, of course, President Obama was monitoring both operations very carefully in Somalia. The mission was led by members of SEAL Team 6, the same unit, of course, that killed Osama bin Laden. They are the covert Navy unit. They went into southern Somalia, into an al Shabaab stronghold, to go after a key al Shabaab target, but came under heavy fire and had to abort the mission before being able to determine whether they killed their target.
This was a high-risk effort. The SEALs came ashore off actually a commercial vessel. They got into small boats and came ashore. They were trying to stay as under the radar as they could, not be noticed, coming ashore, but apparently they were. And that's when the firefighter erupted.
It remains to be seen how much the SEALs were able to accomplish a high risk mission. They got out. We are told no SEALs wounded in the mission -- Candy.
CROWLEY: Barbara, we also know that there was also another mission in Libya. What are the chances they two were coordinated? I think at the moment, it is most likely they were not specifically coordinated.
The target in Libya was a key al Qaeda operative that the U.S. had been looking for, for years, but what it goes to, Candy, is the ability of U.S. Special Forces in both cases, what is so clear is the missions were being planned and worked on for potentially years, months. They had operatives in both areas. They were conducting intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance. They had a plan on how the military units would get in, get to their targets and get out.
That takes a lot of work. That doesn't just happen overnight. So, this really underscores, even in the middle of a furlough in Washington, U.S. Special Forces are out there, and they are planning and going after those terrorist targets when and where they find them.
CROWLEY: Barbara Starr, thank you.
I want to go now to CNN chief international correspondent Nic Robertson. He is in London and has details about the capture of a top al Qaeda operative in Libya.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Candy.
Abu Anas al-Libi, on his way back from press (ph) Saturday morning, 6:30 a.m., his wife looking out the window of their house in Libya's capital Tripoli, sees him pulling up in his car, then three other vehicles, 10 men, balaclavas on their heads, get out, and within seconds, she says, essentially overpower her husband before he could even reach into the glover box to fire -- to fire or grab his pistol, at least.
The window of his vehicle was smashed, there were no casualties and he was taken away, removed from Libya, will be taken we understand to the United States. His role as a senior al Qaeda figure with expertise in computing and planning operations, believed to have planned the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. That's why he was being picked up. But he may also have information about al Qaeda operative cells camps in Libya, and the north of Africa, where we know al Qaeda is trying to improve their footing there, Candy.
CROWLEY: Nic Robertson, thank you so much.
CROWLEY: Joining me now here in Washington is Jeremy Bash. He is the former chief of staff of the CIA and the Pentagon. He's now the managing director for Beacon Global Strategies.
Jeremy, what are the chances that the capture in Libya was done without the assist or the -- at least the nod it's OK from what there is of a government in Libya?
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, DEPT. OF DEFENSE AND CIA: Very hard to full off a completely unilateral military operation downtown in another country's capital city, Candy. They'll say this operation is clearly lawful, because we have an indictment, we have criminal prosecution papers really to go against al-Libi. He'll be brought back to the United States.
My bet, I don't know this for sure, but my bet is that he's probably being interrogated on a U.S. Navy ship as we speak. He'll be interrogated for intelligence for some time, and like Ramzi Yousef, who is the first World Trade Center bomber, from 1993, who was abducted -- excuse me, taken in Pakistan, by Pakistani and U.S. forces, he'll be brought back to the southern district of the United States, in the district of New York, for prosecution.
CROWLEY: Tell me a bit about this area of the world now where so much seems to be going on, used be Pakistan, used to be Afghanistan, used to be Iraq. And now, northern and eastern Africa.
BASH: I think Africa is clearly the central front in the war against al Qaeda, in the war against terrorism for us. We've seen this bubbling up over the last couple of years. For many years, Candy, our focus was on Pakistan and decimating al Qaeda senior leadership there. The removal of Osama bin Laden and many of al Qaeda senior leaders really moved the fight a little bit to Yemen where al- Awlaki was active. We still have a concern about that, but many Yemeni al Qaeda elements have been taken out as well.
Now, we turn our attention to east Africa, to al Shabaab, and to North Africa, which may be a safe haven for al Qaeda.
CROWLEY: And just quickly, can you tell me the level of danger that al Shabaab poses to the U.S. mainland?
BASH: Well, they haven't sought directly to attack the mainland yet, but remember, they conduct an operation against our embassies or their predecessor elements conduct an operation against our embassies in 1998, 15 years ago. They will come after the United States if we don't go after them.
CROWLEY: Jeremy Bash, thank you for your insights.
BASH: Thanks, Candy.
CROWLEY: Thank also to Barbara Starr and Nic Robertson.
We'll be following this story throughout the day. Stay tuned for updates as they development.
RELIABLE SOURCES with guest host Frank Sesno begins right now.
FRANK SESNO, GUEST HOST: And this week, wherever there was a camera pointed in Washington, you could find a member of Congress pointing fingers at their political opponent. A media field day, and a national embarrassment, as we see this government partially shut down.
It's Washington's blame game.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We have to stop playing these foolish games that keep coming to us from the other side of the Capitol.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This isn't some damned game. The American people don't want our government shutdown and neither do I. (END VIDEO CLIPS)
SESNO: Well, the game, the story, call it what you will, has consumed cable news channels and network newscasts. It's dominated headlines.
But how does the public separate information from spin from the politicians? And the journalists who quote them, how are they supposed to hold their subjects accountable?
So, to discuss that and more, I'm joined from New York by Errol Louis, host of "Road to City Hall" on NY1, and a CNN commentator here in Washington. Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief with "The Chicago Sun-Times". And Dan Froomkin of the Center for Accountability Journalism.
Lynn, let me turn to you to start with.
You're covering -you have all this game going on, but it's politics, personality, policy, the government partly shutdown, the debt ceiling on the horizon. How do you figure out from all these sources, who is credible and who is just a windbag?
LYNN SWEET, THE CHICAGO SUN TIMES: Well, I think part of what I try to do is tell you what's happening, to cut through it. My focus isn't just necessarily a quote either from the extreme left and extreme right, or anything that is extraneous, unless it provides a (INAUDIBLE) from somebody from Illinois, in which I will give special attention to it.
SESNO: That's where Chicago is.
SWEET: Right. I mean, that is my mission. It's hybrid. I do care about very much local delegation, but our players for the moment are the leaders on this.
So, I think it's almost a day-to-day call, Frank, where you just look at -- it's like at a restaurant. You have a whole big venue, but you got to make a decision. It's a day to day.
SESNO: And a lot of criticism about how caught up the media have been, news coverage, in the horse race in all of this, and the politics and sometimes the more outspoken, the more coverage you get.
Here's a quote from Representative Steve King of Iowa, reported in "The Huffington Post", talking about the partial shutdown. It's a temporary inconvenience for a lot of people he said, but if Obamacare is ever implemented, we will never recover from that as a nation. We can never be a free people again.
"The Boston Globe" reported on John Culberson, a representative from Texas, a Republican, he referred to this as the most unpopular piece of legislation ever passed. And it's not just the Republicans. Take a listen to what Senator Harkin said from the Senate floor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: We are at one of the most dangerous points in our history right now, every bit as dangerous as the breakup of the Union before Che civil War.
(END VIDE OCLIP)
SESNO: Lynn, every bit as dangerous as the breakup of the Union before the Civil War. That was quoted in, a reference in "Reuters", FOX, CBS, "National Journal," "The Hill," "The Atlantic."
Should it have been?
SWEET: Sure, because those stories focused on what was happening in the Senate.
SESNO: But did Tom Harkin, was he correct when he said this is the most serious moment since the breakup of the Union before the Civil War?
SWEET: Well, it depends what those stories did in the context they have, which I know it's Dan's special here.
But my point is, Frank, when you -- a lot of this does depend on your story of the day is and what your focus is. And I have no criticism with my colleagues who are covering what is being said in the chambers and reporting it, especially on the comments that seem a little bit outside common sense.
SESNO: Errol Louis, over to you. Word count, and this is just one example.
Tied to all of this, of course, whether Obamacare -- the Affordable Care Act, stays or goes, trimmed or delayed, or what have you. The media have chosen to take a number of takes on this one as to how those words were used.
But investigative reporter Jimmy Kimmel sent his comedy team out on the street and look what they found when they were talking about Affordable Care Act versus Obamacare.?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTIONER: What do you agree with -- Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm more towards Affordable Care Act.
QUESTIONER: So, the Affordable Care Act is more affordable than Obamacare?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just the name says it all.
Do you know that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are the same thing? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, they're not. Thanks for making me look stupid.
QUESTIONER: It's what we do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. You did good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESNO: Errol, the words we choose matter. How do we decide? How the media do it?
ERROL LOUIS, NY1: Look, the reality, I mean, of course, you know, what makes that joke funny is that there are people, because it is tied to Obama when you call it Obamacare, they have one perception that is purely political in its genesis. I mean, that's really all they're really saying.
So, look, the politics of it does matter. And to go back to, you know, the Harkin comment for a minute, you know, he could be right about that. I mean, if playing with the national debt becomes a normal of legislative business, which he is suggesting, that is big, big news, because it doesn't happen all that often, but because it says something fundamental, and those who cover the market say that it might be a step from which we cannot return.
SESNO: But, Errol, the question is on this hyperbole, what immediate -- what the public hears, what really is dangerous and present, and what is so over the top that it's just adding to the noise and the heat without clarifying anything.
LOUIS: No absolutely. No question about it, Frank. I mean, you've got to use your best judgment. This is a time for all of us to really be on our game. You know, for example, there are a number of legislators who are opposed to all of this stuff, and who are, in favor of the shutdown, who are calling the Affordable Care Act a bill.
Well, you either don't report it or you point out there's a law. There are those routinely calling it unconstitutional. I've seen that a number of times, very disconcerting because that cannot and should not be -- it's really malpractice to let it go un-rebutted. You know, you have to say right behind it and maybe challenge them right on the spot and say, this went all the way to the Supreme Court. It is law, it is constitutional.
So, you know, unless you're going to also go around reporting things without comment, you know, somebody says, the American flag is pink and purple, you've got to just stop people right there and maybe even take an additional step and say, congressman so and so is routinely going around saying things that are not true or that are very wide of the mark.
SESNO: Let me -- let me bring Dan Froomkin in here.
You wrote a really tough piece. It appeared on al Jazeera as a matter of fact and the headline, "Shutdown coverage fails America." Coverage fails America.
Here's what you wrote, "The political media's aversion to doing anything that might be seen as taking sides, combined with its obsession with process let them to actively obscure the truth in their coverage of the congressional votes. If you didn't already know what this was all about, reading the news would not help you understand."
DAN FROOMKIN, CENTER FOR ACCOUNTABILITY JOURNALISM: This is a really serious thing that's happening. I mean, I know I live in Washington, the fact all of us live more than the average American, that's -- shutting a government is about a serious a problem as Congress can have. So, it's really imperative upon the press to tell the public how we got here. And not just what's happening everyday.
SESNO: You don't think the press has been doing that? This parade of stories, day in and day out.
FROOMKIN: The coverage has been incredibly focused on both the process, what just happened right now, and also on prognostication. There's been very little of reminding people of the very basics, which is this is a manufactured crisis. Every story should almost lead with the fact that this is day X of a manufactured crisis of an unprecedented extreme act by a party that's trying to subvert them.
SESNO: Lynn, you write those stories every day. What's your response to that?
SWEET: Well, first of all, I think Dan in his crusade for accountability journalism and making the call is important, because I think reporters should make the call, and in this case, how this shutdown happened was because Republicans wanted to inject, you know, derailing Obamacare as the price for keeping government funding flowing.
So, Dan, I agree with you. I don't think it has to be the lead in every story, but this is an art. You have to mix it all in, Frank, in every story, to give the context. Again, maybe not in the lead on it, but you do have to in this story, especially in print, explain why you're here, but I do think you need to push ahead.
SESNO: Part of the problem in pushing ahead and part of thing that confuses the country is there's so much politics and so much noise separate from the policy itself and what's really. I just want to suggest one then. Errol, you raise the question about some of the information here. If people want to know, for example, what Obamacare means for them? You know the best place to go, WebMD.
Seriously, check out the map. You can click on any state. They'll tell you exactly what's happening in your state. You want the politics? Lynn, you're doing it and reporters here in Washington doing it every day.
SWEET: No, it's both. I think you're trying -- it's not as if, though, any outlet has just one story devoted to this, Frank. At "The Sun-Times", we have multiple stories about how this health care law is rolling out. Most outlets, and this is a big consumer service just to let people know what's happening.
SESNO: Errol, last word to you, in 10 seconds, if you can do it, if you're keeping a scorecard on media coverage going forward, what are you looking for?
LOUIS: I want to look for the outright fabricated clearly talking points, false statements at least be called out. You can report them, but you've got to call them out. And, also, you know, you've got to -- as Lynn says, you've got every side of it.
Here in New York, we show the closed sign in front of the Statue of Liberty. A picture speaks a thousand words.
SESNO: All right. Errol Lewis, thanks very much. And two others, thanks very much for coming, really appreciate it.
After the break, when you hear a politician stay on message, does it ever remind you of this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay on targets.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're too close.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay on targets.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Loosening up (ph).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESNO: Stay on targets or go down in flames? Some members of Congress seem to stay on message, some don't.
We'll talk to one Republican when we come back.
SESNO: In a world of political spin, the premium is on staying on message -- sticking to the talking points. Well, where do they come from? And what happens if you go your own way?
One member did that -- just that thing this past week, fittingly enough with a tweet, "We fought the good fight. Time for a clean C.R.", said Scott Rigell.
So, how do talking points get made? How they influence media coverage and political decision-making.
Representative Rigell, Republican from Virginia, is here with me in Washington.
Good to see you this morning, sir.
REP. SCOTT RIGELL (R), VIRGINIA: Yes, Frank.
SESNO: All right. So, tweeted that. Now, I have here -- I obtained an e-mail that went out to your Republican colleagues, said dear colleague, as discussed this morning in conference, we are in the middle of a communications war. And it says, as a reminder, our key points are Harry Reid and the Democratic controlled Senate are slamming the door on reopening the government by using to talk, House Republicans continue our efforts to keep the government running. Americans don't want a government shutdown.
What do you do when you get those talking appointments?
RIGELL: Well, oftentimes, they've very helpful and I refer to it as being in the herd. Being in the herd aligns with my core values and my business experience, and what I think is best for our country, that's fine. But if they don't, if I think we need to go in a different direction, then I owe it to the good folks I represent in Virginia's district, the second congressional district, to speak my mind.
SESNO: When you left the herd, the other day, as I noted with that tweet, when you said it's time for a clean C.R., drop this stop, reopen the government.
SESNO: And you led with that tweet. And within very short order, you were approached by?
RIGELL: Well, were -- I just learned that we had 10 media requests within five minutes. So, we use new media both to inform long term substantive matters. I send out a report every two weeks called the Rigell Report. But we also use Twitter, for example, to communicate, I guess, breaking news, if you will.
SESNO: Congressman, I spoke to Frank Luntz, in preparation for our conversation here. He was a communication consultant to House Republicans in the famous '95 shutdown. He said Republicans are communicated horribly now, because now they're talking about process, not something that people can relate to. And then he said our talking point then was ending wasteful Washington spending, and it's still accountability. Now, he says, we're talking about how the president won't negotiate.
But we went out and dig a little digging. Here's what that talking point sounds like when people do it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
REP. JOH MICA (R), FLORIDA: He brings people down to the White House and he refused just to negotiate.
AL SHARPTON, MSNBC: Fine. Then let me --
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Oh, what I say is that the president hasn't been willing to negotiate. SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: How do you find compromise if you're not going to negotiate?
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
SESNO: It's that what you're told to do? Go out and hammer that point again and again and again?
RIGELL: Well, essentially, but, you know, I look at it this way. Our country is being ripped apart. The political fabric of our country is being ripped apart by gerrymandered districts. In my communication, I first try to prepare that in my own way by just identifying those values that hold us all together as Americans.
Now, we have differences, of course. And I'm a strong fiscal conservative, for example. But I start out with this idea that my Democratic friends are also concerned about the fiscal trajectory of our country. Just that simple acknowledgement that there's common ground on a shared concern, I think this is essential. We need to remember civility is not weakness, elevate the facts and make the case that way.
SESNO: What role did your bolting from the party on the issue of the clean C.R. through your tweet have in all this attention you're getting? Do you think it was because of the particulars of what you were doing? Or do you think it's because you're the odd man out in a sense here?
RIGELL: Probably both. Now, when I put that tweet out, I knew that it would create some attention. We didn't tweet it for that reason. But I really believe, Frank, that I owe the good men and women I represent, including so many of whom serve in our military, I owe the district clarity.
I felt deeply that continuing path here that we're on of continuing the shutdown. I didn't think it was going to advance our shared objectives.
SESNO: I posted on my Facebook page this conversation that we were going to be having on this show today, taking a look at the role of the media in all this government stuff. I was astounded by the kinds of responses I've got and some from friends I haven't heard from in decades. They're still around. That's a good thing.
One of them wrote the following, and his question is, it the media actually relevant to the situation, or does it merely reinforce what each already believes and make their listeners, viewers feel better and more right for holding their own position.
RIGELL: Frank --
SESNO: In other words, it's the echo chamber.
RIGELL: Well, here's what's happening. We've had an exponent increase in the amount of information or noise rather that's coming at the American people because of the electronic devices in our coat pocket and ladies ease purses, but we have not increased actual communication here.
I'm often asked, well, are we winning? Who is winning, Congressman? Who's winning, Republican -- look, what I want to make sure is are we working through the real facts? How is this impacting national defense, for example? And that's what we're trying to point out is get to the substance of the matter.
SESNO: To the substance of the matter.
Congressman Rigell, thanks very much. Appreciate it.
RIGELL: Thank you.
SESNO: Well, up next, what to do with all that spin? A talk show host on whether and how he should fact check his guests.
SESNO: It's not easy covering government shutdowns or congressional negotiations. For journalists, it gets even tougher when politicians come to the cameras and microphones armed with the talking points we've been talking about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: The American people have rejected Obamacare.
REP. TODD ROKITA (R), INDIANA: We just want to help the American people get by and through one of the most insidious laws created by man.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: They've lot their minds, trying to do the same thing over and over again.
REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: Why won't Speaker Boehner allow for that vote? What is he afraid of?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESNO: Now, some of those claims you've just heard were challenged by the person on the other side of the camera -- some were not.
So, how hard should reporters push back? And for talk show hosts who are on every day, what does their job description say about all of this? Nothing, actually.
So, earlier, I spoke with Sirius XM radio host Michael Smerconish, who offered his take on how he cuts through the political noise.
SESNO: I am thrilled to have this conversation with you because I want to know what it's like to be a talk show host in the middle of this kind of political civil war. What is your responsibility as you sit there, when you have guests in the middle of all of this, who were walking in with talking points, walking in with tried and true messages that have gone through their pollster and their media meisters?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think I have got a responsibility to provide some entertainment value, but hopefully that doesn't mean stretching the facts. Hopefully that doesn't mean getting steamrolled by people who show up on my program and have talking points.
My goal is to be informative and use that information in an entertaining manner. And it's been tough in the last couple of days in this climate because it seems like everybody's got an agenda, and they're either hardened on the Left or hardened on the Right.
SESNO: They have an agenda, and they also have turns of phrase sometimes that are over the top. I heard one conservative Republican talk about ObamaCare as the most -- one of the most insidious laws ever passed. I've heard those in the administration talk about how ObamaCare is going to save money.
Aren't both those things -- I mean, what do you do with them?
SMERCONISH: Well, I think what you do is try and strip them down and ferret out the truth. And, Frank, I have bet my career on the fact, I hope, that people are tired of the polarization, that they feel like they've been left out in the cold, because they turn on television -- not CNN, but they go on television or they turn on conventional talk radio, and everything is so polarized.
And if you landed here from Mars, you would think that everyone is diametrically on one side or the other, but when I'm leading my real life, when I'm doing grocery shopping, going to a back-to-school night -- I was just at three of them -- pumping gas, I engage with people for whom the issues are a mixed bag. They're liberal on some things; they're conservative on others.
And so as I'm seated behind a microphone, I'm trying not to lose sight of the fact that that's really the core constituency that I'm trying to reach, not whomever is offering me all the talking points.
SESNO: Michael, what, though, do you do? You're live on the air; you hear a guest utter a stream of facts or make an over-the-top statement, do you interrupt them? Do you challenge them? How do you challenge them if you yourself don't have the specific facts to which they were referring?
SMERCONISH: I think the honest answer is it depends who the guest is. I've been in that position with the President of the United States. And I find it very hard to hold his feet to the fire if that means I'm going to have to interrupt the commander in chief.
Just this week I had Secretary Sebelius on on the very week of the launch of the exchanges. And I felt a little bit of that. I don't feel that way if I'm dealing with members of Congress or members of the Senate or individuals who are there just to carry some ideological baggage, but I guess my honest answer is it's very difficult, the higher you get in government, at least for me, to be the interrupting sword.
SESNO: So how do you prepare? What packet of facts do you walk in? What's your agenda when you go into one of these interviews, on either side, Left or Right?
SMERCONISH: Well, I think you have touched on it now. The key to handling a guest who is ideologically driven is to do your preparation on the front end, also to think about whether that guest really adds any redeeming value to your program. I can tell you by way of example, Frank, that the best guest I had this week on the roll-out of the exchanges was neither an R nor a D; it wasn't somebody who was there with a bias.
It was Mary Agnes Carey (ph) from Kaiser Health News. She's been a guest on my program on many occasions. And I love having her because it's just no B.S., I ask a question, she fires an answer. And a lot of this subject matter is so darn confusing that when I get someone like that, I make sure that I highlight the Rolodex.
SESNO: So how do you decide what's a good guest? Because you have got both the substance, and you just gave a great example of that, but you've also got the politics. I mean after all, this government is now partially shut down.
SMERCONISH: Right. Well, you have got to have a pulse. I mean, let's be fair. There are a lot of people out there who are terrific with the written word, but it doesn't translate into radio; it doesn't translate into television. Sometimes you get a person who is so darn over the top, but the facts just don't seem to jibe.
I had an interesting thing happen to me this week. Jesse Ventura was on my program, because he just released a brand-new book about the Kennedy assassination. Here comes the 50-year anniversary.
Well, I wasn't buying it, but I frankly wasn't equipped to respond to all of his different points that he maintains a conspiracy arises from.
So I was in that position, not on health care, but on the JFK assassination. And I found myself simply saying to him, Governor Ventura, I think you have raised a whole host of questions for which you yourself don't have a coherent answer.
Well, he wasn't happy to hear that from me. But at least I was able to convey to the audience I've got some skepticism about what I'm being told, even if I don't feel equipped to respond point for point.
SESNO: Do you ever feel like you just want to say thank you very much to your guest, turn off the microphone and go home early?
SMERCONISH: Yes, about every other day. (LAUGHTER)
SESNO: Mr. Smerconish, thank you very much. Appreciate your time.
SMERCONISH: Thanks, Frank.
SESNO: Well, coming up, a new television network with a big mission, funded in part by your tax dollars. A new documentary tells the story of TOLO TV in Afghanistan.
SESNO: In the recently released documentary, "The Network," filmmaker Eva Orner takes us behind the scenes of TOLO TV, Afghanistan's first independently operated television network.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These people have seen enough of blood, enough of war, enough of bombs, enough of weapons. They want to be entertained. They want to be hopeful, at least a little for their country. And that's what we are doing. We're entertaining them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESNO: The film traces the channel's evolution from an entrepreneurial start-up in 2004 to a modern network, bringing viewers a mix of everything from cooking and entertainment shows to news and commentary.
The rise of the TOLO TV no doubt reflects the broader theme of a country trying to find its voice following years of political instability and war.
Eva Orner directed the film. She joins me now live from Los Angeles this morning.
Eva, great to see you.
Why did you make this documentary?
EVA ORNER, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: I thought it would be kind of (inaudible) to make a somewhat positive film about Afghanistan in the face of the impending withdrawal. There's been so much negative media about the country, and I just thought it would be really timely to tell a positive story. And the takeaway is that the big positive story from Afghanistan is the success of the media.
SESNO: The success of the media, what do you mean by that?
ORNER: Well, TOLO, for instance, is the largest media company in Afghanistan. It employs over 800 Afghans. And it's completely trained a generation of people who had no media experience in how to make television, how to make radio, how to tell stories.
And I think when you look at some of the failures in the country, in terms of the occupation, setting up businesses, the military, security, I think that the media is, you know, the big success story in terms of achievement over the last 12 years in the country.
SESNO: One of the most successful shows on there is a show called "Eagle 4." "Eagle 4" is a cop show, it's like sort of "Law & Order" Afghanistan-style, very popular, but it's got more going for it than just that.
What's the basic takeaway, and how is it working in the country?
ORNER: Well, that -- it actually wasn't the most successful of programs. They only did one series of it. It was the largest show they had ever done, and now working in conjunction with the police to try and make police role models and to make people respect and trust the police more, because they're having trouble with that.
So that was part of the, you know, I guess the idea behind that series was to teach people to trust the police. And that definitely worked. The statistics that the government provided in terms of how much people started trusting the police after the show aired were quite staggeringly quite high, but it wasn't renewed. It was only on once. So I'm not sure that it was a huge success.
SESNO: Not a huge success, I probably overstated that, but it certainly cost a lot of money and grabbed a big audience when it was on, or at least attention.
You have a very poignant scene in the movie, where one of the executives there -- she is from Australia -- grabs a couple of cameramen and others who are out in the field, they were supposed to be shooting something in a restaurant, they got into a big dispute when they were on the scene because somebody got caught in traffic, it's right out of network television.
But this person says to them and sort of lectures them, because they stormed out and it turned out to be a bit of a disastrous day, "Your job is to focus on a solution, not whose fault it is. Find solutions.
It was almost as if she was talking to the whole country in that scene.
Was that deliberate on your part?
ORNER: I wanted to show, I think with the expats working at TOLO, they tend to have to be -- take on a parenting role and really teach the kids how to do things. And I wanted to show that in that scene.
But it also shows, you know, how young everyone is. The median age in Afghanistan is currently 17. It's a young country. So when you go to TOLO TV, most of the people there are in their early 20s. It's quite shocking to see young Afghans running news department who are 24 or 25, directors who are like 23, 24. You just don't see that anywhere else in the world. And that's partly what that scene, I think, captures.
SESNO: Very briefly, if we may, is TOLO TV working? Is it changing attitudes in the country? What happens when U.S. forces leave?
ORNER: Absolutely it is. And I'll give you an example. "Sesame Street" was brought in for the first time a couple of years ago. And "Sesame Street" plays in tens of countries around the world, but in Afghanistan, it's probably the only country where adults watch "Sesame Street" and learn to read and write as well. And I just love that as an example of how effective the media is in terms of teaching people.
Will it stay? Will it succeed? I think TOLO is one of the few somewhat self-sustaining companies in Afghanistan. They have a large advertising department, they have proper entrepreneurs running it. And I think that it will go on in the future.
Will it stay the same size? Only time will tell. I think things are going to change potentially.
SESNO: Thanks very much, Eva Orner, the documentary, "The Network," thanks again.
And ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, meet the next generation of news, in person. My journalism students from the George Washington University on covering the shutdown and how they're getting the news. I hope Jeff Bezos is watching now.
SESNO: As director of the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, I'm very lucky to work with aspiring young journalists and see the changes in the media from the ground up. So we thought this was an A-plus moment for them to weigh in on news coverage and more.
SESNO: You want to be journalists. You're in Washington, you're in Washington at a time when the government is shut down, it's the biggest story we've had in a long, long time.
Where are you getting your news from?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twitter. I mean, you know, following reporters or the actual media outlet.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before I get out of bed every morning, I'm always on Twitter. So Twitter, Facebook, I follow CNN, I follow "New York Times," "The Washington Post," basically everyone. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I turn to "The Washington Post" a lot and also I watch "The Rundown" on "CBS THIS MORNING" on their website.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I first go to Twitter. And then when I'm out -- I always go to the gym in the morning and I'm always watching "MORNING JOE" and "THE DAILY RUNDOWN."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My news is almost exclusively online, I'm looking at Twitter, I'm watching podcasts. And most of those are NBC, CNN, AP.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once the alarm hits, I take the smartphone and check Twitter, still in bed obviously.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm actually kind of old school. I wake up to NPR.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I wake up I usually just check my Facebook, check my e-mail when I'm still in bed, and it usually leads me to places like BuzzFeed, and then from there, Facebook also brings me to, like, "The Washington Post" and CNN.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Links from Twitter usually go to "Bloomberg" or "The Post" or "The Times," and then I also read morning newsletters, like from "Slate."
SESNO: How many of you get your news from the Jon Stewarts and the Jimmy Kimmels and the Stephen Colberts of the world?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) this week.
SESNO: You're watching nonstop?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jon Stewart's been on fire.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wouldn't say that I get my news exclusively from Jon Stewart or exclusively from Colbert. But I mean, it's funny and it's, you know, easy to watch while you're doing other things.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think most people go there as their -- to Comedy as their main source of news. I think it's mostly people who have read and have an understanding and know what's going on. And then that's just supplemental to everything else.
SESNO: What's the first and foremost responsibility of the news media?
If the first responsibility of the government is to govern, and they're not, what's the --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They act as the watchdog.
SESNO: OK. That's easy to say. What does that mean?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's to like hold like the people who are responsible accountable for what they have failed to do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not the media's job to play the blame game, too, though. OK, most that they can do is just provide the facts and let the people decide what they think is accurate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the role of the media is to inform everyone. I don't -- and then if it involves holding people accountable, if that's how you get the information to inform everyone, then that's how you do it. But it's presenting them the facts and letting them make the decision.
SESNO: Who decides who's credible, who's not?
How do you cover these people?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We shouldn't be giving senators and congressman who are saying falsehood of a -- lying on the -- on the news, so like there are senators and congressmen who have said, you know, the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Well, it is. The Supreme Court ruled that it's constitutional. And that's fine.
So, like, just -- you can't just like say these things because that's how you feel. If someone is going to blatantly say something that's incorrect on the news, as an elected official, we should -- they should lose their access to the media.
SESNO: You shouldn't interview them again?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
SESNO: Even if they're the ones who are orchestrating this whole thing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't let them proselytize, like I wouldn't use C-SPAN coverage of them just talking and be like, and from the opposition, this is what's, you know, this is their valid point. It's not.
SESNO: So would you not cover Ted Cruz?
SESNO: How could you not cover Ted Cruz?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that like when you have someone who's willing to stand there 21 hours and just continue to like ramble and then eventually goes on Star Wars, you made your point.
SESNO: Is it just because you disagree with him? For -- as far as he's concerned, he's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, (inaudible) liberal. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I completely disagree with that, actually. I think you have to call those people out. You have to do it in a civilized way where you question them. You ask them about their motives. You ask them why they're doing that. That way the public can really decide for themselves are they really looking out in our best interests or are they just doing their own thing for political gains?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Media has the ultimate agenda setting power. So I feel like not pointing fingers at people but perhaps putting them in the spotlight and making them responsible and for their -- like for them to give explanations. And just putting them under spotlight could be a solution.
SESNO: What should the agenda setting priority be in this one?
What should the media's agenda be?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why the government failed to govern.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you're at your local paper, you have to localize it. So you have to talk to the people in your community about how it is affecting them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We talked a little bit about how the media hasn't really been able to localize this information to make it relatable to people, but I feel as though social media in a sense has been able to fill that void by allowing people who are affected by this, whether it be the panda camera or something more serious to vocalize their concerns and really say how it is affecting them personally.
And then this -- when people talk about it and it gets retweeted or shared, then that's when we really get to hear it directly from the people who are affected.
SESNO: There you have it, a future of news and a shred of hope. Ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, a powerful tool for news and information that is about to be worth billions. I thought about what it means -- after the break.
SESNO: In case you've missed it, there has been a drumbeat during this show. Not shutdown, not ObamaCare, not mainstream media. Sure, we have talked about all that, but what's been invoked throughout the hour is Twitter, Twitter and the reporters. They're tweeting, reacting. It's changed journalism.
Twitter and the congressman: he breaks news with it. Talks to his constituents through it. Attracts mainstream media because of it.
The students: they sleep with it, start the day with it, it is their gateway to information and the odd party or two. For sure, it has become part of the culture. It is about to become big business.
Twitter's announced a $1 billion IPO, their S-1 filing says they have 215 million active users. They'll trade under the symbol TWTR, no hashtag.
There is word they're going to hire a head of news, even though they don't originate a shred of news and don't plan to. You heard about the bridge to nowhere? Twitter is the bridge to everywhere.
But is Twitter a reliable source? As with all else in social media, you have to consider the source. Every news org has a Twitter feed, so does just about every politician and probably many of your friends. For sure, it has accelerated and amplified the debate.
But my social scientist friends say research shows social media is more a connector than a thought leader. My colleague at the School of Media and Public Affairs Nikki Usher (ph) writes, "Social media campaigns on both sides confirm existing beliefs, rallying the troops, but this kind of content is rarely, if ever, going to make any kind of attitude change."
But we need an attitude change, an altitude change, in politics and media. That could be a tweet with characters to spare.
That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Frank Sesno. If you missed part of our show, you can find us online or on iTunes. Just search for Reliable Sources in the iTunes store.
You can also join the conversation on Twitter, tweet us @CNNReliable or use the hashtag #reliable. Join us here again next Sunday morning at 11:00 am Eastern. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.