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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
A Gay Football Players Comes Out; The Monster Comcast Deal; A Peek Behind the Hillary Curtain
Aired February 16, 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 New York City. I'm Brian Stelter. And it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES."
Here's what we have coming up on the show today.
STELTER (voice-over): An NFL prospect says he's gay. And pro- football players applaud his courage. But are they saying one thing to the cameras and something entirely different behind the scenes? We'll talk to a writer who says that's exactly what they're doing.
Hillary Clinton, digging deeper into a newly discovered archive of her private thoughts, with a man who knows her well. Clinton biographer and Pulitzer Prize winner, Carl Bernstein.
And why is one of the biggest stories in the country barely being covered? A big state full of people afraid to drink their water or even wash their hands. But where are the networks, the national media?
A reporter who's been there every day says we need help.
STELTER: We will get to all of those stories in the show today. Plus, Comcast mega merger that was announced this week.
But, first, there's been a mountain of media coverage in recent days about Michael Sam, the college football star who made this announcement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL SAM, COLLEGE FOOTBALL STAR: I came to tell the world that I'm an openly proud gay man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How does it feel to say those words to the world?
SAM: It's a load off my chest.
(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: What a moment for football. And the vast majority of stories about him painted a bright picture, that the NFL might finally be ready for an openly gay player.
There were Twitter messages of support from all across professional football and from celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and even from President Obama.
One of those NFL Twitterers was Richie Incognito. He's the Miami Dolphins offensive lineman who's been accused of bullying teammate Jonathan Martin.
Here's what Incognito wrote: "It takes guts to do what you did. I wish you nothing but the best."
But then on Friday, the Wells report came out. That was the blue ribbon investigation ordered by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, into what really happened in that Miami Dolphins locker room.
The report made clear that Incognito hurled homophobic teammates slurs at his teammates, slurs so ugly we're not going to be repeating them here. This brings up a key question, are people in pro football saying one thing in front of their cameras and in front of their keyboards but another thing in private. Has this story been accurately reported this week?
Joining me now to dig deeper into this: in Los Angeles, Howard Bragman, the founder of Fifteen Minutes PR, which represents Michael Sam and oversaw the rollout of his announcement this week.
And in Boston, Daniel Flynn, the author of "The War on Football: Saving America's Game", who wrote on breitbart.com about what he thinks is the hidden negative reaction to Sam's coming out.
Daniel, I want to start with you, because before earlier this week, before the Wells report came out, you wrote that you feel players and coaches are saying one thing in public and another in private. Why do you say that?
DANIEL FLYNN, AUTHOR, "THE WAR ON FOOTBALL": I think there's something inherently dishonest in the whole conversation that, you know, there's an expected opinion that you're to give publicly on Twitter when you make announcements and if anyone sort of veers from that accepted position on homosexuality or Michael Sam, you're going to get in big trouble.
I mean, you think about the two players in the CFL who tweeted negative reactions to Michael Sam coming out, they got fined by the CFL.
If you think about Peter King at "Sports Illustrated", all he did was get some anonymous sources to talk about what the reception might be for Michael Sam in the NFL, what -- how this -- his announcement would affect his draft stock and when they gave their honest assessments, they didn't put their name to it for obvious reasons, but when they gave their honest assessments, Peter King is being called all sorts of nasty names in the media, online.
It has a real chilling effect to speech and I think it puts journalists in a real dilemma. You can either write a story that comes across as a press release from GLAAD and people will applaud you or you can go and dig up the truth as Peter King did and people will slam you and call you a bigot and homophobe and say you have ulterior motives for writing this.
And so, I think it's a real high wire act that a lot of these sports journalists face in reporting on the story because they're almost compelled to report on it in a very puff piece kind of way.
STELTER: GLAAD, the group you mentioned, for viewers who may not know, that's the leading advocacy group for gay rights in the media, encouraging positive images of gay in the media.
Howard, I have a feeling you strongly disagree with what you're hearing from Daniel, as someone who orchestrated Michael Sam's announcement, who helped him make things historic announcement. How do you feel about what he's saying?
HOWARD BRAGMAN, FIFTEEN MINUTES PR: Well, I have a pretty good feel for the macro reception for this announcement and I can tell you it's about 99 percent positive universally. Owners of NFL teams, coaches like Bill Belichick, people who really know this, are saying, hey, he made his announcement, get over it, let's give him a chance to play football, which is by the way all Michael was asking. Peter King's story has been torn apart by "Deadspin" and other media outlets rightfully so. But --
STELTER: But do you feel it was bad journalism to use anonymous sources like that? It was a bad journalism. Because we've seen other stories like it this week also.
BRAGMAN: Well, the bad part to me was, he didn't even try and ask them to go on the record. He said, we're going to do this anonymously, I think as a journalist you want to try to go on the record first and there were some very low-level anonymous sources.
And then Peter King followed up with a second piece where he had somebody who had, quote-unquote, "never heard" of Michael Sam, who by the way is the defensive player of the year, co-defensive player of the year in the SEC, the strongest league in football, looked at his tape and said, oh, I don't think he's that good a football player -- which is just crap at this point because Michael was MVP on his team, the AP, the coaches, people who know the league, know the play, saw him as a very competitive football player.
Let Michael be Michael, let Michael play football, let's judge him on that basis and get rid of the rest of the other talk, which is mostly low-level homophobia, really masked by other words like distraction.
STELTER: Well, that's a pretty big allegation. (CROSSTALK)
STELTER: And, Daniel, do you feel this is -- you're not feeling like this is homophobic, do you?
FLYNN: No. I mean, Howard says let's judge him on the basis of his playing on the football field rather than who he dates and I think that's a very reasonable request. But it's almost, Howard, he wants to have his cake and eat it too. The only reason we're talking about Michael Sam, the only reason Michael Sam is on the cover of "Sports Illustrated" is because he's gay. Not because he's a good football player.
The only reason the first lady of the United States has publicly praising him, not because he's the second coming of Lawrence Taylor, it's because he's gay.
The only reason Michael Sam's agent is saying he has fortune 500 companies banging down his door trying to pay Michael Sam all sorts of money to endorse their products isn't because he's going to be an all- pro NFL player, it's because he's gay.
So, to say that we should judge him on the football field -- I mean, be careful what you wish for. People are judging him as a football player.
My sense is, like Howard, he is going to hook on with an NFL team, he's that good of a player. But, you know, he's a late round NFL fl pick and there's not too many late round NFL picks that you see on the cover of "Sports Illustrated" before they even get drafted.
The only reason we're having this conversation is because Michael Sam is gay. It has nothing to do with his performance on the football field.
So, when Howard says let's judge him based on how he plays, Howard is not doing this. Why does he expect anyone else to do that?
BRAGMAN: Let me clear up a couple misconceptions. First of all, we don't know when he's going to be picked. You can say he's late round. The last 10 top defensive players in the SEC have been picked close to first round, second round, third round.
Second thing is, Michael Sam did not have a choice in this. His choice was in coming out ahead of the stories that were going to out him. I'm very clear in this.
Michael was out as a player in Missouri. People in the local papers there, people at "Sports Illustrated," other publications knew. This was something that was going to break inevitably.
What I find painfully sad we think of Jackie Robinson and we think of the fact that, you know, many years ago, people said he can't play because he's black, it's never going to work, and yet there were some courageous people in sports who said, we want the best players possible and we think this guy is one of them. Sports has fallen behind. We're in 2014. We have a gay congressman, a gay senator, we have people running Fortune 50 companies who are openly gay. We have gay people in every level of our society, except gay men in the big four professional sports. They're behind the 8 ball on this issue.
As "Sports Illustrated" noted on the cover, America is ready, is the NFL? The NFL has lots of problems. They need to clean up their act and I think they understand that and they're embracing Michael Sam shows that they get this.
STELTER: Howard, thank you for coming on and sharing your experience this week.
Daniel, thank you for coming on and sharing your column as well.
BRAGMAN: Thanks, Brian.
FLYNN: Thank you.
STELTER: And coming up, the giant cable deal that's got everyone talking. Is it a good thing for consumers or a monster company with so much muscle, that it decides what channels you get to watch? I'll give it to you straight when we come back.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
A new wave of cable consolidations came crashing ashore this week when Comcast made a surprise move to merger Time Warner Cable. Comcast is already a giant, the number one cable company in the country, and if this deal is approved by the government it will take over the number two cable company and get even bigger.
Here's what you need to understand about Comcast. It's unique because it doesn't just distribute other people's television channels -- it also owns some of the channels, like NBC, Bravo, USA, MSNBC. And with this new merger the fear is Comcast will use its muscle to help out its own channels while hurting other channels you might want to watch.
Opponents are already lining and, in fact, when this deal news broke Wednesday night and I started scurrying trying to write a story for CNNMoney.com.
My first e-mail was to Craig Aaron -- he's the CEO of the public interest group Free Press -- because I knew he would be shocked and appalled by the news.
Sure enough, he was and his group came out against the deal that very night.
Craig joins me now from Washington to tell me why.
Craig, you wrote in a petition that's now up on Free Press' Web site, that putting this much power in the hands of one company is dangerous. Why do you say that?
CRAIG AARON, FREE PRESS: Well, I think shocked and appalled is absolutely right, Brian. I think this deal, if it goes through, would give Comcast way too much power over what we watch, see, hear, read and download every day. This would make Comcast a gatekeeper basically over all our forms of media and communication, giving them a lot of power to dictate the terms of the business, to decide what goes on the Internet and what doesn't, certainly what goes on your cable system and what doesn't. And I think that's too much power in the hands of one company that if this deal goes through would stretch to more -- nearly two-thirds of American homes would be offered service by the new giant Comcast.
STELTER: Let me play devil's advocate with you. If Comcast is so bad, why are 20 some million subscribers to it seemingly happy throughout the country?
AARON: Well, I don't know about happily because Comcast regularly ranks among the worst companies in surveys of customer service.
STELTER: You're saying they have nobody to switch to, I guess?
AARON: I'm saying they're the only game in town. If you want high-speed Internet in most of the country, your only choice is the local cable company. And for more and more Americans and maybe a lot more, that company is Comcast.
Now, that doesn't mean that, you know, people want to give up the Internet or don't want to be able to watch shows like this, they absolutely do, but it does mean that consumers don't have a lot of freedom. They don't have a lot of choice. If they're unhappy with a company, they have nowhere else to turn.
STELTER: You know, this big media war can feel small sometimes. That's what you're getting at. The channel that we're on, CNN, is owned by Time Warner, which until 2009 also owned Time Warner Cable, which is now being bought by Comcast.
And, you know, full disclosure here, my fiancee, who I'm going to marry in a week, works at Time Warner Cable, she will be a Comcast employee, if this deal goes through. It seems like these are companies so big and I wonder if they're journalistic or other ethical questions you think this brings up when one company -- in this case, Comcast -- owns so many news channels, as well as entertainment channels.
AARON: I think there's real concerns for people with Comcast having this much control. They do own and operate one of the biggest news operations there is, NBC. And all of the NBC cable channels, as well as dozens and dozens of local television stations and there's a lot of incentive for Comcast if they could get away with it to give a leg up for their own content and services. That's true on the news side, that's true on the entertainment side.
STELTER: Now Comcast, we asked them to come on this week, they declined. But I know what they would say here, they would say we haven't done any of that. We have been responsible corporate citizens ever since the NBC merger three years ago.
Have you seen any evidence that contradicts that?
AARON: Well, you know, I think content wise they've continued down the path. One question will be are MSNBC and CNBC, are they going to cover this merger? Are they going to cover it critically?
STELTER: Well, you mentioned the Internet, maybe the most important part of this. We're talking about television a lot here. But Comcast wants to charge more and more for faster and faster Internet.
Is that where the regulators in Washington should be paying the most attention when they scrutinize this deal?
AARON: I think so. I think at its core this deal is really about broadband Internet. That's the future. That's the market that Comcast is really trying to lock down with this deal.
It's vastly profitable for them right now and they know if they can position themselves as the gatekeepers online, everything in the future has to go through them. I think we have real concerns when really the only high-speed offering in many places is going to be that Comcast cable connection.
STELTER: You say that, but I've noticed on my AT&T phone it's getting better and better. I can watch Netflix on my phone, it gobbles up a lot of data, a lot of bandwidth. But I wonder if Comcast has to get more scale in order to compete with Verizon and AT&T, because in the future, those are going to be the big Internet providers.
AARON: These are vastly profitable companies and I think you're right. I think they do see this as a play for more scale. My concern is that what we're doing is we're essentially building a new cartel where the cable companies divide up their side of the market, it will be almost entirely Comcast with a few other people way down the list, they're going to take your home Internet connections, your wire line service.
The phone companies are saying OK, we're going to take the mobile market and we like it if there were fewer than four of us, we've tried that. But the big two will be dominant and all of a sudden.
As a consumer, you just have very few choices and if they decide to start discriminating, if they decide to start blocking Web sites you don't have anywhere else to turn, I think that's the real danger here and the one thing in all the consumer benefits that Comcast has been touting about this merger, the one thing you never hear them say is that prices are going to go down.
They're pretty clear that's not the case. Prices are going to keep going up and if they can do it they're going to go up rapidly. That's why I think all consumers should be cautious and skeptical about what Comcast has proposed here.
STELTER: It's understandable to talk about consumers and what it means for them. I think that's a good point. On that media conference call, I never heard anybody say prices are going to go down.
AARON: So, I think Washington needs to take a close look at this. Certainly, that's what we're going to be advocating for. I'm sure Comcast will be spending money to push their position and they're very close to both parties in Washington.
But this is certainly no slam dunk and I think the more the public speaks out, gets involved, says, wait a minute, I don't like the cable guy very much, I really don't think I'm going to like the cable guy on steroids.
STELTER: Greg Aaron, thank you so much for being here and expressing your point of view on this.
AARON: Thanks for having me, Brian.
STELTER: We have to take a quick break. But when we come back, it's the Hillary Clinton you've never seen, with someone who knows her well. In fact, he wrote a book about her. One half of Woodward and Bernstein -- Pulitzer Prize winner, Carl Bernstein, up next.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Fascinating and revealing new information about Hillary Clinton this week from writings left behind by her best friend, the late Diane Blair. There's probably no other woman in the world more written about than Hillary Clinton. I mean, maybe Joan of Arc, maybe the queen of England? But really, Hillary Clinton is one of a kind.
And yet the papers found this week at the University of Arkansas reveal some things we didn't know. One of the journalists who's been poring over the documents is Clinton biographer, Carl Bernstein, the Pulitzer Prize winner was one half of the famed Watergate team Woodward and Bernstein. He's a guest we love to have on this program and he joins me now.
Carl, thanks for coming in.
CARL BERNSTEIN, CLINTON BIOGRAPHER: Good to be here.
STELTER: So, these documents came up found by a conservative- leaning Web site called "The Washington Free Beacon", now teams from CNN and others are down there scouring them, looking for new revelations.
Anything you've seen so far contradicted what was in your book and what you've seen over the years about Hillary Clinton?
BERNSTEIN: Let's say one thing here -- that what happens when my book came out, other things come out, what has happened this week with these papers is, everything Hillary or Bill Clinton usually comes into the media and is put in left, right, ideological box. The acolytes of Hillary Clinton go out on the war path against the right wingers who have brought this allegation and that and so there is no context. We're seeing it again now.
STELTER: Kind of the laziest way to go about it, right?
BERNSTEIN: Because there's so little reporting. But also, you know, Hillary Clinton has commented on this and one of the reasons she has such disdain for the press because of this tendency to do that. Now, she has other reasons that she disdains the press, not very good ones, but -- and there's some comments in these papers and in my book about what she thinks of the press.
STELTER: One of the quotes I was most interested in talking about the press. She was saying that the press, a bunch of people with big egos and no brains. She's kind of got us figured out, isn't she?
BERNSTEIN: She's got us figured out when we don't do our reporting. And I think that was always one of her complaints, that reporters don't do reporting often.
STELTER: She's quoted saying there's hardly a news story she couldn't totally refute.
BERNSTEIN: Well, I don't think that's quite true because a number of the news stories and what made her the most sensitive, most angry were stories about Bill Clinton and other women, and most of those stories were true. And she knew that many of those stories were true, at the same time she had been the person who partly on her own volition back in Arkansas and partly at the urging of others had gone out and tried to smear some of the women who supposedly had relationships with her husband. There's a long account of it in my book.
But I think she's got a real point. Thoughtful people in public life, whether it's George Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, almost all people in life who have had great experience with the press, particularly in the television and cable news era, come away saying, there's no context to what we're doing and it's too often the case.
So, yes, she's got a real point and at the same time, she's got an ax to grind and we shouldn't forget that either.
STELTER: And I'm sure she still does even though these quotes are from the 1990s.
BERNSTEIN: Well, you made this point about young people now seeing it for the first time.
(CROSSTALK) STELTER: Yes, this quote about calling Monica Lewinsky a narcissistic looney toon. That was the full quote out of these documents.
BERNSTEIN: Look, it's no secret in this book that Hillary Clinton thought that Monica Lewinsky was a stalker. She may well have been a stalker and Bill allowed himself to be stalked.
STELTER: Let me try out a conspiracy theory on you. These papers were reported on by the "Washington Free Beacon", they were promoted by Drudge. Here we are in January of 2014. Is it possible a reporter was, you know, led to these papers so they would come out now, these quotes would be rehashed now, as opposed to a year or two years from now?
BERNSTEIN: Look, the great thing about being a reporter is, is that we don't have crystal balls and hopefully we got a notebook and we go talk to people. So, I don't know the answer to that question. It's certainly possible what we -- what we do know, however, is some of the things that Rand Paul has been saying about Bill Clinton and about him being a sexual predator, et cetera, and I think there -- and have talked to some Republicans and some Democrats and thinks that one of Paul's objectives is to try to Push Hillary out of this race and get other people in the Democratic Party to perhaps say maybe we don't need all this, maybe there is Clinton fatigue and that this is going to renew Clinton fatigue. As might this story.
STELTER: One of the other quotes from reportedly from Hillary Clinton about the media, how can history ever be written when those who do the contemporary stuff are so wrong. As someone who has tried to write the definitive book about her do you relate to that at all?
BERNSTEIN: Yes, I think she's got a hell of a point. Because I think that in our myopia, in journalism too often, we look at what we think is the big story of the moment and we don't really do the in depth reporting. I think that might be what she's getting at.
That one of the joys, as I say, of doing this book was to spend six years, seven years, researching every aspect of Hillary Clinton's life, every aspect of the marriage, every aspect of her background, so surprising, she is a surprising character and we still have a caricature view of her very much because we continue to cover her as a wooden puppet. This is a woman who is anything but a puppet, anything but simple, doesn't fit conventionally into simple liberalism and conservative boxes.
One of the things that's in these papers down in Diane's -- and I talked to Diane Blair at great length for my book and that's why most of what I've seen is in this book, including the stuff about Hillary saying how terribly Bill Clinton runs his office, and particularly in regard to the press. She really ran a tight ship and that included the way she dealt with the press and she thought that Bill Clinton's operation was, with some reason, that Bill Clinton was not disciplined about the way he ran his office and sometimes allowed the press to run roughshod over him. Remember, she is the one who at every stage of Bill Clinton's career has saved him, usually by going on television after an allegation about women. She said it to Diane Blair, that she thought that the White House was a golden cage that would keep these old habits of her husband and temptations at bay and particularly she said to Diane Blair -- with a nosy press corps such as the White House has.
Well, she was wrong.
STELTER: Carl, it's great to have you here. Thank you so much for coming on.
BERNSTEIN: Good to be here.
STELTER: Remember, I love your feedback, so please look me up on Twitter or Facebook. My user name is brianstelter and I'll be reading your comments right after the show.
After a quick break here, Chris Christie as Tony Soprano?
The media goes to town on the New Jersey governor.
And fair or not, is all the negative publicity paving the way for a new political player?
It's a tale of two Republicans, right after this break.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Chris Christie said something revealing this week while speaking to the Economic Club of Chicago. "The past six weeks," he said, "haven't been the most enjoyable of my life."
That's un-Christie-like understatement, isn't it?
But his detractors continue to pound away at him. In this week's "New Republic," there's this story headline, "Chris Christie's Entire Career Reeks" and there's a mocked up portrayal of him as a political version of Tony Soprano.
Even Sarah Palin turned on him, saying she doesn't believe his whole story on Bridge Gate. And, you know, you can't turn on MSNBC without hearing about the latest in his scandals.
We still don't know whether he survives to regain his status as a presidential frontrunner a year or two from now. But we do know one thing -- there's a new kid in town.
By all appearances, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is muscling in on what used to be Christie's territory.
This week, amid his constant reminders about Monica Lewinsky, Paul sued President Obama over the NSA's collection of phone records.
Of course, the two candidates -- the two would-be candidates are very different.
But the question is the, if Chris Christie goes down over Bridge Gate, is Rand Paul the heir apparent?
CNN's newest political commentator and show host, Michael Smerconish, has covered both men closely and he joins me now from Philadelphia.
First, Michael, thank you for being here.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thank you, Brian.
STELTER: Tell me about the story that you wrote about Chris Christie for the cover of "Philadelphia" magazine last July. I gather he didn't quite like the story.
SMERCONISH: Well, I don't put myself in the category of detractors, those that you mentioned that are now coming out of the woodwork. Over a period of years, I've hosted him on my radio program on several occasions and had written several columns about him. And overwhelmingly, I think I treated him well.
But when "Philadelphia" magazine came to me and said we want you to write a cover story for last July's issue, and put the context in perspective. He's then running for general election against Barbara Buono and he wants to win big. This is a magazine...
STELTER: Yes, and your magazine is going to be...
SMERCONISH: -- that's on Pennsylvania's (INAUDIBLE)...
STELTER: -- all over South Jersey, right?
SMERCONISH: Exactly. So you would think this would be a layup, but he decided he didn't want to cooperate with the interview. I, nevertheless, wrote the piece. I think that the piece was fair.
It never would have occurred to me that his rationale for not cooperating with the piece might have been something I'd written about him previously, but for the G.W. Bridge closing and these mayors coming out and saying, you know, I think I was a victim of reprisal.
STELTER: And, of course, now, this is what so many people are doing, right, just like you. They're going back in time, thinking back and reexamining Chris Christie, wondering if he has this reputation as a bully.
What was the column you wrote that you think may have turned him against you?
Wasn't the title, "Can You Imagine How Christie's Son Feels?" what was it about?
SMERCONISH: Brian, we have four children. Three of them are sons. And one particular day, I picked up my sons at school. And I was driving my pickup truck. And I remember well, when they got in the car, they sort of slunk down in the seat. And they said, dad, how many pickup trucks do you see in the lot?
Don't ever pick us up in the pickup truck, pick us up in a car like everybody else has.
And, you know, their beef was that I had embarrassed them.
You'll remember the controversy over when Governor Christie used a helicopter to go to his son's baseball game. And there was a huge kerfuffle about how much money could this have cost.
I wrote a column and I said, I'm sure that the biggest problem the governor has isn't the money, isn't the criticism, it's probably his son, because if his son is like my sons, he probably got a workout at the dinner table over the embarrassment factor. That was the gist of the column.
And to me, it's pretty innocuous, but I have to say, when I went back with my producer and reconstructed our dealings, it became clear that never again did he come back to the radio show. And the tone and tenor of the e-mails back and forth, it changed for the worse.
STELTER: It sounds like an example of a pretty prickly politician. And we've heard a lot of examples of this since these scandals started to break.
Do you conclude, as other people seem to be concluding, that he is a guy that's a bit of a bully and a guy who tries to keep score, so to speak?
SMERCONISH: I think that's the right expression. He strikes me as a guy who's keeping score. I suspect that I became dead to Chris Christie and to his office when I wrote the column about the helicopter.
I'd also be curious to know, did he ever read the column or just the headline?
Was it explained to him? but, yes, I came to the conclusion that because I went there, never again was I going to get access.
STELTER: So we've gone through with, for weeks now, with these scandals and with people like you reassessing their relationship to Chris Christie, their past experiences with him.
Do you think there's an opening being created here for someone like Rand Paul, who's been getting so much press lately, for a variety of reasons?
SMERCONISH: No, I don't see it. I think there's an opening for someone, but I don't think it's for Rand Paul. The attraction for Chris Christie, to me, has always been that I thought he was the best person who could center the Republican Party. And -- and I would like to see the Republican Party center itself. I think it would be best for the party. I also think that it would be good for the nation. I also thought that Chris Christie was a person who sort of stood in opposition to the Marco Rubio, to the Ted Cruz, to the Rick Santorum, to the Mike Huckabee and maybe even to the Rand Paul faction.
It's hard to place Rand Paul in the GOP in terms of where he fits ideologically. But I don't see him attracting the same type of traditional GOP person that I think Christie was going to attract.
I think a John Kasich benefits. I think a Paul Ryan benefits. But I don't think that it's Paul -- Rand Paul -- who benefits from Christie having taken a tumble.
STELTER: Do you sense the press is trying to search for some new person to focus on, be it Rand Paul or someone else?
SMERCONISH: Well, you know, I know how you love to focus on the media, so here's my prediction. I think that the media loves to build someone like Christie up. I mean frankly, in retrospect now, it's clear that has never received a close analysis during that last campaign.
Now he's been torn down. And my hunch is what comes next is he gets built back up again, especially if all these subpoenas generate nothing that contradicts what he had to say. And then that roller coaster ride will continue.
I'm not writing this guy off yet.
STELTER: That's really interesting, that this is a cycle and this cycle will just continue and that maybe it's a question of where on that roller coaster we are 18 months from now.
SMERCONISH: He's great copy. I mean, you know, look at Christie in comparison to the other personalities that we're discussing. Christie is the best copy among them. And, you know, his verbose nature is both his greatest asset and his chief liability...
STELTER: Oh, no, I think...
SMERCONISH: -- which, by the way,
STELTER: -- Rand Paul...
SMERCONISH: -- is what I concluded in many that...
STELTER: -- I think Rand Paul filing a lawsuit against the president makes for some pretty good copy too, this week.
SMERCONISH: It does. But, you know, I always was entertained by his father. I always thought that his father made sense, particularly on the foreign policy issues. I never could quite wrap my head around some of the domestic views that he had.
But I'm not, Brian, yet sure whether Rand Paul has the ability to do what dad never did, which was to go mainstream, to, rather than be a passing fancy among college students and some real hard core libertarian types, to have a more broad-based appeal.
And thus far, I don't see that happening with Rand Paul.
STELTER: What a wide variety of people to talk about in the months and years to come. And you'll be doing it on your no -- your new show here on CNN.
Michael, thanks for joining me.
SMERCONISH: Thank you, Brian.
STELTER: What happens when journalists fail at their job?
And I mean really blow it. The biggest story you haven't heard of, at least not in a while, when we come back.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Brian Stelter.
Now to a feature we're going to be doing a lot on this program. It's called Undercover -- examining why reporters are not paying attention enough to important stories.
I can't think of a more outrageous example right now than the water in Charleston, West Virginia. People there are afraid to drink it, even wash with it, and they have been ever since a chemical spill that first contaminated the water more than a month ago.
Now, come on, if this was happening in New York or Los Angeles, don't you think we would be seeing basically blanket coverage of this?
In this case, in West Virginia, no one can even assure residents when exactly the water will be drinkable. There's been lots of mixed information. Now, some inspectors say it's safe now. But there's been all these conflicting comments, even among state officials, leaving residents frustrated and frightened.
One local journalist has been on this story day and night since it broke. And she'll join me in a moment.
But first, watch.
Here she is, reporter Kallie Cart insisting on getting answers from the president of the chemical company that caused the spill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GARY SOUTHERN: At this moment in time, I think that's all we have time for. So (INAUDIBLE)...
KALLIE CART, WCHS CORRESPONDENT: We have more questions. (CROSSTALK)
CART: Hey, hey, hey. We're not -- we're not done.
SOUTHERN: You're not done?
CART: We're not done, no.
Anyone else have any other questions?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: What a viral video moment that was.
Well, joining me now, Kallie Cart.
She is the anchor with CNN affiliate WCHS in Charleston.
Thanks for joining us.
CART: And thanks for having me.
STELTER: So tell me, what I said in the intro there, is it true or not?
If this was New York or Los Angeles, or even Pittsburgh, wouldn't this be getting more coverage from the national press?
CART: Yes, absolutely true. I mean this happened more than a month ago. And even in the beginning there wasn't that sort of 24 hour news coverage. There was some national coverage, you know, a mention, a story here, a story there. But for the large part, it's been ignored. And there have been a lot of, you know, media experts weighing in, like yourself, saying, hey, there needs to be more attention paid to this.
And I think that's the feeling of everyone here. And here we are a month after the crisis and a lot of people have just moved on from this story.
But people here certainly do not feel like the water is safe yet and, actually, frustrations are growing each day that the -- this crisis continues.
STELTER: I want to get into the reasons for the lack of coverage, but tell me, first, because you're not just a reporter, you're a resident. You're a mom and you're nine months pregnant.
Do you think the water is safe?
Have you been drinking and using the water?
CART: Well, I haven't been drinking the water. I have been using it on a limited basis. But the feeling of a lot of people that we talk to is no, they don't feel like the water is safe. I know that the smell in my water at my house comes and goes. And that's a concern.
They say -- the officials from the water company, even with the state, say, you know, the smell, just ignore it, it's going to be there. But I think as a rational person, you can't really bring yourself to drink the water if it smells.
And the CDC said, two days after the ban was lifted on using the water, that pregnant women, OK, wait, you shouldn't drink the water, and then they were saying, wait, that was more of a recommendation to empower women to think about their own health. So it's definitely been mixed messages all along.
So everyone's just, kind of, using their personal judgment on what to do. I'm speaking with a lot of pregnant, expectant mothers. They are, kind of, in the same boat. And, actually, I spoke with, kind of, a roundtable of moms this past week, and they're -- they say they're more frustrated and actually more concerned than they were when this crisis first happened more than a month ago.
STELTER: When I saw that quote from -- from Senator Rockefeller this week, saying he wouldn't drink the water if people paid him to drink it, that's when it got my attention. And I thought this is an ongoing crisis that isn't getting enough coverage in the press.
I wonder, Kallie, have there been media outlets nationally that have done a better job than others? Have you seen any coverage that's been impressive? Any reporters come back to the state? Or has it just been overall pretty bad?
CART: Well, I mean, I think -- you know, CNN's been here several times. I know the Huffington Post has followed this pretty closely. Rachel Maddow has talked about it a lot on her show.
But it's just been really a venting of frustration. And that clip that you showed at the top of me questioning the Freedom Industry's president there, the company that made that chemical spill, that actually got a lot of coverage. But that was the most frustrating in a way because, while, yes, you know, I'm pushing for answers, that is just the tip of the iceberg of -- of frustration and the story here.
CART: There's such a larger story that deals with people's health, their safety, and the fact that this could really happen anywhere. So it's applicable across the nation. And the fact that it's being largely ignored is incredibly frustrating for a lot of people who live here.
STELTER: Let's dig into what the reasons could be. I mean, I'm thinking to myself, maybe one of the reasons why is that reporters were initially too gullible. They believed the officials when the water restrictions were lifted and officials initially said, "OK, it's OK to drink again," and they haven't been paying attention since.
Is that, maybe, one of the reasons why there hasn't been more scrutiny in Charleston?
CART: I mean, maybe. But I think the local media has done an excellent job of, you know, questioning what the officials are saying and, you know, doing follow-ups. Because there have been ongoing, lingering problems even after the bans were lifted. Schools continue to be closed.
Just two weeks ago, there was two -- a student and a teacher who passed out at a school because the fumes were so overwhelming while they were flushing there.
So, I mean, we've been highly critical, you know, questioning. However, that's on a local level. So nationally, yes, maybe. I mean, they said the bans are lifted and, OK, crisis over. Well, crisis continues.
STELTER: Sometimes local reporters hate it when national reporters bigfoot onto their turf, but I feel like, in this case, what I'm hearing from you is, you know, "Come on by; please come back; there's a big story here to cover."
CART: Well, and I think that, you know, we just feel like we are still going through this crisis, and I feel like it has been, kind of, portrayed like, "OK, the crisis is over."
And we're moving in that direction. You know, hopefully -- hopefully, our water supply is getting safer. They're now starting to do in-home testing, and I think that will hopefully relieve lot of fears or maybe tell us things that we've been wanting to know.
STELTER: Well, it's a hell of a story and right now it is undercovered. At least people can go onto your web site. it's wchstv.com. All of your coverage is on there, at least.
Kallie Cart, thanks so much for joining me.
CART: All right. Thank you.
STELTER: And that's it for this week's televised edition of "Reliable Sources." But we've got lots more online on cnn.com, lots of stories about the Comcast merger and all the rest of the week's media news. I hope to see you back here next week, Sunday at 11:00 a.m.