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Sterling Asks to Resign; MH-370 Search On-going; Republicans' Outcry over Benghazi E-mail; Interview with Pete Dominick; Book Profiles Conservative Host's Rise
Aired May 3, 2014 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Michael Smerconish.
First off, Vivian Stiviano, the alleged mistress of Donald Sterling has broken her silence. She's got a lot to say. Candidly, she says that Sterling is emotionally traumatized and confused. Plus she answers the question, is Sterling a racist? And can Sterling be forced to sell the L.A. Clippers?
We will talk to former L.A. County District attorney Steve Cooley and Attorney Areva Martin about the legal line defense.
Plus Republicans are shouting cover up this morning. The White House says the only cover up is in your GOP conspiracy theories. We will talk to senior national security correspondent for the "Daily Beast," Eli Lake.
And the search for missing Malaysia flight 370 extends to the Bay of Bengal because one company believes it has found the wreckage of a plane there.
Plus a talk radio host goes rogue. And why opposing sides need to toast in front of the commander in chief. So let's get started.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA WALTERS: Do you think that Donald Sterling should apologize?
VIVIAN STIVIANO, ALLEGED MISTRESS OF DONALD STERLING: Absolutely.
WALTERS: Did you discuss this with him?
WALTERS: Will he apologize?
STIVIANO: Only god knows.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: That's Donald Sterling's alleged mistress Vivian Stiviano breaking her silence to ABC's Barbara Walters.
Walters didn't beat around the Bush either when it came to Sterling's racist remarks that got him banned from the NBA for life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTERS: Is Donald Sterling a racist?
STIVIANO: No. I don't believe it in my heart.
WALTERS: Have you heard him say derogatory things about minorities in general and blacks in particular?
WALTERS: You have heard him say derogatory things?
WALTERS: Don't they sound racist to you?
STIVIANO: I think that the things he says are not what he feels.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Sterling himself is also breaking his silence. However with a little less flair. Sterling in referring to Stiviano told "Dejour" magazine, "I wish I had just paid her off."
While the two trade public barbs, ESPN is reporting that Sterling has cancer and in the midst of all of this, other NBA owners are moving forward in the process of trying to force him to sell the team.
I want to talk a bit about the legal side of all of this. Let me bring in Steve Cooley. He spent 12 years as the district attorney in Los Angeles and now runs his own consulting firm. And Areva Martin. She's an author and managing partner at Martin and Martin in Los Angeles.
Areva, maybe it's not exactly the legal side of it, but I find this so bizarre. Barbara Walters began the conversation by pointing out that she had just been with Sterling. In other words, the two of them still cordial despite all of these revelations.
AREVA MARTIN, AUTHOR: Really strange things going on, Michael, with this whole story. We heard that Sterling himself was supposed to do the interview with Barbara Walters, but somehow pulled out at the last minute. So this woman who has caused the demise of the billionaire's empire somehow they're still friends. It doesn't make a lot of sense but we know this story is bizarre from so many points of view. So I guess I'm not at all that surprised that they are still talking. In fact, Stiviano says that she is his, you know, confidante. That she's his closest assistant and that she's there to protect him.
SMERCONISH: Steve, among the other items of interest, there are so many to talk about today is the fact that he says to the "Dejour" magazine, "I should have paid her off." What is the implication of him saying that? STEVE COOLEY, FMR. L.A. DISTRICT ATTORNEY: The implication is that he may have been extorted. That is strictly an implication. But he has to be a little more forcefully, a little more complete and has to give that story to investigators who can then see if they can corroborate that story in some way. So it's a lot of implication and not much substance at this stage. But that is sort of what is implied.
SMERCONISH: Let me ask you as the former district attorney for Los Angeles. Should law enforcement, the D.A.'s office, be taking a look at this given the recordings that have come to light. By that I mean the nature of the way in which those recordings were made.
COOLEY: Yes, there is certainly a suggestion an illegal eavesdropping occurred here. That is in violation of California law. Assuming all of the parties or the victimized has a true expectation of privacy. That is something else that's unclear here. If the people present all knew it's being tape recorded, you don't have a violation of law.
Someone should conduct at least a preliminary inquiry and determine whether or not an investigation is warranted for that violation of law, possible violation of law as well as the extortion angle which has been implied by Mr. Sterling's statements.
SMERCONISH: I want you both and everybody watching to listen to more of this interview from Barbara Walters with Vivian Stiviano. Here is what Stiviano has to say about Sterling's state of mind. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTERS: You just left Donald Sterling. What is his state of mind right now?
STIVIANO: Confused. I think he feels very alone. Not truly supported by those around him. Tormented. Emotionally traumatized.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Areva, I asked Steve whether law enforcement should be looking at those tapes and the way in which they came to light. Let me ask you a slightly different question, might those tapes have some significance in a civil setting?
MARTIN: Absolutely. I think we are going to hear a lot more about those tapes. I think they will play more significantly in the civil case in the event that the NBA goes forward trying to force a sale. We know that Sterling is very litigious. You know, he's the former attorney himself. He's very comfortable in the court room. So not likely that he's going to, you know, just become a shrinking violet. That's he's just going to walk away from his empire that he's built.
And the question will become are these tapes even admissible in a civil proceeding. We heard, you know, Stiviano say that she had consent from Sterling to tape him. But his memory was failing and that he asked her to tape him so that he could remember conversations he was having about his business dealings. We've also heard that there are hundreds of hours of other tapes that also include racist and perhaps bigoted comments.
So I think we're going to hear a lot about these tapes, particularly if there is some kind of civil suit filed to block the sale of the team, which we anticipate may happen if the NBA moves forward with this alleged forced sale.
SMERCONISH: Hey, Steve, let me ask you whether in the court of public opinion, it helps him to have her out there. The visor and all. And I'll be kind and I'll say, she seems rather eccentric. To the extent that she is perceived that way by the American people. Does that somehow portray this in a different light that makes him look sympathetic?
COOLEY: Well, I think it causes some degree of sympathy for Mr. Sterling at this stage is the recent revelation that he is afflicted with cancer. The players, the Clippers, the coach and others respond to that in a very empathetic way.
Her own conduct, her words as we are hearing them, her appearance, has become somewhat the fodder for talk show individuals and others that are casting some sort of questions about where she's coming from. She is not a very sympathetic person under any circumstance. Now her appearances, public appearances suggest that there is something a little odd about her.
SMERCONISH: Areva, one additional piece of sound. Listen to what Stiviano had to say about her relationship with Sterling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTERS: Donald Sterling is in his 80s. You are in your 30s.
STIVIANO: Yes. I'm 31.
WALTERS: And you're a beautiful young woman. So I'm not sure that I understand the relationship.
STIVIANO: Well, I'm Mr. Sterling's personal assistant. Like I said, I'm his right hand. I'm his wing man. What isn't there to understand?
WALTERS: Well, let me ask this. Do you and Donald Sterling have a financial arrangement? You say you are his assistant. Does he pay you?
WALTERS: He pays you as his employee?
STIVIANO: He first started paying me as an employee. He started paying me off the books.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: I am his silly rabbit. I think she goes on to say, Areva. Interpret what we just heard. MARTIN: You know, I think there is a mystery around what this relationship is. I actually did a show earlier in the week where her close friend said they were not sexually involved. That she was, in fact, an employee of Sterling. She confirmed that in her own words.
And I just want to say despite this odd conduct from this young woman, I don't think it in any way undermines the significance of what Sterling said on that tape. And I don't think people are going to be sympathetic to him because she is acting so oddly. I think his comments, you know, (INAUDIBLE) what they are, they show him in the most negative light possible.
I don't think the public, his team, his coach, any one is going to forget that anytime soon despite, you know, the odd comments that we hear.
SMERCONISH: I didn't mean to imply that they will. I think they will say he is a racist and they are both a bit off. It's just my two cents. I really appreciate Steve Cooley and Areva Martin having been here. Thank you both.
MARTIN: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: The wreckage of a plane found at the bottom of the Bay of Bengal. Search crews are checking it out now. But can this even be considered a valid find in the search for missing Malaysia flight 370?
And following the lifetime ban of Donald Sterling for his racist remarks, is it time for the NFL to follow the NBA's lead?
SMERCONISH: Hey, have a look at the Hotel Lido in Beijing. It is basically been the home to many of the family members of Flight 370 passengers for the past couple of weeks. It is the place where they lean on each other for support, day in, day out. They waited for news of the fate of the plane.
But now the support center there is being closed and the families were told to go home. They no longer have a place to stay. After weeks of pleading from those family members, the Malaysian government finally relented and released its first report on the plane's disappearance.
The big take away is that it took a 17 minutes after it vanished before officials actually took notice. And then it took a full four hours more before any kind of official rescue mission was launched. The search is still going on and the Bluefin-21 has completed almost 20 missions scouring the bottom of the Indian Ocean.
You might have heard this week an exploration company says it has found what it thinks is plane wreckage in the Bay of Bengal. The problem is it is thousands of miles from where the search is currently going on. After initially dismissing the claims, investigators now say they may send a ship to investigate. Some Bangladeshi ships are already there having a look. Let me bring in Keith Masbeck. He is the CEO of United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation. What do you make of the plane leaving the radar and this not having been picked up. Speak to that delay.
KEITH MASBECK, USGIF CEO: Well, I think there is a normal delay. We heard about that all week right, Michael. It's this handoff between air traffic controllers. It makes me particularly suspicious because if you were going to do something, if you had malintent, that would be the exact time you'd want to do it, right? At a break that wouldn't necessarily initially be suspicious.
SMERCONISH: So if we were a pair of no good and we were mapping out, we want to do something to this plane and we looked at its path and the timing, this is the time sequence that we would have circled.
MASBECK: Suspiciously that is exactly the time you want to do it.
SMERCONISH: Speak to this issue about the Bay of Bengal. Because what strikes me, lacking your expertise, is that here is a company that by all accounts is credible. They seem to be putting their reputation on the line in saying we think there is a plane in the spot where they haven't been searching for MH-370. If it turns out there is nothing there, then they got a lot of egg on their face.
MASBECK: To be sure, Michael, it is a bold assertion. The challenge for us in the remote sensing community, those of us who do this for a living, is it's simply not based on science that we understand. There are huge scientific advances all the time. We are living in an age where miracles sort of seem to happen in science. But I can tell you, there's not one person I talked to, not one person in our business who understands how from an aircraft or from space, you can identify what they've talked about identifying 1,000 meters down in the ocean.
SMERCONISH: And you are a satellite guy. This is your area of expertise. So you're saying, conceivably, they could not have taken a look down and been able to note a plane. How about this theory, is it possible that they know something is down there and it just won't be MH-370. I dot know, maybe it is the Lochness monster. I don't want to make light of it but is that a possibility.
MASBECK: I think that would be a great play for them, right. If we're pulling on that thread you talked about earlier, identify there are known wrecks and known debris at the bottom of various parts of the ocean in well traveled areas. It is very likely that there is something there, so then maybe they get less egg on their face, it turns out not to be MH-370. But people believe their technology is somehow viable.
SMERCONISH: Looking back at this past week, and this was, of course, a week where the much anticipated preliminary report was released. What did you learn, what if anything of significance in the big picture of where we are in this thing?
MASBECK: I think there were a couple of things that were critically important in terms of facts, right? The fact, the air traffic control radars. Where did they paint that plane? Fact. Where did those military radars paint that plane? Fact, a little more information released about the INMARSAT handshakes. What was missing, interestingly, any discussion of the affiliation of the cell phone by the first officer.
SMERCONISH: Keith Masbeck, thanks always for your expertise.
Donald Sterling banned for life from the NBA for racist remarks. What about what some say is the most blatant of racist sentiments in the NFL?
SMERCONISH: Time now for "Headlines Redefined."
The headlines that got the story half right. First up is from "The New York Times." One execution botched. Oklahoma delays the next.
You heard a lot this week about the execution of Clayton Lockett. But you did not hear too much about Stephanie Nieman. Stephanie Nieman was his victim, 18, 19 years old at the time. She was just two weeks removed from high school. And during a botched home invasion, he bound her with duct tape. Then made her watch as his accomplice dug her grave for 20 minutes, then shot her and didn't kill her and buried her alive.
Look, that whole execution in Oklahoma. That was unfortunate. They need to sort that out and fix that issue. But for my mind, there was too much this week about him and not enough about her. So you remember that headline. The headline that said One Execution Botched. Oklahoma Delays the Next. What I would have written, "Convicted Murderer Dies as Horribly as his Victim."
Number two is from "USA Today." Harry Reid calls on NFL to follow NBA's lead and force the change of the RedSkins name. We all know by now Donald Sterling is being forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers because of his racist remarks that were caught on tape. Now, Harry Reid has taken to the floor of the U.S. Senate to try and throw Redskins and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder into this mix.
I don't think it is fair. I don't think it is fair because Daniel Snyder acquired that team, it already had the name and more importantly, Daniel Snyder ahs no history of racism.
You know, this is the circumstance that some warned off when they said that punishing Sterling for what he said in private behind closed doors might have a ripple effect.
Your remember that headline. The headline which said "Harry Reid Calls on NFL to follow NBA's lead, force change of Redskins' name. What I would have written, "Reid Greases the Slippery Slope."
And number three, from Politico. "Pentagon Reviews Hairstyle Rules for Black Women." Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is saying that he is going to be responsive now to the complaints that had been raised to these new policies pertaining to hair and hair regulations. There are 26,000 African-American women who are affected by the policy.
I know, you are looking at me and you're saying you are a bald white guy. What do you know about this? Well, truth is, not much until I consulted with Ayana Byrd. Ayana Byrd has actually written an entire book on this issue. And what she explained to me and it made sense is that there is a texture difference between the hair of whites and blacks, African-American females in particular. They can't just put their hair in a bun unless it is straightened.
And I think it is a lot to ask women who are in service to their country particularly those who are overseas to have a relaxer or a hot comb at the ready. They ought to change this policy. So you remember the headline that one the says "Pentagon Reviews Hairstyle Rules for Black Women." What I would have written "One Style Does Not Fit All."
Does the White House have a credibility problem? The Republicans sure think so after a new e-mail surface from the administration that they say indicates a cover up.
And the White House Correspondents' Dinner is tonight and you know what? I think politicians could learn a thing or two from celebrities like John Bon Jovi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R): It is disturbing and perhaps criminal that these documents, the documents like these were hidden by the Obama administration from Congress and the public alike.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Republicans like Darrell Issa smell a cover-up this morning and the trail is leading him straight to the White House. The issue is Benghazi, the tragic situation in Libya in 2012 that killed four Americans including a U.S. ambassador. It has long been a rallying cry for the GOP's conservative base. This time, the issue has bubbled up when an e-mail from Deputy National Security Adviser for communications Ben Rhodes surfaced.
Rhodes sent talking points about the Benghazi violence to then Ambassador t the United Nations, Susan Rice. The e-mail read, in part, underscore that these protests are rooted in an internet video and not a broader failure of policy. The problem is two-fold. For one, up until this point, the White House had repeatedly hammered home the point that it did not send talking points to Rice. And two, that e-mail was not turned over to Congress when they subpoenaed documents related to Benghazi.
Hence the outcry. I sat down for a face-to-face interview in 2012 with President Obama and asked him point black whether it was an existing threat to the embassy in Benghazi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before the attack which killed Ambassador Stevens, were you personally aware of any request to increase security?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I was not personally aware of any request. Obviously, we have an infrastructure that is set up to manage requests like that, but we're going to find out exactly what happens. Ultimately though, anytime there is a death of an American overseas, I want to find out what happened because my most important job as president is keeping the American people safe and we will get to the bottom of what happened and we're going to make sure most importantly those, those who carried it out, that they are captured.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Congressman Issa got right to business on Friday, subpoenaed Secretary of State John Kerry to come in and explain the issue to Congress.
So does the White House have some spin to do?
Joining me now to talk about this is senior national correspondent for the "Daily Beast" Eli Lake.
Eli, is this most recent revelation significant because of what that e-mail says or the fact that it wasn't handed over sooner?
ELI LAKE, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY BEAST: I think it's a little bit of both. On the -- in the sense that it actually confirms what everybody already knew. In the almost first two weeks after the Benghazi attack, you had everybody from Jay Carney to Susan Rice to, you know, the White House basically talking about the Internet video and the protests around the Middle East and not talking about the rise of jihadists and al Qaeda groups in Libya that our intelligence officers and our diplomats saw coming and warned about in the months and weeks preceding the Benghazi attack, although there was no tactical warning that this particular attack was coming.
But I think the other issue is that the overall House GOP investigation has been done fragmentarily with the House Intelligence Committee, the House Armed Services Committee and the House Oversight Committees, all kind of doing different investigations and in some cases, coming to different conclusions.
The fact that John Boehner is now having one special committee to investigate all of this is significant and I think the catalyst for that decision from the House speaker was the fact that this important e-mail from the perspective of the Republicans was basically kept from Congress until about two or two and a half weeks ago.
SMERCONISH: I think that Benghazi has become a catch phrase for so many different complaints about the administration by its critics. Do you think now there could be specificity that would allow this to gain traction? For example, when I sat down with the president as this was all unfolding in the first go-round, what was very much on people's minds as I asked him was whether he knew in advance that there was a security threat. There were other complaints at the time, I think unfounded, that, you know, somehow he was in the White House situation room at the time and refusing to put the hammer down. There have been so many different criticisms. Will one emerge that can gain traction with voters?
LAKE: I think you really hit on something. I mean, there are a number of different narratives to critique the Benghazi situation. Some of them have been debunked, some of them have not really -- have not been debunked.
What I would say is the thing to watch here as the Republicans continue this investigation is, will we see a public appearance from some of the special operators and CIA contractors that arrived at the scene that evening? That is extremely controversial. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has interviewed them but it was an interview in a classified and secret session.
Will these people be allowed to basically tell their story to the world and if they do, I think that, you know, what will they say? And I -- and we've heard a lot of rumors and rumblings that at least some of those -- some of the people who arrived at the scene will have a story that will contradict at least what we've seen from some of these official investigations and particularly the State Department's own Accountability Review Board.
SMERCONISH: Eli, we have just a minute left between us. In the end, does the buck stop with Secretary Clinton and does this become an issue in 2016?
LAKE: I think it could become an issue in 2016 for Hillary Clinton in two ways. One, she's going to be running on her tenure as secretary of state. And this is something that because it was a diplomatic post and there were more requests for more security that were not given at the time -- in the lead-up, would be seen as a failure.
But I think the second thing is that her own Accountability Review Board which she touted a number of times never interviewed her and never found senior State Department officials accountable for Benghazi and instead blamed it on mid-level officials, one of whom was reinstated by John Kerry because they found that his dismissal and his punishment at the time was not warranted. So I think that could also come back to haunt her.
SMERCONISH: Eli Lake, thanks so much for your expertise.
LAKE: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: There is fashion, there is gossip and there are a lot of celebrities. It's not the Oscars, folks, but there a lot of politicos who can learn from what's going to take place tonight at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.
And a right-wing radio talk show host goes rogue. Locks himself in the studio. All the makings of a political thriller? That's because it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Others say that I'm arrogant, but I found a really great self- help tool for this. My poll numbers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: President Obama taking a couple of digs at himself at the White House Correspondents Dinner back in 2011. And tonight, reporters, writers, politicians and celebrities will hob-knob with the president yet again for the Correspondents Dinner. And while that clip we just played is a few years old, the dig at the president that he made of himself, it still holds.
Take a look. These are the president's latest approval numbers according to an ABC News/"Washington Post" poll. Just 41 percent approve of the job that he is doing. That's the lowest point of his presidency.
Joining me to talk about the president's rough patch and the pageantry of tonight's party is Pete Dominick. And he of course is the host of "Stand Up with Pete Dominick," heard on Sirius XM radio.
PETE DOMINICK, COMEDIAN, RADIO HOST: That's right.
SMERCONISH: You know that year ago tonight we shutdown a bar, you and I, after the dinner? Do you remember that?
DOMINICK: We held a bald quorum in a bar in D.C. and I'm so excited for your show. It's going great. I love it.
SMERCONISH: Thanks --
DOMINICK: Thanks for having me.
SMERCONISH: Thanks for saying that.
SMERCONISH: So for those who haven't had the experience, what's the takeaway from tonight?
DOMINICK: I mean, it's supposed to be fun and it's supposed to be for a good cause. The White House Correspondents' Association. Of course when you introduce celebrities, it becomes a lot about celebrities. And there are a lot coming tonight. And then of course there's the president performing. In this case tonight, it's Joel McHale, comedian. And so the takeaway will be, how did they do? And then lastly, I would say, how do the people that got made fun of handle that? There'll be a lot of that.
SMERCONISH: Pete, this has got to be the toughest task for a comedian because you sit there --
DOMINICK: Horrible gig. SMERCONISH: Right. Horrible.
DOMINICK: What we call a hell gig.
SMERCONISH: Yes. How come?
DOMINICK: Because it's a terrible situation for comedy. You've got all the worst elements. You've got dinner being served. You've got people talking.
SMERCONISH: Clanking dishes.
DOMINICK: Yes. And you have this self-important people that now have to decide, are they going to laugh at this? If a camera catches somebody reacting the wrong way, that's going to get -- we're going to talk about that. I mean, especially for the First Lady Michelle Obama and the president or anybody else on that desk, cameras are on then at every joke. So if you don't laugh at yourself, that's bad. But it's hard for a comedian because this situation is not ideal. You've got to stand behind the podium. There's so many other elements.
SMERCONISH: But also, you've got to sit there for two and a half hours with that knot in your stomach that's growing.
DOMINICK: It's hard.
SMERCONISH: I mean, you've been in this position.
SMERCONISH: You know what it's like when you're about to go on. Normally you can decompress where people aren't watching you.
DOMINICK: Joel McHale and the past, Connor O'Brien, Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Meyers, they have to sit next to the first lady for two hours so they must spend about three months just deciding, what am I going to say? What am I -- and she has to -- do that as well. And it's very -- you're exactly right, Michael. That's two hours before they're sitting there. They're going through notes, they're scratching things off. They'll probably be writing jokes by the way about who's in the audience as well.
SMERCONISH: If his harshest critics is fair, they would have to give it up for the president. I want to roll one of my favorite clips from a recent White House --
SMERCONISH: The man has got a gift. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: No one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter like did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOMINICK: You know, I don't know if you know this, Michael, but the powerful and elite don't necessarily like to laugh at themselves. And that is their weakness. He needed to laugh at himself. The fact that he didn't, the fact that Trump got mad and took that seriously when the president of the United States is saying your name, whoever that president is, whoever you are, you should be -- you should be very happy about that.
SMERCONISH: And you see that his numbers are still in the dumper. I mean, you know --
DOMINICK: The president's or Trump's?
SMERCONISH: Both, as a matter of fact.
DOMINICK: The president's, yes, what is it, 39 percent? It's terrible. And this isn't going to change. Nothing that can be said tonight will change his approval rating.
SMERCONISH: You know what else I think of, Pete? I think of how three years ago, the president sat there -- was that on Kimmel's watch when there was a reference made to bin Laden?
DOMINICK: Amazing. That was Seth Meyers.
SMERCONISH: Seth Meyers.
DOMINICK: Yes. Yes.
SMERCONISH: And you tell what was going on.
DOMINICK: Well, Seth Meyers was hosting and the president performed stand-up comedy the night before the bin Laden raid and in a way it was a good idea to just mislead, to make sure nobody -- and he -- so the night before the raid, he had to go up there, talk about being nervous. The next day was the most important day of his presidency. And know all these lives on the line. And he had to be up there doing stand up.
And you could -- and that's how you know he's good under pressure. Certainly in these situations. And let's not forget to give credit to the president's writers. And I always love how he gives a little laugh, a little titter to the jokes himself as, in my opinion, a way to -- as a tribute to whoever wrote them.
SMERCONISH: Right. And that's -- I mean, when he leaves, what he's doing now, if he chooses to go this route and enter, you know, your profession and the profession of others, he could give you all of a run, I think, for where it's headed. One serious point. Because I'm going to comment on this at the end of this morning's broadcast.
SMERCONISH: But my takeaway because I've only been there once is that I said this is -- this gets wrapped from the outside. You know, Sarah Palin was all over. Even Tom Brokaw had some criticism.
DOMINICK: Yes. Sure.
SMERCONISH: This is what Washington needs more of. Have a cocktail with one another. Laugh with one another. Break bread with one another. And then go get some work done.
DOMINICK: There's a fair question to be asked, I think it's a good one. Should journalists be partying and socializing with the people that they're covering. It was really interesting to see them mixing at the correspondents' dinner last two years, I'm going in tonight. I'm looking forward to seeing that, too. There's a really good legitimate question about journalism integrity should they be, you know, partying with the people they're covering. And should all these celebrities be taken away from it. I'll let other people answer that.
SMERCONISH: OK. Well, we can get rid of the celebrity factor, maybe.
SMERCONISH: Even though it was cool to see Michael Douglas when I had that opportunity.
DOMINICK: I met Daniel Day Lewis.
SMERCONISH: But listen, Ed Henry from FOX.
SMERCONISH: No more harsh critic of this administration. And no one who grills Jay Carney more than he does. And he was -- when I was there, he was the president of the whole thing.
SMERCONISH: So I think that dispels the notion that if you're breaking bread, you're going to go easy the following day because he certainly did.
Anyway, great to see you.
DOMINICK: Thanks for having me on, buddy.
SMERCONISH: Have fun tonight. DOMINICK: Everybody should -- I hope everybody buys your new book, by the way. I'm really looking forward to having you on the radio to talk about that.
SMERCONISH: Thanks for saying that. I won't be there to shutdown the joint with you tonight.
DOMINICK: I'll miss you.
SMERCONISH: Pete Dominick, thank you.
And you can catch his show "Stand Up Daily" on Sirius XM Radio. You can also watch full coverage of the White House Correspondents Dinner tonight right here on CNN starting at 8:00.
A conservative radio talk show host will say the most outrageous things to get to the top and more on the correspondents dinner. Politicians having a lot to learn from celebrities in attendance and it ain't about fashion.
SMERCONISH: Hey, this week's book club selection is you could say near and dear to my heart. It's the novel "TALK" written by yours truly. Laden throughout with political intrigue, it focuses on the shameless rise of a conservative radio talk show host who will do anything to get on top. But this week, we decided to do something a little different. This week, the table is turned quite literally.
Brian Stelter, host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES", sits in my chair and interviews me about my brand new book "TALK."
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST, RELIABLE SOURCES: So the tables are turned in here, Michael. This seems like --
SMERCONISH: This feels awkward over here.
STELTER: This seems like a very real life book. So why fiction?
SMERCONISH: Well, there's a message to the book, right? I wrote it as a novel. It's intended to be a bawdy read. An entertaining read. But it has a very serious message about, in my view, the impact, the effect of a polarized media. And I could have more easily written this as nonfiction, but I thought maybe it will be more impactful. You know, 50 shades of talk radio, I think is what I had on my mind, so I could both be entertaining, I hope, and deliver the message that I want to deliver.
And the message is, we've ceded control of the conversation to men and women with microphones who for entertainment purposes are stirring a false divide in the country.
STELTER: And your character or the character that is struggling with this is Stan Powers. SMERCONISH: Right.
STELTER: And he's a Florida talk radio host. So there's one difference right away. Fiction versus nonfiction. Tell me what his struggle is.
SMERCONISH: So Stan Powers is a former stoner and slacker. He's got no political expertise or background whatsoever, grew up in Ft. Myers area and learns that he's got a knack for choosing music that people like to listen to. Parlays that into the career of a classic rock deejay. Through happenstance gets involved in the world of talk radio. And he's reluctant.
He says, Brian, I don't know a damn thing about radio talk. And they say, don't worry. It is easy. It's paint by numbers. All you need to do is toe a conservative consistent line. He does that. And the more that he says that which he disagrees with personally, the higher his star rises. And so the conflict is whether he's going to be true to his profession and his aspirations or to himself.
STELTER: Yes, the character I found most interesting is the consultant who's telling him what to do.
SMERCONISH: Everybody says that.
STELTER: The consultant Phil Dean.
STELTER: At one point, he says conservative, consistent, compelling. Those are the three key words to succeed in talk radio.
SMERCONISH: And Phil Dean, the character that I wrote about really is the embodiment of so many individuals that I've met and reacted with.
STELTER: It sounded like it. It sounded like it.
SMERCONISH: Over the years in talk radio. You know, I wanted people to read this book and scratch their head and say, my god, is that the way that it works? Well, largely the answer is going to be yes.
STELTER: At one point it says three extreme -- extremists are worth more than 10 moderates.
SMERCONISH: Well, that's true.
STELTER: That's something new we've been told. What does that mean?
SMERCONISH: Well, it means that ratings in the radio business are really governed by passion. Right?
STELTER: How long you listen to them.
SMERCONISH: How long you listen for. And so that's why they're constantly stirring the divide, the ideological divide, and trying to rally the troops with red meat on either the left or the right because it's frankly not how many you reach, it's whether you can develop a hard core constituency that is always coming back for more. And listen, it's not just talk radio, it's the cable television news world as well.
STELTER: So are you Stan Powers then?
SMERCONISH: I am not Stan Powers.
SMERCONISH: I -- no, listen. I have said a lot of ridiculous things over the years, but I believed every one of them when I was saying them. This is a guy who is saying whatever it takes to get to the top and he is just finding it unbelievably easy to parrot this conservative line and ride the wave.
STELTER: Who is it modeled on? Who should we be hearing when we read the book?
SMERCONISH: All the --
STELTER: Is it Rush Limbaugh? Glenn Beck?
SMERCONISH: All the usual suspects.
STELTER: All the usual suspects. And I am casting aspersions with a wide net in this book. I am saying it goes on on the left, it goes on on the right, and it is doing the country a disservice. And that people who are independent thinkers need to take back the conversation. That's what this book is all about.
STELTER: I have heard you say in the past people like Rush Limbaugh, you wonder if they believe everything they're saying on the radio.
SMERCONISH: How could you?
STELTER: You're skeptical.
SMERCONISH: Yes. How could -- come on, a broken clock is right twice a day. Isn't that the old adage? How can everything that Barack Obama does be wrong? How can he be the anti-Christ in every single situation? And from the left perspective, how can everything that comes out of his administration be absolutely appropriate? So truth lies somewhere in between.
STELTER: What does your character in the book end up doing?
SMERCONISH: OK, now, remember, I have to get used to saying this, it's a novel. He's not my character.
SMERCONISH: But I'm not giving away the ending. I'm simply going to say that there is a climactic scene at the end where he delivers a monologue on radio having locked himself in the studio. And you have to read that far into the book to figure out which way Stan Powers goes in the end.
STELTER: When did you find time to write it, by the way? And what was it like to write fiction?
SMERCONISH: Much more difficult. You know, I thought to write fiction, you get to make everything up. Right? It's got to be a lot easier than writing nonfiction. It was wrong. At least in my case. It was a very difficult task but I'm thrilled with the net result.
STELTER: Well, Michael, I'm going to hand your program back to you. Best of luck with the book tour.
SMERCONISH: Thanks, Brian.
Hey, Brian Stelter, thank you for that. My book "TALK" comes out on Tuesday. It's a fun read. And I hope you can pick it up and enjoy it.
Lindsay Lohan, Kim Kardashian. What could they possibly have to do with the White House? More than you know.
SMERCONISH: Hey, one last thing. Tonight is the White House Correspondents' Dinner. It's a night where Washington insiders, political pundits and Hollywood all combine for what's been dubbed the nerd prom. Some are dismissive of the glamorous evening.
Broadcast legend Tom Brokaw told Politico last year that, "The breaking point for me was Lindsay Lohan." A reference to the appearance in 2012 of the troubled actress who came as a guest of FOX's Greta Van Susteren. Quote, "She became a big star at the White House Correspondents' Dinner," give me a break, he said.
Mark Leibovich of the "New York Times" was next. He told C-SPAN, there is a level of self-congratulation and self-celebration and so forth that can be somewhat at odds with the mood of the country and how people view the media."
Sarah Palin must have been watching from home because while the dinner was underway last year she tweeted that, "White House Correspondents Dinner was pathetic. The rest of America is out there working our asses off while these D.C.-ass clowns throw themselves a nerd prom."
Well, I beg to differ. While the celebrity element is a distraction, the value of a civilized nonpartisan gathering in a town poisoned by polarization, that's invaluable and raising money for college journalism scholarships is an added benefit. Last year 16 students were recognized. I can see some merit in Brokaw, Leibovich and Palin focusing on celebrity excess. Many of us were once told we'd be judged by the company we keep and perhaps there is some applicability to that sentiment.
With the likes of Lohan, Kim Kardashian, the Donald, Ozzy Osbourne in attendance, I mean, last year's dinner had its share of celebrities. I followed Michael Douglas through a magnetometer. From my seat, Eric Stonestreet and Sofia Vergara, Cam and Gloria on "Modern Family," were two tables away. Behind me, rocker Jon Bon Jovi sat at the table hosted by Arianna Huffington.
You know who I didn't see? I didn't see members of Congress. With the dinner on a Saturday night, most are home in their districts. And that's too bad because the nation would be better served if instead of going home to raise money, they stuck around, put on some fancy clothes and broke bread with colleagues.
Above all else, what the dinner showcases is what the leadership often lacks. Civility. And in that respect, it's reminiscent of something called the Pennsylvania society. That's an annual gathering of my states, Media Movers and Shakers, and it's held every December here in New York City.
I remember in 2007, when Senator Arlen Specter received that group's highest award, the gold medal, and he summed up the night's value. He said, "If you can lift a glass together with your colleague from across the aisle on a Saturday night here in New York, you can lift your pen with that same colleague across the hall on Monday morning in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, or anyplace in our state. So everybody, take a deep breath tonight. Raise a glass. Tell a joke. Laugh together, and get more done come Monday."
Thank you so much for watching. I'll see you back here next Saturday. Have a great weekend.