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Speaking Truth to Power; Fueling the Fear of Islam

Aired June 22, 2014 - 11:00   ET


BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning and welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

And this morning, we have a big question to answer. Who are the reliable sources on the crisis in Iraq? There has been a roar in recent days. I heard it all over my Twitter feed from viewers who want to know who the so-called architect of the 2003 invasion are now inhabiting TV studios once again, giving advice about what to do this time.

The truth is they never really left. The backlash was very visible as people like Dick Cheney, and Paul Bremer and Paul Wolfowitz criticized the Obama administration and called for intervention. We saw media critics pounce saying they were discredited by Iraq's decisions a decade ago.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid posted this picture on Twitter of all the talking heads. He wrote, "The only thing I want to hear from Iraq war architect is an apology."

Harry Reid, of course, voted in favor of the Iraq war, like so many others. He now says he needs to redress it.

Anyway, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow called out this tendency to threat people who were in her words, provably terribly maddening as experts, and called it maddening.

I think her colleague Joe Scarborough was implicitly responding to her with this.


JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: Do we have Paul Bremer on to talk about it? Are we afraid to let him talk? No. We allow people to talk. We have a free marketplace of ideas and even people with whom we disagree, we allow them to talk.


STELTER: So there was a backlash to the backlash.

I want to ask two people about this who have unique points of view. Let me bring in Jonathan Landay, a national security correspondent from "McClatchy", and in New York, Peter Beinart, contributing editor to "Atlantic Media", and a CNN political commentator.

Thank you both for being here.



STELTER: So, I went back, Jonathan, and re-read this book about what went wrong in 2003. It's by Greg Mitchell, "So Wrong for So Long." And it points out you at "McClatchy", you and were one of the few to be skeptical to ask the right questions before the invasion. The book points out in early 2005, you wrote that the U.S. won't win the war. You came to that conclusion very early on.

What has it been right in the last week or two to be watching and reading the coverage? Has it been deja vu for you?

LANDAY: It's been -- I think the word maddening is a good one. I've run out of adjectives to describe the way these people who were the architects of this disaster, unmitigated disaster which is still unfolding, consequences of which are still unfolding, how they've resurfaced. They have been given -- treated with -- as credible experts on what's going on in Iraq when everything they said about Iraq, everything they've prophesized about Iraq, forecast about the American invasion was absolutely wrong.

STELTER: Well, Paul Bremer was here in the greenroom as we were getting ready for the segment. Do you think that people like him should be on television shows like this speaking about Iraq right now?

LANDAY: You know, I have a hard time -- we have the First Amendment. We have freedom of speech, but you can't put people on to discuss an issue as important as Iraq authoritatively if they are going to spout inaccuracies, errors. And one of the biggest errors, one of the most glaring errors we've been hearing is this historical revisionism that Iraq was calm when the Bush administration left office. It most certainly was not by their own reports from their own Pentagon and their own State Department.

So, should these people be treated as credible sources on what's going on in Iraq right now? I would think only if they're prepared to say, you know what, I was wrong about what happened. We shouldn't have done -- did what we did, but we did what we did and now we need to move beyond -- we need to deal with the situation that now exists.

STELTER: That's the perfect turn to Peter, because, Peter, you wrote a column titled even "Iraq sinners deserve to be heard." And you essentially said you were one of those sinners.

Tell me what you believed then and what you believe now.

BEINART: I supported the war in Iraq, the magazine I edited, "The Republic", reported it. It was the greatest mistake I have made as a journalist in my career. One of the greatest mistakes I wrote in my life. I wrote essentially two books trying to grapple with how I could

have been so wrong. My view about -- I think it's definitely true that the media's foreign policy conversation has an instinct towards Beltway insiders who share basic assumptions. Some of the people who had the intellectual foresight and creativity to question the assumptions that let us to Iraq still don't get on the air which is a big problem.

But I don't have a problem putting on people who were architects of the Iraq war on to talk today as long as they have to reckon with what happened in the past. We shouldn't treat the past as if it's irrelevant. It's not irrelevant. It's highly relevant.

So, put them on as long as you're also going to ask them tough questions about exactly this, why their view should be considered credible given their past history?

STELTER: I mentioned at the top of this conversation what you and your colleagues in "McClatchy" did in 2003. What is the single take away for journalists about where you all went when so many others were looking in the other direction?

LANDAY: Well, first of all, we were at "Knight Ridder" back then because "McClatchy" hadn't bought "Knight Ridder" at that point. But the single takeaway was what our boss at the time, and don't forget, I did this with Warren Strobel, our boss John Walcott. We were also joint by Joe Galloway, who was a columnist for us at the time.

But the single takeaway was what John used to say to us, when we would convene in his office, and he would say, is what they're saying true? That's our obligation as journalists. Is it true?

And he felt we had a special obligation because Knight Ridder, and now, "McClatchy" owns newspapers in towns that host the bases where soldiers who were sent to Iraq were coming from and where their families live. And he believed we had an even -- an even greater obligation to explain to them what was going on, what the dangers of invasion, and indeed what was wrong with the case that was being made for the invasion? And that was really -- you know, is it true?

STELTER: Peter, you mentioned that you feel some voices of dissents still don't go on the air often enough to call that a big problem. Who are some of those voices that you think should be on air more often?

BEINART: One person comes to mind is Andrew Bacevich, who teaches at Boston University, a really remarkable historian of foreign policy, also someone who serves himself as a career military officer in Vietnam and whose son tragically was killed in Iraq. I think what had - -there is a bias in terms of people who are put on air in particular, I think towards people who are close to power in Washington, people who have served in administrations, people who work at think tanks that are connected to administrations.

Someone like Bacevich is much farther away from power. He's never going to be consulting for presidential candidate. He has much more fundamentally damning and critically things to say about the entire thrust of American foreign policy. But he's deeply knowledgeable about American foreign policy and about Iraq in particular.

And he would be the kind of voice I think would be a very valuable balance to some of the kind of people who we see on a lot.

LANDAY: There seems to be this historical habit of the American media to rehabilitate people who have actually either broken the law or have done questionably -- questionable things in government and to rehabilitation them.

As I said, start with Watergate. Some of those guys, convicted felons, end up as commentators on the media.

Look at Iran-Contra, which is where you had a whole bunch of senior people who were convicted of felonies, and yet they -- many of them have also been rehabilitated.

And on the Iraq invasion, I mean, you have people on CNN who were mouthpieces for the Bush administration and were handing out misleading and inaccurate information to the American public and the world who are treated as legitimate, credible political commentators. I think that is a very serious problem for the media that it needs to get a grip on.

BEINART: Can I add something? I think -- I think part of what happens here is that oftentimes in the media the notion of balance is someone who's associated with the Democratic Party and someone who's associated with the Republican Party. That's the notion of having different points of view.

So, when you have an environment as what did happen in the run up to the Iraq war, where both the leaderships of the Democratic and Republican Party basically have a similar point of view because oftentimes, remember, the Democratic and Republican Party may agree on more than they disagree on. That's when really, really critical perspectives don't get offered.

STELTER: Peter Beinart and Jonathan Landay, thank you both for joining me here.

LANDAY: Thank you.

BEINART: Thank you.

STELTER: Up next, a sensitive topic that too often gets glossed over. How media portrayals of Muslims contribute to Islamophobia. We have a big debate about that right after this break.


STELTER: We have digested hours and hours and hours of TV to bring you this week's red news/blue news. Our regular look at how partisan media outlets bend the stories to the right and left. We're going to hone in on a very important topic here, Islamophobia, about how it's manifested in the media.

Think of Islamophobia as anti-Muslim prejudice, exaggerated fear and hostility toward Muslims perpetuated by negative stereotypes.

And now, let's go to the tape. Tuesday, FOX News, Hannity.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Welcome back to Hannity. We are witnessing Muslims on the march to Iraq, and well beyond, all over the globe, chaos abounds. And here with analysis to the jihad that's raging worldwide.


STELTER: Jihad that's raging worldwide. This is a theme on some FOX News shows. FOX regular hands over its megaphone to speakers who warned about the threats posed by radical Islam. What's missing is any semblance of balance.

Here's an example from "The Five" on Wednesday. This is about Christians reportedly having to flee Iraq.


DANA PERINO, FOX NEWS: Tom, let me ask you about moderate -- if there is a moderate voice out there, do you think that now would be the time for them to speak up?

TOM SHILLUE, FOX NEWS: Well, we've been waiting for sometime, right?


STELTER: Tom is Tom Shillue. He's a professional comedian. He was filling in for Greg Gutfeld. While I think he's a pretty funny, he's pretty much the least qualified to comment on the prominence of moderate Muslim voices. Why not bring on an actual moderate Muslim voice and ask them?

Well, this very issue made headlines this week when "Washington Post" columnist Dana Milbank wrote about a gathering of conservatives here in D.C. He said the event teamed with anti-Islamist rhetoric, that too often sounded just anti-Islam. And that a young Muslim student who spoke up was taunted by the crowd.

There was debate about whether he overstated that, but the debate distracted from the very important point the student was trying to make. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We portray Islam and all Muslims as bad but there's 1.8 million followers of Muslim. We have 8 million-plus Muslim Americans in this country and I don't see them represented here. (END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Yes, representation is the issue, whether the news is red or blue.

Speaking of blue, here's MSNBC's Chris Hayes said about this a day later.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC: The fact of the matter is we don't cover peaceful Muslims hanging out, going about their day like performing surgery or like being accountants. We cover ISIS marching through with black flags looking super terrified.


STELTER: We have the red, we have the blue. And now, I want to pursue what's actually true with one of Chris Hayes' guests. We just saw her there, Linda Sarsour. She's the national advocacy director of the National Network of Arab American Communities.

And here in D.C., one of Sean Hannity's guests from the very first clip I played, Brigitte Gabriel, the founder of ACT! for America.

Let me ask you about the statistics that you brought up at this conference I mentioned in D.C. earlier this week. You said the radicals are estimated to be between 15 percent and 25 percent according to all intelligence services around the world. That leaves 75 percent of them peaceful people.

Where does that statistic come from?

BRIGITTE GABRIEL, ACT! FOR AMERICA: The statistic comes from the combined intelligence of the Australians, the Canadians, the Jordanians, the Israelis, the United States. Countries that share intelligence who are now monitoring what's happening in the world today.

STELTER: You're saying 180 million to 300 million Muslims are radical?

GABRIEL: But you're talking about that faction out of 1.2 billion people. Now, the majority of 1.2 billion people are peaceful people. They are not strapping bombs on their bodies. They are not going out blowing up people. They don't want to kill people.

You have --

STELTER: Nor are the 15 to 25 percent.

GABRIEL: Fifteen to 25 percent are radicalized. Now, not every single one of them wants to blow himself up but they either support terrorist who want to blow themselves up, provide them with financing, provide for money, provide them with logistical support, 15 to 25 percent had been radicalized.

LINDA SARSOUR, NATIONAL NETWORK OF ARAB AMERICAN COMMUNITIES: Brian, Ms. Gabriel speaks out of two sides of her mouth. I mean, first of all, in one breath she'll say the west must support moderate Muslims, and the moderate Muslims must speak out against terrorism and in the same breath she'll say peaceful Muslims are irrelevant.

Ms. Gabriel needs to make up her mind when it comes to what is radical Islam. When asked by Australian news, she said a radical Muslim is someone who prays five times a day, someone who believes in the world of the Koran, which is the Muslim holy book, someone who believes the prophet may peace be on him is a perfect man. That's basically every Muslim.

So, I have no idea what she means. Where is the room for moderate Islam?

GABRIEL: We need to support moderate Muslims and we work with them. We actually have keynote speakers at our national conference who are moderate Muslims. I had a TV show where we invited them to be on our TV show. We want to expose their message.

But that's completely different than dealing with terrorism, what I deal with as a terrorism analyst. And that's what we need to discuss. The moderate Muslims, they can organize. Where are their collective voices? Where are the voices of the moderate Muslims speaking when girls kidnapped by Boko Haram disappear and we still do not know where they are?

STELTER: Linda, we hear that quite a bit on FOX News. Where are the moderate Muslims? What's the answer to that question?

SARSOUR: There are people out there that stood up on Boko Haram, on terrorism, on 911. There are national Muslim organizations that continued day in and day out to put in statements.

Is the media covering it? I don't have control over the media to cover these stories. I don't have to prove to anyone I am an American born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and that my parents chose to come to the United States from living under military occupation in Palestine.

And you talk about going into a grocery store in Arlington, Virginia, because you speak Arabic and you understand the culture and that's where you get your credibility from? I understand the culture and I speak the language, too, and I've never, ever walked into a grocery store or community center, mosque in this country where people were saying they wanted to destroy America.

GABRIEL: We know what is being put out here. There has been a study after study of the material that have been found in different mosques across the country. Research after research, and these are factual research that have been presented to our government.

(CROSSTALK) SARSOUR: Are you a terrorism analyst on terrorism in general?

What about the Las Vegas shooting? The manifesto, the Oak Creek shooting where white supremacist walked in (INAUDIBLE) and killed six people.

GABRIEL: Terrorists are terrorists. Terrorists are terrorists. I immigrated to the United States and I continue to have the Middle East as my focus. That's what I talk about.

We are dealing, Linda, with the radical Islamic element that wants to wreak havoc on the United States. There are cars driving in New York right now for biological or chemical agents in the air to make sure that nothing has been detonated 24 hours a day in New York City, in Chicago, in major cities in the United States. That is something we need to discuss.

STELTER: Will we not look back at this era as a grows over reaction to a terrorist threat that is not there in the way you're describing it to be?

GABRIEL: The terrorist threat has been there, Brian, for years. America has been attacked under different administrations sips 1979 by radical Islamists, whether we had a Democrat or Republican --

STELTER: And by people who have twisted Christianity into their own beliefs as well.

GABRIEL: I agree with you. I agree with you. There are extremists on both sides.

But when you look at radical Islam, the country is safe all these years since September 11th because our great protectors and first responders and FBI have put programs in place to protect us. They are watching over the country. That's why we are safe.

STELTER: Linda, do you feel there are too many examples of times where the media has fanned the flames of misunderstanding about Islam?

SARSOUR: Absolutely. I mean, let's look at the Boston bombing. The first front page story came out on "The New York Post" of two young Algerian boys with book bags calling them the bag men. Immediately when something happens from someone who just happens to be of an Arab country of origin or Muslim, we immediately start talking about terrorism and domestic terrorism.

And when we have the same cases, similar cases, shootings almost every week in this country where dozens of people are being killed at the hands of guns and lax gun control, I'm more worried about being shot by a gun or by a shooter in the U.S. than I am from a terrorist attack. The media, oftentimes, including FOX News in particularly, who actually does hit series on people like me for standing up and speaking my mind and practicing my American patriotism, the media does play a role in this, but it also gives again the platform for people who are pseudo experts.

And just because you grew up in the Middle East and just because you supposedly lived under the war doesn't make you a terrorism analyst. There are people have extensive training and at the same time can talk about very fringe Islamic terrorism without talking about Islam as a religion being a threat, the fastest growing religion in the country.

And what Ms. Gabriel and her friends don't say is that many of the foiled plots in this country have been foiled by information that came directly from the community, in some cases even the immediate family members of those who were alleged to be organizing a terrorist attack or traveling to places like Pakistan and others.

GABRIEL: We're talking about two Americans, about how we can protect our country. We are both faced with an enemy wishing both our destruction. When those people attack the world trade center they wanted to kill Americans, Muslims, Christians, and everybody. When Zazi or Shazad (ph) wanted to blow up Times Square or the New York subway system, they were planning on killing Americans, teenagers, people taking the subway back to work or back home. They wanted to kill all of us.

When you're talking about plots of mass scale, somebody parking a car about to explode in Times Square or want to blow up the suck way system in New York or want to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago, we're talking about the mass killings of thousands of Americans if not millions. That's what we need to be discussing in how we can protect the country.

STELTER: Isn't that fear-mongering? You use the words thousands and millions, isn't that fear-mongering?

SARSOUR: The idea here is that you want to talk about terrorism, let's talk about terrorism and let's be prepared.

But let's not prepare the American people that all terrorism that happens around the world comes from the Muslim community. That's what I want to debate with you here --


SARSOUR: -- is that the idea here is terrorism is a serious issue. But terrorism does not equal Islam, it does not equal Muslims.

I am from New York. I live in New York. I was here in New York on 9/11, Ms. Gabriel. I understand the impact that 9/11 had on communities in New York City.

I could have been in the World Trade Center. I could be dead here today. There were Muslim responders, there were Muslims -- 75 Muslims died in 9/11, including a first responder, Salman Hamdani.

So, I want you to understand that if you want to combat terrorism you need to work within the Muslim community. You need to make sure that we are part of that and the, quote, "moderate" Muslims that you're talking about, which are almost every Muslim living here in this country, need to be part of this discussion. But to alienate the Muslim community, create them as the other

and to start making over exaggerations about these potential attacks that haven't happened is not the way that you combat terrorism in any country and especially not here in the United States in a country where I can live here and speak freely, you can stand there and speak freely, and that's the kind of country that I want to live in and I want to be part of the discourse.

GABRIEL: And we want to make sure we protect this country and we work with a lot of moderate Muslims like I said, who even come and speak at our national conference.

What we're talking about now, Islamic terrorism. When you're watching the news this morning and you're hearing about terrorists in Syria, in Jordan, in Lebanon, Boko Haram, in Sudan, in Nigeria, in Chad, in Libya, I can go down the list, every single instance when you're watching the news, it's not Buddhist terrorists, it's not Christian terrorists.

Yes, there are some crazy people who commits terrorism. But right now, the terrorism on the mass scale, the bodies piled up, the people being beheaded, even Muslims shooting other Muslims. That's what we watch in Iraq because they did not believe them that they were Sunnis. That is barbarism on the mass scale and that's unacceptable in civilized society.

SARSOUR: As long as you clarify and you stand up and say that the fringe extremist of any faith are only a tiny minority in a larger faith, this is what we want you to talk about. When you talk about Islam and you talk about the Koran, 1.4 billion people across the world follow the word of the Koran. You just got to make sure that you're being specific when you talk about terrorism of any faith but more specifically Islamic terrorism.

GABRIEL: They're not waiting to hear your opinion or my opinion, they want to kill us both. And this is why we must discuss how we can defeat the radicals who want to kill us, who are using the Koran as their source and justification for their murders.

SARSOUR: Why are we having this discussion if you and I are irrelevant? Why the discourse? Why the debate? Why the analysis if we are irrelevant?

GABRIEL: Exactly. What we need to be talking about is how we can defeat the radicals.

STELTER: I'm going to wrap it there. We could go on and on. But I do have to leave it there. Linda Sarsour and Brigitte Gabriel, thank you both for joining me.

GABRIEL: Thank you.

SARSOUR: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: This is definitely not the last time we'll be talking about this topic. I've got to squeeze in a break here. But coming up, while people

inside the beltway cheering for or against Hillary Clinton, people outside the beltway were interested in a different discourse. What's the link between Clinton and the World Cup? The answer right after this.


STELTER: Politics is sport. And sport, when it's played on a grand, global scale, is politics.

So, let's compare two of the biggest news stories of the week. The first is Hillary Clinton's book launch. The book "Hard Choices" came out on Tuesday.

And these were some of the headlines. Mediaite: "Hillary Clinton's Ratings Underwhelm on CNN and FOX." The Daily Beast: "Hillary's Book Sales Are Weak By Clinton Standards." And "The Washington Post": "America Isn't Sure If It's Ready for Hillary Quite Yet."

Now, these headlines come with some caveats, and I will get to those in just a moment.

But, as you know, there's been a lot of media speculation, including on this show, about Clinton's book tour and whether it's all a warmup for a presidential run.

And, yet, amid all that, I think it's fair to say that a lot of country's selective attention has been elsewhere. Let me show you a couple more headlines. These are also about winning and losing, also about something that comes around once every four years, the World Cup.

Here's from "Sports Illustrated": "USA vs. Ghana Draws More Than 11 Million Viewers, Sets ESPN Record." And this from Variety: "World Cup Set New Internet Video Streaming Record" as well.

Now, these are not apples to apples. But there's a vivid contrast here between the bigness of a global competition to reward the best athletes out there and the, well, smallness of our domestic and foreign policy debates.

So, who better to discuss this with than L.Z. Granderson? He's a columnist for ESPN and a contributor here at CNN and he joins me now from Chicago.

Thanks for being here.

L.Z. GRANDERSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hey, thanks for having me, Brian.

STELTER: Is there a commonality between these two giant news stories this week?

(LAUGHTER) GRANDERSON: No. Unfortunately, for Hillary, no. She just isn't

as compelling as the World Cup, for a variety of reasons.

But I think the number one reason is the payoff for the World Cup, we have a definitive date and it's relatively soon. The payoff for what she's doing, which is a presumed presidential run, is for another two years. So, she's fighting time and herself, whereas the World Cup is rushing towards something that everyone already has circled and is relatively soon.

STELTER: There's something about the scale of the World Cup that is so striking to me. Then, on the other hand, you have Hillary Clinton doing interviews with every network. And although CNN made it into a big event by having a town hall, the ratings were only slightly higher than they ordinarily would be at that time of day.

Same thing on FOX News. They have this joint interview with Bret Baier and Greta Van Susteren. It felt like an interrogation at times. But, by the next day, people had moved on. They were not talking about it anymore.

GRANDERSON: Well, Hillary we have known for close to three decades now. And so I think that it's just really difficult to try to generate excitement, new excitement over anything she has to say, because we have been listening to her essentially for 30 years.

STELTER: Do you think it's also reflective of the fact that the country wants a distraction from politics and from international crises like what's unfolding in Iraq? Is that one of the reasons why the World Cup is resonating so much this time around?

GRANDERSON: Well, I think, when you're talking specifically with the U.S. numbers, right, and us watching the match against Ghana, what you have just seen is just a slow evolution toward this country's attitude about embracing soccer as a sport.

We obviously always want to stay clear of politics, real-life politics. But let's look back. The most popular show of all time right now on HBO is "Game of Thrones," which is essentially a political show. One of its most popular sitcoms is "Veep," which is essentially a popular show.

The hottest show on ABC, "Scandal," a political show. The hottest show on Netflix, "House of Cards," a political show. So, it's not like we hate politics altogether. We just don't want them in our lives every single day. We just want them when we want them and how we want them.

STELTER: I find the intersections and the contrasts here very interesting. One of our colleagues, CNN contributor Sally Kohn, was joking with me the other day, saying that soccer might seem boring, it might be 90 minutes, there might be barely any points scored, but they still score more points than Congress does.


STELTER: L.Z. Granderson, thanks you for joining me.

GRANDERSON: Hey, thank you very much for having me.

STELTER: One more note here about World Cup momentum. ESPN's numbers for the tournament are even surpassing the Olympics by some measures. I will have more on that on later this week.

Straight ahead here: a newspaper taking a stand against a famous columnist, even apologizing for one of his columns. We will tell you what that's all about and talk to the editor who made the decision next.


STELTER: Welcome back.

This next story has infuriated a lot of people. It involves someone I'm sure you know, George Will, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and author who has been writing for "The Washington Post" for four decades.

His conservative take on politics and foreign affairs appears in newspapers across the country. He's also a regular on TV. In fact, he's left ABC News to join FOX News Channel as a commentator.

He's a provocative writer, but some people thought this column -- we will put it up on screen -- went too far. It was a column about government influence on college campuses. Will asserted that victimhood is becoming a -- quote -- "coveted status that confers privileges for victims of sexual assault."

He used a graphic example of an alleged campus rape to illustrate what he describes as the contradictory statistics from the Obama administration on what actually constitutes sexual assault.

There was instant criticisms, spurred along in part by the liberal media monitoring group Media Matters and by a group of U.S. senators who accused him of -- quote -- "trivializing the scourge of sexual assault" and treating this crime as a socially acceptable phenomenon.

Will would disagree that he did that, of course, but one of the many papers that subscribes to his column seems to agree. That's "The St. Louis Post-Dispatch." This week, the editorial page editor told readers that the paper would no longer be running Will's column.

So, did the paper do the right thing?

Well, let's bring in the editorial editor, Tony Messenger. He joins me now from the "Post-Dispatch" newsroom in St. Louis.

Thanks for joining me.

TONY MESSENGER, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH": Thanks for having me. Good to be here. STELTER: This week, you told readers that you were thinking

about pulling the plug for several months, but Will's column about sexual assault made the decision easier. Why is that?

MESSENGER: Well, the reaction we had from readers, particularly from women, so many of them were so deeply offended that they could be called -- that George Will told them that they were trying to somehow seek a special status, that they were trying to seek some privileged status because of their alleged sexual assault.

It just -- we had a lot of readers very angry and very hurt. And it caused us to go back and take a look at it, and it reinforced our previous decision, that he had lost a little bit of speed off his fastball, and it just caused us to make the decision a little bit more quickly than we would have otherwise.

STELTER: You even apologized for running the column in the first place. That must be pretty rare.

MESSENGER: I don't know that it's ever happened before. It might have.

It hasn't happened in my tenure here as the editorial page editor. And the reason for that was, we did run it. And so our reaction to it, going back and taking a look and realizing that there was a lot of offensive imagery in that that victimized women, we had to take responsibility for that. We published it. We wish we wouldn't have.

STELTER: Let me read what the op-ed editor at "The Washington Post" wrote in response to some of the criticisms.

He said: "George Will's columns was well within the bounds of legitimate debate." And then he went on to say: "Rather than urge me to silence a viewpoint they disagree with, I would urge others also to join the debate and to do so without mischaracterizing the original column."

Is that what you're doing by dropping the column? Are you silencing a viewpoint that you don't want to have heard?

MESSENGER: Well, if we were purely dropping the column because of that one particular offensive element, then, sure, that would be a fair criticism of us.

But the fact is, we're -- the element of that column that caused us to drop it was that we found it very offensive to many of our readers. And that's well within our rights on an editorial page, is to decide what sort of debate, what level of civility, what level of treatment of women who are sexual assault victims we're going to allow on our page.

STELTER: Can you understand why some people though are saying it's intolerant to be dropping the column?

MESSENGER: Oh, absolutely. And that's unfortunately the nature of political debate today.

A lot of the responses that were negative to our decision accused us of doing so for political correctness. That's not the case. We believe that the column trivializes sexual assault victims. We believe it trivializes very serious attempts on campuses to deal with the scourge of sexual assault.

It's a topic that we have written about on our editorial page a lot and I'm comfortable with our interpretation of what Mr. Will wrote.

STELTER: Would you ever bring George Will back, by the way?

MESSENGER: I wouldn't close my door to anything related to that. I mean, like I said, we make op-ed decisions for a variety of reasons.

We lost some "New York Times" columnists a few years ago for financial reasons. And we're constantly switching out columnists for business reasons and for matter of content. So, I wouldn't close the door on George Will, no.

STELTER: Tony Messenger, thanks for joining me on this.

MESSENGER: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

STELTER: Ahead here on RELIABLE SOURCES, a story you have to know about, about reporters jailed in Egypt for doing their jobs. The parents of one of the reporters are thousands of miles away, waiting for some kind of justice and to be reunited with their son. I will talk with them right after the break.



Journalists find themselves in potentially dangerous environments each and every day, as we were reminded on Friday, when CNN's Ben Wedeman and his cameraman were roughed up by Palestinian security forces during a Hamas protest. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going to take the camera now. Go, go, go, go.


STELTER: They were OK, but it's a pretty stark demonstration of what journalists are up against.

Egypt has been especially perilous for the press. This week, there was a bit of good news when an Al-Jazeera reporter, Abdullah Elshamy, was freed after being held without charge for 10 months. You can see him speaking here with reporters just outside a Cairo police station. In a statement, Al-Jazeera called the decision a relief, rather

than a cause for celebration. And that's because three other journalists working for the network are still behind bars. A verdict is expected tomorrow.

You have heard me talk about them on this program before, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed. They have been jailed since December, falsely charged with aiding a terrorist organization.

Fahmy used to work here with us at CNN.

Earlier, I had a chance to speak with Peter Greste's parents from Brisbane, Australia. They talked to me about how Peter is doing and how important it is to keep this case in the media spotlight. Take a listen.


STELTER: Lois and Juris Greste join me now from Brisbane.

Thank you for being here.


STELTER: What is the very latest information that you have about your son, about his condition, and about his legal status?

J. GRESTE: The latest information -- and we can't almost refer to it as information -- it is bits of news we get about Peter via his brother Michael, who is over there now.

But, clearly, the situation is that Peter is showing symptoms of the pressure and anxiety of the very long wait.

STELTER: Prosecutors recently said they would seek the maximum sentence in his case which, of course, is a case that so many journalists like me think is baseless, ridiculous. How did you all feel to hear that they were going to seek the maximum sentence?

LOIS GRESTE, MOTHER OF PETER GRESTE: I think it's mind-boggling to believe that they are seeking a maximum sentence of 15 years.

I mean, Peter has actually not done anything wrong. He's just done his job. And he has always been a balanced journalist, a journalist who has looked at stories in a very balanced way and reported on all sides of the issue.

And he has not broken any law or anything like this. And we just cannot understand why he's -- in the first place he's in jail and why on earth they would be going for a 15-year jail sentence.

STELTER: What is the most important message you would like to convey about your son and the other Al-Jazeera who are being held?

J. GRESTE: Well, the main message is less a message than a wish that their case should be the absolutely last one of its kind. Whatever the message that the authorities want to convey through

the world's media, dare I say that message surely has been sent loudly and clearly? And we just hope that the authorities reach the only obvious conclusion. And that is to acquit Peter and his colleagues and free them as absolutely soon as possible, because that is the only -- only reasonable and logical outcome.

STELTER: Thank you for updating us on his situation and speaking about freedom of the press more broadly.

Thanks for joining me.

L. GRESTE: A pleasure.

J. GRESTE: Our pleasure, Brian.


STELTER: Let's hope Peter's parents can see him soon.

CNN will be covering the verdict tomorrow, and we will have an update here on RELIABLE SOURCES next week.

Now, right after this break, a man who helped me learn how to read. He may have helped you, too. Stay tuned.


STELTER: Finally this morning, as you know, we tackle all media, great and small here, on RELIABLE SOURCES, and this next story is great news about small media for small people on a small screen.

If you're of a certain age, you probably remember this.




STELTER: "Reading Rainbow," hosted by LeVar Burton, got kids excited about reading. It ran for more than 20 years on PBS, and now LeVar is planning to relaunch the show online as an app thanks to a Kickstarter campaign.

The original goal was to raise $1 million. Well, to his shock, that took less than 24 hours. Now he's extended the campaign, and with just a week to go, he's up to nearly $4 million.

So I spoke with him about what he wants to do with this, why he wants to bring back "Reading Rainbow" and why we should all care about how kids use media.


STELTER: Do you think there's a lot of content out there for children now that is not positive, that is not educational in a positive way?

LEVAR BURTON, ACTOR: Oh, absolutely.

You can -- you can find content that is really not conscious of the way content impacts children and just what sponges they are in terms of absorbing and modeling the things that they learn through the media.

STELTER: I do feel like we're learning more all the time about how television images and apps affect kids.

I remember the first time I saw a child walk up to a television set and try to swipe it on like it was an iPad. Blew me away..

BURTON: Right. Yes.

STELTER: ... that they are so proficient with the technology, which is a huge opportunity if it's the right technology and the right content in front of them.


BURTON: That's -- that's the key.

It's utilizing the technology in a way that will deliver the appropriate content to kids. And, if we do that consistently, we really can revolutionize the way we educate children in America.


STELTER: We're out of time here on the televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, but we're going to share the rest of our interview with LeVar Burton and rest of our media coverage on

Check out my stories about Chelsea Handler joining Netflix and a couple of potential movies about Bowe Bergdahl. You can find all that and the LeVar Burton interview on our RELIABLE SOURCES blog.

And you can find us right back here next week, next Sunday, at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time. Set your DVR if you won't be home.