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Meet the New White House Press Secretary; Women, TV News, and Attractiveness

Aired July 13, 2014 - 11:00   ET


BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Brian Stelter, and it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES.

We're coming to you this morning from the White House driveway. This is called Pebble Beach, where you always see reporters doing live shots.

And I'm here for an exclusive interview with the brand new press secretary, Josh Earnest. We're going to talk to him for his first Sunday show interview about what his new job is all about.

We also have a lot more coming up for you, including a fascinating conversation that we are calling the arms race. It's about women, television news, and attractiveness. Hear how the on air dress code has changed quite a bit over the years.

We'll also tell you about two very different books involving Hillary Clinton and why one of her spokespeople says they should be hooked up it a lie detector.

But, first, the reason why I'm here at the White House, our interview with Josh Earnest. Being press secretary is tough at any time, at any point in a presidency. But it's especially tough right now.

This may be the low point of the Obama presidency. He's facing an immigration crisis on the border and a threat of a lawsuit from the GOP.

And Josh Earnest, the new press secretary, the one who replaced Jay Carney last month, he's having to deal with all of it.

Imagine starting a new job, imagine your first few weeks -- kind of intimidating, right? Now imagine that literally the whole world is watching.


STELTER: Josh, thanks for joining me.


STELTER: I thought it would be fun to change it up to you and have you sit out where the reporters sit for a change.

EARNEST: Yes, it's nice to be seated as opposed to standing up.

STELTER: I guess it is, isn't it?

Let's start with the big story of the week, the humanitarian crisis on the border. What we heard all week was a drumbeat about photo-ops, about symbols. So much of the presidency is symbols.

So, why not have the president go to the border even if that's just a symbol.

EARNEST: Sure. Well, it's a good question, Brian, and it's important for people to understand exactly what the president's priority is. In this situation, the president's priority was on solving the problem.

We've talked through all you know, the range of things the president has done to try to address this urgent humanitarian situation on the border. The president has asked for additional resources from Congress to make sure we have the capacity to deal with the problem. Prior to that, the president made some unilateral decisions about moving resources from the interior of the country to the border that could be leveraged to try to address the need there.

The president has asked for Congress to provide greater authority to the secretary of homeland security to more efficiently implement the law. And we saw greater authority to crack down on the trafficking groups that are responsible for so much of this situation that we're seeing there.

Those are all policy-based solutions to a difficult problem. Those don't lend themselves to sexy pictures. The president's putting the policy solution first even though he's being criticized over photo ops. That's leadership.

STELTER: The president does think a lot about photo ops, I would think. He's been traveling around the country to spend time with regular people. Those are photo ops to me.

EARNEST: Sure. Look, any time the president and the symbol of the presidency goes, that does send a really important message.

STELTER: You turn on the TV and you hear all of the chatter about photo ops. Do you think it's a made-up media issue? That the press is focusing on the wrong thing, a small thing instead of a big thing?

EARNEST: Well, you know, particularly in this job, I'm going to hesitate to sort of be the media critic in chief, right? But there's a responsibility for the news media to try to make sense of a really complicated, fast-moving dynamic environment, and that's particularly true when you're talking about a story like this.

Look, I think the president made exactly the right decision. He's focused on results. Sometimes the media environment doesn't reward somebody who's willing to absorb a little criticism and not pay attention to the optics or pay less attention to the optics.

STELTER: Right, there's always some attention to the optics.

EARNEST: There's always some attention to the optics. And, look, particularly a news organization like CNN, television is a visual medium. Of course, your stock in trade is going to be the optics.

So, I understand that there's value in paying attention to that. The responsibility, though, for the leaders of this country is to understand how to use those optics to solve problems. And I think what we're seeing from the other side, at least when it relates to this issue, is they're using photo ops to avoid having to deal with tough problems.

STELTER: You talk about tough issues. And it feels that there are so many of them right now, it feels like we're at one of the lowest moments in the Obama presidency. Do you feel that?

EARNEST: I don't feel that at all actually. There's no doubt that we're dealing with some tough problems, but --

STELTER: One person when I asked for questions from Twitter for this interview, one person just asked, what were you thinking by taking on this job at this moment?

EARNEST: Yes. Yes.

Look, it is -- it's -- it's a really interesting time to take on this job.

STELTER: So, what were you thinking?

EARNEST: I was thinking about what a tremendous opportunity it would be to stand up at that podium on a daily basis and fight for something that I really believe in, and that is a president who has the right priorities for this country. He's somebody who believes passionately in the American government being a force for good in the world but he also believes passionately in using the influence he has in Washington, D.C. to fight for middle class families like the one I grew up in.

STELTER: It's quite a fight. So, how many days have you stood up there having dreaded doing it so far?

EARNEST: None so far. Each time, I've looked forward to the opportunity. It doesn't mean that there haven't been touch questions and that there aren't questions that I've been worried about.

I think each day that I walk up, there are different questions that I've been worried about. But again, it is a really interesting symbol of our democracy for somebody who works here at the White House for the president of the United States, to walk out here every single day that the president is in town and say, ask me whatever question you've got. Let me know. What can I do to help you understand --


STELTER: By the way, I bring it up. Should we keep televising this? There's been some talk about whether this should be televised or not.

EARNEST: If you guys think it's good for your ratings, you should do it. If you decide at some point it's not, then you shouldn't.

That's not for me to judge. I think that adding a television camera definitely changes the dynamic but I don't be think it would be appropriate for me to be in a position to say what -- you know, what you can or can't film.

STELTER: I remember your first briefing in June was described as testy. I thought, wait, that's the way it's supposed to be.

But there's argument to be made that it's too adversarial now. Do you ever feel that way?

EARNEST: Yes. Well --

STELTER: Like it's a battle and not an exchange of information.

EARNEST: Right. Well, I would say there is built-in tension in the relationship, right? If there's ever a day when the White House press corps sits back and says, you know, we're getting all the information we need from the White House, then everybody in the White House Press Corps will not be doing their jobs, right? So, there's got to be that built in tension.

The question is -- for me, is does that tension help you get answers? Does it help people get a better understanding into what's happening here in the White House or does it get in the way?

Sometimes I do think it gets in the way. That there's a premium that's placed on sort of combative exchange as supposed to somebody who's asking proving questions that actually elicit greater insight into what the president is thinking.

STELTER: Some would say it may be more adversarial because you are all withholding more than ever. Have you seen this letter this week from the Society of Professional Journalists?

EARNEST: I did see it.

STELTER: It's from 40 press groups, they're all saying that the president should be more transparent.

EARNEST: Look, I think the president's record of transparency stands up to any of the record of his predecessor.

STELTER: But you did see the letter, you did hear from the groups?

EARNEST: I did. STELTER: Don't you think they have legitimate concerns?

EARNEST: Well, again, they're all journalists. The day that they stop -- the day that they sort of sit back and say, you know, we don't need to write a letter, the White House is telling us everything they're supposed to, is the day that they're no longer doing their jobs.

STELTER: Well, they say that these -- you know, many federal agencies all across the government are imposing terrible restrictions on freedom of the press. And I wonder if there's anything you can do in your new role to stop that, to improve the flow of information?

EARNEST: Well, I am definitely committed and I have a responsibility in this job to try to help the president live up to his commitment, to be the most transparent president in history. If you look at some of the steps that we've already taken --

STELTER: I'm surprised you still say that line -- the most transparent president in history.

EARNEST: Absolutely.

STELTER: He has been criticized so many times for saying that --


STELTER: -- given the prosecutions of whistleblowers and other steps. You will still stick by that line?

EARNEST: Absolutely. But if you look at the president's record of releasing the wage records once a quarter, that that something the previous administration -- they went to the Supreme Court to prevent that information from being released. This administration releases it voluntarily on the Internet on a quarterly basis.

Reporters for years clamored to get access to fundraisers that presidents hosted or attended that were hosted in private homes. Reporters now have access to those when this president goes to a private home. He's at a private home on Wednesday night.

STELTER: This week.


So, there are a number of steps that we've taken to give people greater insight into what's happening at the White House.

STELTER: I notice this week the "Between Two Ferns" interview was nominated for an Emmy.


STELTER: So, what other sorts of outlets might we see the president try?

EARNEST: Well, I think the president tell you, it's an honor just being nominated.


STELTER: Of course.

EARNEST: We certainly have our fingers crossed for that presentation. It's -- that was a tremendous opportunity that the president had to really deliver a message in a unique --

STELTER: And even though it was criticized there's evidence that it worked for its purposes. It got more traffic to the Obamacare Web site.

EARNEST: Right. It was -- it got as much traffic to the Obamacare Web site as any other online project that we were engaged in. So, it was a really powerful thing.

STELTER: So, where else might we see him go?

EARNEST: Well, we're always looking for new ideas. Some of them can be online. Maybe there's a great print idea out there that we haven't come up with yet. We're going to be looking for over the course of the next two and a half years a lot of opportunities to really push the envelope and put the president in unique formats where he can connect with people in a different way.

STELTER: Let's talk about you and your media habits. What newspapers do you read every day?

EARNEST: Yes. I -- well, I benefit from two things. One is an iPad, which I think has really transformed the way a lot of people consumer a print product, right? It's something that can be regularly updated. So, I love -- some of the apps are great.

STELTER: "New York Times," "Washington Post", "Wall Street Journal" --

EARNEST: Yes. Exactly, "The A.P." has a really good app, too, at the risk of plugging them. The other thing I benefit from is there is -- we have an internal service here at the White House where there is a staffer that starts sending e-mails before 7:00 a.m. every morning with an individual news clip that's relevant to the news of the day. And so, I benefit a lot from just being able to open up my inbox and read through the clips as they are being sent around.

STELTER: How about television? We turn to TV, what network do you go to first?

EARNEST: Well, first, it's probably ESPN. But if it's for work --

STELTER: It's easy answer.

EARNEST: It is an easy answer.

If it's for work, I definitely spend some time on CNN. I've found them to be a pretty good barometer of what a lot of people in this room are going to be interested in on a daily basis.

STELTER: You must turn on FOX and MSNBC as well?

EARNEST: Of course. It's useful to have some insight into what the other cables are doing. There actually is a function on our television, on our internal television where we can watch four stations at the same time. And so, we can pull up --

STELTER: Do the broadcast networks still matter?

EARNEST: Absolutely they do, in a different way than they used to. There's still a tremendous audience. There are very serious people that work for those news organizations.

STELTER: For sure, we're sitting in two of their seats.

EARNEST: Exactly.

STELTER: What about the web? Are there any particular Web sites that are most important for you in terms of the news?

EARNEST: Yes. Well, I think Politico has certainly done a lot to really transform the way that the news is reported here in Washington so that is an outlet that I know a lot of reporters go to for news, and it's certainly one that I look for, too. They are -- they style themselves as the ESPN of politics.

STELTER: Even though we think of this as being so adversarial, you're describing a way you can help the press.

EARNEST: Yes. Well, look, there's -- my first responsibility is to be an advocate for the president, there's no doubt about that. But I am serving the president really well if I'm doing a good job of serving the press corps. Sometimes that means helping them with their stories, sometimes that means being an advocate for them internally at the White House to get them access to particular things. So, it's a really unique role here.

The other thing I like about the white house, through that door, reporters have an opportunity to wander through the press offices. They can show up unannounced. They don't require an appointment.

STELTER: Yes, something that I don't viewers realize?

EARNEST: Right. Right behind that wall is where my old office used to be. So, that meant that I was often the stop of first resort for a lot of reporters if they were desperate for a piece of information, if they were frustrated with the White House. Or if they just needed help on a story, I was the first door that they came to.

And that allowed me to develop important, strong relationships in working with reporters and that's something that you can't really do over the phone or by e-mail. By doing it face to face, you know, it has been an interesting thing. Something old-fashioned about the White House, but it's something that serves the White House really well even in a modern 21st century fast-moving media environment. STELTER: Thank you for taking my questions today.

EARNEST: Yes, thanks for coming, Brian.

STELTER: Thank you.

EARNEST: Nice to see you.


STELTER: Now, we're back here in the studio. I would love to talk to Mr. Earnest in about a year and see how he's feeling about his job then.

Coming up right here on RELIABLE SOURCES: there is a double standard in the media. It involves women and how they look, and dress and appear on air. We're going to talk about why and how, and why it's back in the news right now, right after this.



I want to turn now to women and television, and more specifically women on television, anchor women, and how they dress.

Check out this headline from "The Huffington Post" this week. This is the kind of B.S. that women in television have to deal with." "The Huffington Post" was talking about a morning show war over in Britain where executives from one network were apparently so anxious to hike up the ratings they suggested the anchor woman should hike up her skirts.

The coverage of that controversy had me pondering how much change there has been in this country in the way television anchor women have changed their dress.

So, we've done an informal survey here, trying to see if there is a dress code among these women, and it sure seems like there's an arms race. Almost no one wears dresses with sleeves anymore.

Let me start with FOX News. The new program called "Outnumbered" features four women and one man. So, it seemed like a good place to look.

When we looked elsewhere on this network, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, NBC, we saw a lot of sleeveless dresses and shorter skirts than there used to be.

You know, go back 20, 30 years and you see a big difference. Is this a fashion choice? What kind of pressures do female journalists feel to look a certain way on the air?

It actually came up on WABC, New York's ABC affiliate right on Friday morning. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our little micro climate in here is like a refrigerator.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our micro climate.

But our macro climate, our big world out there, is different.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should we tell -- should we reveal how all the ladies here wear sleeveless outfits when it's only 37 degrees in this studio?



UNIDENTIFEID MALE: I have a blanket or cardigan.

We're shivering when we're off camera.


STELTER: I've got two perfect guests to discuss this issue. Two generations of women in television news.

Kiran Chetry is a former CNN and FOX News anchor.

And Judy Woodruff, co-anchor and managing editor of the "PBS NewsHour."

Welcome to you both.



Are we perfect because we're both wearing sleeveless? This is not - -

STELTER: That's the perfect place to start actually, I think.

Judy, I wonder --

WOODRUFF: We didn't know this ahead of time, by the way.

STELTER: Well, I wondered because you were at CNN for many years, how have you seen the attention to female anchor's outfits change over the years?

WOODRUFF: Well, let me just tell you, when I was a local news reporter and then anchor in Atlanta, I wore a blazer that had a pocket that said Action News 5. So, we've come very long. Gray blazer, very attractive, maroon lettering. Now, we've come so far.

CHETRY: It takes the guesswork out of choosing your outfit.

WOODRUFF: So far, exactly.

STELTER: I guess so.

WOODRUFF: There are days when I've long to have a blazer to pull out of the closet.

But we have come so far. I mean, I think what happened in London is outrageous. But think about it, back then people were openly discriminating against women.

STELTER: Kiran, you've brought some notes with you, all of the different things you have been told on how to dress over the years.

CHETRY: When you called and said, you know, do you want to come join us to talk about this, I laughed, because I started thinking and I don't think it's changed that much. I mean, obviously, we have come far in terms of assignments. It was unheard of back in the day that you would have a female war reporter, you know, before. I mean, Christiane Amanpour was a trail blazer. But now, you know, it's just as common.

I think that -- and you correct (ph) me if you think I'm wrong about this, but I think attention to women's appearance, I think that's not just news. I think that that's sort of society. And we can take it with a grain of salt or we can get very insecure about it.

But I laughed over the years. People said I should buy a wig, which I'm thinking I should have. My hair was too thin for television. They didn't like that. And then I was told don't wear bare arms, but Michelle Obama changed that for all of us, by the way. The first who goes sleeveless.

Don't wear taupe. Dye your hair blond. Wear your skirts shorter. Wear your skirts longer. Don't wear pantsuits. They said get Botox because when you report, and the sun is on you, you look angry. And nobody likes angry women on television.

It's harder because you're trying as a woman to show that you know as much and that you deserve to be informing people about what's going on and then you have to worry about lip gloss and eyelashes and high heels and all of that stuff on top of it.

WOODRUFF: I think it's tough because news is at the intersection of television. If you're doing news on television, you're at the intersection of what is in large part an entertainment medium.

STELTER: The Venn diagram, right?

WOODRUFF: Exactly.

STELTER: Journalism and television, and there's a lot in the middle.

WOODRUFF: Exactly. And you're sitting right there in the middle of it. There are plenty of guys doing the news. I mean, there are plenty -- more anchors like Brian Stelter.

But the women, you're -- I think Kiran is exactly right. We are judged by a different standard because society has a different standard for women.

But I really believe that we can't -- I think it's crazy to get so focused on this, because we have come vi a very long way. There are women today doing serious news reporting. As you said, they're covering wars, they're covering the State Department. They're not only covering the White House. They're putting themselves at risk.

And I think it's -- I think we make too much if we sit and worry too much about how women look. I think, yes, they're going to be executives in news organizations who worry about it, but I think women have to take a deep breath and think, you know, what am I doing here? Am I here to be a reporter, to gather the news, to make sure it gets out and do the best job I can?

And if that's what you're trying to do, that's what ultimately is going to matter.

STELTER: Do you ever look at women in television, someone on a local broadcast or something and think, my God, what are they wearing?

CHETRY: Of course. Everyone does that. But it's for guys, too. What I laugh at is I mentor --

STELTER: What do you mean it's for guys too? The only real feedback I've gotten is that I wore glasses when I was first (INAUDIBLE). Then, a CNN executive said I like you better without glasses. That's really the only kind of feedback I've had to face so to speak.

CHETRY: What I mean is, I thought it was interesting when Anderson Cooper was covering the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. And this guy is in 100-degree heat for days on end, you can't really shower. One of the articles was Anderson Cooper wore work jeans (ph) with a black t-shirt on.

STELTER: Right, right.

CHETRY: And I'm thinking, what else is he going to wear? I mean, sweat-stained, you know, he's wearing a black t-shirt. You have to take it with a grain of salt like Judy said.

You have to say, you know, I have enough confidence in myself and I believe that what I'm saying is relevant and hopefully informative. But there is an element of attractiveness, I mean, you have to have, by that I don't mean beauty, I mean you have to have either an authenticity about you or a relatability so that -- I mean, it's TV. It's TV news.

And if the ratings aren't good, meaning people aren't attracted to you -- I mean, they use the term attract viewers. And if people aren't attracted to your persona, your person, whether it has to do with looks or how you talk or what you say, then where are we? STELTER: Well, there is a difference here about outlets. Judy,

at PBS, is it a luxury to not have to be thinking about ratings every 15 minutes in the way that CNN and other networks look at ratings?

WOODRUFF: Well, clearly, we want an audience. We want people to watch the "PBS NewsHour". Gwen and I are very focused on putting on the very best program we can every night and are feel very blessed to be the first two women anchoring a national newscast.

But no, it's not the same as commercial pressure, where every morning, there's a lot of focus on the part of executives what were the ratings, every 15 minutes, every five minutes the night before. So, it is a different atmosphere.

But that doesn't mean that we don't care about an audience. We do. But it's the content that matters. And I would argue that it's the content on commercial television that matters.

Ultimately, people are going to come back to you if you're doing a good job, if you're getting the story right, if you did a good interview, if you had a good exchange with somebody you were talking to and you shone some light on the story, and whether you're covering a hurricane or an election or an immigration crisis right now.

What matters is the story. So, I -- you know, I have long believed that there's too much focus on how we look. It's inevitably part of the job because it's television.

CHETRY: It's a story when Hoda and Kathie go, we're not wearing makeup or when Robin Roberts took her wig off after she went through chemotherapy. And she was a cancer survivor.

I mean, there was a huge amount of emphasis put on looks. I don't necessarily think it's a horrible thing but it's definitely trying.

STELTER: Let me go back to what you've heard about feedback wise. Can you tell us a specific story about what that's been like in a newsroom in the past?

CHETRY: Sure. How much time do you have? I remember even when I was younger, I was 22 when I was an anchor at the coveted NBC affiliate in Erie, Pennsylvania, which was actually a great news town. And they wanted me to look older. So, I had shoulder pads out here, you remember those days, and my hair was poofed out. I show pictures just for fun for my friends and like that is not you.

But there was -- for me the problem was they felt because I was so young even though they knew I was smart and I knew what I was talking about that I appeared to be too young.

STELTER: When you were at FOX News, was there more of a focus on your looks than there was at other places?

CHETRY: Yes. One of my favorite quotes ever. I can't -- I just realized I can't say it. (CROSSTALK)

CHETRY: No, I mean, it's -- the joke was we should all buy stock in Mac lip gloss because we go through it. We used to call the hair and makeup studio, we used to call it the magic shop because we'd drag ourselves in at 2:00 in the morning and come out looking completely different.

STELTER: At CNN, I go into makeup and they give me 1,000 milligrams of confidence because they're making me up.

CHETRY: See, that's the only great equalizer about television that I was -- I get to sit next to you guys and get makeup and get air brushed.

STELTER: Judy Woodruff, Kiran Chetry, thank you both for joining me.

WOODRUFF: It's great to be here.

CHETRY: Pleasure. Thanks.

STELTER: Coming up here on RELIABLE SOURCES, we're going to be talking about one particular woman who we're all used to seeing on camera. That's Hillary Clinton, who is the subject of two new books, one by herself and one most definitely not -- one that is filled with sensational and frankly very hard to believe claims. We're going to dissect it with someone who's read it and written about it, right after this.


STELTER: Take a look at "The New York Times" hard cover nonfiction bestseller list. Everybody in the publishing world studies this list. And number two this week is Hillary Clinton's memoir "Hard Choices."

Now scroll up. Look at what's at number one. It's another book about the Clintons, "Blood Feud" by Ed Klein.

"Blood Feud" purports to be about this: President Obama and the Clintons hate each other.

But here's the thing. To call it poorly sourced is a compliment. A lot of the book passages honestly sound too crazy to be true, like when Klein claims that one of Hillary Clinton's arguments with the president turned physical, with her jabbing him in the chest.

Normally, we wouldn't even be repeating these kinds of allegations, not when there's no evidence for them and lots of evidence against them. We're only talking about it here on RELIABLE SOURCES to explore the lack of fact-checking on a book that's selling like hotcakes.

So, with that in mind, let me bring in someone who has read the book and written about it, David Weigel, a political reporter for Slate.

Dave, thanks for coming in.

DAVID WEIGEL, SLATE: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: Tell me what "Blood Feud" is all about.

WEIGEL: "Blood Feud" is a version of the last couple of years of relationships between the Clintons and the Obamas.

This is kind of the latest in a series of Ed Klein books.

STELTER: You have called them Clinton hate books.


WEIGEL: Clinton fan fiction, I think I have also called them, where there are characters who definitely resemble the former secretary of state, the current president.

And they get into situations that are combinations of facts reported elsewhere and verified and stories that are reported with great detail that Ed Klein could not have personally seen. He will report on the body language in rooms where maybe a friend was present, sometimes where no one else is present...

STELTER: Right. Right.

WEIGEL: ... and will claim at the end of the book that he has 200 -- it's usually around 200 sources he claims in spiral notebooks under deep cover that swore to him up and down that this all happened.

STELTER: Yes. And most of the press has avoided detailing what's in the book because most of the press doesn't believe a lot of this stuff.

Is that the right decision, to basically ignore it, even though it's number one on this bestseller list?

WEIGEL: I think it is, because what is the point of re-reporting something even, which would normally be the response, right? If there's a story from "Game Change," which also used a lot of anonymous sources -- a lot of political books use anonymous sources.

You can go and suss out and report what happened. In this, there will be a description of something that happened in a room that contained the president and his wife, and maybe -- or the president and Valerie Jarrett, no one else.

We know that Ed Klein did not get personally them for the book.


STELTER: Of course.

(CROSSTALK) WEIGEL: ... would say so.

And if you can't verify it in any other way, if the guy has a record of making stuff up, it's not an assumption you want to make as a journalist, but it's an assumption you have to go with.

STELTER: Let me read what he said to "The New York Times," which wrote about this on Friday.

He said -- quote -- "I don't make this stuff up. The quotes come from sources who were present when the statements were made or who were told about the statements shortly after they were made."

And let me read what I thought was an amazing quote from a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton. He said: "Let's strap Ed Klein to a polygraph machine and let the needle do the talking."

Rarely have I seen Clinton's camp out so forcefully like that.

WEIGEL: Well, they feel like they have bested Ed Klein before.

And the organization that exists to support Hillary Clinton, if she runs for president, are giving this less attention than they have given other Ed Klein projects. This time, they just kind of pointed to the evidence of the past and dismissed the guy, which I think indicates, one, that they feel that they have moved on from this.

Two, they don't really mind when the opposition to Hillary Clinton is seen as ludicrous. The Clintons have sometimes been at their best when their opposition has been trying to impeach them.


STELTER: They may think it helps them.

WEIGEL: Oh, absolutely.

STELTER: And one more thing we should point out. "Hard Choices" has overall sold more copies. This book "Blood Feud" came out more recently.

The Clinton camp, or, rather, their allies have been aggressive about saying "Hard Choices" is a hit, even though it hasn't sold as well as maybe some people expected it to. So there has been that tension recently.

But let's get to the issue of why a book like this does sell so well, why it does hit number one on the "Times" bestseller list. What is it about a book like this that you think is so attractive to some conservatives?

WEIGEL: Well, it feels true.

If you read some -- some of the reviewing in the conservative media, not a lot -- Ed Klein is not taken that seriously -- there is a sense that the Clintons are probably like this, the Obamas are probably like this.

They know that the media, the liberal media that we're on right now, and lots -- basically, most of the media that's not outwardly conservative, they assume they're lying and they're covering for the guy. So if it's believable that they cover for him on Benghazi, believable they cover for him on the IRS, it's believable they covered this up.

I would not ascribe that to the mainstream, but that's enough to sell a lot of books, people who think the media is hiding the truth from them.


Do you worry that by even dismissing the book, by talking about it, but dismissing it, as we're doing, it gives the book more publicity, it still gives the book more weight? This was even a debate in one of CNN's editorial meetings about this book. Should we be talking about it at all?

WEIGEL: Well, there's a lot of stuff that bubbles up from the fringe that, if you don't cover it, is going to get covered anyway because of the way media has been established.

Media doesn't have that role anymore in determining what people get to talk about.

STELTER: Dave Weigel, thanks for joining me.

WEIGEL: Thank you.

STELTER: Let me know what you think of this issue.

Send me a tweet or Facebook message. My username on both sites is Brian Stelter. And I will be responding to your comments right after the show.

Coming up here on RELIABLE SOURCES "Red News/Blue News." It's about the very first thing I asked the White House press secretary. It's the crisis on the border and the very different views of it you might get depending on what channel you turn on. I will show you exactly what I mean right after this.


STELTER: Let's get right to "Red News/Blue News," my weekly look at how partisan media portrays stories in ways that will make your head spin.

And then of course I to unspin it. This week, it is immigration, such a contentious issue and such an emotional one.

If you have watched a lot of the coverage, you have probably noticed a lot of tugging at the heartstrings, particularly by Democrats.

Let's start with "Blue News" with two congressional Democrats on MSNBC.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to remember that these are human beings and that these are kids and show the compassion that we should for that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Visuals are powerful. People love children. As much as there may be concern and a lot of emotions, I can tell you that your heart wrenches when you see the children.


STELTER: The contrast could not be more vivid between those sound bites and these "Red News" sound bites I'm about to show you.

Check these out. These are two FOX News commentators from earlier this week.


TODD STARNES, FOX NEWS: The federal government is covering up the extent of the health crisis. They say kids have scabies. They also say they have chicken pox and an all-out epidemic of lice so severe, they say the bugs can be seen crawling down the faces of the children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a danger with the types of minors who are coming here. MS-13 gang members are minors and now we're also seeing these dangerous people bringing drugs into the country who aren't being watched by Border Patrol.


STELTER: Now, keep what they said in mind.

And take a look at this protester. This is also a clip from FOX News. I noticed it on Hannity's show. As you listen to this, ask yourself, where do you think she heard about the lice, where do you think she heard about the scabies?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're coming in here. They're coming with lice, and scabies and leprosy, I hear. And they're going to bring that to my hometown and they're going to give it to my little brother and they're going to give it to my best friend's son? I don't think so.


STELTER: You can see the feedback loop right there between what news outlets tell us and what we believe, what we then worry about, what we then fear.

So, if you're on the left, you might believe there is a "Red News" effort to dehumanize these desperate immigrants, to portray them as unworthy of our help. And if you're on the right, you may believe there's a "Blue News" effort to discredit, to demonize opponents of immigration.

Here's what Bill O'Reilly said about that.


BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": Some on the left believe that the USA should accept all so-called refugees, all of them, and if you oppose that philosophy, you are inhumane, uncaring, un-Christian and so on.

The demonization of opposition has been effective for the left, spurred on by a sympathetic media.


STELTER: Right now, this topic is topping the news agenda.

It kind of feels like immigration is the story of the summer. But how long will it really last? Let's end on this sound bite from Bill Burton, who's very worried it will not last that long at all.


BILL BURTON, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: It is a real crisis, and children are at the center of it. And the thing that is so sad about it is that, because of the way -- because of this media environment, even though we're talking about it right now and it's a big deal and it's right in the president's face, in two weeks, I promise you we will not be having this conversation anymore.

And so immigration comes and goes as an issue. But Republicans haven't had to pay any meaningful price, because it just -- the media environment cycles through things so quickly, that...


BURTON: ... for this.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC ANCHOR: Some media outlets are very intent on covering this issue 365 days a year. I'm not going to name names.


STELTER: Oh, go ahead. Name names, Alex.

All news outlets of all colors and all stripes should stay on the immigration beat, and not let Bill Burton be right about the media's tendency to move on to some other topic.

That's all for "Red News/Blue News" this week. But stay with me, because I have a crazy story to tell you about. It's about anonymous tips, and prostitution allegations and the impact of ideological media. This story has been cascading for two years. You're not going to believe what happened this week.

Stay tuned.


STELTER: Now to a shady story of a senator, sex, lies, and videotape, and maybe the Cuban government.

You might remember back in 2012 when allegations surfaced that Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, had paid underage prostitutes for sex while on a trip to the Dominican Republic. The story quickly unraveled.

One of the women told Univision that she never had met Menendez. And another told Dominican authorities that she had been hired by a lawyer to make the false accusations. But this has been going on for a while and the -- quote, unquote -- "scandal" reemerged on Monday, when "The Washington Post" reported that the CIA said had evidence linking Cuban agents to the prostitution allegations.

"The Post" cited anonymous sources for that, while other sources denied it. So, there's a lot of confusion about it.

Menendez reacted to the news on Tuesday in this exclusive interview with CNN's Dana Bash.


SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: It should be pretty appalling that a foreign government would be engaged in trying to affect an election and/or the position of a United States senator.


STELTER: CNN's justice correspondent, Evan Perez, has been deeply involved with this story. When he was working at "The Wall Street Journal," he received one of the first anonymous tips about the prostitution claims.

So, I want you to hear his story about how this is all unfolding.

He's here in the studio with me.

Evan, thanks for joining me.


STELTER: I think this is one of these journalism 101 stories about checking and double-checking and triple-checking facts. Tell me about this tip you received more than two years ago.

PEREZ: Well, yes, it was in the summer of 2012.

A colleague of mine, Devin Barrett at "The Journal," and I both received these e-mails, which came from this anonymous tipster, who -- it was a list of e-mails that included these allegations that the senator was going to the Dominican Republic.

STELTER: So, this just lands on your doorstep, basically?

PEREZ: Right. Right.

And another -- later on, another reporter at "The Journal" also received the same set of e-mails. And what was fascinating was, we could see that this story had been shopped first to ABC News before we even got to it. It had been sent to CREW, which is a government watchdog group here in Washington, and also had been shopped and sent to the FBI. And the FBI had exchanged e-mails with this Peter Williams character that was purported to have this information.

STELTER: A pretty eager tipster.

PEREZ: A pretty eager tipster, except that the tipster would never really come forward to consummate any of the information.


STELTER: So, every time you would follow up, you would ask for more information, more evidence, you get nothing?

PEREZ: You couldn't -- it just -- we could tell that it was not something that we could ever really publish.

Somebody who was not willing to provide any kind of -- you know, meet with anybody or provide any additional information, so we just decided we couldn't do the story. And we could tell also that ABC News had obviously backed off the story as well.

STELTER: What happened next?

PEREZ: Months later, months later, this -- it shows up in the Daily Caller, conservative Web site.


STELTER: Conservative Web site controlled by Tucker Carlson.


PEREZ: Right.

STELTER: Which is a mix of news and opinion.

PEREZ: Right.

STELTER: How did you feel when you saw the story?

PEREZ: Well, immediately, of course, we got calls from our editors, and they wanted to know whether we could match the story or something.

And we said, we had been working on this and we had looked at it and we decided that we shouldn't touch it. There was some pressure. Editors want you to match stories that are there, especially big stories that are part of the conversation. And this was, if you remember, a big part of the conversation.

STELTER: It was. Were you willing to do it?


STELTER: What happened in the "Journal" newsroom?

PEREZ: We decided not to do it. We still held off. We waited several months before we even touched it.

And only after it became more of a political story of the senator's poll numbers showing that it was doing some damage...

STELTER: This is one of those situations where you think you're trying to do the right thing. You're trying to hold back a story that doesn't seem to be true.

PEREZ: Right.

STELTER: And yet, because of the Internet, because of the way information flows these days, the story still got out.

PEREZ: Right. Right. Exactly.

And this happens in newsrooms around the country. You have a story that breaks on TMZ that you probably would never do yourself.

STELTER: It seems to me that the full picture of this scandal or non-scandal can only be seen months and years later.

PEREZ: Right.

STELTER: And maybe even can't be seen yet.

PEREZ: Right.

No, I don't think we have seen the last of this. This is going to be a while, and especially because the Justice Department is still investigating the senator, and...

STELTER: Let's talk about that. That's maybe one of the keys here. He's being investigated for what? Allegations about fund raising?

PEREZ: Well, that he -- whether or not he broke the law in reaching out to parts of the government on behalf of political donors, campaign donors.

Now, that is still being investigated. We know that the Justice Department is working on that. And so part of this also has to be seen within that scope of perhaps a legal strategy.

STELTER: Some have said that the Cuba references, that the issues here are a distraction from the fund-raising issue. PEREZ: Well, it is one way for the lawyers to sort of tell the

Justice Department, look, if you bring charges, these are the things that we're going to bring up.

I mean, you know, their point is that the entire investigation is tainted by the fact it began with this scurrilous, false attack, right, the smear campaign. And so they're going to say, look, this shows you your investigation is tainted from the beginning.

STELTER: Evan Perez, thanks for joining me.

PEREZ: Thanks.

STELTER: I have got to fit in a break here.

But on the other side of it, we're talking about the power of photos and what happens when you think you're being shown one thing and you're actually being shown the exact opposite of it. This is a huge media mistake that I'm going to show you right after the break.


STELTER: Pictures really can be worth thousands of words, which brings me to "Show Me a Story," our occasional look at the power of photos.

And this week, the danger of misusing that power.

Let's look first at these photos of Palestinians reacting to Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. Now watch this clip from ABC's "World News" and listen carefully to how Diane Sawyer describes these same photos.


DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: And we take you overseas now to the rockets raining down on Israel today, as Israel tried to shoot them out of the sky, all part of a tinderbox, Israelis and Palestinians.

And here an Israeli family trying to salvage what they can -- one woman standing speechless among the ruins.


STELTER: She meant to say Palestinian family. That is a really egregious error.

It happened on Tuesday night's show, and, amazingly, no one seemed to notice until Wednesday night. That's when activists started to accuse ABC of distortion and bias.

Now, to me, it more sounded like an honest mistake, not intentional. But was the mistake in the script or was it in her brain? Keep in mind, most of the damage this week -- and when I say damage, I mean body count and buildings affected -- most of the damage this week has been inflicted by Israel. Most of the ruins, she mentioned, are in Gaza.

Now, on Thursday on "World News," Sawyer apologized.


SAWYER: On Tuesday evening, we made a mistake, and I want to put up these pictures again, because during an introduction to a story on the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, I misidentified these powerful images.

The people in these photos are Palestinians in Gaza in the aftermath of an airstrike by Israel, not Israelis, as I mistakenly described them.

And we want you to know we are truly sorry for the error. And, as always, we will keep you fully up to date on the ongoing conflict.


STELTER: Next up here, a photo that actually needs thousands of words of context.

It shows Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who is now recovering after five years in Taliban captivity. The photo surfaced through a pro- Taliban Twitter account this week, and it was treated like a Rorschach test, as people jumped to conclusions about why he's smiling while in captivity.

Let me take you behind the scenes here at CNN for a moment. This is a great example of journalism 101, I think. CNN wisely cautioned anchors and reporters not to speculate about why Bergdahl is smiling in the photo, because there's so much we don't know and because we can't ask him.

Here's how Erin Burnett handled it, I thought very well.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: We don't know the context of the photo. And what we really don't know is whether the smile that you see here was natural or coerced.

And we will keep showing you this picture. You can make perhaps your own judgment on what you think.


STELTER: In this case, I think the best judgment is not to make any judgment at all.

And, lastly, a photo from Air Force One that became a meme this week. On the right, President Obama joking with the mayor of Dallas, on the left, Texas Governor Rick Perry very clearly not joking.

The photographers were hurried in and out of the room, so, for all we know, Perry was laughing for the rest of the flight. But his frowny face has been repurposed all over the Web. Take a look at what the Texas Democratic Party did with the photo. They added a character, Grumpy Cat.

Grumpy Cat makes every photo better, doesn't she?

That's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

But before we go, I have snuck a little something into the script here. I want to say thank you to the senior producer of RELIABLE SOURCES, Artie Speir (ph), whose last show is today.

Artie took me under his wing when I was just a guest host last year. And he has taught me a whole, whole lot about television. He's about to start a new job here at CNN.

So, Artie, thank you.

We will be next week, next Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time. And set your DVR if you're not going to be home. In the meantime, check out our media coverage seven days a week over on I have stories there about the future of Aereo and an amazing new movie called "Boyhood." That's all at