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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Guests Arrive for Joan Rivers' Funeral; Islam's Battle of Ideas; Chuck Todd Meets the Press;
Aired September 7, 2014 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Brian Stelter. And it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES.
We have a big show ahead on this busy Sunday morning.
Later this hour, I'm going to tackle the media's coverage of ISIS and ask whether fear is getting in the way of the facts.
And there's a new player in this Sunday talk show game, Chuck Todd. I'll show you my interview with him in just a few minutes.
But we are going to start on a somber note this morning, because here in New York, the funeral of legendary comedian Joan Rivers is just beginning started at the Temple Emanu-El. There are some live pictures from the area.
CNN's Alexandra Field now joins us from outside the temple.
Alexandra, who have you seen arrive so far?
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brian, this is exactly what we all expected and what Joan rivers would have wanted, truly an A-list cast of celebrities have been showing up here at Temple Emanu-El.
Unfortunately, you've got a bus right behind me right now, but let me tell you about who we've seen this morning, everyone from Whoopie Goldberg to Joan Rivers' costars on "The Fashion Police" to Donald Trump who brought her on to "Celebrity Apprentice," giving Joan Rivers that sort of rejuvenation later on in her career. Who's who of the media world, Diane Sawyer is here, Barbara Walters is here, Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar.
We know that Cindy Adams will be speaking. She's a columnist and long-time friend to Joan Rivers. She wrote in "The Post" this morning that she will be speaking here at the funeral this morning. We saw her arriving.
Deborah Norville also tweeted out that she will be one of the speakers here at Joan Rivers Memorial Service in New York City.
You know, Brian, Joan had joked in her book about the kind of celebrity show business kind of affair that she wanted. It seems that that's exactly what she's going to be getting. We know that the New York City Gay Men's Chorus is performing. They
say Joan Rivers was a big supporter of their organization, that they're honored to perform here. And they're going to be doing some pieces that they feel are reflective of Joan. "Hey, Big Spender" is one of them, "there's nothing like a day" and "what a wonderful world." And they say that their song is going to be update, which they say reflects the mood of this service.
Again, so many people pouring in to honor Joan Rivers, a comendary (ph), a comedian, a legendary comedian. I've got to refer to my notes here because I don't want to miss some of the celebrities who have shown up. You know, we got Kathy Griffin, Kristin Chenoweth, Billy Bush is here, Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, Andy Cohen, just so many people whose lives Joan apparently touched. They want to be here.
You know, this is a private service, Brian, invitation only, but, of course, we know that Joan Rivers' friends were celebrities. So, they're the ones that are here.
Two most important people are not yet here, and that would be, of course, Melissa Rivers, Joan's daughter, and her grandson Cooper.
STELTER: So, I expect they'll be pulling up any moment now.
Alexandra Field, thank you for joining us from there. We're gong to keep an eye on the live shot outside, the funeral location.
And since you mentioned what Joan Rivers said she wanted at her funeral. I want to play that audio. This is from the audio book version of her autobiography where she jokingly talked about how she wanted this morning to go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOAN RIVERS, COMEDIAN: When I die, and, yes, Melissa, the day will come, and yes, Melissa, everything is still in your name, I want my funeral to be a huge showbiz affair with lights and cameras and action. I want craft services. I want paparazzi. I want publicists making a scene. I want it to be Hollywood all the way.
Don't give me some rabbi rambling on. I want Meryl Streep crying in five different accents. I don't want a eulogy. I want Bobby Vinton to go over that casket and pick up my head and look directly in my lifeless eyes and sing "Mr. Lonely".
I want to look gorgeous, better dead than I do alive. I want to be buried in a Valentino gown. I want Harry Winston to make me a toe tag. I want a wind machine, so strong that even in the casket, my hair will be blowing more than Beyonce's on stage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Trying to make us laugh even today.
Let me bring in CNN entertainment correspondent Nischelle Turner here in New York.
It seems like she's getting some of what she wanted.
NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we know she is. I mean, we don't know if she'll be buried in the Valentino gown. We do know that Joan loves Cavalli. She maybe would be buried in some Roberto Cavalli.
But I think it is fitting that we are seeing all of her star-studded celebrity friends turned out for her to say good-bye today.
STELTER: And we know Deborah Norville will be speaking, Cindy Adams. Do we know anything much more about today's service?
TURNER: We're hearing that Hugh Jackman may sing or speak at the funeral as well. And, of course, we heard that the Gay Men's Chorus will be singing, one of the numbers they will be singing is "What a Dame." I think that's very fitting. "What a Wonderful World" they will be singing as well also, very fitting for this morning.
But I know the temple holds a couple thousand. So, we're not sure how big the crowd will be. It definitely has capacity to be a larger crowd.
STELTER: It's happening right over at 65th Street in Central Park, over on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, right where Joan Rivers lived for so many years.
Let me bring in Larry King, host of the Emmy nominated "Larry King Now" on Ora TV. He's on the phone with me now.
Larry, what should we remember about Joan on a sad day like today?
LARRY KING, ORA TV (via telephone): We should remember, Brian, the joy of her laughter, the skill of her mind. Joan Rivers was a brilliant woman. She was valedictorian at Barnard, Phi Beta Kappa. You had to be that to create the kind of humor she created.
She was wonderful to be around in every aspect. I think of nothing down about Joan Rivers. Yes, she punctured the world. She took on everybody, but she took on herself just as well. She gave as good as she got. She was downright funny, and the best memory we have of her is laughter.
I think in the future, Brian, when anybody mentions the name Joan Rivers, people will smile.
STELTER: Eighty-one years old when she passed away and was still working every day. Tell me what that says about her and about television, that she was able to stay relevant for so long, just like you, Larry.
KING: Frank Sinatra once told me there's a lot to be said about longevity. And she would have proved that she had a lot of ups and downs, the tragedy of the suicide of her husband, the terrible occurrences that happened with Johnny Carson where they never got back together.
So, she hit the bottom and she kept coming back, and that's a great sign of our people, when they can get up from the floor and come back. She was working the night before she had the accident in that center where they were doing the throat procedure. She was scheduled to work the night after.
Joan never -- to my knowledge, never turned down a gig. She loved to be on stage. She loved to entertain and she was -- I think of so many things, Brian, that she said over the years on my show and in other places that were -- she once said there will never be a woman Jewish terrorist because no woman would put a bomb in her Gucci bag.
STELTER: There were so many of these lines. I love that we've seen them over the past few days being broadcast and rebroadcast.
I want to show you one more. I saw this in Cindy Adams column. She said, "A day without working is a day lost." That's what you're saying about her as well.
Larry, thank you for joining us. Hope to see you soon.
KING: You, too, Brian.
STELTER: Let me bring in one more person who knew Joan Rivers personally, the legendary late night host, Dick Cavett. He's on the phone with us as well.
Dick, you said Joan was warm, and big-hearted beneath all the sharp jabs, sometimes the mean humor. Tell me about that.
DICK CAVETT, LATE NIGHT HOST (via telephone): Yes. This has surprised people because they would say, oh, she's so raucous, she's so mean. Are you telling -- she's a lady and if you ever talked with her, I echo what Larry said, she had not many Phi Beta Kappas from Barnard make it into show business without great intelligence. But also, there is a time for me to tell you stories that would come under the head of kindness that Joan did to people who are working with her back when we were in little clubs together, in the village. Later on in her life when she sat with a young comedian, changed her airplane seat, said, let's hear your act, and fixed it up for him.
That kind of thing -- there are hundreds of stories like that about her. I'm sure any psychiatrist would say she was compulsively driven and neurotic to be as successful in the way she was. Well, thank goodness. We were the beneficiaries of that. And also, let's not pretend that we don't all love hearing the rich and famous get skewered.
When Elizabeth Taylor gained 100 pounds or whatever it was, and Joan said I took her to McDonald's and she couldn't get through the arch, you hated yourself for a moment for laughing but had to admit that schadenfreude had took over and we all loved to hear those things.
STELTER: That's a very good point.
CAVETT: She held on in a career -- in a business where successful careers last maybe eight years. Joan went decade after decade after decade, and only a handful of people have ever succeeded in show business the way she did. And then way too soon she got (AUDIO GAP).
STELTER: Nischelle Turner with me as well. I want to talk about that point that Dick was just making about her career.
STELTER: She is -- she was the star of a big show on the E! Network, "Fashion Police."
STELTER: And we don't know what's going to happen with that show, do we?
TURNER: Yes, we don't know. I mean, officially, E! put out a statement, listen, we are just mourning Joan's loss right now and we'll worry about programming and what we're going to do at a later date.
But I did speak with some folks that are involved in that who said for Fashion Week, because, you know, this was a huge time for that show and they were bringing the entire production here, because this was Joan's Super Bowl, Fashion Week. They decided to cancel, of course, the tapings here and they taped some other shows with Orly Shani and Kimora Lee Simmons that will air, not "Fashion Police" shows but Fashion Week type of shows.
After that, they're not even sure what's going to happen to the show. They can't imagine going on without Joan.
STELTER: Before we wrap here, I want to make one more point about family. We look at the pictures and the celebrity arrivals, and we think of her as celebrities. There are family members that suffer a real loss here. I happen to be friends with one of her nieces. And you were making the point to me off set that Melissa Rivers and Joan Rivers had a remarkably close relationship.
TURNER: The closest that a mother and daughter could have. I mean, I've been reflecting on that for the last few days myself, but I'm an only child and so very close to my mother.
And seeing them in the photos that we've been showing she passed, about 75 percent of them have Melissa in it. You usually didn't see one without the other. I mean, that -- I can't imagine the grief and loss that Melissa is going through today because, yes, we're all close with our parents, but they were a team. They were a pair. They were the Rivers' family. You never really saw them without the other.
STELTER: Any person who's lost a parent has to feel some pain about having to see this on television as well.
TURNER: Oh, absolutely.
STELTER: We are celebrating her life. It's a wonderful thing but to have the cameras outside, even though it's what Joan would have wanted, it does make it a tough day.
Nischelle Turner, thank you for being here, and Dick Cavett on the phone, thank you as well.
TURNER: Thanks for having me.
STELTER: Stay with CNN all day for more on this goodbye to Joan Rivers.
We need to squeeze in a quick break here. When we come back, we're going to take a look at one of the top stories of the week and of the summer really about ISIS and about the Middle East and ask you what a radical Muslim cleric and a "Duck Dynasty" star have in common. That's right after this.
STELTER: Welcome back.
There was sickening news this week from the Middle East, another freelance journalist, Steven Sotloff beheaded. It was shown in another propaganda video from the terror group ISIS.
Now, these videos are being countered by the U.S. government. This is a State Department video. It is graphic at points that uses the extremists own words and their own images against them, to push back against ISIS recruitment efforts. It is up on YouTube if you want to see it but I warn you it is graphic.
This is all part of a battle of ideas, one that's going on every day in the Muslim world.
You know, every week here on RELIABLE SOURCES, I ask you to send me a message on Twitter and on Facebook, to let me know what you think of a show. And I heard from a lot of you last Sunday after I invited Anjem Choudary, a radical Muslim cleric. Some of you said I should feature a more moderate Muslim voice to demonstrate that Choudary does not represent Islam.
So, that's what we're doing here. I invited back to the show a guest from early this summer, Rula Jebreal, and then I showed her some of what Choudary had to say. She was disgusted by it. And here's what she told me.
STELTER: Rula Jebreal, thank you for joining me.
RULA JEBREAL, FOREIGN POLICY ANALYST: Thank you for having me.
STELTER: Let me play one of the bites with Choudary last week and we'll talk about it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANJEM CHOUDARY, MUSLIM CLERIC: What I'm trying to say to you is that people perceive the journalists in general, in particular the Western journalist, in a very bad light. I mean, you only need to see what took place in Gaza with 2,000 people slaughtered. For the American journalists, they said that was defending themselves.
I mean, you know, how absurd is that? What do you expect exactly from the Muslims to, you know, how do you expect to treat Western journalists when this is the kind of propaganda that they are pushing against Islam and Muslims?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Is it a widespread point of view that American journalists are spreading propaganda against Islam?
JEBREAL: I honestly think that after September 11th, there were few voices of moderate Muslims. People like this imam is interviewed everywhere and these are the extremists. But moderate voices like all the scholars that came out with fatwas, whether its' against ISIS, against al Qaeda, bin Bahia (ph), al Ashar (ph), and major institutions, Islamic institutions, came out denouncing this. Obviously, they are not news. They are not relevant news as much as this guy who is crazy.
STELTER: So, you're saying that has an effect on the coverage. Let me play one more bite actually --
JEBREAL: I'm not --
STELTER: -- because I asked him about the warping -- the many Muslims reject a lot of what he says. Let me play that as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHOUDARY: Brian, look, I've been in propagating Islam. And I met most of the leaders of the Muslim community. I've been on many platforms. I know exactly what's out there. You know, if you go to Muslim who are actually practicing around the world, maybe in Indonesia, in the Middle East, you will find they'll say exactly the same thing as me, because I'm not calling for leadership for individuals I'm calling for leadership for Islam. And I make sure that what I say accords to the Koran and the sunnah of the prophet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: He's trying to reject the label extremist.
JEBREAL: How can he reject the label extremist when he's saying what he's saying?
Look, there is a battle for ideas -- of ideology that is taking place within the Arab Muslim world, within the Islamic world, between different forces, Islamic. My father was an imam of al Aqsa mosque. He used to be a Sufi.
This guy obviously is a Wahabi, and is a Salafi and somebody that advocates for jihad and the world and for, you know, having Sharia as a law. But this is a struggle that we have within that world where the majority are saying no. But if you look at the polls --
STELTER: How would your father react to hearing these sound bites?
JEBREAL: Probably he would be horrified. He will be horrified. And he would think that the danger is not in the books that this guy read, it's in the brain of this guy, the way that he interprets certain verses.
But look at the polls, look at datas that are relevant, that come from the ground. Gaza after the war, 80 percent of the Gazan people are saying not only no to ISIS, they reject totally the approach of ISIS and the decapitation. They think it's horrifying and it's not a strategy.
It's actually -- it has a backlash on them and they think this doesn't represent them, doesn't represent Islam. This is Gaza where 1.8 million people are living under occupation.
If you look at what's happening in Syria, in Iraq, even in Somalia with Shabaab and Boko Haram in Nigeria, what's happening -- these extremist groups are trying to take over their reality and impose their extremist views by manipulating verses of Koran. Look, they are playing politics and they are playing unfortunately in a smart way. We need to come to that narrative now. The majority of Muslims in the world are moderates and they want a different Islam.
STELTER: That's the point I want to underscore because it disturbed me so much after this interview we had last Sunday, to see the racist comments that I received on Facebook and Twitter from viewers who said, now do you see how Muslims feel?
I barely knew where to start to respond. How would you respond?
JEBREAL: He doesn't represent Muslims.
Even if you look at his Twitter account and followers, the debate he has, he's not really one of the mainstream. Mainstream Muslims in the U.K. took distance from his speech.
Not only in the U.K., who is he talking to? He's not talking when he talked about Somalia, when he talked about Malaysia -- he's talking about people that are groups of extremists all around the world.
We are -- you know, as Muslims, we are 1.2 billion people. Of course, you will find extremists. Of course, you will find people who are advocating for having Sharia law. What you can do is look at the other side and cover the whole picture. The whole picture is different.
STELTER: I want to play one more bite. This is actually not something we televised last week. This is from the sound check before the interviews. Let me play that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHOUDARY: One, two, three, four, five, 9/11, 7/7, 3/11. (INAUDIBLE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Do you think that sort of behavior was intentionally provocative trying to get me fired up before the interview?
JEBREAL: Of course. Of course. Everything is calculated.
It's not meant for you, Brian, but for people who are -- this is a journey of radicalization that he went through. He's trying to grab other people in that journey with him. And he knows that there will be room because today when you look at the way Arab rulers are treating the majority of Muslims, look at Egypt.
Our ally in this journey and the fight on terror and war on terror, thousands of Muslims are in jail. 1,000 were killed a year ago. What Arab rulers are doing are creating the condition for these extremists to thrive. We need to be clear about that. And we need to stop this person.
I'm sorry, at this point, this person should speak in no venues because he is recruiting. He's utilizing networks obviously to send message to the rest of the people that are in this moment might be borderline in identity crisis and might be recruited.
STELTER: So, television, YouTube, Twitter as well.
I do want to ask you about one more sound bite. This is from FOX News this week, because Islam is not the only religion where we see extremism or extreme points of view. This is Phil Robertson of "Duck Dynasty" fame on Sean Hannity's show this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PHIL ROBERTSON, DUCK DYNASTY: In this case, you either have to convert them, which I think is -- would be next to impossible. I'm not giving up on them but I'm just saying either convert them or kill them, one or the other.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: I just have to ask for your reaction to that?
JEBREAL: Listen, I don't agree with these two. They look alike if you think of it. It seems like extremists and fanatics sound alike and look alike.
STELTER: And before you go, let me ask you about Steven Sotloff, the journalist who was beheaded on camera this week. Al Jazeera made the choice not to broadcast any of the photos that ISIS released. That's a more conservative stance than CNN or most other groups took. What did you make of that decision?
JEBREAL: First off, my heart goes out to the families of the journalists that were beheaded and there are thousands of them that were beheaded before that are Arab-Muslims that we don't know of. It's the hardest job to be truth tellers in war zones. It's the hardest job to be truth tellers on air covering situation when people are dying, saying that -- I actually admire the decision of al- Jazeera. They don't want to be considered.
And during the Iraqi war, al Jazeera was considered to be a propaganda organ because bin Laden would send his speeches and other things.
STELTER: It was unfairly demonized by the administration then.
JEBREAL: It was demonized multiple times. In this point, I think you don't want to be used by extremists as a propaganda organ. They already have their messages on Twitter, on Facebook. They have on Internet. They upload videos.
Every -- you know how many videos they upload a day, ISIS? At least 20 to 25. You need to counter that narrative, and they're actually inviting jihadists. They are recruiting.
This guy is recruiting and ISIS is recruiting on daily basis. How can you stop this? By not giving them air time I would say.
STELTER: Rula Jebreal, thank you for joining me.
JEBREAL: Thank you for having me.
JEBREAL: So as always, let me know what you think. Send me a message on Twitter or Facebook. My user name is Brian Stelter.
After a quick break, I take you into the halls of NBC. Hear Chuck Todd's plan to revive "Meet the Press", right after this.
STELTER: Welcome back.
This is Chuck Todd's first morning as moderator of "Meet the Press," the longest running Sunday morning political program on TV. And he is feeling the pressure.
"Meet the Press" used to be untouchable. But after Tim Russert died and David Gregory took over, it fell from first place to third place. Now, Gregory is out and Todd is in.
So, what's he going to do?
Todd is the ultimate political insider but he says political journalists have failed the public and he hopes to fix that.
Over at NBC's bureau here in D.C., we had a really frank conversation about that. So, check this out. It's Chuck Todd meeting the press.
STELTER: There's this perception that "Meet the Press" is broken. I don't know that I agree with it. But do you? Is it broken?
CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, MEET THE PRESS: No, I don't think it's broken.
I think -- I think there is -- I look at this challenge as different from what some, I think, media critics see it as. I look at it as, I think, political journalism is going through the same issues that Washington politicians are going through.
I think the public -- their frustration with Washington, they've lumped us and the media as part of that frustration that we don't get it; though in the same way that Washington politicians don't seem to get what's going on in the rest of America. I think they think the media is doing that.
So, I think symbolism wise, political journalists are front and center of the "they don't get it".
So, I think what's, quote-unquote, "broken" is the credibility of us in the media channeling the frustrations of Americans.
STELTER: Is that a fair critique on the part of the ordinary viewers at all?
TODD: Yes, I do think it is. And this is something -- I always like to use the phrase "sell a corridor", that I think sometimes the New York/Washington take on things seems to ignore what's going on in the rest of America. It's that disconnect that leads to the perception that, you know, this show's broken, that show's broken, whatever. It's really about this lack of credibility that did the political reporters really understand the (inaudible).
STELTER: I had the journalist and professor, Jay Rosenthal, on "Reliable Sources" a few weeks ago and he said that maybe people, like Mr. Kohman (ph), say 'we're part of the problem and we're going to address it that way.' Sounds like you're somewhat agreeing with that idea.
TODD: I certainly think when it comes to the economy and comes to the recession, we generally didn't do - we have not understood the depth of the problem.
STELTER: Is this the insider versus outsider issue the journalists in Washington -
STELTER: are too close to their sources?
TODD: I don't think it's that. I think it's, you know, we got to get out. Look, we are in a bubble in Washington, we are in a bubble in New York, so we got to work harder at that. And when "Meet the Press" - when all political journalism is at its best, it's when it's channeling the American frustrations back through and translating that to Washington power players.
STELTER: Is part of this about the guests you decide to book? Because there's been so many criticisms of same old predictable guests on programs like "Meet the Press."
TODD: Look, I think it is -- I think booking is harder today than it ever was because the newsmakers themselves have so many choices that they can decide - they can decide I don't want to have a tough interview. I'm just going to go over here with somebody who's going to cheer-lead my point of view.
STELTER: Or they can just tweet their statement.
TODD: Absolutely. So, you know, you hope that you elevate the program over time where people feel like - well, they kind of have to go. It'd be kind of embarrassing if they don't.
STELTER: How important are newsmaker interviews then nowadays? I mean you had President Obama -
STELTER: -- for your first program. But is that still the heart of "Meet the Press" in the future?
TODD: I think it should be because I think the last thing we - you know, here we are in the cable landscape - the five-minute interviews don't give you the depth that people say they want. I mean, I've gotten a lot of advice - some solicited, some unsolicited as you might imagine - all of those -- it's universal going, 'Hey, I would like to sort of - a longer interview. I'd like to learn more.' Lack of time pressure. So I think you still want to have that out there. People say, 'Look, what are some of the still more popular' - the news programs that you're seeing growing an audience are the ones that sort of take a step back these days, right? It's some of these weekly shows -
STELTER: And yet the stereotype is the TV viewers will turn the channel if something goes on too long --
TODD: I guess I -
STELTER: -- executives always want to move faster.
TODD: I understand that and I think that that's a - but I'd like to think if you're doing a compelling interview, you shouldn't want to do that. And you want to have a little more depth, you want to have a little bit longer. I think Sunday morning is different. I think people sit back.
STELTER: You mentioned Russert, and I want to ask you what you have learned over the years from watching his interviews . This is a clip from the first interview of Vice President Cheney after the 9/11 attacks. It was at Camp David. And I was struck watching it recently about how Russert zeroed in on so many topics that's -
STELTER: -- they're still relevant a decade later. Here's a clip from it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM RUSSERT, FORMER MODERATOR OF NBC's "MEET THE PRESS, DECEASED: You're convinced he's still in Afghanistan?
DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't know.
RUSSERT: Is there any international law or United States law which would prohibit us from killing him if we found him?
CHENEY: Not in my estimation, Tim.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: I mean, Russert goes right to the question that was answered a decade later with the killing of bin Laden. What are the lessons from Russert's time on "Meet the Press"?
TODD: The number one lesson's preparation. I mean, and I watched it firsthand. He was preparing for interviews he hadn't yet booked a month, two months in advance. I think the other thing was, you know, he always had this saying that's very true that he used to say that he borrowed from Lawrence Spivak which was simply 'learn everything you can about your guest's point of view and take the opposite tack sometime.'
STELTER: It's one thing to play devil's advocate. I wonder if it's another, and I wonder if you think it's appropriate for a host of "Meet the Press" to express a point of view - to show where they're coming from.
TODD: I think that my title's moderator. I do think I should moderate that. I think part of my job is to broaden the amount of people I have - the people that are invested in a policy outcome, I want to see both of those sides on there and see if you can have a respectful way to do it.
STELTER: Some of the viewers at home think that neutrality is the problem with journalism.
TODD: Oh, I know. Look, there's no balance - there's no such thing as balancing the truth, OK? It's fairness. Period. OK, and I know this whole thing of neutral - I'm not going to sit here and say I'm invested in which party wins. So I'm not invested in which party wins. I'm invested in who's governing right, who's not offending the founders of the democracy.
STELTER: What do you say to people who say you're coming over from MSNBC which is a liberal cable news channel, so you must be tainted? TODD: Well, I would just say look at my work. I mean, I think the
guilt by association crowd, which there is a lot of people that are invested in building their own internet profiles and internet sites and traffic and all that stuff - and that's a - it's like a form of a campaign, right, trying to get into the whole media bias game. I would say look at my work. To look at what I did on a daily rundown. Look at the diversity of guests I had ideologically, geographically or ethnical.
STELTER: And what would you say to people who say that MSNBC treated David Gregory so poorly on his way out from "Meet the Press?"
TODD: I don't know everything that happened. I was more out of the loop than I think some people would like to believe. I know - I've learned - in my seven years now in the television business, this is hard. This is a tough business.
STELTER: When I asked for comments on Twitter for this, someone asked if you're going shave. What happens to the goatee?
TODD: (LAUGHTER). I'm not going to shave, and I'll tell you this is going to sound a little corny, but my late father had a - his whole life had a - beard. Now, his was full beard, same exact color. And when I grew a beard, the same exact color. He died at 40. It's one of those things - I look in the mirror, I see my father. If I shave, I feel like I'm erasing a tiny bit of my dad. I ain't doing it. I'm going to have this beard probably until I'm laying in a coffin.
STELTER: Check out more of my interview on CNNMoney.com. I just posted a story about it. Coming up next, we're talking about the cable news cycle and how it influences President Obama. This morning Todd interviewed the President, it aired on "Meet the Press" and he said - Obama said, "Part of what I'd love is a vacation from the press." Well that's not going to happen any time soon. But two former presidential press secretaries will join me right after this.
STELTER: What is President Obama's plans to fight ISIS? Well, we learned this morning that he's going to deliver a speech on Wednesday to outline it. My question in the meantime is does President Obama have any fans left? His strategy or his lack of strategy in dealing with the terror group has been blasted by all sides, including by many, many media types. So, what is a presidential press secretary to do? Earlier I asked two people who have been there, done that. Ari Fleischer who was President who was President George W. Bush's first press secretary, and Bill Burton who was a deputy press secretary for President Obama until 2011.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Ari, do you feel any sympathy for the present administration -
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: (LAUGHTER). STELTER: -- as they fend off what certainly feel to me not just to be
attacks from Republicans, but also from many Democrats and from the news media about their handling of this situation?
FLEISCHER: Well, professionally I do. Ideologically I don't. But there's no question, what the White House is going through now is brutal on the staff. Any time the staff has to pick up one of these and haul (ph) the President around, they're in big trouble. And the part where the President said we don't have a strategy yet which is a terrible statement, and then has multiple contradictory statements in Estonia about Syria and about whether or not our goal is to degrade, destroy or just manage ISIS, it all puts the staff in a terrible follow-up situation where they really cannot have good answers because the boss didn't give them the right things to say.
STELTER: Bill, did you have to carry around a broom when you were working at the White House?
BILL BURTON, FORMER DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, in the modern age we use different tools to clean up messes. But, look, no matter how you - however you - slice it, you know, if the President can get those words back, I'm sure that he would state them a little bit differently. It was clearly a little bit of a misfire. But what's more important than the words and whether or not the President misspeaks, which, you know, Ari can talk about presidents who misspeak and having to go back and clean up their words.
You know, what's important is the policy. And what the president is doing is focusing on, you know, a long-term sustainable effort to really destroy these monsters and make sure that we go out and we get the people who are committing these atrocities.
The President has a long track record of getting the bad guys, and I think that there's no doubt that the American people believe that in this case, that's going to happen again.
STELTER: There's some doubt for sure. I mean, "The Washington Post" internal page said, "Mr. Obama should stop attempting to minimize the threats in the Middle East." Ari, do you feel that he's been trying to minimize the treats?
FLEISCHER: Yes, I think President Obama doesn't want to be George W. Bush. And he is so reluctant to get America involved in anything militarily in Iraq, in Syria, and so he's trying to find a line where he just doesn't have to use America's military power other than for the smallest of surgical strikes, and that won't work against ISIS. It's also why so many democrats are now revolting against the President. Elizabeth Warren has now come out and said we need to destroy ISIS. But the problem with what Bill just said -
STELTER: Yes, but it's
FLEISCHER: -- words have impact.
STELTER: -- so easy to say - it's so easy to say we need to destroy ISIS. It's so much harder to do it. FLEISCHER: No, it's not. It's what presidents do. It's called
leadership. When a president says we need to destroy them, he needs to then back it up. And President Obama said we will destroy them, just as he said he set a redline for Syria and didn't act upon it. Words matter. That's why being spokesman, that's why being the president is so important. They rally coalitions, they rally leaders around the world, they send signals to friend and foe alike. And when the President's words are contradictory, it does have a terrible impact on policy.
STELTER: Do you feel as I do that the press is - not all the press - that some media outlets are pushing the President to attack, to escalate this war?
BURTON: The press has a tendency to push the White House and the President to act faster than they might, and you see it in the questions that get asked in the briefing room, you see it in the conversations that happen on the talk shows. But the - one of the defining characteristics of this president is that he is not - he does not let his policies get dictated by those sorts of things.
STELTER: And, Ari, I think that probably frustrates you.
FLEISCHER: Well, though I think you have a good point there, Brian, the press is always interested in the next biggest story, and they do try to push in the direction of controversy and bigger news for them to cover. There is a bit of self-interest in what the press asks and what they see. But no White House needs to listen to that and none should. And I don't think President Obama is going to make a military decision based on what the press wants or doesn't want.
STELTER: I just think if we see on the front page of the newspapers for days and days and weeks, and on cable news banners for days and days and weeks and months, about how big the crisis is. It has a effect of compelling action. I'd forgotten about the times weeks ago when we were talking about immigration in this country. Or about race relations in this country because stories seem to come and go so quickly nowadays --
STELTER: -- and that's something that would think every White House has to contend with.
FLEISCHER: I do think that in the modern media - and this has been the case for maybe a decade - news spikes up with so much drama, so much more than it used to. And then it comes right back down again and the press goes on to the next spike. It's as if everything has to be a driver of the news, and everything has to be a lead story, as opposed there are multiple stories going on at one time and they can go up and down in relevance, but they all remain important. The press just hypes whatever is hottest.
BURTON: You know, before Iraq I know that there was a really big drumbeat leading into that. I don't think that that necessarily forced President Bush's hand, I think that there was a plan to do that regardless. But you do feel this drumbeat. And you do -
FLEISCHER: And you also -
BURTON: -- have this ebb and flow of big - of big issues all the time. They seem like they're the biggest issues on earth and then they just go away.
FLEISCHER: Well I do have to point out in the case of ISIS, there is a legitimacy to heavy coverage here. When you have the attorney general talk about what a threat they are to homeland, you know, when you have the secretary of defense talk about what a severe threat they are to the United States. Administration officials, armed with expertise and intelligence, have made newsworthy statements, and certainly the two beheadings - of course those are going to get covered.
FLEISCHER: So, you know, there's a legitimacy to the coverage but it does push administrations in certain directions. But, again, it's the job of the administration to be sober and make the best judgment regardless of the press coverage.
STELTER: Ari Fleischer and Bill Burton, thanks both for joining me.
FLEISCHER: Thank you.
BURTON: Thanks, Brian.
STELTER: And when we come back, more on that drumbeat that Bill Burton just mentioned there. And why I'm concerned that the American media may be falling down on the job. A "Red News/Blue News" you've got to see right after this.
STELTER: Here's the banner headline on the "The Huffington Post" earlier this week -- "Media War Frenzy Like 2003," now that's a frightening concept right there. And here's a quote that jumped out from me - from one of Ron Fournier's columns on "Nationaljournal.com." He quoted a reader who said, "A decade ago, we all hopped on the bus so the White House could take us to war. Now, it seems like maybe we're driving the bus." Consider this remark from Fox News Channel's Geraldo Rivera. He wrote this on Twitter - "Behead the ISIS butchers."
It seemed like another Fox anchor, Heather Childers, had almost lost her mind one night this week. Look at this Tweet - "OBAMA, DO SOMETHING, DO SOMETHING!" Then she goes on and on in all caps screaming. You know I have to wonder if some of these anchors, some of these commentators, are letting their fears get the best of them or their ideological agendas.
One big difference in 2003 is that we had red news on TV - we had Fox - but we didn't have solidly blue news from MSNBC. It wasn't a liberal news channel back then. But now it is. Here's what Rachel Maddow reminded her viewers this week.
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RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: We know from our own history that terrorist provocations make us more likely to act. They do not make our actions more likely to succeed. That's the beauty of terrorism, right? That's the strategic beauty of it. That's what they want.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: I myself am very concerned about the press provoking panic about ISIS. But I'm keeping an open mind. And earlier when I was in D.C., I asked Ron Fournier what he thought as well as Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of the proudly liberal magazine "The Nation." Here's a bit of our conversation.
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KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE NATION": I write a weekly column for the "Washingtonpost.com, " and the editors, you know - I've said many things contrary to the conventional, orthodox wisdom of their editorial page or their op ed. But on Friday, you had Mitt Romney accusing the President of appeasement, you had Charles Krauthammer calling - it's really calling for U.S. war with Ukraine -- which doesn't have any strategic priority for this nation. I'm just saying - "The Washington Post" has not seen a war when it doesn't want to double down on it.
STELTER: There sure are a lot of politicians stoking war rhetoric, encouraging the President to do something. I wonder about whether the media is pushing the President toward further escalation here. I mean, look at "The New York Post," the "New York Daily News." Here's "The New York Post" cover after Sotloff was beheaded - "This Won't Stop Until We Stop Them." Now, that kind of rhetoric - now of course this is a tabloid. But I wonder if there are market pressures, Katrina, that are causing the press to overplay the threat that ISIS actually does pose.
VANDEN HEUVEL: No question about it. I mean, there is a trivialization, a tabloidization of news coverage that has infected and affected the way this country, much of the media has covered the world Not all of it. And the "The New York Post" is a tabloid, neither post is run by Rupert Murdoch, but you do have Fox and other outlets - and it's just not asking the tough questions. And I'm not saying we shouldn't ask tough questions, we must but ask the tough questions - especially 13 years after 9/11 - about what are the real threats to this country. Hasn't this country through very bad times? Aren't we allowing the extremists to defeat if we give in to fear and not show the resilience?
STELTER: And Thomas Friedman made that point in "The New York Times" this week about ISIS wants the U.S. to overreact. That's exactly what any extremist group wants.
VANDEN HEUVEL: That's what they want. And that is why I fear that the more we feed the panic, the more that those who beat the drums of war - the fear-mongering - that they are hurting/damaging the security of this country and the resilience of this nation to confront effectively with tough questioning, with smart solutions to these problems.
STELTER: Look, we - on the other hand, Ron, is it worse to overhype a threat than it is to underplay? Is it - what's worse do you think? Do under-cover something or to overplay it?
RON FOURNIER, COLUMNIST, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": I don't know - that's a false choice. What's bad, what's wrong for journalists to do is at this early stage to conclude anything. To be able to say that we need to go to war now is irresponsible. To say that we can't go to war now is irresponsible. Because the fact is - one thing Katrina's right about is - we haven't asked all the questions yet. And even the President I don't think has all the answers yet. So, yes, media is clicked to revving (ph) right now, media sensationalize right now, media is - tends to hype any shiny object that comes along right now. But that doesn't necessarily mean that ISIS is not a threat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Bottom line, we journalists cannot let fear-mongering get in the way of facts. Up next during "Reliable Sources," a tribute to a CNN legend. I'll be right back.
STELTER: Before we go this morning, I want to take a moment to note the passing of a TV news legend - Bruce Morton. He died on Thursday at the age of 83. Bruce's broadcast career stretched more than 40 years - first at CBS then later in his career, here at CNN. And he was writing until the end. A few days before he died, he was posting about the midterm elections on his blog. Yes, one of the original members of the boys on the bus, who started its craft pounding away at a manual typewriter, had a blog. A lesson to us all about being able to adapt to technology while remaining loyal to our craft. That's all for this television edition of "Reliable Sources," but our media coverage keeps going seven days a week on CNN.com. We'll see you right back here next Sunday at 11 a.m. Now, "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" starts right now.