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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Did Bill O'Reilly Embellish War Stories From '82 Falklands War?
Aired February 22, 2015 - 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. And it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES.
And, first this morning, dueling answers to a very important question. Did Bill O'Reilly embellish his war stories from 1982 Falklands War? Nowadays, O'Reilly is the biggest star on FOX News, and that means he's the biggest star on all of cable news. But back in the early 1980s, he was a young correspondent for FOX News. Here he is in El Salvador covering the war there.
He also covered the Falklands War from Argentina and he said he did not exaggerate anything about his experience there. He is furious that anybody is scrutinizing his record. But this weekend, we have interviewed six other people who were working for CBS in Argentina at this time. And all of them are refuting O'Reilly's version of the events. One of those people will join me live in a moment.
But, first let me back up and tell you why this is a big story, because here is the headline that started all of it. It came out Thursday evening and it said that Bill O'Reilly has its own Brian Williams problem, that's what the left-leaning magazine "Mother Jones" said.
Now, Brian Williams, of course, has been suspended on NBC because of his misstatements about an Iraq war mission amid scrutiny of other past claims. Obviously, Williams and O'Reilly are two different kinds of television stars. O'Reilly's main selling point is his point of view. But he calls himself a journalist and correspondent, as well as a bloviator. So, his journalistic credibility matters.
"Mother Jones" asserted that O'Reilly has repeatedly in books, and in public forums, and on his show repeatedly exaggerated his war zone experience. And here's an example, they say, this is one episode of his show in 2013. Notice here how he links Argentina and Falklands.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: I was in a situation one time in a war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Let's pause there. Hear what he said there. He said war zone, using his time in Argentina as credential.
But the actual battles in the Falklands War, everyone agrees, were more than 1,000 miles from Argentina. Again, O'Reilly was again in Buenos Aires.
O'Reilly also conflated the two places, the Argentina mainland and Falkland islands in his 2001 book. Here's what it says, I reported on the ground and active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands.
Now, after "Mother Jones" pointed all this out, O'Reilly denied ever saying he was on the Falkland Islands. And he spends a lot of time attacking the messenger, first on Thursday night, interviews with a series of news outlets, and then Friday on his own show. He really focused on a co-author of the "Mother Jones" report, that's David Corn, who was a paid contributor to FOX News many years ago. Corn is now a paid contributor to MSNBC. That leaves some people wondering if this is all about television news rivalries.
O'Reilly, for his part, says Corn is just out to get FOX News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'REILLY: This man, 56-year-old David corn works for far left magazine, "Mother Jones", smeared me, your humble correspondent, yesterday saying I fabricated some war reporting. "Mother Jones", which is low circulation, considered by many the bottom rung of journalism in America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: I'm not sure he's talking about when he says bottom rung of journalism, but Corn says O'Reilly is just trying to distract from the substance of the story. Most of the conversation since Thursday has been about whether O'Reilly misstated where he was during the war. But this morning, we're going to hone on some other important details. Let's play that 2013 clip again, this is the one where O'Reilly was talking about his photographer being injured.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'REILLY: I was in a situation one time in a war zone in Argentina in the Falklands where my photographer got rundown and hit his head and was bleeding on the ear on the concrete. And the army was chasing us, I had to make a decision. And I dragged him off. But, you know, at the same time, I'm looking around and trying to do my job, but I figure, I had to get this guy of there, because that was more important.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So, O'Reilly there is describing a riot that happened in Buenos Aires, right after Argentina surrendered to the British. Here is CNN's footage from that night. It was hairy, it was scary. But we can find no evidence that anyone from CBS was injured. We've been trying tall weekend. To the contrary, six other people who were there working for CBS
said they were unaware of any injuries. They also say they are unaware of any civilians being killed in the riot. And O'Reilly repeatedly claimed during the years people were killed there.
None of them, none of these people agreed with O'Reilly's depiction of it as a combat situation or a war zone. Some of them remarks to us yesterday and this morning that the said events in Ferguson were actually more serious and more severe.
Now, Jim Forest who worked for O'Reilly as a sound engineer on the day of the riot told me, quote, "There were certainly no dead people. Had there been dead people, they would have sent more camera crews."
Unfortunately, some of the other staffers we talk to are insisting on anonymity because they still work in the industry or because they don't want to be criticized by Bill O'Reilly.
But Eric Engberg is speaking out. He was a correspondent for CBS News for 26 years, and he and O'Reilly were both in Argentina during that war, he joins me from Sarasota.
Eric, thank you for being here.
ERIC ENGBERG, FORMER CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning.
STELTER: Let me cut right to it. Is Bill O'Reilly lying when he describes this combat situation?
ENGBERG: Well, I think what he's doing is trying to build it up into a more frightening and deadly situation than it was.
It wasn't a combat situation by any sense of the word that I know. There were no people killed. He said that he saw troops fire into the crowd. I never saw that. And I don't know anybody who did. And I was there on the scene.
What's interesting is, not only did I not hear any shots, I didn't see any ambulances, I didn't see any tanks. I don't see any armored cars, things you would expect to see had people been shot.
STELTER: A couple of things we should share with the audience. Number one, I tried on Thursday and again on Friday to reach Bill O'Reilly through FOX News. I asked him for an interview and FOX News declined on Friday. I asked them for comment again this morning on these allegations we're describing here, all from these staffers, and so far, they have not responded to those allegations.
I also want to mention that you said yesterday O'Reilly's team reached to you. They've asked you to go on "The O'Reilly Factor", and you've said no. Why is that?
ENGBERG: I don't want to turn this into an argument on his turf over what he did that night. I'm simply stating the facts. The facts speak for himself. If he has a response to what the facts are, that's fine. Let him lay it out. I'm not going to argue about it.
STELTER: I do want to play --
ENGBERG: The one thing I am going to argue about -- the one thing I am going to argue about, the thing that got me talking about this, in one of those tapes, you haven't played it.
STELTER: Actually, I think I know what one you're referring to, let me play sound bites, the ones you're referring to.
ENGBERG: Go ahead and play that.
STELTER: So, here's the first one. This is from the Hamptons in 2009.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'REILLY: When the Argentine surrendered to the British, there were riots in the streets of Buenos Aires, I write about this in my novel "Those Who Trespass." And I was out there by myself because other CBS News correspondents were hiding in the hotel. You've got to get out and cover the story, which I did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So, Eric, that was the first time I want to have you react to, because he says nobody else was out there that night, but you were a CBS correspondent who was out there.
ENGBERG: What he just said was a fabrication, a lie. There were five CBS correspondents, including him, assigned to the bureau. They were under the direction of Larry Doyle, one of our very first field producers. You marines out there will understand what I was saying. He was a wirf (ph) in the marines in Vietnam before he went to CBS. He's a very skilled operator in combat and dangerous situations.
He sent all five of the correspondents and all 10 or 12 of the camera crew members out into the street. Nobody stayed in their hotel room because they were afraid. We were all working and we saw what looked -- what was a moderate size riot. It was a couple thousand people attacking Casa Rosada (ph), or the area around the Casa Rosada, by waving their arms, by clapping and chanting and singing songs.
Nobody attacked the soldiers. Nobody attacked the police. There was nobody lying on the ground when it was over that I saw.
But at any rate, all CBS people did their jobs, covered the demonstration, brought their video back to be used in a story that night. And that was when O'Reilly bucked at the idea turning his tape shot by his camera man over to the unit that was putting together the story.
When Doyle said, Bob Schieffer will do the story tonight and we'll use the video your crew shot, he said, I didn't come down here -- this is according to Larry Doyle who remembers it well. O'Reilly looked at him and said, I didn't come down here to shoot video so this old man can use it in his story. And Larry Doyle said, what old man are you talking about? O'Reilly said, Schieffer.
Well, they took, wrestled the tape from him and used it in the Schieffer piece. Doyle turned to O'Reilly and said, I think you better leave. You don't belong here. Doyle took steps to send O'Reilly out of Buenos Aires to send him home.
O'Reilly, by the way, according to Doyle, said, you can't send me out of here. And Doyle said, oh, yes I can.
And maybe it was the last time O'Reilly has been beaten down in a shouting contest but Larry Doyle did it.
I should also say that Larry Doyle was one of those people who are extremely concerned about the safety of the personnel who are going out on the street during a riot situation. And he had instructed all the camera crews, do not turn on your lights during the midst of this riot because lights will draw a crowd, they will cause people to throw rocks at you. They may get somebody hurt. So, shoot only things that can be shot in the dark.
O'Reilly ordered the camera man that he was working with to turn on his lights in violation of that instruction. When Doyle found out about that, he was extremely upset. I think the camera man was upset, too, that he had been exposed to danger.
ENGBERG: Now, I'll be more than happy to talk about his claim that there were people killed if you wan to hear my view -- my take on it, Brian.
STELTER: Well, what I want to get to is the facts that night. And, by the way, I should tell the viewers, Doyle declined to speak on the record today.
But let me play one more sound bite. This is one that I haven't seen covered in the past few days, amid all this controversy. It's from 2011 on stage interview with O'Reilly and Marvin Kalb. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'REILLY: I got a call from CBS bureau chief to say, O'Reilly, get down there. Great. I get down, got my two crews. So, I'm looking around. Where are the other CBS correspondents? I don't see anybody.
OK. Maybe they are busy maybe on the other side of Casa Rosada. I don't know where they are.
So, anyway, all hell breaks loose. People start to storm the Casa Rosada, the Argentine troops the people down in the streets. They shot them down. It's not like rubber bullets or gas. These people are dying, all right?
So, anyway, I get my crew, and I grab my crew away, down a side street. We're shooting this stuff. It's unbelievable. I mean, people falling. Bing bing bing.
A soldier runs down the street, I'm there. A photographer gets trampled. All right? So, he's on the ground. I grab him and the camera and drag him into a doorway.
The soldier comes up and he's standing maybe 10 feet away, he's got the M-16 pointed at my head. I thought it was over. I said (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) it means, journalist, please don't shoot, por fabor. The guy was about, I know, 18, 19 years old. He didn't shoot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So, Eric, we've had no luck corroborating this so far. Can you help us with that? Is there anything that sounds --
ENGBERG: I didn't see that happen. I didn't see anything like that happen. I don't know of any American foreign correspondent who had a weapon pointed at him.
But the important thing is, I didn't hear any gunfire. Not only did I not hear any gunfire, as I say, I didn't hear any sirens. I would -- I came to Argentina from years of experience in Washington covering anti-war demonstrations against Vietnam War in Washington.
And I saw more violence in anti-war demonstrations in D.C. than I saw in Argentina that night. It was over quickly. It was over within two hours.
The people did not try to storm the Casa Rosada. They were they would back by troops standing there. You can see them in the video.
They did not tangle with those troops. They did not try to crash into the building. It was really a fairly minor incident. It did result in the downfall of that government, but it was ready to go anyway.
And, oh, by the way --
STELTER: Let me share with you --
ENGBERG: Yes, go ahead.
STELTER: Let me share one more detail. What O'Reilly is citing this morning, I was e-mailed by FOX right before I went on the air, is a "New York Times" story from the moment. It says one policeman pulled a pistol fire five shots over the heads of fleeing demonstrators. So, in that "New York Times" story, they are describing gunfire having happened. You're saying you personally did not hear or see any gunfire. ENGBERG: Over the head of -- no, I didn't hear that firing but I
read that story the next day. And you will notice the phrase is, as you say state over the head. That's not firing at people and having them fall dead to the ground.
STELTER: So, fundamentally, what you're saying about O'Reilly saying people dying, there's no evidence of it.
ENGBERG: I'm saying --
STELTER: I don't want to make this into he said/he said. But people are already saying you got a vendetta against O'Reilly, you described him as a clown on Facebook. Is this simply about personal dispute?
ENGBERG: No. He's the one who started the personal dispute by saying we were all hiding in our hotel rooms.
STELTER: That sure doesn't sound like anybody was hiding in hotel rooms that night.
ENGBERG: I have this personal dispute with him. He's not a real reporter. He was not in a combat zone that night. This was not a combat zone. Not even close.
STELTER: Well, Eric, stay with me. I appreciate you being here this morning.
Let me just reiterate for the audience, we have repeatedly asked for interview with O'Reilly. I would love to talk about this, but I was turned down on Friday.
So, the question I supposed now is, what does this mean? And does it actually matter for O'Reilly and FOX? We're going to address that in a moment.
Plus, the question dominating Sunday morning TV, does Obama love America? Is he Christian? Of course, after Rudy Giuliani's comments, reporters are asking those questions to Republicans. But should they? Is it fair? We're going to tackle that as well, coming up.
STELTER: Welcome back. Let's get some more perspective on this O'Reilly situation. I'm not sure we can call it a scandal, but it is definitely a controversy. Let's talk about whether it is or is not related at all to Brian Williams and NBC. One of the best media observers around is here, Jeff Greenfield, former correspondent and analyst for ABC, CBS and CNN. Jeff, thanks for joining me.
JEFF GREENFIELD: Nice to be here.
STELTER: Was Mother Jones fair to draw this allusion to Brian Williams, calling this the Brian Williams problem for Bill O'Reilly? GREENFIELD: If in fact Brian Williams has been as we say in the
news business, piping these stories, embellishing, increasing his heroism or danger, then it is similar. What's different so far, of course, is, A, Brian Williams never threw up a defense, nor did NBC. It was striking how quickly it all unraveled. What I think makes it different, is that this is inherently political in one sense.
STELTER: Because everything with Fox is political.
GREENFIELD: In terms of Fox's view, everybody else is on the liberal elite media side, and we're telling you the truth. To their detractors, Fox is basically a conservative outlet in the guise of a news organization. So as long as Fox and O'Reilly can make this -- here are these CBS people, these Chablis drinking, brie eating lefties, attacking us good, red meat conservatives, he's OK. The danger for him, is what I call your own man says so rule. Like when kids are playing baseball and they get into a fight and one guy on the team says, yes, we were out, if all these CBS people, including camera operators and sound people who are not political correspondents say, you know, this guy is making this stuff up, he has a credibility problem. Does he really have a Brian Williams problem in that his job is threatened? Given the nature of Fox and its combative nature, I'm dubious about that.
STELTER: O'Reilly is speaking on Fox News this hour, he says that people like me are just splitting hairs. People like Eric Engberg are splitting hairs and trying to take him down the way Brian Williams was taken down. Is there any legitimacy to that argument?
GREENFIELD: If all they were arguing about was that he said I covered the Falklands, he was really in Buenos Aires, nobody covered the Falklands. So unless he was saying I stormed the beaches, then he would be right, but if this thing expands to what you've discovered in the last couple of days--
STELTER: About whether people were killed, et cetera.
GREENFIELD: And particularly, was everybody else in hiding but him? That really makes him sound like the one hero among cowards.
STELTER: There is a reason Bob Schieffer won't return my e-mails about this, right?
GREENFIELD: And if he was, in effect, exaggerating, I saved the life of this cameraman by dragging hem out of the line of fire, that's much more like Brian Williams than it is a simple hair splitting, you were in Falklands, you were in Buenos Aires. That's where again the your own man says so rule comes in. If the guys working with him are all saying this didn't happen, then he sort of falls back on the position, but you're all a bunch of mainstream liberal lefty types. As long as it was David Corn and Mother Jones and MSNBC, he could make that argument much more effectively than if it's former operatives at CBS.
STELTER: Right. A Washington Examiner reporter just pointed on Twitter O'Reilly bring out a great gift for this. He's the underdog against the establishment. In some ways, that's been his brand for two decades on Fox News.
GREENFIELD: And he has done it brilliantly.
STELTER: In some ways he can dismiss whatever the truth is and simply say this is all political. On Friday night, he called me a far left zealot. Not the first time he has, probably won't be the last time. But he called me that. And I thought to myself, for him it's all political. For me it's journalistic. For him it's political. It's hard for him to believe me because for him it's political.
GREENFIELD: One of the ways that the right in America and some of the academic left, they share something. They think truth is a social construct. In other words, it's all a matter of power relationships and whose motives are out. I'm so old school, I actually believe that the issue is, where was he? Did he save the cameraman's life? Was there gunfire? Was he in danger or not?
STELTER: You're making me feel old school, too.
GREENFIELD: To me, this is like King Knute saying, please, tide, go back. Everything that is constructed and Fox News is at the center of it because of its unique nature and highly successful nature, it becomes a political argument. And I'm sorry, it's not a political argument.
STELTER: What I would want to say is, let's apply the same critical thinking skills we apply to everything else in media, and we applied to Brian Williams and apply it to Bill O'Reilly as well. No different, but the same.
GREENFIELD: And it's invariable, by the way, in this case on both sides of the aisle, as soon as somebody makes a credible accusation against a familiar figure on one side, people say, well, what about the other guy? What about what happened here?
STELTER: That's the most boring game in politics, but it happens all the time.
GREENFIELD: That's why I'm headed for Shady Acres any day. I just think the question is, was he exaggerating his heroism? Was he making stuff up? Was he inflating his role? Was he unfairly denigrating the CBS correspondents, or not? That's the issue. But it will never be the issue in this context.
STELTER: Let me bring back Eric Engberg, because we have a sound bite from O'Reilly from a few minutes ago. Eric, are you still with us in Sarasota?
ENGBERG: Sure, ready to go.
STELTER: I just want to give you a chance to respond because he has been rather personally attacking you. Let me play the sound bite from Bill O'Reilly here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HOWARD KURTZ, FOX NEWS: Now you have said in describing this
episode in Buenos Aires that your photographer was run down, hit in the head. He was bleeding, the army was chasing you guys. Engberg says I never heard of any injury to the photographer?
O'REILLY: I don't think he was there. I don't think he knows what happened. And I'll tell you why. I left the hotel, Engberg was still in the hotel, the Sheraton. I came back, running back with video for the Rather broadcast that night, Engberg was in the hotel. So if he were in the Plaza de Mayo, OK, where was the video? Why did I have to run it up to the feed point and send it to New York? So I don't know if he was even there. And I'd like everybody to ask him, were you there? Because his reputation, his nickname was Room Service Eric.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ENGBERG: That is the most absurd thing --
STELTER: Were you there?
ENGBERG: That is the most absurd thing that I've ever heard. You can ask anybody at CBS. Not only those who were there in Buenos Aires but those who worked with me over the years. I never ordered room service during a riot in my life.
Now, I didn't have much to do with him while I was in Buenos Aires because he was the rookie. He had just arrived. But yes, I was on the street. Yes, I was filming with a camera crew. There were five camera crews out there. For him to say that -- why wasn't I out there in the street, I was with a camera crew that probably had gotten its job done before he did, because he was busy shooting standups of himself standing in front of the crowd so you couldn't see the riot.
I screened that tape. And it was ridiculous how he was shooting a standup of himself, marking himself as I told the people around me, as a real local news guy.
STELTER: We haven't seen the tapes but I appreciate you sharing your response. I've got to tell you this, Eric, I spoke to Jim Forrest (ph), who was the sound engineer that day. He said when he heard that 2011 tape from Marvin Kalb where O'Reilly was describing people dying in the streets, he thought, huh? I don't recall that. And then he actually reached out to Marvin Kalb and said that didn't happen. So there's obviously more to come on this. Eric, I appreciate you being here and staying with us. Thank you.
STELTER: I should ask you one more question, Jeff, which is, is anything going to happen? Whether O'Reilly has been exaggerating or not, do you see Fox News taking any action here?
GREENFIELD: Brian, I love this show and I love you. But how many times have I told you, if I could see the future I would buy the Powerball ticket and buy an island. I think what you can say is the dimensions of this are such that the only way Fox I think would actually take action is if the errors were so egregious. Again, back to my rule, if people, and I'll put it this way, on Fox's side of the political aisle started calling bovine excrement on O'Reilly, then he'd have a problem. But the whole nature of the last 20 years of Fox's rise suggests their motto, particularly when it comes to protecting one of their own, is never apologize and never explain. Except for the no-go Muslim zone, I can't remember Fox going on the air and saying we really screwed this up.
So I think just on the basis of what we think we know, it would take an awful lot, and it would take incoming friendly fire for O'Reilly to really be in trouble. But that's a guess, Brian.
STELTER: This is insightful. Thank you for being here. Interesting, one connection between Brian Williams and this case, Facebook has been driving some of this. George Lewis, other veteran correspondents have been weighing in on Facebook saying they support Eric Engberg's version of events and the other CBS staffers and refuting O'Reilly's. I definitely think that's worth looking at. We'll have a story on CNN.com in just a bit with more of the details from these other staffers.
When we come back here, a former NBC anchor is here, she knows all too well what it's like to be Lester Holt. Speaking of Lester, we'll let you know why you won't be seeing him tonight on NBC Nightly News. More television news drama when we come back.
STELTER: Welcome back.
Something was different about NBC last night. You did not see this man, Lester Holt, on the "NBC Nightly News." And you won't see him tonight either, because he's taking a much-deserved vacation from his usual weekend jobs now that he's anchoring weekday "NBC Nightly News," filling in for the suspended Brian Williams.
Holt will be back tomorrow night. And he's had a lot of pressure on his shoulders, because ever since he took over from William two weeks ago, and to NBC's apparent delight, he's holding his own in the ratings. You will see Williams' last week here and then Lester Holt's first week.
And take a look at this. This is CNN and ORC's most recent political poll. It included a question about NBC and it shows a stark divide among viewers, 52 percent saying NBC should allow Williams back in the anchor chair, 40 percent saying NBC should not.
What, if anything, will it mean for Brian Williams' future.
Well, I asked the perfect person, former NBC "Today Show" co-host Deborah Norville, now the host of "Inside Edition."
STELTER: Deborah, thanks for being here. DEBORAH NORVILLE, "INSIDE EDITION": My pleasure.
STELTER: Let me ask you the question that everybody in our industry is asking. Do you think Brian Williams will ever be back on the "NBC Nightly News"?
NORVILLE: I don't think so. I don't think so.
First of all, I think Lester Holt is doing a very good job. And, secondly, I think if Brian were to be back on the set, there would be this thought bubble over his head that says, is it real, is it real? Did he make this one up? Is this an exaggeration?
And I just think that that's too much for the network news division to have to work to overcome. They have a very important brand. There's a lot of money attached to it. And to put that at risk would be a foolish business decision. At the end of the day, this is a business.
STELTER: It's a cold, hard business calculation.
NORVILLE: Yes. Yes. And I think NBC made that. I think perhaps there was...
STELTER: With the suspension.
NORVILLE: With the suspension, yes.
And a lot of people believed that that was just belaboring the inevitable, and that at the end of the six months, whatever the decision is, which will be probably to say it's not going to happen here on the evening news desk, it's just given them some window of opportunity.
And it also allows them six months to decide how they want to staff that particular position. In six months' time, has Lester Holt proved himself to be the worthy heir? And if the answer is yes, Lester is going to stay exactly where he is.
STELTER: Well, the viewers are voting every day. Let's put the ratings on the screen from the week before Lester Holt took over and then Lester Holt's first week in the chair.
You will see NBC was winning the whole week that Brian Williams was there. Even as the scandal started on Thursday, NBC kept winning. But then on that Friday, Friday the 6th, ABC suddenly won in the 25- 54-year-old demographic that is so crucial to advertisers.
Then Lester Holt takes over on the Monday the 9th. NBC wins pretty much all week. You can ABC had two days where they barely won in the demo. But for the entire week there, Lester Holt filling in, NBC was ahead by about 55,000 viewers in the demographic 25-54-year- olds.
That compares to a gap to 273,000 for Brian Williams last week. So, clearly, the race tightened. Right? It wasn't as close as when Brian Williams was still anchoring. But Lester Holt managed to win his first week.
NORVILLE: He did.
And the other thing too, there is a lot of sampling going on. We also have some really crazy weather happening right now. And weather impacts viewing habits. Let's take a long view of this. Let's see where the ratings are three months from now.
When I joined "Inside Edition," the press release said, ratings went up 15 percent. I would love to tell you that 15 percent more people watch all the time. They were sampling. What does it look like to see Deborah there?
STELTER: They were checking it out.
NORVILLE: People are checking it out. There's going to be a lot of ebb and flow right now.
STELTER: I think what's significant about the numbers is that viewers didn't reject Lester Holt. In other words, they didn't tune in and say, wait, Brian Williams isn't here, I disagree with NBC's decision, so I'm going to walk away from that show.
NORVILLE: That's a very good point.
And another point to make is, when the year-over-year ratings are being compared, do not read anything into that, because last year this time, NBC had the Olympics, which is a huge ratings magnet for the viewers.
So you were put through the ringer at NBC decades ago. You succeeded Jane Pauley on "The Today Show." Then you came under withering scrutiny and then you were pushed out when you were on maternity leave. The story is crazy to think about years later.
Given that, what do you think NBC executives are thinking right now? What's the kind of thought process in their minds when they're deciding what to do?
NORVILLE: I think they are thinking, go slow.
I think what everyone in television realized from the way my situation at NBC was handled is that these decisions have repercussions that last a very long time. You know, 20/20 hindsight, they could just have left "The Today Show" alone. We didn't have an executive producer then. So, there was a lot of other stuff going on at that time and everything would have worked out fine.
I survived. It's all good. But I think what NBC will do is take its time in making its decision. By giving themselves six months to handle the Brian Williams situation, they have put that on the back burner. The investigation will continue. And questions haven't been talked about publicly that I think should.
For instance, when that story Brian aired, the one that caused all the trouble for Brian...
STELTER: The mistake.
NORVILLE: ... the mistake, it was the first time the falsehood had been aired on "NBC Nightly News."
But in airing that story, they went back to the original footage from 2003. And they either got it from the air check, which was the show that night on "Nightly News," or they got it from the field tapes.
STELTER: Like the archive.
NORVILLE: The archive. You and I both know they didn't have time to go to the archive. They went to the air check. The air check was accurate.
So, whoever edited that piece and whoever produced that piece in that booth at the time heard the original copy. Why didn't they speak up, or did they speak up and they weren't heard, or was the culture such that, if Brian said it, even if we're fudging it a little bit, we're not going to say anything?
And if it's those -- if that's the reason or something along those lines, I think that's another reason you won't see Brian back in the anchor chair.
STELTER: NBC keeps declining to comment because it said it's fact-checking and the investigation is still going on. But you're touching on this issue of the culture at NBC. This is not just about an individual. It's about the individuals around Brian Williams and what was happening there, why there wasn't more of a check and balance on him.
NORVILLE: And who was over Brian? Brian Williams was not the boss of NBC News.
There are people who hold those titles. There are people to whom he reported. So, yes, I think that's another reason for the six months.
STELTER: Do you think there's a little bit of fear in the television industry that everybody's record is going to be scrutinized the way Brian Williams' has and now Bill O'Reilly is being?
NORVILLE: Not if you have been telling the truth. There's absolutely no fear.
So, anybody who is shaking a little bit at the prospects probably has a reason to do so. If you feel good about what you have done in the past, then you think this is a healthy exercise. And it's a really good lesson, because we now work in a time when journalists are not just the people you see on the three broadcast news channels or the major cable channels in the news divisions. Journalists are people with a phone and a Twitter account. It's
important that you be accurate and it's important that you speak the truth whenever you speak, in whatever forum you speak. And I think the people who are maybe sweating bullets right now are people who forgot that, or perhaps in the case of Brian Williams, when you're sitting on the set with Letterman or you're the after-dinner raconteur, it's easy to embellish a little bit.
And then you build on the previous embellishment, and the next thing you know -- if you speak the truth every time you open your mouth, you probably have nothing to worry about.
STELTER: Deborah, thank you for being here. Great seeing you.
NORVILLE: My pleasure. Great to see you, Brian.
STELTER: No new comment from Brian Williams this week, but his daughter Allison defended him, saying, "I know you can trust my dad."
When we come back here, it started with Rudy Giuliani questioning Obama's love of this country. And now it has turned into questions about the president's faith. Is this a case of media bias or something more? We will tackle that next.
STELTER: Gosh, there were a lot of big news stories. But there was one story you just could not get away from.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Last night while speaking at a private political event in New York, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani criticized the president and his love of country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rudy Giuliani's nuclear meltdown continues.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": The presidents' strategy, or lack thereof, for battling radical Islam has now come under a lot of criticism lately, some of the harshest words coming recently, yesterday, from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: Boy, what a mess in New York City.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: More fallout today from Rudy Giuliani's claim that the president of the United States does not love the United States. The former New York mayor and presidential candidate has since doubled and kind of tripled down on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: All of Rudy's comments prompted reporters to start asking potential GOP presidential candidates how they felt about this issue, and it's even now started to spur other questions like yesterday, when "Washington Post" reporters asked Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker if Obama is Christian, to which he initially replied, "I don't know."
And now there's a whole kerfuffle about that.
So, here's my question. Are these questions actually fair game?
Well, joining me now is David Frum, a speechwriter for Giuliani way back when. Now he's senior editor at "The Atlantic." And Van Jones, he was a senior adviser in the Obama White House, now a CNN political commentator.
Welcome to you both. Thank you for being here.
DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Thank you.
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning.
STELTER: David, I don't want to start this out rejecting the premise, but is it really even possible to debate whether someone loves something? It's like trying to hug a cloud. It's not possible, is it?
FRUM: Right. Is President Obama going to heaven? Has he really quit smoking? Was he a good son?
There are a lot of these questions that ask the candidates to go into the state of mind of a third person. The question to Governor Walker struck me as especially weird. It used to be considered very bad form to ask a candidate about his own religious faith or her own religious faith. To ask them now about the religious faith of third parties and to vouch for or question that third party, that faith, I think we all need to stand back a little bit and to say that candidates' religious views are between them and their God, if they have religious views.
Not all candidates do. And I think that that question was an unanswerable one and that there is no good answer, and therefore it shouldn't be asked if there isn't a good answer.
STELTER: Van Jones, when you see these questions being asked about the question, not to the president, but brought up about the president, what do you think is the intention of a person like Rudy Giuliani to invoke these issues?
JONES: Well, before I talk about the unfortunate comments of Rudy Giuliani, let me say, I see it slightly differently than David.
I do think that these are valid questions. And I think the Republicans are going to have to answer them, for a particular reason. There has been a rabid wing or fringe of really anti-Obama hysteria that has infected the Republican Party. And it's a source of disquiet even for moderate Republicans, when you have people who are birthers, who are saying he's actually a Muslim, who won't accept his own statement that he is a Christian. And so I do think that, for independent voters, for Democrats and
even for moderate Republicans, they want to know, if you are running for office to succeed this man, are you a part of the nut job wing of your party? And that is where I think the questions come from.
Now, Scott Walker in particular has to make a decision. Does he want to be high-minded or low-minded when these questions come? He can be high-minded and say, the president says he's a Christian. I have no reason to doubt that, though his policies are terrible. He can high-minded and say, of course the president is a patriot, but he has bad ideas.
He can be low-minded and say, I do think there's something to these rumors. But he can't be middle-minded, muddle-minded. His problem this week is that he keeps saying he doesn't know, as if this hasn't been a raging debate in American politics. And I think that's hurting him. He has got to be either high-minded or low-minded. He can't be muddle-minded.
STELTER: It sometimes feels to me like this is the natural end point of seven years of debate and discussion about whether Obama is exotic. And if you're cocooned inside some conservative media outlets, it's natural to then say the president doesn't love the country. If you're not cocooned, you may have a very different reaction.
Let me put one tweet up on screen, because I think Josh Barro of "The New York Times" and MSNBC agrees with you, Van. He wrote: "These are not pointless questions. They are ways of asking, how much will you indulge your base's fever swamp nonsense?"
But, David, I wonder to you, is there a point at which this seems like liberal media bias to be asking these questions to Republicans and not to Democratic candidates, not the same questions, of course, but equivalent questions to Democratic candidate ?
FRUM: It rankles for a different reason.
Look, the question -- being a patriot is a bona fide job qualification for a president. And it's out of line to suggest that the president isn't a patriot. Being a Christian is not. Abraham Lincoln wasn't a Christian and he made a pretty fair president, I think most people agree.
But the Walker question rankles for this reason.
FRUM: It was just this past week that President Obama's former campaign adviser, David Axelrod, published a book in which he revealed, oh, by the way, when President Obama said in 2008 that he opposed same-sex marriage because of his deep religious faith, that wasn't true. He didn't oppose same-sex marriage. And that's not -- he didn't have the religious convictions he claimed in 2008 he did.
With this news story on the table, for a journalist to be now saying, well, that the president -- the president's top adviser just told us that his religious views are not to be taken seriously, the president's views are not what he said they were.
But Scott Walker cannot say what David Axelrod just published.
STELTER: Van, what's your reaction to the idea that, it's 2015, he's been president since 2009, and yet we're still talking about these issues?
JONES: Well, it is really bizarre and unfortunate.
I think especially it's unfortunate for someone like Rudy Giuliani, who honestly was not just an American hero, an American icon, was a global hero and a global icon, to now have fallen down the stairs into Donald Trump status, to be saying things that really no global statesman could, would or should say about anybody.
The American -- and I question now his patriotism. Do you think that the American people are so stupid that, not just once, but twice to elect someone who hates the country? These are the kinds of things that I think are harmful for the Republican brand.
I think it is embarrassing to have someone of his stature saying these type of things. But it does go to this strategy that now apparently even Giuliani has gotten tripped up in of trying to kind of otherize -- kind of otherize the president. As opposed to saying, we don't like his policies, we're going to say, there is something about him that is not acceptable.
And I think that sits poorly in the mouths of a lot of people in this country. I hope that every GOP candidate can make a decision on the front end, am I going to be high-minded, the way Marco Rubio was, "Of course, he is a patriot, I just don't like his ideas," or am I going to start trading in these kind of -- again, the guy said fever swamp kind of hysterias and conspiracy theories?
Every Republican candidate is going to have to answer those questions. They should decide right now where they want to be.
STELTER: Well, it seems to me like the press is going to instigate some of those questions, many of those questions.
Anyway, I'm out of time, unfortunately.
David and Van, thank you both for being here.
FRUM: Thank you.
STELTER: More to come on this, I am sure.
Now, up next, we're taking a turn -- 40 million people will be tuning in tonight for the Oscars, but nearly nobody can tell you how the winners are actually chosen. Even the people who vote for them say it is not easy. So we have found an Oscar voter, and he will join us to explain it all next.
STELTER: It's a big night, Oscars night. Hollywood is about to crown a new best picture at the 87th annual Academy Awards. There they are rolling out the red carpet. So, who are these illusive Academy voters and do they actually see the movies?
Joining us to pull the curtain on this is Academy member voter Ira Deutchman.
You are also the executive -- an executive producer of films.
And I guess I have to ask you, have you seen every movie that is up for best picture tonight?
IRA DEUTCHMAN, ACADEMY AWARDS VOTER: Yes.
STELTER: You have?
DEUTCHMAN: Yes, I have.
STELTER: But not all the voters do.
DEUTCHMAN: Well, in the nomination process, it is impossible for the voters to see every film that's eligible. And that's the whole basis of the Academy campaigns that go on, is just to make a film seem more, so important that you can't vote without having seen it.
STELTER: That's why they spend tens of millions of dollars on these ads.
It is all about just elevating it to the point where it becomes a must-see. But once the nominations are announced, you have a finite group of films that you have to see in order to be able to vote. And I do think that Academy members are generally very conscientious about wanting to see as many of them as they possibly can.
STELTER: But the same people who are voting for best actress aren't voting for best director. So, you might wonder why there is a snub, and it might not be intentional.
DEUTCHMAN: Well, yes, that's in the nomination process.
The Academy's divided into branches, and the branches vote in their individual areas. So when people look at the -- for instance, what happened with "Selma," and they say, why didn't she get a best director nomination when it got a best picture nomination, there's no trend to look at there.
They are trying to connect the dots in a way that doesn't exist, because it's a different group of people who are voting for best director than are voting for best picture.
So who is going to win tonight for best picture? What's your prediction?
DEUTCHMAN: I'm not going to predict.
STELTER: Oh, you're not allowed to, huh?
DEUTCHMAN: Well, no, it is not that I'm not allowed to. I am just not going to predict, because I'm hoping that all the conventional wisdom is actually wrong.
STELTER: Which is?
DEUTCHMAN: There's -- again, I'm not going to repeat this, but the reality is that there are all these online sources that are gathering data from all these different areas trying to predict based on some sort of data-gathering who is going to win.
They all have reached consensus about who the winner is. So anybody can look it up if they want to. But the reality is that I'm hoping they're wrong, and not because I'm rooting for another film, but I'm just hoping it's just not that predictable.
STELTER: I agree with you on that.
Ira, thanks for being here. Great talking with you.
DEUTCHMAN: Yes. You're welcome.
STELTER: And we will back with more RELIABLE SOURCES in just a moment.
STELTER: Well, "Birdman" is the favorite to win tonight at the Oscars. That's the conventional wisdom, so we will see if Ira is right and there is a surprise tonight at the Oscars.
That's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. But I will see you online all week on CNN.com. Let me know what you thought of today's show. Send me a tweet.