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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Donald Trump on Defense; Donald Trump Alienating Hispanic Community; Bill Cosby Deposition Reveals "Calculated Pursuit of Young Women"; New Sides of President Obama; Washington Post's Jason Rezaian Held in Iran. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired July 19, 2015 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:11] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Brian Stelter. And it's for RELIABLE SOURCES.
And we have an A-list lineup for you this morning, with former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, "Washington Post" editor Marty Baron, and CNN's own John King.
But we begin with Donald Trump in a very unusual position -- on the defensive, calling into various TV shows this morning, tweeting up a storm, scrambling to defend himself amid blanket criticism of John McCain. He described John McCain saying, quote, "He's not a war hero".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): We had thousands and thousands of people, he called them crazies. He insulted them. He should apologize to them, by the way. He insulted them and then I insulted back.
And frankly, what he's done with respect to the illegal immigration and what he's done for the veterans, he's done very, very poorly for the veterans.
MICHAEL RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: You are not apologizing and certainly not pulling out of the race as some of your opponents have suggested.
TRUMP: Of course, they'd love to have me do that because I'm leading the pack. I'm certainly not pulling out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So, Trump firing back this morning. We've asked him to call into this program as well. We will see if we can get him.
Trump also told ABC's Martha Raddatz that the media is treating him, quote, "very unfairly".
This all started yesterday of noon at a Republican presidential forum in Iowa, and to set it up, this is what Trump originally said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He's not a war hero.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is a war hero.
TRUMP: He is a war --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five and a half years --
TRUMP: He's a war hero because he was captured.
I like people that weren't captured, OK? I hate to tell you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you agree with that?
TRUMP: He's a war hero because he was captured, OK? You can have -- and I believe perhaps he's a war hero.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: You can hear the crowd's reactions to those comments which are really interesting.
Now, Trump later said all sorts of things, he contradicted himself, said he didn't say it, doubled down, continued to criticize McCain. You know, up until now, it's exactly these qualities, provocative, unpredictable, rich enough not to give a damn, that drove Trump to the top of the presidential primary heap.
But when he went after McCain, Republican rivals sensed an opening. The condemnations were immediate. They're continuing this morning. Here are two from the morning shows here on CNN and NBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not just absurd, it's offensive. It's ridiculous and I do think it is disqualifier as commander in chief.
PERRY: Until Mr. Trump apologizes directly to John McCain and also to the veterans of this country, I don't think he has the character or the temperament to hold the highest position in this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So, is a campaign that was born in controversy about to die in controversy? Will Trump still be on stage when debate season begins in just a couple weeks?
Let's bring in two guests, Rick Wilson, Republican media consultant, no fan of Trump, and Nate Cohn, a Washington correspondent for "The New York Times." Welcome to you both.
RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN MEDIA CONSULTANT: Thanks so much, Brian.
NATE COHN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Good to be with you. STELTER: Nate, your article yesterday for "The Upshot", you wrote
about the Trump campaign's turning point. Let me read part of what you said. You called Trump's campaign a media-driven surge and you predict a media-driven bust now.
Why is it that you think it's all downhill for Trump now?
COHN: Donald Trump has received a lot of media attention so far that's helped him get to the top of the polls. There's been very little scrutiny of his campaign. People have tended to treat him as a matter of entertainment. His past policy views have not been scrutinized. The positions that he's hold that are controversial do have some resonance within the Republican Party.
Now, what you're going to see is that the rest of the Republican Party is going to rally against him. We've already seen that with what you just aired from Marco Rubio and Rick Perry, that will totally change the way he's covered for the rest of the campaign. He will now face scrutiny from across the party and from the media that will eventually blunt his surge in the polls and eventually reverse it.
STELTER: And you're saying this is scientific, this is how it works, it's a boom-and-bust cycle.
COHN: Well, I don't think there's any science to it, in the sense that, you know, you can predict that -- his poll numbers will be at 5 percent in the week or in two months, but I think the basic mechanism at play is predictable. These media-driven boomlets generally stop once the media decides we actually have to scrutinize this candidate.
To this point, Trump has not been subjected to the same scrutiny that is typically accompanied by candidates from traditional politicians. I think that decision is understandable. I can understand why producers and editors haven't wanted to treat him like a serious politician.
But the change in the tone of the conversation that began yesterday is going to lead to more scrutiny towards Donald Trump. His campaign is not built to withstand that kind of questioning. He has a record that does not appeal to big chunks of the Republican Party. He's supported Hillary Clinton in the past, supported universal health care. These things are all going to come to the forefront now and it will eventually take a toll on his numbers.
STELTER: I hear all what you're saying, Nate.
But, Rick, I have to ask you -- given that we've seen Trump defending himself this morning, trying to pivot back to veterans, saying he's supportive of veterans but doesn't think McCain is doing a good enough job supporting veterans himself.
[11:05:04] Is there a possibility here or even a probability that Trump's fans stick with him?
WILSON: Look, Trump's fans, the dead-enders in the Trump world are going to be there. They probably comprise less than 10 percent of the party. They're activated on the one issue that Trump has shouted the loudest on which is immigration.
But the fact of the matter is, Donald Trump yesterday insulted a man who no matter -- if you disagree with John's politics -- sometimes I do disagree with John's politics, and I do disagree with John's politics in a lot of areas, if you disagree with his politics, that's one thing. But he questioned the patriotism and he questioned the service, and he questioned the fact that this man is not a hero who served 6 1/2 years as a POW under the most extreme torture.
It was one of the most vile moments I've seen in American politics in a long time. You know, our politics have gotten pretty base in a lot of ways, but Trump lowered the bar yesterday. I think he disqualified himself with an awful lot of the party.
STELTER: But why only now? I mean, I've seen a lot of comments online. Here is one I'll read. It says, Trump has been calling Mexicans rapists for weeks, but the thing that will finally sink in with journalist is him being mean to John McCain.
Isn't that a fair critique that Trump has said all sorts of things, and it's only now for some reason that this is the line that's been drawn?
WILSON: Well, Trump had command of the operational tempo of this thing where he's been setting the agenda in the media. And I'll be honest, a lot of the candidates were struggling to try to find a way to not piss off Trump's giant legion of very loud, very politically naive but enthusiastic supporters.
They were trying to find a way -- I think Ted Cruz played a very dangerous game embracing Trump this entire time. But, you know, I do think there's something on the right that's happening, because yesterday -- Nate's article was definitive about the bubble. But yesterday on the right, in Breitbart, Sarah (INAUDIBLE) wrote a piece in Breitbart yesterday that took Trump apart and went through all the Republican candidates going at it.
And so, on the far right, you're seeing some fragments inside the Trump movement. I think it's going to get worse from here. I think he's off agenda now.
STELTER: To your point, let me put update that on the screen from Zignal labs. They're looking at sentiment online about Trump. You'll see two clouds here, on Friday, 45 percent negative sentiment, on Saturday, 60 percent negative. So, a sudden jump in negative sentiment. And you see McCain becomes one of the big words in that word cloud on Saturday.
Nate, to you, I want to ask you about the press's treatment of Trump along the way. Do you think he's been taken far too seriously until now?
COHN: Well, I think he's received a lot of media attention, far more than of the other candidates have received. I think that's understandable. He's an actual celebrity, but he's not received the scrutiny that typically comes with being a real presidential candidate.
STELTER: Right, we haven't been hearing about his past. Yes, we haven't -- New Yorkers know all these stories, all these scandals about Trump that the rest of the country might not know.
But, Rick, I do wonder if that's something that needs to be filled in by journalists in the weeks to come if Trump does continue to poll well.
WILSON: Well, it certainly would be something that you would think would be part of the journalistic responsibility. But right now, it has been the Trump spectacle. It has been the big show.
So, they've enjoyed the back-and-forth of -- Trump insults x and x responds, the ping-pong of that. If he stays in this race, he'll have to start facing a lot more scrutiny and the other candidates are going to start dragging him onto the field and beating him with sticks, because thing yesterday, John has done nothing for veterans. Well, you know, this is not exactly true. And it's an opportunity for the other candidates to come out and talk about how they've tried to address these matters.
It's just -- this is -- he's gotten away with an awful lot because he's a celebrity and a television personality.
STELTER: By the way --
WILSON: A lot of the affect -- yes? Go ahead.
STELTER: Yes, well, it's also because he's available. Talk about the ping-pong back and forth, you described it so well, it's because he says yes to interview requests, he's actually available. A lot of other candidates are not.
COHN: He also gets a lot --
WILSON: Well, your phone is going to ring any minute now.
STELTER: Nate, go ahead. Have the last word there.
COHN: He also gets a lot of clicks, a lot of viewer interest in them. He's a real celebrity. If Kim Kardashian ran for president, she would get a tremendous amount of media attention as well.
STELTER: And on that very interesting note, I'll leave it there.
Rick and Nate, thank you very much.
COHN: Thanks for having us.
WILSCON: Thanks, Brian.
STELTER: President Kardashian, wouldn't have thought of that. Well, journalists everywhere have been wrestling with this very issue, this question of how seriously to take Trump's "Huffington Post" weighed in, with a very clear answer. It moved Trump coverage from the politics section to the entertainment section, saying that "Trump's campaign is a sideshow. If you are interested in what the Donald has to say, you will find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and 'The Bachelorette'."
And this morning, "The Post" about this McCain issue is in the entertainment section.
So, Trump fired back, pointed to his rising poll numbers and some journalists, I have to say, are taking issue with the "Huffington Post's" decision, calling it a publicity stunt. I've even heard that from some people who work at "The Post" who disagree with it.
So, let's talk about this with Jeff Greenfield, one of America's great political analysts.
[11:10:02] And he joins me now from Santa Barbara.
Jeff, do your Trump stories, do my Trump stories, do they belong in the entertainment section of these Web sites?
JEFF GREENFIELD, COLUMNIST, DAILY BEAST: No. I think it's a mistake on the part of the "Huffington Post" and "The Post" to do that.
The fact that he is, as Jon Stewart accurately described him, the national id, unfiltered, unmediated spasms of commentary by terms fanciful, outrageous, insulting, does not mean that he's not a significant political force or symbol. He is tapping into something deep within the current Republican Party.
It is not insignificant that before he entered the race, it was 3-1 unfavorable views of Trump among Republicans. After he started talking about immigration, his favorability rating went up to 57 percent, leaving out the fact that he has enough money to compete with any other candidate in terms of paid media.
As Arthur Miller wrote in "Death of a Salesman," attention must be paid. To treat this as an entertainment spectacle, I understand the temptation, and call him a clown, which is, you know, supported by a lot of evidence, misses the point.
There is a significant political feeling among some people that the Republican Party has been wrestling with, people have been saying since the 2012 election, we've got to get right with the Hispanic community, trump is a threat to that. Clearly, he has tapped into something that is going to be a force in politics, whether Donald Trump is taken seriously or not.
STELTER: With that in mind, do you think this McCain story, this new controversy is going to be the end of Donald Trump's campaign?
GREENFIELD: I think -- you know, how often, Brian, have I talked with you on this show saying why do people think they can see the future? What is it about some journalists that think that they -- you know, if I could, I'd buy the mega millions ticket. You'd never hear from me again, I'd be on a private island in Greece.
STELTER: That's fair.
GREENFIELD: What I do think is significant, it reminds me a little to what happened to Senator Joseph McCarthy. A certain part of Republicans were perfectly happy for McCarthy call Roosevelt and Truman overseer of 20 years of treason. But when Eisenhower became president and Joe McCarthy continued to talk about communist sympathies, that was too much for the Republicans, even those who saw in McCarthy a political advantage.
The point about John McCain is not that he's the most popular Republican in the party but that what he endured in Vietnam -- I actually spent a day at the Hanoi Hilton, it's now a museum. What he endured makes the idea of dismissing him from somebody who had student and medical deferments, whose biggest exposure to political danger is to have a golf ball flew by his head.
For him to say this about McCain gave the Republicans, who were trying to figure out how to handle Trump, a club with which to beat him over the head, assuming he feels anything under his hair. That's --
STELTER: -- a hair joke, Jeff.
GREENFIELD: Yes, I know. You know, I promised I wouldn't do that, but it's just too tempting.
STELTER: By the way, the debate now, is 2 1/2 weeks away. I mean, we're right up at the edge of the debates here. Trump seems to be qualifying. Do you think there's any change he won't be on that stage? I mean, maybe the other candidates will choose not to come?
GREENFIELD: I think -- again, this is an exquisite dilemma for the Republicans. If they rule him out on grounds he said something too offensive, then he takes his grievances to that part of the Republican Party that agrees with him.
See, they don't want to hear the truth. They can't handle the truth. And we should never forget that a man with the resources Donald Trump has, whatever inflated number he may or may not put on him, means he can go to the country with tens of millions of dollars worth of paid media to make his case.
GREENFIELD: So I think ruling him out, saying he's finished, why don't we wait and see what happens. I don't know how to tell you what's going to happen.
STELTER: Well, that is what we will do. And, by the way, I'm told the debate criteria, they are set, they are not changing. So, as of the moment he will be on that stage. Jeff, thanks for being here this morning.
STELTER: In a moment here, Rupert Murdoch turning against Trump. You got to see what he says. And I have two voices you have to hear from Hollywood, actor Esai Morales and one of the producers of "Modern Family".
And later this hour on the program, the tense press conference that had all of Washington. Did CBS's Major Garrett disrespect President Obama or vice versa, and an important update on jailed "Washington Post" journalist Jason Rezaian, right after this.
[11:18:35] STELTER: One of the most influential media figures in the world is Rupert Murdoch and he weighed in on the Trump comment yesterday. Here's what he said, let's put it on screen.
"When is Donald Trump going to stop 'embarrassing his friends, let alone the whole country?" Of course, that matters because Murdoch owns 20th Century Fox which owns FOX News, which is a very important megaphone for people like Trump.
And not only has Trump lost Murdoch -- listen to this, "Trump, you're a shamed pile of idiocy." That was a tweet from Charlie Sheen. When Charlie Sheen thinks you should be ashamed, that's not good.
And Sheen is not the only one on the sitcom world (ph) critical of Trump. My guest Danny Zuker is an executive producer of ABC's hit comedy, "Modern Family". He's been in a Twitter flame war with Donald Trump since before it was cool.
Danny, welcome to the program.
DANNY ZUKER, WRITER/EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: ABC'S MODERN FAMILY: Thanks, thanks for having me.
STELTER: You got into fights with Trump online years ago. You seem to want to take him on because he was exaggerating the popularity of his show "The Celebrity Apprentice." And he actually replied to you and actually fought with you.
ZUKER: Yes, it was -- I mean, it was a gift from the comedy gods, frankly. Yes, I challenged his show wasn't number one in the ratings, an easily checkable fact.
ZUKER: And he just blew up.
STELTER: Did you this week, he filed his financial information with the government. This is a precursor of trying to get into the GOP debates beginning this month, also, obviously, precursor to really running for president. [11:20:02]And the financial information that he released in a press released, we haven't actually seen the filing yet. But the press release said, he was paid $213 million to host "The Apprentice" in the 14 seasons he was with the show. Does that sound crazy to you, is that possible? Can someone get paid $213 million to host a reality TV show?
ZUCKER: t seems unlikely, doesn't it, Brian? I don't know -- I'm not sure Jerry Seinfeld was getting that much money in the heyday. So, it's fairly unlikely in a failing show that kind of --
STELTER: Well, to be fair, the show was doing well for a long time. It was doing well, but then started to slide in the ratings.
I was curious, though, I mentioned those financial forms. I want to know from your perspective as a TV producer, won't those debates more interesting with Trump on the stage? You know, we're two and a half weeks from the first debate at this point. And as of now, he will be there, he will be front and center of these debates?
ZUKER: Oh my God. I mean, absolutely from an entertainment standpoint, yes. I like the suggestion your guest in the first segment said with the other candidates beating him with a stick. I think that would get Super Bowl level ratings I believe. So --
STELTER: That is really what it comes down to, the entertainment side of this where the debate will be more interesting. Journalistically --
ZUKER: Pro wrestling.
STELTER: Or for democracy, not sure if you'll actually get a better debate out of it, but that maybe is the intention here.
You said that people are you said that what's shocking is people are still shocked by Trump. I was curious what you mean by that, because you've been engaging with him and frankly mocking him for years.
ZUKER: Yes, I mean, the thing -- this started -- I remember when the Central Park Five Case happened and those five African-Americans were wrongly accused. He took out a full-page ad in New York papers asking for their execution.
And then when we have our first African-American president, he cannot accept that he's either from this country or could excel at Harvard. So, I think the shocking thing is people are shocked he would say racist things. So --
STELTER: You're saying everyone is expecting it by now?
STELTER: Danny, thanks for being with us this morning. I appreciate your perspective on it.
ZUKER: Thank you so much. STELTER: You know, Trump's campaign has been characterized by
incendiary comments literally from day. Some people like Danny called them racist comments. And, of course, with his now infamous quotes about immigration, I want to speak to someone who has very strong feeling about Trump's words.
Earlier, I talk to Esai Morales who plays the president in HBO's new comedy, "The Brink." He's also the cofounder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts.
STELTER: Esai, thanks for being here.
ESAI MORALES, ACTOR/STAR OF HBO'S "THE BRINK": Thank you, Brian.
STELTER: Do you think you are closer to the Oval Office than Trump will ever be?
MORALES: Good question.
You know, part of me does think so, but at times I have to go, man, you know, what is our electorate made up of? Who is voting out there? What is the level of sophistication of our average American voter? And if it's not too high, he might be closer than we'd be comfortable with.
STELTER: But it sounds like you're insulting a lot of voters when you say that.
MORALES: You know what? I -- look at these polls. How can this man rise so far above his competition? I think that's due to the amount of press he's getting. This is a tactician. Obviously, he's playing our community like a violin.
But I think for a man who boasts of how much money he has, it's a real cheap shot at a very vulnerable demographic.
But, you know, they don't vote, illegal immigrants don't vote. Ultimately, the American people will want to vote for someone that represents them and the best of them -- and I don't think that's Donald Trump.
STELTER: You mentioned the media. And I mentioned Arianna Huffington earlier. She said to me this week, "We think Trump is partly the media's creation." Of course, that implies the media can also remove they have made what he is, and they can also make him less.
Do you think we're at the point where the press should not be paying at much attention to him?
MORALES: Well, the press does what the press needs to do for its own survival. I mean, I think that's what, you know, we're all about. We're all about survival. He's trying to survive. Here is a fact: they're going to give him as much press -- as long as
he stays relevant, as long as we keep talking about it. And we are talking about it because what he did was disrespect our community.
Listen, I can't speak for all Latinos. But I know one thing about our communities, and they're plural, it's respect. You may not have a lot. If you have respect, you're welcome in our homes.
And this man has really mischaracterized the nature of the immigrant community and the incredible contributions they have made and continue to make, just because he's focusing on the criminal element which every community has.
STELTER: Is there anything you think Trump can do to Reagan support, to improve his numbers within the Hispanic community?
[11:25:01] MORALES: I think it costs nothing to apologize. To say, you know what, looking back at my words, I see how you can take offense to this.
No, but what he did was double down and include any other number of Latinos. So, basically, I think if he shows a mea culpa, even if he shows an ounce of sincerity, I think that would go a long way. But I'm not going to bet on that.
STELTER: Esai, thanks for being here this morning. Appreciate it.
MORALES: Thank you.
STELTER: And coming up here on RELIABLE SOURCES, a startling new report that's out this morning that says Bill Cosby admitted to at least five extramarital affairs and says the drug taking and sex we've all heard about were consensual, consensual. We will have more on this developing story in just a moment. Stay with us.
STELTER: Welcome back.
Now to another media figure whose words are coming back to haunt him. We are finally hearing from Bill Cosby, once America's favorite dad.
He's admitting to pursuing younger women for sexual relationships and trying to keep his wife in the dark about it. These new revelations from Cosby were in a deposition related to a civil lawsuit by one of his accusers a decade ago. And they were published in this morning's "New York Times."
The headline in the article says "Bill Cosby deposition reveals calculated pursuit of young women, using fame, drugs and deceit." This deposition "The Times" got ahold of, more than 1,000 pages, it was apparently hidden in plain sight. This is remarkable. "The Times" called up the court reporting service and found out it was available for purchase.
Here's what "The Times" said -- quote -- "The transcript was already publicly available through a court reporting service."
So, it was sort of waiting to be found.
Joining me now for more on this, CNN's Jean Casarez in New York.
Jean, we're up to, what, more than two dozen women who have accused Cosby of sexual abuse over the past many months. This is notable though that Cosby is now being quoted in his own words about it.
JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, in a sworn deposition. He had to take an oath that this was the truth, and this was in 2005.
It was on four separate days, a deposition in regard to the civil suit, the only woman at the time that stepped forward in 2005, Andrea Constand. This deposition formed the basis for the confidential settlement that they had in 2006.
What did Cosby say? He said many things in very particular words. He said that there were at least five women. He said that it was all very conventional, but a primary objective was to keep it from his wife at all times. He admitted getting drugs. He admitted getting quaaludes in regard to women and sex.
He also said that he got a feeling when it was consensual. He would know with a woman when it was conventional. If so, he would go forward. If he got a red light from a woman, he would then stop. And I think we just showed a quote on the air about -- talking about the romantic things.
CASAREZ: He said that he never engaged in full sexual intercourse with a woman because he didn't want the woman to love him. "It was playful. It was joyful."
And he admitted that, with one woman, her father had cancer and he acted like he was concerned about the cancer to lure her in so he could have what he said was consensual sex.
STELTER: This happened more than a decade ago. This transcript is from a deposition more than a decade ago.
In that time, NBC started developing a new sitcom with Cosby. He went on numerous tours, whether it was talking to the black community, some would say lecturing, or on comedy tours. Mark Whitaker, a former CNN and NBC executive, wrote a glowing biography of Cosby during this time.
All of this makes us think back to those years and wonder, why weren't the women who came forward then taken more seriously then?
CASAREZ: Right. And I'm sure as they look at this, and they can feel vindication if
they haven't already felt that way. I do want to tell you that sources close to the case tell me that they believed that this was always sealed. And there is a current motion before a court in Pennsylvania, the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, to unseal this deposition, which appears to be a semi- moot issue at this point.
STELTER: Right. Yes, maybe it wasn't supposed to be public, you're saying. It happened to be public. "The Times" happened to find it, but it wasn't supposed to be?
CASAREZ: Or maybe there was a loophole and it was public and just nobody was smart, as smart as "The New York Times" to find it.
But the fact it is public now via "The New York Times" and I think the particularity is and the headline is that he said it was all consensual. He doesn't admit to committing crimes in this deposition at all, from what we see from what "The New York Times" has published.
STELTER: And these might be the last words we ever hear from Bill Cosby. We heard the president speak out against Cosby this week.
I e-mailed his publicist again 20 minutes ago. Still no comment from Cosby. I have a feeling we may never hear from him.
CASAREZ: But a week ago, a week ago, "The New York Post" had really the same sentiment as this deposition. Remember, a source close to Camille Cosby said Camille knew about the infidelity, but that it was all consensual.
Here, he's trying to keep it from her in the deposition, but said it was all consensual.
Jean, thanks so much. Thanks for being here.
STELTER: Coming up here, the press conference exchange that all of Washington was talking about. We will discuss its with two experts in a moment.
STELTER: Hey. Welcome back.
President Obama has been showing some unfamiliar sides of himself in recent appearances. Here's a couple of examples, using the N-word in his interview with podcaster Marc Maron, or singing "Amazing Grace" from the pulpit of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. And this week, he got into a bit of a face-off with CBS News
correspondent Major Garrett. It happened in an East Room press conference on the Iran agreement. Garrett asked a question on a topic we're watching closely on this program, the fate of "Washington Post" reporter Jason Rezaian and several other Americans imprisoned in Iran.
Now, as a news consumer, I'm all in favor of aggressive questioning of people in power. I want more of it, not less. But how Garrett asked the question did become an issue. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJOR GARRETT, CBS NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Can you tell the country, sir, why are you content with all the fanfare around this deal to leave the conscience of this nation and the strength of this nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions.
The notion that I'm content as I celebrate with Americans citizens languishing in Iranian jails, Major, that's -- that's nonsense, and you should know better.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Was Garrett's question out of line? And did the president step on his own message by saying, you should know better?
The two perfect people to ask are standing by.
First, Jay Carney, he has been on the receiving end of many tough questions. He was President Obama's press secretary from 2011 to 2014. And CNN's John King, a former White House correspondent, he's tossed out many tough questions over the years. And he's now the anchor of "INSIDE POLITICS" here on Sunday morning.
Jay, John, thanks, both, for being here.
JOHN KING, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING": My pleasure.
JAY CARNEY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thank you.
STELTER: Jay, tell me what you thought of the question first, since you are someone who knows the president so well.
Did you find it to be offensive?
CARNEY: Well, I thought it was pompous and offensive in its suggestion that any president would be content leaving four Americans in Iran.
And I understand why the president took offense. But the question about those four Americans was legitimate. It was just a poorly chosen word, meant to provoke, as I think Major said later. But I also think the president probably felt good about going after Major a little bit, telling him that he should have known better.
But in doing so, he actually did not serve himself well, because he distracted from what he was trying to get done at that press conference, which was talk exclusively about this very important agreement with Iran over its nuclear weapons program.
STELTER: So, you think he made a mistake in the way he responded?
CARNEY: I think he -- I know what it feels like, having been at the podium in the White House when you take the bait and you lash out a little bit. It feels good and it feels like you win. But, later, you find out that you have made yourself the story or that exchange the story, instead of what you really wanted to talk about.
STELTER: It brings up a larger question that I have.
And I ask you, John, because you have been in Washington for decades covering the White House for a long time. Is there any such thing as an offensive question to the president, the way Jay was just saying?
KING: Well, look, people will see this through their own ideological prism. People will see it through their own maybe personal prism or what they think about either the issue of the Americans held in Iran or what they think of the news media or what they think of the president.
I will tell you this. Major was once a colleague here at CNN. Now he's gone on to other networks. But I know he takes the job seriously. I know he takes reporting seriously. I know he honors the presidency, respects the presidency, respects the institution of the White House.
And I will also say this. I covered the White House for about nine- and-a-half years, starting in the Clinton administration through the first half of the George W. Bush administration. And Jay knows this from both sides of the equation. It has become more and more common, because politicians are so practiced, are so driven to their talking points, if you will, to try to get under their skin, to try to get under the skin of a president to get a better answer.
That's become a common practice in recent years, for better or worse.
STELTER: But, John, in this climate where increasingly presidents can make the news themselves, go on YouTube or do whatever and tell their own stories, don't we have to be even more aggressive, ask tougher questions whenever we can, even in the East Room of the White House during a presidential press conference?
KING: Absolutely. We don't get as many questions of our leaders, period, including our president. And that's a shame. That's a shame.
It will be interesting to watch as the president -- the president has been more outspoken. He seems more loose, he seems more confident of late. It will interesting to see if that translates into more access. STELTER: I also thought it was extraordinary we heard from the
president on Bill Cosby. This was in response to a question. And here is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: If you give a woman, or a man, for that matter, without his or her knowledge, a drug and then have sex with that person without consent, that's rape.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: We had the president talking about Bill Cosby in response to a question. And we also recently heard him use the N-word in an interview with Marc Maron on a podcast. We heard him sing "Amazing Grace" at his eulogy in Charleston.
All of these moments make me think we're seeing Obama unleashed.
I wonder, Jay, if you agree, and if so, why do you think it's happening?
CARNEY: Well, I think there is something to that, Brian.
I think he is feeling an awareness of the fact that he's got a very limited amount of time left in office. He's feeling I think very positive about recent developments when it comes to the Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act, the long resolution, the long-fought resolution to this diplomatic enterprise with Iran.
And he's not running again. He can afford to feel a little freer to express his views. And I think he's aware of the fact that there are issues that he can uniquely speak to. And matters like obviously some of the racial tensions we have in the country are among them. Sexual violence is an incredibly important topic that I know he's thought a lot about, and took the opportunity in this press conference to speak about. And I think we will see more of that. And I think it's because he's feeling that he can afford to do it.
KING: I also think you see -- we're seeing the president of the United States talk about criminal justice reform. We're also seeing an African-American man who has -- as president has watched things like Ferguson, things like Trayvon Martin.
I thought the answer to the Cosby thing -- look, I have a college-age daughter. I very much appreciated the president's answer to the Cosby question. I know we're not supposed to take sides in my business, but speaking as a parent and a dad, not as a journalist, I think that was the president speaking as a parent of two girls.
That was a president who has sat down and talked to his wife about what do we tell the daughters about this? You do see -- sometimes, you see a president and you see a president who is not on the ballot again. He can be looser and freer and maybe more honest at times. Sometimes, you see a human being.
CARNEY: I think that's right.
When we were there -- when I was there, rather, at the White House, we were trying to think creatively about how the president could reach voters and average Americans where they are. And they're not all consuming media in the same ways that they used to. It was an imperative to do that. It's not a replacement for traditional media. It's additive.
And one of the things I used to say that sometimes annoyed the White House press corps was that, during the 2012 reelection cycle, the president gave a lot of interviews, including to major television anchors. The single most difficult, most challenging interview he had to endure was from Jon Stewart, who really grilled him on a lot of issues and put the president on the hot seat.
And instead of the traditional media, we went to a place that I think a lot of people would have perceived as a friendly environment, and he got chewed up pretty good.
STELTER: Even as there are so many more outlets, more than ever, still the most impactful questions in the press conference were from CBS and a radio journalist, a veteran radio journalist asking about Cosby.
So, I guess you have got to give it to the mainstream media on this one.
John, Jay, thank you for being here.
KING: Thank you, Brian.
CARNEY: Thank you.
STELTER: Now, up next, let's not for get what was behind Major Garrett's question, the fate of the Americans that are behind bars in Iran, including "Washington Post" reporter Jason Rezaian. Would his chances of release be any better if he was considered a hostage, rather than a prisoner?
The editor of "The Washington Post" joins me with the latest on the efforts to get his man freed right after this quick break.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Is "Washington Post" correspondent Jason Rezaian being held hostage by Iran? This relates to the press conference question we were talking about earlier, the one that made President Obama bristle. It's such a personal question for the four families of Americans who are either detained or missing in Iran right now. And it's also personal for "The Washington Post," one of the biggest news organizations in this country. Their correspondent, Rezaian, has been behind bars for 361 days now. And while there are new hopes that he will be freed soon, thanks to this week's nuclear accord between world powers and Iran, there is no real update on his status.
U.S. diplomats say they brought up the detained Americans in every meeting they had with Iran. But this morning, I want to find out if "The Post" thinks the government is doing enough and if the newspaper is doing more on its own.
More and more commentators are calling Rezaian and the others hostages. That is a politically loaded word.
So, with that in mind, let's bring in Marty Baron, the executive editor for "The Washington Post," who is in D.C. this morning.
Marty, I wish we weren't having this conversation. But thank you for being here with me.
MARTY BARON, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Thank you for having me.
STELTER: Do you feel that Jason is a hostage?
BARON: Well, I think there's a question there. Why is he being held? What are the conditions that are being placed on his release? What are the Iranians expecting in exchange for his release?
I think the answers to those questions really determine whether he's a hostage or not. And we don't know all the answers to those questions. What we do know is that he's being held unjustly and he has been held unjustly for a full year now.
STELTER: Rhetorically, I'm hearing more and more people refer to Jason and the other Americans as hostages. Obviously, the government is not using that phrase. As a journalist, it's complicated to use that word, but...
BARON: Right. Well, if they're planning to trade something for him, then that would be an appropriate term. But we're not -- we don't have access to those kinds of discussions.
STELTER: Some of the parents of hostages that were killed by ISIS, in admittedly very different circumstance, have said they were resentful about the administration's handling of their cases because they were discouraged or even actually prohibited from negotiating on their own.
Do you see any connection, any similarity in this case? For example, has "The Washington Post" been allowed to do its own back-channel communications to Iran?
BARON: Well, we have tried every channel that we can think of, through other governments, through individuals, through the administration, you name it. We have tried every channel that is -- we believe is available to us. STELTER: I want to know what you have heard from the United States government, from the State Department, from the administration about his status.
BARON: Well, we haven't heard very much lately, other than what the president said the other day during his press conference, that the U.S. government continues to work diligently toward his release.
We certainly hope that is the case. We believe that is the case. And we want them to work even harder.
STELTER: What was your reaction to the tone of Major Garrett's question and the president's reaction to it?
BARON: Well, I think it's appropriate that the president be asked about that issue. I'm glad that he was asked about that issue.
And the president assured him and the country that they continue to work for Jason's release. I trust that that is the case. We will observe closely whether the administration is making all efforts that it can to obtain his release and the release of other Americans held in Iran.
STELTER: Bottom line, do you think it was inappropriate for the administration to not tie the release of these Americans to the nuclear accord?
BARON: Well, I don't really get into commentary. It's not my job to sort of comment on this particular deal.
As you pointed out, our job is to cover what is happening with these negotiations. What we want to say and what we want to reiterate is that it's absolutely critical that an innocent individual like Jason Rezaian, who is an accredited journalist in Iran and who did nothing wrong, that he be allowed to reunite with his family, that he be able to regain the freedom to which he was entitled as a human being.
STELTER: Marty Baron, wearing your "Free Jason" pin this morning, thank you for being here.
BARON: Thank you for having me.
STELTER: And we will be back with more RELIABLE SOURCES in just a moment.
STELTER: That's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
But our media coverage keeps going on all the time online. So, check out our dozens of stories at CNNMoney.com/media, including a controversial story published and then retracted by Gawker. You will also see my interview with Showtime's incoming CEO all about their move towards streaming. And we will see you right back here next week, next Sunday at 11:00
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