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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Has Media Failed in Covering Syria?; Can O'Reilly Survive the Ad Boycott?; Will Fox News Stand by Bill O'Reilly?; President Trump Defends O'Reilly; Media Rallies Around Trump's "Decisive" Syria Strike. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired April 9, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:10] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter and it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story, about how the media really works, how the news gets made.
This hour, 60-plus advertisers dropping Bill O'Reilly. This week, that all came after the settlements. News of the settlements over sexual harassment allegations. Meanwhile, a federal investigation of FOX continues, leaving a lot of unanswered questions about O'Reilly and FOX's future.
President Trump however says he doesn't think O'Reilly did anything wrong, defending his old friend. We'll have more on that coming up.
But, first, the power of pictures. This week, we saw the impact of gruesome imagery when it came to the situation in Syria. Administration officials say President Trump was moved to action by horrific images like these of Syrian civilians, victims of a chemical weapons attack that left more than 100 people dead.
Two questions about this. One, isn't this exactly the sort of test of White House credibility and we saw coming for months. There have been so many cases of misleading or false statements from Trump and his aides. So, now, when life and death is on the line, do people believe the White House assertions?
Two weeks ago on this program, Carl Bernstein said it's almost an impossibility that Trump can regain trust. So, that's one question, as we consider the credibility of the administration's statements.
Number two, what's the impact on the images? What's the impact of the images on all of us as viewers? And what do we not show as newsrooms?
As Paul Waldman of "The Washington Post" wrote on Friday, "It's as though Trump just found out that children are dying in Syria. We get to see those horrifying images of chemical weapons attacks precisely because they are less gruesome than what happens when one is killed by conventional weapons.
If a photojournalist takes a photo of a dead child whose limbs have been blown off by a bomb, you won't ever see it and neither will Trump. The newspaper won't run it and the evening news won't show it because editors consider those images too upsetting. But you will see a photo of a child killed by sarin gas because her body is intact."
How do those editorial decisions affect your perceptions and my perceptions and the president's perceptions? Because this does seem to be a red line for the news media -- what newsrooms will and won't show. Now, how do those decisions affect viewers, including the most powerful cable news viewer of all, the president of the United States?
Joining me now discussing more and all of this, Lara Setrakian, co- founder and CEO of Syria Deeply -- sorry, I think I missed up your name. Say it again for me.
LARA SETRAKIAN, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, SYRIA DEEPLY: That's all right. I'll fix it. Lara Setrakian.
STELTER: Thank you. I apologize. I haven't seen you in many years, but you're the co-founder of Syria Deeply, a site providing in-depth coverage of the ongoing war in Syria.
And Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of "The Intercept", and host of the podcast "Intercepted".
Thank you both for being here.
Lara, you've been running Syria Deeply for years, trying to provide the kind of thorough coverage of this war that people may not find elsewhere. What was your reaction about the air strike on Thursday?
SETRAKIAN: Truth be told, it was very surprising, if only because we've seen six years of the Syrian conflict with so many heartbreaking images and so many that did bust through and become global memes, from the death of Alan Kurdi, that young boy who washed up on the shore in Turkey 2015, to the chemical weapons attack in August 2013, which sparked this whole debate over whether to strike.
So, there was nothing particularly different about this week in Syria except for the fact that in Washington, there was a political will to strike. So, I think that was very surprising for anyone watching Syria's war and covering it closely.
STELTER: Does this mean newsrooms should be showing more of the awful imagery, the -- comes out of Syria every week? There is media activist that risks their lives to get images and videos out of Syria on a daily basis. We often times don't see those images because they are so gory, so graphic.
SETRAKIAN: Absolutely, and you have American journalist who've risked their lives and some who've lost their lives just to cover this war continuously. Anthony Shadid of the New York Times and James Foley, the freelance journalist who was beheaded by ISIS, died trying to capture not just images but perspectives. And what we do need to see in the media is continuous coverage of Syria.
What we get right now is a complete vacuum, which is no coverage until there is a momentary obsession, whether its chemical weapons or Alan Kurdi or something we think speaks to an American news appetite. But a lot gets lost along the way. So, our ability to digest that information and to make sense of that
picture is completely gone largely because as a whole and I don't like to generalize except that it's true this time, as a whole, our industry has failed coverage of the Syrian crisis.
[11:05:03] We have not provided consistent and focused coverage. The first years of the crisis, even the Pew Center says they were the modest to negligible coverage of Syria. It was the Arab Spring story that fell off the radar and fell off the news desk, and all of us have suffered for that. And the number one way we've suffered is an inability to make sense of those images, as I said, but also to have a coherent policy conversation about what needs to be done.
And, frankly, also a failure I believe among many, many news outlets to exercise any critical thinking when these images do come out. First of all, as you said, they are handed out by media activists. These are not my own images.
When it comes to this week's attacks, there is still no evidence from the OPCW, which is the main U.N.-linked monitoring body that this chemical attack took place, that it was the responsibility of the Assad government. I mean, the facts are not all in. There have been other chemical attacks that the OPCW documented and said this was a case of chlorine gas or mustard gas, and they went largely unreported in the press.
So, we're taking this essentially, this activist footage at face value. We are going along with an assumption of facts that are not yet verified and then we're not really questioning the fallout of this attack and whether it succeeds in any sort of coherent policy objective.
So, I know there are fantastic journalists covering this story, a lot of them on CNN, but by and large, are failing to make sense of the Syrian story.
STELTER: Arwa Damon, one of our correspondents, who has risked her life going into Syria over these past six years, said to me a couple days ago that she's racked with guilt wondering if she could have or should have possibly done even more.
Jeremy, I think there is awareness of what's been going on in Syria, but for some reason, maybe people are desensitized. What is your view of the coverage?
JEREMY SCAHILL, CO-FOUNDER, THE INTERCEPT: Well, first of all, let's look at this in the big picture. Donald Trump has given greater latitude to the military to conduct strikes with almost no regard for civilians. Just in the month of March, Brian, U.S. and allied forces have killed more than 1,000 civilians in Iraq and Syria, according to the non-partisan independent group Air Wars (ph). Trump is funneling weapons and intelligence to the Saudis that are being used to utterly destroy Yemen at this point.
The United States has been engaged military in Syria for several years, both in the form of special operations forces and increasingly conventional boots on the ground, but also just scorched earth bombing, particularly since Trump took office.
And I have to say, Brian, Arwa Damon is a fantastic reporter. I have great respect for her. But I think when we talk about this, CNN needs to immediately withdraw all retired generals and colonels from its airwaves.
You know, Fareed Zakaria, if that guy could have sex with this cruise missile attack, I think he would do it. Brian Williams seemed to just be in true love with the cruise missile strike and in a despicable way invoking Leonard Cohen's name.
I mean, the media coverage has been atrocious, particularly -- and this is across the board on every network, particularly when the strike is happening. It's like they are in awe of the cruise missiles and look no further than Hillary Clinton, Bill Kristol and Donald Trump once again being on the same team when it comes to these kinds of wars. The elite of both parties just all get in line and they absolutely love a cruise missile strike.
STELTER: You teed up my essay that's coming up later in the hour.
You know, with regards to Fareed, I was just talking to him about this, as his show is wrapping up, he thinks people didn't keep listening past that half sentence when he said this was a president, Donald Trump became president, and then he went on to be quite critical actually both on "NEW DAY" and again this morning.
Now, don't you think --
SETRAKIAN: Brian, if I can say --
STELTER: -- Brian Williams out of context?
STELTER: Sorry, Jeremy?
SCAHILL: Let me -- let me just say this.
SETRAKIAN: Everyone, frankly, Brian --
SCAHILL: Words matter.
STELTER: I'll be quiet. Lara, go ahead.
SETRAKIAN: Jeremy, just not to bundle these things. I agree with a lot of what Jeremy said and there's been a bizarre mix of either, again, ignoring Syria or fetishizing it and that's happened with major image that captured national attention and basically lent itself wall to wall coverage.
This time, part of that was military -- U.S. military handout video. The fact that the focus of that video was on somehow glamorizing the strike and not talking about what it achieved or didn't achieve and what it means for Syria, what they did and didn't hit, a lot of debate over the last six years is whether the U.S. would do a pinpoint strike that took out runways. That didn't happen. So, if the runways can be used, how is this a deterrent or a disabling of future chemical strikes.
STELTER: Let me --
SETRAKIAN: I mean, there are questions that needed to be asked that haven't been asked.
STELTER: Let me piggyback on that point about the handout footage. I think that's a really interesting thing, you know, war images the Pentagon released right now because it was in the government's interest for people to see these air strikes, these missiles taking off. We do not see as much imagery of attacks in Mosul, for example, of U.S. action in Yemen.
[11:10:03] There have been civilian casualties in these cases in recent months as Jeremy was describing. They are not primetime special reports when these U.S. actions happen and there is something that I think important to analyze there.
I want to go to your point, Jeremy, about military analysts, though. You are saying they should not be on the airwaves at all? I think that's a pretty extreme view we should not hear at all from military experts when there is military action happening.
SCAHILL: All right. How about this, Brian? When you have these retired generals and colonials on, let's hear what defense companies they're on the boards of? Let's hear how they have their own private companies that benefitted off of the Iraq, like Spider Marks who's on your program. He profited directly off of it.
STELTER: I think CNN is quite careful about those disclosures but I agree, it's important to have those disclosures.
SCAHILL: Well, I mean, look, the fact is that when you talk about famous generals and this is a different network, but Barry McCaffrey, you have you own Spider Marks. I think the American people deserve to know what was the private sector of these individuals when it came to the weapons industry or profiting in the private sector off the proliferation of U.S. wars that happened in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere.
There is not the kind of transparency that is required of a truly democratic press when you're not revealing the extent to which these people have benefitted in the private sector from these wars.
STELTER: I appreciate the skepticism.
SETRAKIAN: Brian, can we get back to Syria? Yes, I was going to say -- just getting back to Syria for a second. The majority of this war and the majority of what I see as the press failure on this war happened under the Obama years, and we have to acknowledge that. A lot has been going wrong for a long time, strikes that have gone uncovered in Yemen, in Pakistan and other places.
But just to bring you back to Syria -- I mean, part of our error on coverage of Syria across the board has been an area of distortion. We take single incidents and present them without context, without a sense of proportionality, without any sense of where they fit into the direction of this country.
Syria has been a critically important war for a very long time. We only came around to it on the later side. I think that's really important. We need to hold ourselves accountable for that.
We got Arwa Damon, you've got Clarissa Ward, fantastic CNN reporters covering this story and it just hasn't been on the news agenda as high, and from an editorial making decision standpoint, and that's a failure that we ought to look back on and wonder why.
STELTER: Lara, Jeremy, thank you both very much.
I'm sorry? Jeremy, go ahead, last word?
SCAHILL: Yes, I just want to say, you know, Bashar al-Assad was a brutal thug when he was torturing prisoners on behalf of the CIA. Saddam Hussein was America's friend when he was using chemical weapons. We need to have more than just the immediate crisis memory, we need to understand the historical context of how a butcher like Assad actually has more in common with someone like Dick Cheney than the average Syrian or the people that are on these airwaves as brave reporters.
STELTER: Historical context that we can all agree on wanting more of that.
Lara, Jeremy, thank you very much.
As I mentioned, my essay about talking heads of drummers, beating the drums of war coming up later this hour.
But up next, the biggest ad boycott we've seen in years. Sponsors fleeing Bill O'Reilly's show because of the harassment claims against him. How the impact may be spreading beyond just "The O'Reilly Factor". Plus, Attorney Lisa Bloom was representing one of O'Reilly's accuser here with new developments.
[11:17:08] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.
New details continuing to emerge in the Bill O'Reilly-FOX News harassment scandal. Last summer, Gretchen Carlson lawsuit against FOX News boss Roger Ailes was really the start of a domino effect that we're still seeing, leading first to Ailes' ouster and now, the revelations about O'Reilly's settlement payments. Look at what's happened just in the past week.
Dr. Wendy Walsh, a former FOX News guest, went public with her harassment allegations against O'Reilly. FOX News contributor Julie Roginsky filed a sexual harassment suit against Ailes, and also named the channel's current co-president, Bill Shine, saying that Shine retaliated against her. Meanwhile, advertisers are abandoning the network's marquee program, "The O'Reilly Factor".
By the end of the week, O'Reilly's no spin zone was almost a no-ad zone. These are all advertisers that removed their ads, said they didn't want to be a part of the program. And now, there are concerns the ad boycott could spread beyond "The O'Reilly Factor".
Two reporters on this beat will join me momentarily. But, first, Lisa Bloom is here, the attorney representing Dr. Walsh.
We mentioned her just a moment ago. She was a former guest on O'Reilly's show who alleges O'Reilly rescinded his offer to make her a contributor after she refused to go back to his hotel room back in 2013.
Lisa, thanks for being here.
LISA BLOOM, ATTORNEY REPRESENTING O'REILLY ACCUSER WENDY WALSH: Good morning.
STELTER: First, your reaction to this ad boycott a week ago when you and I talked, and there was no sense that advertisers might speak up like this.
BLOOM: Listen, Wendy and I are profoundly grateful to every advertiser who has pulled out. Sometimes when I represent women in sexual harassment cases, we feel like we're all alone, that nobody is there with us. I really want to thank Mercedes Benz, which was the first one to pull out, and when they pulled out, they made a statement about supporting women's equality. We really appreciate that support.
STELTER: This week, you had a press conference with your client. Then, you all -- in the middle of the week, you called FOX's corporate hot line. This is a hot line to a report harassment claims and other inappropriate behavior. Let take a look at the video of that call first.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OPERATOR: Your call will be answered by the next available communications specialist.
COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST: The primary reason for your report.
WENDY WALSH, O'REILLY ACCUSER: Sexual harassment as a job applicant at FOX News channel by an employee named Mr. Bill O'Reilly.
COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST: I'm sorry. Can I just put you on a brief hold for a moment, please?
BLOOM: Maybe this is the point at which people give up. We're six and a half minutes into it.
COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST: Can I have a last name.
WALSH: Capital O, apostrophe --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So, Lisa, you all put out this video, it almost looks like a prank. I mean, are you trying to trivialize this serious issue?
BLOOM: No. No, if you watch the whole video, there's absolutely prankish about it. We were astounded that we had to wait --
STELTER: Well, showing the fast forwarding and things like that.
BLOOM: Pardon me?
STELTER: Yes, having that fast forwarding and things like that.
[11:20:01] BLOOM: Well, I don't think you want to sit there and watch us be on hold for six minutes. And then as soon as she says his name, we're on hold again. So, we fast forwarded through the long hold periods. But if you watch the whole thing, you'll see that this was very serious.
Listen, FOX News said nobody ever called the hot line, I don't believe that --
BLOOM: -- to begin with.
But we decided to take them up on it and make a very serious complaint of sexual harassment and retaliation against Mr. O'Reilly.
STELTER: A former FOX News staffer, including our Alisyn Camerota now here at CNN has said when she worked there, she didn't know about this hotline. We've heard that from other former FOX staffers. So, what happened when you-all called? What has happened since that call on Wednesday?
BLOOM: On Friday, we received a return phone call from a couple of attorneys who represent FOX News and they said that they are indeed going to do an investigation based on Wendy's complaint. I told them we really appreciate that and let's get going as soon as possible. And so, I am told that they are taking it seriously and they are going to do the investigation that's legally required of them.
STELTER: That sounds like news that you did hear back. What about the past week for you? Have you heard from other women who are seeking to be represented by you in this matter?
BLOOM: I've heard from a lot of women. The phone line at the Bloom firm has been flooded with calls. We've talked to a lot of them. Some of them, their claims are time-barred. Many of them, probably all of them, are really scared, that's typical.
I do sexual harassment cases every day. Women are always scared. But we stand with women. And so, we are reviewing a number of other cases, yes.
STELTER: I think one notable thing about this week is no other women have publicly come forward to accuse O'Reilly of improper behavior. If you're working at FOX News, you might say this is blowing over. This is going to be history.
BLOOM: Oh, this is not blowing over. I think there are going to be more claims.
Listen, think about coming out publicly against Bill O'Reilly, who's extremely wealthy, who has a huge megaphone to come after you. What's the first thing that happened to my client, Wendy Walsh? She got a nasty letter from his attorney, accusing her of defamation, threatening to sue her.
Nobody should do it alone. They should certainly get an attorney to stand with them. But, you know, people are scared. They don't want this in their lives. What women want are their careers.
And as far as you can tell, all of the women who made complaints against Bill O'Reilly have been driven out. That's the really scary thing for them.
STELTER: Lisa, thank you for being here.
BLOOM: Thank you.
STELTER: Joining me now here in New York, Emily Steel, a reporter with "The New York Times", who broke the news about these secret settlement payments in last Sunday's paper. Now also here, David Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR and the author of "Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires."
David, you reported on Friday that women inside FOX News have some conflicted emotions about this topic, some concern that O'Reilly remains in his job.
Tell us about that reporting and how widespread that view is.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, I got to say, among some women, among some men, as well, there is not particularly conflicted feelings about this. There is a degree of contempt towards O'Reilly, that fact he's been able to continue on FOX and the Murdoch family made a big show saying the culture is changing, we got rid of Roger Ailes after Gretchen Carlson's lawsuit last summer. You know, we're changing the way the places run, and yet, the nation -- as you put it quite compellingly, the marquee show on FOX News in primetime, every night, Bill O'Reilly, the man who's been accused multiple times, serially, of sexually harassing colleagues is there in place. Twenty-First Century Fox, the parent company, the Murdoch family, says
we've talked to Bill O'Reilly, he's assured us he's committed to having a good workplace for folks. But folks at the network are -- some of them feel some contempt for O'Reilly and how he's behaved and also skepticism that among some view toward criticism toward how the Murdoch family which controls 21st Century Fox has addressed this.
STELTER: So, talking about the Murdochs, Emily, is the strategy just silence? We haven't really heard much from the company this week?
EMILY STEEL, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That's what we've seen publicly so far. We haven't heard anything more from Bill O'Reilly except the statement he put out last week. We haven't heard anything more from the parent company.
STELTER: And to be clear, O'Reilly said last week, these claims are meritless and the company said we talked to O'Reilly about this, the company suggesting they moved on. But what are you hearing from inside FOX?
STEEL: That's really a big question we're continuing to ask and we continuing to pursue. One thing that is in the same vein as what David has reported, women inside FOX are upset about this. People just want to do their jobs. That's why they are there and they feel like there is this kind of this aura of suspicion around them.
Some of the women that I talked to, either they are complicit in this behavior or that they're suffering in silence. And it's very interesting, because it's nine months since Ailes was ousted from the network and these questions continue to linger.
STELTER: Now, when you look at the ratings for O'Reilly's show, they were either flat or slightly up in the past week. No damage it seemed among his viewership.
STEEL: Right, he has a very loyal audience, a very loyal fan base and we actually sent a reporter out to watch the "The O'Reilly Factor" with some "O'Reilly Factor" viewers and our reporter watched the show with a woman who is a big fan of the show and she said she was conflicted about watching it, but she's still loyal to him and to his show.
[11:25:09] STELTER: So, if he doesn't have top advertisers, David, but he does have the audience, does that mean he's invincible?
FOLKENFLIK: I think he's damaged but not necessarily mortally wounded. It really depends whether or not there is sustained public outrage, whether the advertising pullback occurs not only against his show, but FOX has been able to place almost all of those advertisers on other shows and do make goods, whether or not that spreads to other shows, as well. The majority --
STELTER: Yes, the company says, to be clear, no financial impact from this ad boycott.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, and that's the real question. If advertisers, BMW, Mercedes says we're not going to advertise on FOX News, writ large, that becomes a much bigger issue. They can pull back from the network.
STELTER: Or beyond FOX News, the FOX broadcast network and to be clear, we haven't seen that happening, but I wonder if it could spread that far.
FOLKENFLIK: I don't think that's the way it works. I think you have to see an almost -- a wildfire throughout the country over this for that to occur. I do think that Rupert Murdoch is overseeing the network right now and he sees himself as a guy that defies public backlash, that he says nobody is going to tell me to do what I do when I do it, up until the moment he absolutely has to. I think you saw that with Roger Ailes and they caught him off to cauterize the wound, and it turns out the culture at least as these allegations that we've seen suggest may be deeper than that.
And so, women at the network say, are we somehow view tainted in our professions if we behave perfectly appropriately because somehow people think we've given in to certain kinds of harassment like this. Other women there say, you know, the top stars can't have this and yet, there are at its core among the leadership at FOX, a desire to say, people aren't going to force us to do things differently than we want to do them. I think you see that with Bill Shine and Diane Brandy and others.
STELTER: FOX does not react to public pressure or peer pressure the way other companies do.
Emily, last word?
STEEL: One interesting point, though, is sexual harassment is against the law. You are not supposed to treat women like this in the work force. And whether these are allegations, whether they are believed or not, this is an important issue and women deserve to be treated with respect in the workplace.
FOLKENFLIK: And, additionally, there is a federal investigation going on, I believe you mentioned earlier, into whether or not payments to some of these women -- settlements to keep their allegations private and away from public eye were somehow masked to keep them away from shareholders and investors which could itself be a violation of federal law.
Right now, that's going on in the prosecutors' office. They're handling that investigation here in the southern district of New York. That could have implications, as well. So, you know, I think you're hearing silence from 21st Century Fox because they want it to blow over and they want to see how this plays out. There is sort of a several track story that they are trying to monitor here.
STELTER: I don't think anybody knows how this actually ends.
David, Emily, thanks very much.
STEEL: Thank you. FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
STELTER: After a break, more on this. Two top media analysts standing by talking through this. And a quick reminder on our nightly newsletter, daily coverage of this topic and so much more. Sign up now at reliablesources.com.
We'll be right back with more on the O'Reilly matter right after this.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
The question everybody in the media business wants to know the answer to, will FOX News continue to stand by Bill O'Reilly?
Now, the ad boycott may make him weak, but O'Reilly's ratings remain strong. He remains the king of cable news, as his ads say. And his new book called "Old School" is number one on "The New York Times" bestsellers list.
So, is he invincible? What's going to happen as a result of the harassment stories?
Let me bring in two media critics, including who used to work at FOX, Jane Hall, professor of media at American University. She was formally a FOX News contributor. And David Zurawik, media critic with "The Baltimore Sun."
Great to see you both.
Jane, I want to hear first from you on your view of what has transpired the past week. We haven't seen an ad boycott this severe against really any media figure in four or five years. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck have been targeted in the past, but this has been especially severe, especially quick. O'Reilly started his week with like 30-plus commercials, ended the week with barely 10 commercials. What is your reaction?
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION: Well, I think that this say we may have reached a cultural moment.
Television is very symbolically important. And we may have reached a moment where companies felt genuinely that they needed to make a statement, that these allegations and "The New York Times" story meant that they did not want to be associated with this program.
I think it's a very important cultural moment. I think it presents FOX with a very interesting challenge as to what they do. But I think the boycott means -- and the fact that, as far as I can tell, this was companies moving first. This was not people going to them and saying you should not advertise.
This was companies in their statements saying, we do not want to be associated with the behavior that is alleged and the settlements that are alleged. So, I think that's a very important point for the way sexual harassment is viewed in this culture.
STELTER: David, here is how you framed the O'Reilly scandal in your latest piece. I wanted to pull this part out from your column from "The Baltimore Sun."
You wrote: "When I come across O'Reilly on screen, the only thing that comes to mind is the sick, sexist and predatory culture that is eating like a cancer" -- sorry, "like a cancer at FOX News."
You say it's a cancer. Tell me why.
DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": I think, Brian, because it's spreading. It continues to grow.
Back in August, when they fired -- I'm sorry -- Roger Ailes says he left. I don't know. I don't want to hear from his...
STELTER: Under pressure.
ZURAWIK: Yes, thank you.
When Roger Ailes left FOX News and everything that has happened since, from him -- we were shocked that he would leave. And people thought, wow, that's a really dramatic move. They cut off the head of the snake.
But it didn't end there. They then lost Megyn Kelly, which I think has been greatly underestimated. FOX has done a good job of saying, oh, she doesn't matter, we just plugged Tucker Carlson in.
No, she was one hope they had of journalist respectability. She was one the person who covered Trump honorably during the election. She's gone.
And now this is surprising, Brian. You just cited the column I have in "The Sun" today. I was surprised. That went online Friday. I was surprised by how many women who work at FOX, still work at FOX, some former women, privately contacted me to say, Zurawik, it is a sick culture. You're absolutely right.
And just what Lisa Bloom told you, they're frightened. They don't want to work there. So, you get to a point at FOX where any woman who has other options, why would she want to work in that? That's a culture that Roger Ailes instituted, what, 20 years ago?
And he's such an autocratic personality. Do you know how deeply rooted that is? So, here is the dilemma for the Murdochs running it.
STELTER: Sorry to interrupt.
But, Jane, you worked there in the 2000s. What do you say? Is it a cancer?
HALL: I don't like -- I love David Zurawik, but I don't like the metaphor of a cancer.
Let me tell you what I think they should do, because I don't want to not say what I think. I think that they -- 21st Century Fox, you know, clearly, as David Zurawik, as Emily Steel said, "The New York Times" pointed out that having said they would no longer tolerate this kind of atmosphere in the workplace, they were fixing it, they did not fix it.
They privately made settlements totaling multimillions on behalf of Bill O'Reilly. Women are silenced by these settlements. That's one of the problems of these settlements. That's why Wendy Walsh, she's not suing him, could speak freely.
I know that they still deny and Roger still denies and O'Reilly denies that this happened. But they settled after they said they were cleaning house.
So, here is what I think they should do. 21st Century Fox should enforce the law. It's against the law. And they should enforce a change in the culture, because it is true. I have talked to women who worked at FOX who have said just what you all have said. Gee, does it taint us that we look as if we shouldn't be working there?
I don't think that's really the point. The point is, 21st Century Fox should do what they said they were going to do nine months ago and change the culture. And if O'Reilly's audience views this as some kind of liberal cabal, then that is regrettable, but that is not the point.
This is against the law. This is corporations supposedly needing to enforce a workplace that is not sexually harassing women. And the perception of that is really damaging. It may not damage their bottom line, unless there is a boycott, but that's not really the point here.
The point is, what kind of culture do they have and how are they going to fix it?
STELTER: David, I have got 30 seconds left. What is your prediction about what ends up happening here?
ZURAWIK: Short-term, Brian, I don't think anything happens to O'Reilly. He's the franchise. He's the tentpole for prime time.
But it's a rock and a hard place, because if they don't go in and tear up that culture, and if they don't take some action against somebody by O'Reilly, this thing will continue to fester.
I have to say, though, Jane is right about advertisers coming forward on their own in this case. It's going to take a big, big wildfire for this advertising boycott to affect them. But they have to do something.
And the danger right now, Bill O'Reilly has become the face of that sick and predatory culture and everything people have heard since Roger Ailes left the network. That is a difference in the perception of him, even by me as a critic.
STELTER: And O'Reilly says he's a target for this, he's vulnerable, these claims are meritless. That's what we've heard from him, nothing else from him this week.
Jane, David, thank you both for being here.
ZURAWIK: Thank you.
HALL: Thank you.
STELTER: Up next, two bold, brash New Yorkers, two TV stars who know how to entertain and know how to shock, Bill O'Reilly and Donald Trump, kindred spirits.
We will take a closer look with the one, the only Michael Wolff, right after this.
STELTER: With criticism of Bill O'Reilly piling up, there is at least one very powerful person standing by him, his friend, the president, Donald Trump.
"SNL" made Trump's support for O'Reilly a key part of last night's program.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: One man was brave enough, one man, to come to my defense, a man who is unimpeachable on all female issues. And now he's here tonight.
People, please welcome the president of the United States, Donald Trump.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BALDWIN: Hello. Hi. Hello, everyone.
Good evening, Bill. It's so wonderful to be here on "The Factor."
BALDWIN: I'm a big fan.
BALDWIN: I'm a big fan as well. And it's an honor to have you here.
And can I just say, Mr. President, you look even better on TV?
BALDWIN: I know. I do. I look fantastic. And can I tell you something? I actually see a lot of myself in you, Bill.
BALDWIN: Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you for coming to my defense last week, even though no one asked you to. And you even went as far as saying -- quote -- "Bill O'Reilly did nothing wrong."
BALDWIN: That's correct.
BALDWIN: That's based upon?
BALDWIN: Hunch. Just a loose hunch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: All right, Alec Baldwin there playing both parts, one pretaped, one live. And "SNL" was quoting Trump almost verbatim from this "New York Times" interview.
Trump said O'Reilly is "a good person" and said he didn't think Bill did anything wrong, also said O'Reilly shouldn't have settled those complaints.
Now, it's one thing for the president to support O'Reilly, but what about the people that ultimately make the call at FOX News, the Murdochs, who control 21st Century Fox?
Joining me now to discuss that, Michael Wolff, columnist for "The Hollywood Reporter" and author of "The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch."
Michael, good to see you.
MICHAEL WOLFF, COLUMNIST, "THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER": Hey. Nice to be here.
STELTER: You wrote in your book, your biography of Murdoch, that, actually, he's not a big fan of Bill O'Reilly, actually, you said doesn't like him at all.
Let me address this or -- before -- before we even go there, because I think that "Times" -- "The Times" interview...
WOLFF: And this is interesting, because I noticed that "The Times" just the other day in a news story talks about the linking Trump and O'Reilly, and calls them both indications of a bygone era.
WOLFF: This is a news story, by the way. And I thought...
STELTER: Do you think that is bias?
WOLFF: And I...
WOLFF: Well, I think it's kind of incredible.
I mean, we have -- we have a man who was elected the president of the United States, and we have Bill O'Reilly, the most popular anchor in cable TV -- also, by the way, curiously, the bestselling author in the country.
STELTER: That's true. Yes. Yes.
WOLFF: And so they are the bygone era.
I think that they are probably only the bygone era to "The New York Times" and to other people who hate FOX and hate Trump.
And that is where this kind of cleaves, that this is an -- that this is an issue as much about politics as it is about sexual harassment.
Now, I will bring that back to the Murdochs, too, because, within the Murdoch empire, that's also where it -- where it cleaves.
STELTER: Hmm. How so?
WOLFF: You know, you have a generational thing with Murdoch, who may -- I think it's immaterial whether he's been a fan of Bill O'Reilly's or not. Bill O'Reilly supports his company.
STELTER: Right, in a big way.
WOLFF: So, he very, very, very much wants to keep Bill O'Reilly.
It's his sons who are deeply ambivalent about O'Reilly, about FOX, about Ailes -- about Roger Ailes, who was ousted this summer.
As a matter of fact, there's an interesting thing that I have been just making calls this week on this. And during the Ailes -- the Ailes -- when the Ailes issue first came up in July, Murdoch -- Murdoch Sr. said to his sons: You know, if -- if we settle this without a fight, we're just going to invite more and more lawsuits.
STELTER: Which has happened.
STELTER: There have been more and more lawsuits.
And that's -- again, back to "The New York Times," which did that story about all of the lawsuits, and clearly implied that they accepted these lawsuits, they accepted the allegations in these lawsuits.
When, you know, trying to walk up the middle of the road, I mean, clearly, what you have in any situation like this where you have easy money settlements, you're going to get more lawsuits.
In any situation where you have lawsuits -- and "The New York Times" basically was looking at these lawsuits as -- as journalism, that these lawsuits were actual descriptions of what had happened, when everyone knows any lawsuit, any claim is, what, 50 percent accurate, 80-20 percent accurate.
I mean, it is a lawsuit. So, again, we're in this world in which -- in which we are just taking sides, and effectively taking political sides.
STELTER: You think "The New York Times" took sides with the story by taking it so seriously, what these women charged?
WOLFF: Yes. And, I mean, they just -- they just absolutely, down the line, accepted the fact that these lawsuits represented -- represented reality.
STELTER: You have been around for awhile, though. You know that O'Reilly has a reputation.
WOLFF: Well, I think one of the things the -- implicit in this story is not -- is not what he -- what he did, because we don't know what he did, but what we believe he -- he might have done or what -- what he -- what we believe he could do.
Now, those are...
STELTER: Are you worried about sounding like an O'Reilly apologist here?
WOLFF: Those are -- no, I don't worry about anything. I mean, I worry only about trying to figure out actually what is going on here.
And what I do worry about is that, more and more, on issues involving politics, the media is an unreliable narrator. I mean, the other side may be an unreliable narrator, too.
The Trump -- Trump -- Trump is as unreliable a narrator as "The New York Times" is an unreliable narrator now. And that's where we find ourselves.
STELTER: Now, some folks are going to say that's a false equivalence.
So, we will talk about that next time. Great to see you, Michael.
STELTER: Thank you for being here.
After a quick break, my thoughts on the coverage of the Syria strike, how it was portrayed on television and online.
We will be right back.
STELTER: What single word dominated the commentary about President Trump's strike in Syria?
The one word I heard the most was decisive.
In times like these, I find myself thinking about another set of decision-makers: the media leaders and producers who decide what gets heard, because there are hawks and there are doves.
And on TV and online, we need to hear from both -- actually, from all of them, because there are really a lot more than two sides here. There are proponents of military force. There are reluctant supporters. There are serious skeptics. There are absolute opponents.
And Syria has sort of flipped the Trump media landscape on its head. Lots of Trump skeptics were supportive of the strikes. D.C. establishment types cheered him on, but:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Then there are the die-hard Trump supporters who have turned into die-hard Trump opponents, at least on this issue. Some of them may be frustrated because they were told during the campaign that Syria was not our fight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Indeed, politics are so scrambled these days, some of Trump's most loyal fans joined with leftists in opposing the military action.
Pro-Trump host Eric Bolling tried to thread the need this will way:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC BOLLING, FOX NEWS: I disagree with the attack on Syria, but it was definitive, decisive, and got the American people behind him with that launch.
[11:55:03] So, I actually applaud what he did there, even though I disagree with
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Political scientists have been studying this rally-around- the-flag effect for decades.
Journalists and opinionists are not immune from it.
"The media loved Trump's show of military might." That's what "Washington Post" columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote this weekend.
She asked, "Are we really doing this again?"
That is an unmistakable reference to Iraq.
History shows us that, too often, skeptical voices are marginalized, drowned out by the beating of war drums.
Now, in the days since the strike in Syria, I have seen some strong reporting and some serious skepticism on TV. But it's something that all of us, as media consumers, should keep a close eye on. I think we need to hear from military experts on this network, but also from anti-war voices or real skeptics.
If you're not hearing your view expressed by someone on here and online, that's a problem.
We're out of time here on TV, but we will see you online, RELIABLESOURCES.com.