Today on CNN’s Reliable Sources, Jeff Marks, general manager at WDBJ7, joined host Brian Stelter. They discussed WDBJ7’s plan for conducting live shots in the future and the status of Alison and Adam’s significant others. Marks also talked about the gunman and former anchor, Vester Flanagan, and his mental state.
Reliable Sources airs Sundays, 11 a.m. to noon (ET).
A video, text highlights, and a full transcript from the show are available below.
MANDATORY CREDIT for reference and usage: “CNN’s RELIABLE SOURCES”
WDBJ boss: "We can't really" heal
WDBJ7’s general manager, Jeff Marks on the station’s plan for conducting live shots in the future: “I don’t want to discuss our specific plans and they’re formulated by the news director, Kelly Soberan, her brilliant team – [but] The plan going forward is to look at each live opportunity separately and make the proper decisions. But I’m not going to go here and say every live shot is going to have three or four people because there are crazy people out there, and I think it's best if we keep our plans to ourselves. But it's certainly a subject of discussion here, and I can imagine every newsroom in the country that routinely does these what we call live shots…”
Marks on gunman and former WDBJ7 anchor, Vester Flanagan and his mental state: “I’m not a psychologist, so I don't know where on the continuum of mental health he was. Clearly, he was not somebody that we should have had in our newsroom, and he made people very uncomfortable. But where he crossed the line into delusion and outlandishness, it's hard for me to say. …we were very on guard for a few weeks. It made us a little uncomfortable when we found out he was still living in town. But can you predict that someone's irritation and anger will - roll over into violence with a gun? It's never happened to me in my career, and I have had the unfortunate duty of terminating a number of people.”
Marks on the status of Parker and Ward’s significant others: “I saw Melissa [Adam’s fiancé] last night. She was in amazing shape, supported by friends and family at an informal gathering that some of our employees did. I think that - of course, it's been rough for her for several days. And it won't end for a while. But I was glad to see her up and out and getting hugs from everybody. And Chris Hurst, who is - in just as much pain, has been more front and center, doing interviews and carrying that book around of pictures that help him get through this.”
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: This afternoon, Marks will be speaking at an inter-faith service. But, first, he is joining me from Roanoke to discuss this week.
Jeff, thank you for being here, first of all.
JEFF MARKS, GENERAL MANAGER, WDBJ: Thank you, Brian.
STELTER: Our hearts, of course, go out to you and to your colleagues. I really admired how your station has not skipped a beat this week. I was even watching your 8:00 a.m. newscast this morning. You all continued to cover this tragedy as it's affected your own station so profoundly. I imagine that’s a coping mechanism, but I do wonder if it's made it worse in some way. Have you thought about taking a break at some point, even skipping a newscast, to give the staff time to heal?
MARKS: We can't really do that. Our bond with the community is such that we have to be there for them just as they are for us. It's been very helpful that our colleagues from three of our sister TV stations inside our company, which is Schurz Communications, have flown here to help take care of things. Some of the more difficult stories, those reporters have helped us with by covering. So, we've held it together with the help of friends.
STELTER: I was going to ask you about that, about rival stations or your counterparts in other markets coming to your all's help. So, it sounds like they've been doing that ever since Wednesday.
MARKS: The first call I got on Wednesday morning was from my counterpart at one of the other stations in town, and the - all the stations in town and people from all over the country have volunteered to fly in at their own expense and help us in the newsroom. We've been very grateful for all of those offers.
STELTER: Two of the loved ones of the victims work for your station, of course. Melissa Ott, a producer, it was supposed to be her last program on Wednesday. She was engaged to Adam. And Chris Hurst, who was dating Alison. Do you have any update on how they're doing, how they’re coping?
MARKS: I saw Melissa last night. She was in amazing shape, supported by friends and family at an informal gathering that some of our employees did. I think that - of course, it's been rough for her for several days. And it won't end for a while. But I was glad to see her up and out and getting hugs from everybody. And Chris Hurst, who is just - in just as much pain, has been more front and center, doing interviews and carrying that book around of pictures that help him get through this.
STELTER: If you don't mind for a minute I would like to go back to Wednesday at 6:45. I’m - and it's hard to ask. Obviously, it's hard to ask this. But when we saw that live broadcast which then went online and went viral in this disgusting way on Wednesday, the camera went back to the anchor at the desk who was shocked but continued the broadcast. What did the control room see and hear? Because Adam's camera kept rolling and Alison's microphone was still on.
MARKS: Well, I’ve only watched it once myself. It was, of course, terrible. As it unfolded, people in the control room thought maybe it was fireworks or back fire. When Alison started screaming and running they knew it probably was neither of those. Luckily, it was toward the end of the two hours, but they soldiered on and got the newscast done. Melissa was -
STELTER: But in the control room, what I mean is that their signal, their live shot kept going back to your control room.
MARKS: Oh, yes. Yes.
STELTER: Did they see or hear - I guess what I’m asking is, were they able to talk to Alison or Adam through their IFB?
MARKS: No, no, no. No. They tried very hard to do that. They called their cellphones and there was no answer. And to those of us who have been in the business for a long time, when I had that information, I thought, let's hope they’re grievously wounded, which was the only alternative that could have been good based on all those facts.
STELTER: Do you have the sense that this ex-employee of yours produced this execution? We know by now that he filmed it with a GoPro type camera that he seemed to wait until the camera was back on your reporter before he shot. Was he producing it, basically using our tools and technology against us in the media?
MARKS: I think that's the most obvious conclusion to come to. I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about him or what he did, because I’ve been so focused on my employees and how they've responded. But it was certainly a bizarre concoction by a man who was not living in his right mind at a time.
STELTER: You say not living in his right mind at a time. As we all know by now he was removed from the station a couple years before all of this. I asked viewers for their questions for you. I'll put up one of their questions on screen. It's tough, of course, as we're covering journalists having to do your own jobs.
One of them wrote: If this happened at another station, what would you be asking about this man's firing, about how his tenure was handled? Do you believe he was in his right mind for example, when he was let go by the station? Was there something more the station could have done?
MARKS: Well, I’m not a psychologist, so I don't know where on the continuum of mental health he was. Clearly, he was not somebody that we should have had in our newsroom, and he made people very uncomfortable. But where he crossed the line into delusion and outlandishness, it's hard for me to say. Yes, I would ask, could you have known? And I would say, we were very on guard for a few weeks. It made us a little uncomfortable when we found out he was still living in town.
But can you predict that someone's irritation and anger will boil over - roll over into violence with a gun? It's never happened to me in my career, and I have had the unfortunate duty of terminating a number of people. I don't know how you stay on absolute vigilance for two and a half years -
MARKS: - because of somebody who hasn't done anything in that period. You know, people have said, is this going to change how you send reporters out? And I think that's a question a lot of newsrooms are asking.
MARKS: But there’s no easy answer to that.
STELTER: I have been hearing from reporters in local news rooms across the country. Many of them like me shaken by what happened on Wednesday because -
MARKS: Oh, yes.
STELTER: - it does feels like it could happen to any team of journalists who was out at a live shot. Of course, we know something like this is rare but I have heard from journalists who say the idea that only two people are out there as opposed to three or more, or in some case, in some markets, just one reporter doing his or her own live shot, no cameraman, no engineer or anything, that might make it more dangerous and more risky. Have you given thought to whether it should be only one or two people out there doing live shots?
MARKS: Yes. I don’t want to discuss our specific plans and they’re formulated by the news director, Kelly Soberan, her brilliant team.
STELTER: And, by the way, we should mention -
MARKS: We are examining that.
STELTER: And I think we can go ahead and play what I found to be very emotional videotape of the live shot. In fact, Kelly was there with your reporter as it was wrapping up. Tell us what the plan will be going forward.
MARKS: The plan going forward is to look at each live opportunity separately and make the proper decisions. But I’m not going to go here and say every live shot is going to have three or four people because there are crazy people out there, and I think it's best if we keep our plans to ourselves. But it's certainly a subject of discussion here, and I can imagine every newsroom in the country that routinely does these what we call live shots, live reports from the field.
STELTER: We're seeing your reporter now at a football game on Friday night. The outpouring from the community, including at the high school games was amazing to see this weekend. I know you'll be speaking later today at this inter-faith service. We’re just wondering, before I have to go to a break, whether you thought differently about the media now, whether your impression of the press has changed now that you have had to be at the center of the worst story of your career.
MARKS: Look, no, it hasn’t. In fact, it’s improved with almost no exceptions.
MARKS: Oh, gosh, yes.
STELTER: Great to hear.
MARKS: The job that the reporters for the various networks around the world who have been here, has been doing, has really impressed me. They are operating with compassion. And you know, we get accused of going into people's houses after a death and saying, "How do you feel?" Well, the truth is, that's our job. But most of the time, 99 percent of the time, reporters are invited in because the family wants to talk about how wonderful the person was, as with Chris Hurst this week. So, when I was asked, "How do I feel?" I wasn't offended at all. I appreciated having the opportunity to talk about that. And the others from our company who spoke, I think welcomed that opportunity too. And it was handled with grace and with compassion by virtually all the reporters we came into contact with.
STELTER: That's as wonderful a note as I can think of to end on, on such a sick week. So many of us in the press do like to criticize our colleagues, there’s lots to criticize for sure. It doesn't seem like there was anything to criticize in Alison or Adam's work. They were rising stars from all the coverage we've heard in recent days.
MARKS: You just wouldn't believe how - they were - I said to a number of people, if you had 1,000 job candidates in front of you and you had to pick two, those were the two you would pick out.
STELTER: Well - Jeff, thank you for being here this morning.
MARKS: Thank you.