Interview with Roger Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman on CNN’s Reliable Sources
A full transcript and videos from the show are available after the jump.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Roger Ailes has been called many things — a genius, a political hack, paranoid. President Obama once called him the most powerful man in the world.
Now, you might call the chairman of FOX News nervous. Yes, nervous, thanks to the brand new book. “The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built FOX News and Divided a Country”.
Author Gabriel Sherman is here today for his first in-depth interview.
Plus, we’ll take time to look at this week’s Chris Christie’s media circus in New Jersey.
And we’ll get an update on the case of three reporters from Al Jazeera who are being imprisoned in Egypt.
I’m Brian Stelter and it’s time for RELIABLE SOURCES.
STELTER: Good morning. Welcome to Washington.
There is nothing on television like the FOX News Channel and there is no one in television like Roger Ailes, the 73-year-old Republican strategist and television producer who has been in charge of the channel ever since it launched in 1996.
To many on the right, he is a hero. To many on the left, he’s an arch villain.
Now, this new book, “The Loudest Voice in the Room” by Gabriel Sherman, is aiming to be the definite history of the man. It’s been in the works for more than three years and it’s been highly anticipated in the media business. And this Tuesday, it’s on sale.
Now, Ailes did not cooperate with Sherman, but hundreds of other people, including Ailes’ older brother Robert, did.
Let me read you one of the key passages from the book. “Roger Ailes has the power more than any other single person in American public life to define the president. For many Americans, admittedly and patently not the ones that voted for him, the Obama they know, the one they are raging against, is the one that Ailes has played a large role creating.”
Sherman joins me now here in the studio.
And, Gabe, thanks for being here.
GABRIEL SHERMAN, AUTHOR: Thanks for having me.
STELTER: A lot of people have heard this notion that Ailes is the most powerful man in media. But we hear that quote and we hear you describing him as someone who can really get inside our heads and influence the country’s perceptions of the president.
What led you to those conclusions?
SHERMAN: Well, Brian, this as you mentioned was three years in the making. I talked to more than 600 people to provide this account. It is exhaustive.
And what I learned and changed my mind. This process changed me, I’ve been covering media for a decade as you’ve been covering media. You know how FOX is a dominant cable news network. But what I learned is that Roger Ailes has created a political operation that employs journalists.
And I’ll tell you, it exists for two reasons. To generate as much profit as possible for its corporate parent Rupert Murdoch and advance the personal, political agenda of its founder, Roger Ailes.
STELTER: So, you’re saying it’s a news channel, but it’s also a political machine.
SHERMAN: No, I’m saying it’s a political machine that employs journalists.
STELTER: So, is it a news channel at all in your mind?
SHERMAN: I mean, that’s for other people to decide.
STELTER: Well, what about reporters like Shepherd Smith —
SHERMAN: Of course, that’s a great point. You know, there are great reporters at FOX — Shep Smith, Bret Baier, you know, sort of hard-charging political reporter, host of a very, you know, well-regarded news show. But Roger Ailes is smart enough to know if you’re going to give the audience red meat to advance your agenda, you’ve got to give them some nutrition.
STELTER: I want to — before we go any further, talk about the fact that CNN is a direct competitor to FOX News.
SHERMAN: Of course. Yes.
STELTER: Put that on the table and also talk about an interesting back and forth that happened this week among Roger Ailes and the head of this network, Jeff Zucker.
SHERMAN: Yes, of course.
STELTER: I was at a press conference in Pasadena, California, when Jeff Zucker was asked about FOX. This started because the “Hollywood Reporter” had an interview with Ailes, where they asked about CNN, they asked his views of the cable news landscape. He made a comment criticizing CNN for running documentaries.
And then, Zucker at this press conference shot back. He said that comment was a way to deflect attention from your book. And then he said, and I want to read this and put this on screen. He said that your book confirms that the Republican Party is being run out of news corporation headquarters masquerading as a cable news channel.
Now, Zucker also said he had not read the book yet. He only read the excerpts that have been online. The book won’t be available for a couple more days.
But I’ve read through it and I’m curious about what you think. Do you think that description from the president of this network is fair?
SHERMAN: Well, look, I think Zucker would kill for Ailes’ ratings. You know, every executive in TV would.
But I think I would put it a little differently. Roger Ailes with FOX News has surpassed the GOP, and what I found fascinating after all of my reporting is that this is a vision that Roger Ailes had more than 40 years ago. He gave an interview which I quote in the book where he said that he envisioned a day where television would one day surpass the political party as a mass organizers of the 20th century. This was after he helped Richard Nixon get elected president in 1968 and he saw a day where television was going to move ahead of the political parties.
And with FOX News, he has achieved it. You know, inside FOX News, Roger Ailes has disdain for the GOP. You know, he once said to his executives last year, that the GOP could not organize a one car funeral and the reality is with FOX News, Roger Ailes has his hands on the wheel and the GOP is just going along for the ride.
STELTER: And you’re saying that you did not start this book with that belief.
SHERMAN: Oh, no.
STELTER: This only comes out of the reporting.
SHERMAN: Yes. You know, I’ve been covering like media for a decade, as I said, and I went into this knowing Ailes has created a phenomenon, FOX News has the dominant ratings, the most talked news network in the country, and I wanted to explore the secretive world and I went in and it took exhaustive amounts of reporting.
I came away with an incredibly different idea. And, you know, it was a testament to Ailes’ genius he has been able to keep the true nature of the FOX News secret from the American people for 17 years and that’s a testament to his genius as a political communicator and the power of his network.
STELTER: I want to go in detail about how you reported this book, the process, why so many of the sources are anonymous. But I want to read a comment from FOX before we go further.
STELTER: They say, “Aside from Mr. Sherman never interviewing the main suspect of his book, both he and your publisher Random House refused to submit fact checking questions to FOX News prior to the book’s publication.”
What do you make of that charge? Were you able to fact check with FOX or with others?
SHERMAN: Well, I’ll just say, this book was rigorously fact checked. I had a team of two fact-checkers, who spent more than two thousand hours fact-checking this book. I reached out to Roger Ailes more than a dozen times, both in writing and in person, to have him participate in the fact checking.
Ultimately, Roger Ailes and FOX News declined to participate in the fact-checking.
STELTER: What I was most struck by when I read through the book in the last few days, all of the comments about President Obama. And this suggestion there’s real hostility between Roger Ailes and the president — not that the president feels that way about Ailes, but Ailes feels that way about him.
And I want to put a few comments from the book up on screen. First is this — from a former senior FOX producer. An anonymous quote. It says, “He honestly thinks Obama has set back the country forever. He feels like he is the only one out there who can save the republic. He has said it.”
That implies he said in meetings?
SHERMAN: Yes, in meetings.
STELTER: And here are three quotes that you attribute to Ailes at various points in the book, before the president was elected when just announcing his campaign. He’s quoted saying, “People need to be reminded this guy never had a job. He’s a community organizer.”
Then shortly after he was elected the first time, Ailes quoted as saying, “There’s no reason to have a civil rights movement anymore since there is a black man in the White House.”
The third quote that sent to me was this one. It says, “One executive recalled Ailes saying, quote, ‘They hate America. They hate capitalism.’ Another recalled, ‘He would say, beat the blank out of them.'”
Is this a day-to-day theme that you heard about within the halls of FOX that every day, Roger Ailes would talk this way?
SHERMAN: You know, I think, Brian, one of the major revelations in this book and the thing that really surprised me and will surprise a lot of your viewers and readers in my book, is that Roger Ailes is more extreme than Glenn Beck.
STELTER: Well, because some of these quotes sound like things that Glenn Beck had said on air. For example, when Glenn Beck said something to the effect of President Obama has a deep seated hatred for white people, you say Ailes agreed with that.
SHERMAN: I didn’t say that. Sources inside the meetings who heard from Ailes said after that controversy erupted, Ailes agreed with Beck. And one of the –
STELTER: But what makes you think he’s more extreme than Glenn Beck.
SHERMAN: Because Roger Ailes — one thing that makes Roger Ailes a genius is that he obscures his true agenda. Glenn Beck is transparent.
You know, I’ll tell you a story that is in my book, is a revelation for the first time.
Roger Ailes had a conversation, only months ago, in which he told a politician that if he were president, he had the solution to the immigration problem. And Roger Ailes’ solution would be to send Navy SEAL trainees to our southern border and have them find illegal immigrants crossing into the United States and he would give them direct orders to shoot and kill anyone coming into our country.
STELTER: And this is from an anonymous source in this case or on the record source?
SHERMAN: No. It’s on the record source who related this conversation. It’s based on contemporaneous notes of this conversation that took place. And Roger Ailes said, to have SEALs earn their certification, he wanted them to have to bring home a dead body.
STELTER: Let me play devil’s advocate with you for a minute.
STELTER: Ailes is a Republican. Everybody knows that. And he’s conservative. Everybody knows that. I think we could find other conservatives who would feel the same he would, and would express certain points of view.
And I remember, many years ago, you quote him in the book saying about his relationship with Steve Forbes, one of many Republicans he advised. You quote saying, “What I do in my private life is my business, period.”
Now, do you disagree with that? Does it matter what his personal views are about, say, President Obama or about illegal immigrants?
SHERMAN: Of course, it matters, and I’ll tell you why. You know, I went into this process trying to write a book about FOX News, wanting to write a book about FOX News. I realized very early on into my reporting that the story is not FOX News. The story is Roger Ailes. The network is a complete expression of his world view.
You know, Roger Ailes —
STELTER: You’re saying it’s the Roger Ailes’ channel.
SHERMAN: Yes. You know, Roger Ailes said in an interview several years ago, he said, “You know what, I built this network from my life experience” — and it’s true. In the 8:00 a.m. meeting and in the regular meetings with his executives, he monologues about his experience with post-war American history, and they absorb his world view, and everything flows from Roger Ailes and radiates through that organization.
So, you cannot write about FOX News and it does matter what his views are, because it ends up on the screen in various forms.
STELTER: You know, I think about people who write books come in with lots of goals sometimes. What are you trying to accomplish? Because I wonder, if people are going to look at this, if they don’t like FOX, they’re going to dislike FOX even more. If they love FOX, they’re not going to believe the word of what you wrote.
Are you going to change any minds, do you think?
SHERMAN: Well, listen, the number one thing was my mind was changed. I went in simply trying to understand — this is a phenomenon that has changed American culture, and I just wanted to understand how he built —
STELTER: And sometimes, you do have some respect for him.
SHERMAN: Incredible amounts.
STELTER: Comfortable as some of these comments that he made.
SHERMAN: Incredible amounts of respect. You know, I likened Roger Ailes one time to Steve Jobs who — both are American icons. Steve, Apple was a complete expression of Steve Jobs’ world view and that’s why he was successful. FOX News, very different product, but is a complete expression of his vision and he is able to marshal thousands of people in — to execute his vision and that takes tremendous talent.
STELTER: By the way, neither man very often talks to the press.
SHERMAN: Very secretive.
STELTER: Steve Jobs was very reluctant.
SHERMAN: Exactly. Both, you know, both demonstrate they have this sort of “me versus the world” idea and that’s why the organizations were very successful.
STELTER: Well, Gabe, stay with me. We’ve got a lot more questions. I want to get into the process of the book and I want to talk about what it’s like to write a book about Roger Ailes — what kind of, you know, responses did Gabe get. We’ll talk about that in a moment.
STELTER: Welcome back.
I’m talking with Gabriel Sherman, author of the new book, “The Loudest Voice in the Room”, an unauthorized biography of the FOX News chairman Roger Ailes. The book comes out on Tuesday.
Gabe, I want to read a question from a viewer that came in. They say, what was the most surprisingly positive story about Roger Ailes?
SHERMAN: You know, Brian, I think one of the keys to FOX’s success is the loyalty that Ailes inspires in his talent, his producers. They go to war for him.
You know, there’s a great story in the book I tell when he left NBC in 1996 to go work for Rupert Murdoch, 82 employees followed him out the door.
SHERMAN: And he told NBC executive in a phone call because they were furious he was poaching people — he said, I’m not poaching people. It’s a jailbreak.
And, you know, he freed — he looked that he was freeing these people from the tyranny of NBC. You know, they love Ailes. They wanted to go work for him.
SHERMAN: He is a warrior and they’ll go into battle with him. That to me is a testament to he — he is a leader. He’s like General Patton.
Ailes loves to quote Patton and to me, you know, Ailes is very much a Patton-esque character where he can — he’s tough as nails but he will inspire his guys to go into battle.
STELTER: You talked like you know him so well, yet you’ve only interacted with him a few times.
SHERMAN: Yes (ph).
STELTER: I know that you tried to interview him. He always said no. What were your interactions like and what does that tell us about him?
SHERMAN: Well, this has been an incredible experience. I feel like I’ve lived with Roger Ailes for three years. I’ve been that’s deep into the story.
You know, on the occasions that I’ve met him they have been fascinating, revealing interactions. They’re very combative.
I had one combative conversation with him which I detail in the book, which he accused me of being harasser. He said he was personally upholding the First Amendment. He told me it was because of him I’m allowed to write my book.
The other encounter I had with him here in Washington at the Kennedy Center, his bodyguard pushed me out of the way.
So, to me, these interactions although they were, you know —
STELTER: Sound brief.
SHERMAN: They were — yes, they were brief but they were revealing. That’s the thing, they were brief but they were very revealing of his view of journalism, of how his desire to control his story.
You know, this is a man that has been controlling the story of his Republican political clients and now the news agenda. So, it would make sense that the number one story he wants to control most is his own.
STELTER: If we Google your name we’re going to see charges that you’re a left-leaning journalist, that you’re a liberal, that you’re out to get Roger Ailes. Some of those charges have been made by FOX News talent.
What’s your reaction to this kind of campaign that you’ve seen happen while you were writing the book?
SHERMAN: Listen, Brian, I’m a reporter. So, politics doesn’t enter into it. What it tells me —
STELTER: But you must have certain personal points of view.
SHERMAN: I approach this as a story. I’ve covered “The New York Times.” I’ve covered “The Wall Street Journal”. I’ve covered “The Washington Post” aggressively.
I’m a media reporter. You’re a media reporter. You want to go to where the heat is.
In media, the biggest story is FOX News. You know, I consider Roger Ailes to be the biggest media story of the last 50 years in American culture. He is an icon.
He will go down, I hope, in history, as someone on the level of William Randolph Hearst. I mean, he is an American legend. And that’s why I was so compelled to write this book because it’s the biggest story on our beat.
STELTER: Another charge you’ll see online, it seems to have merit to me, is the New America Foundation gave you a fellowship a couple of years ago. They are backed by a number of liberal causes and groups and donors.
What’s — what do we make of that connection to the book?
SHERMAN: Well, listen, number one, that’s an effort to distract from the book. The book is coming out —
STELTER: That is what you think.
SHERMAN: Readers can read the book. But to that point, New America is a nonpartisan think tank. They receive funding from a variety of sources. Roger Ailes’ own handpicked autobiographer, Jim Pinkerton, who for many years, almost 10 years, was a fellow at the New America Foundation. So, it’s clearly a transparent effort to distract from the book.
So, I would let readers read the book and decide.
STELTER: And decide.
Well, here’s a headline from “The Daily Beast”. It says, “FOX’s war against Ailes’ biographer.”
Do you sense you’re at war here?
SHERMAN: Well, listen, this story is a lot of heat. Already, FOX talent has attacked me, Sean Hannity, Karl Rove, Andrea Tantaros. There’s been an online campaign to try to, like, you know, malign me as a reporter.
To me, that shows I’m getting deeper into the story. And it also reveals the fact like going back to my earlier point, Roger Ailes runs a political organization. They employ journalism. They do some journalism.
But at its heart, the DNA, to understand FOX, you have to understand it is a political organization.
STELTER: I should say, we’ve tried to have him on the show or anyone from FOX this week and FOX declined. So far, they haven’t said a lot publicly about the book other than what we read earlier.
Do you expect more to come? Do you expect to be smeared by someone about the book?
SHERMAN: Well, listen, if past is prologue, I mean, there’s been intense interesting in this book in the run up. I’ve been at work for this like I said three years. So, now, it’s coming out Tuesday, I expect — I expect there to be a lot of interest because Roger Ailes is the biggest story in American politics and media over the last 50 years.
STELTER: I want to get into what it’s like to try to research someone like this. If he is who you’re saying he is, it must have been hard to get people to talk to you. How did you convince people inside FOX to talk?
SHERMAN: Well, I’ll say it was harrowing. It was harrowing, Brian. You know, when you get deep into the story, you realize that this story is much darker than anyone realizes. You know, I quote in the book from documents, from NBC, in 1995, Ailes was engaged in a fierce power struggle for control of the NBC cable unit. At the time, Roger Ailes was the president CNBC and he also ran a startup cable network called America is Talking.
And these executives who battled with Ailes, the things they said were chilling. In a letter to Bob Wright, Andy Friendly, who is a primetime executive at CNBC, son of legendary CBS executive Fred Friendly, he said, that Roger Ailes pressured him and his colleagues to lie to the press and that Fred Friendly feared for his safety and in one conversation Roger Ailes, quote, “said he would blow his brains out.”
David Zaslav, another top NBC executive, currently the head of the CEO of Discovery Communications, the highest paid media executive in America, certainly no wilting flower himself, he wrote in a letter to NBC HR, which I quote from in the book, that he feared for his family’s safety. That Roger Ailes —
STELTER: Ailes used a slur, anti-Semitic slur against him, but Ailes denies it. And in a recent interview, Zaslav also denied it. Why would both men deny it if it was written down in legal documents?
SHERMAN: I detail this episode in granular detail in the book. It is based in documents. David Zaslav confirmed this in documents at the time. There was an agreement —
STELTER: Why would he say now that it wasn’t true?
SHERMAN: See, this is what’s in the book. There’s an agreement that both men signed to settle their dispute with NBC. As part of this legal agreements, there are provisions they’re not allowed to talk about in the future.
STELTER: I see.
SHERMAN: So, the fact that 17 or 18, going on 20 years later, they’re changing their story, doesn’t change the fact that I have seen the documents from real time in which David Zaslav confirms it.
Now, I will say that Roger Ailes in real time denied it. Ailes’ lawyer who represented him in the time I interviewed him, he denied it. Readers can make that judgment for themselves.
But the fact that they’ve changed their story years later, I think readers should focus on what was happening in 1995.
STELTER: Here’s an interesting detail that I was surprised by in the book. You say at one point that Ailes set up an anonymous blog called the Cable Game to take shots at his rivals.
STELTER: It seems he has been focused on his public image even behind the scenes, maybe with an anonymous blogs.
SHERMAN: This is fascinating. I want to talk about a couple things here.
First of all, secrecy is paramount to understanding Ailes.
You know, there’s a chapter in the book that goes back to his time in the Mike Douglas show where he talked to a colleague of his. And he said, “You can have your back against the wall, and you can talk your way out of anything”.
And that to me was a revealing moment and it was when Ailes was in his late 20s many years ago, because dodging and weaving and always having maximum options has been Ailes’ strategy.
So, using secret blogs to push his message out there, another thing he does which was fascinating to me, is he has a secret e-mail address that he e-mails FOX talent and producers when he wants to push his right wing messages.
STELTER: Why would he need a secret address? Why not his main address?
SHERMAN: Well, the official Roger Ailes email address at FOX News is for official company wide communication. But he wants plausible deniability so when he wants to push something on to the channel he sends it from a fake e-mail address, it’s the name of his maternal grandfather, so that if it leaks he can say that’s not me. It’s plausible deniability.
I think that’s fascinating his mind works at these deep levels with always being able to achieve his ends, but remaining behind the scenes. He is the quintessential man behind the curtain and this book for the first time goes behind the scenes, got all the insiders to talk. It pulls back that curtain and we can see once and for all who Roger Ailes is, and what FOX News is.
STELTER: You say you have all these insiders, but so many of the quotes are anonymous. Tell us why they have to be anonymous and why readers should trust you that these quotes are real.
SHERMAN: Exactly, well, I’ll say two things. First of all, many sources are on the record and as you mentioned at the top of your show, including Roger’s brother. But I would say to the anonymous sources thing, you cannot write this book without using anonymous sources. I did use anonymous sources —
STELTER: Why is that?
SHERMAN: Because Roger Ailes, as his closest confidants have said to me, is more Nixonian than Richard Nixon, his former boss in the late ’60s. And I’ll tell you why, here’s a perfect story and I was fascinated to learn this, this is in the book. One of the most powerful people inside FOX News is Roger Ailes’ assistant, his executive assistant. She’s a woman named Judy Laterza.
Now, she sits in an every major meeting. She attends every major meeting and she sits there taking notes.
And when Roger Ailes says something explosive, what one executive said to me, what one producer said, was that Roger Ailes — Judy Laterza will roll her eyes, first thing she’ll do is roll her eyes.
STELTER: Dismiss it as a joke, or something.
SHERMAN: Because she’s heard it all.
SHERMAN: Second thing she’s going to do, she’s going to write down what Roger said, and then the third thing she’s going to do is take notes of every person who is in that room. So if that —
STELTER: You think that’s an attempt of intimidation.
SHERMAN: I know it is, because my sources it tell me. So when Ailes says something explosive, if it leaks, he has a record of everyone who was in that room to go interrogate. That shows the degree to which he has been able to control this organization.
You know, I had one senior person tell me they made a joke at a cocktail party once after they had left the building like I’m — I should write a book about FOX one day. Within 24 hours, that person got a menacing phone call from a senior FOX executive saying, we hear you’re thinking of writing a book about us, and he had to furiously back pedal because it was a joke.
That’s the kind of fear that emanates from this building.
STELTER: It does sound like you’re describing a villain and I wonder if you worry about sounding unfair to this man who has built this incredibly valuable enterprise.
SHERMAN: Oh, no. Brian, I’m a reporter, I’m describing a character, a subject that I have intensely reported on for three years. You know, Roger Ailes’ story is an amazing American story of power. He rose from modest means in a factory town in Warren, Ohio, grew up middle class, dad never went to college. He rose to the highest corridors of power in American culture.
I mean, that’s an amazing story. I mean, whether people think he’s a hero or villain, I want them to read the book and come to that conclusion. What I think he is, is an incredibly fascinating and powerful subject. He’s an American original.
STELTER: Well, Gabe, thank you for being here and sharing your reporting with us. I’m sure we’ll hear more about it this week and you’ll be talking about it for weeks to come.
SHERMAN: Thanks for having me, Brian.
STELTER: Thank you.
SHERMAN: There’s so much to talk about as you can imagine. The influence of media on politics and the proliferation of Roger Ailes’ style outrage on television. Two other authors have been listening to our interview here with Gabe and they’ll join me with their reactions, next.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
You know, those were some pretty strong accusations from Gabriel Sherman. I think we should talk to them a little bit more, because FOX News is a prime example of what my next two guests call the outrage industry. They wrote a book by that name, the subtitle is “The Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility.”
Let’s bring them in from Boston.
Jeffrey M. Berry is a professor of political science at Tufts University, and Sarah Sobieraj is an associate professor of sociology there. Thanks to both for joining me.
SARAH SOBIERAJ, TUFTS UNIVERSITY: Thank you.
JEFFREY M. BERRY, TUFTS UNIVERSITY: Thanks.
STELTER: Jeffrey, let me start with you. What was your reaction to what Gabe was saying about Fox News?
BERRY: It sounds like an interesting book and one that’s very well-researched, but I have a fundamental disagreement with his perspective on Fox. If Fox was a business; if Roger Ailes walked away tomorrow, Fox would continue to do the same thing. Fox is actually the most profitable part of its parent corporation, 21st Century Fox.
BERRY: It makes more profits than any other part of the business. And this is not a very innovative business. They follow a template, in talk radio, on the blogs. And on Fox and MSNBC, it’s all the same. They are going to continue to do the same whether Ailes is there or not.
STELTER: And, Sarah, your book that you co-wrote, it argues that this industry has grown because it is profitable. Is that something that you see changing any time soon?
SOBIERAJ: No. I think what happened is that there was an earlier era when there were very few options in the media. You know, as a viewer, you had the major networks and far fewer options in terms of radio. There was no Internet. Now, when we have endless cable stations and expanding options, seemingly daily, online and on radio, different forms of radio, what makes more sense now is to try to reach people through niche markets.
So they’re looking for views that are, maybe, unique, perhaps objectionable. That’s something that would not have been used before. But what we see is a media landscape that’s growing, not shrinking. So I don’t think there’s any reason to think that reaching out to slivers of the public is going to be less successful from a business standpoint.
STELTER: And of course, it’s not just cable news or Fox News. One of the revelations in the book we were just talking about is that Roger Ailes tried a few years ago to get Rush Limbaugh to come back to television and do a show on Fox. Rush Limbaugh declined, according to the book. But talk radio is as much an example of what you’re describing as cable news, is it not?
BERRY: Talk radio is actually the biggest part of the industry, in terms of audience size. Rush Limbaugh, by himself, has 15 million listeners a week. So talk radio actually dwarfs MSNBC and Fox on the TV side.
SOBIERAJ: And it gives a good example of the expansion, because, in the last — in a 15-ish-year span, the number of talk radio all-news, all-talk stations tripled in the U.S. So that’s an area that’s growing, as music dwindled.
STELTER: And those stations are predominantly conservative. Your research, from what I’ve read, suggests that conservative media outrage has been more successful than liberal media outrage, although, of course, there are many examples of both. Why do you think that is?
BERRY: Well, part of it is personality type. Conservatives seem to find the yes-and-no, black-and-white, “this is the way it is,” “this is the truth,” that kind of pedagogy from talk radio and conservatives more than liberals, who tend to be, sort of, “50 shades of gray” and are more tolerant. So…
… on the talk radio side, there is almost no liberal talk radio. It’s virtually all conservative, about 90 percent. So liberals don’t find it as appealing.
The other part of it is demographic, in that, among all liberals in the United States, a very large chunk are African-American or Hispanic. And there’s the — they have their own media universe and many of them prefer the ethnic media rather than what you hear on talk radio or on MSNBC and Fox.
SOBIERAJ: Liberals are also much less distrustful of the mainstream conventional media. So I think that’s another factor. Sort of, historically, we’ve seen that. But there’s less aversion to, say, the New York Times or The Washington Post or a major network on the liberal side. So they’re consuming, sort of, a broader array of media, generally speaking.
STELTER: Sarah, as I read, I got the sense there’s, sort of, an addiction here. Is there something that can be done to break this addiction to outrage?
SOBIERAJ: Well, I think the addiction is an addiction on the part of the producers, who are gaining a lot of profits from this. I think…
STELTER: Oh, you know, we love to blame the producers.
SOBIERAJ: I think, if you were to see — well, it’s incredibly profitable, right?
The production costs are low and audiences are high, and it does well. I mean, when MSNBC shifted from a more neutral political standpoint to being overtly left and adopted the “Lean forward” strategy, their ratings improved significantly, right?
So it is, in fact, profitable. And so I think that’s a big part of the addiction. The audience does also enjoy it. The numbers are great. And fans seem to really appreciate a place to tune in where they find their views validated, where they feel reassured, in a climate where, in our day-to-day lives, we don’t really feel very comfortable talking about politics much.
STELTER: I think that’s a crucial word you just used, the word “fans.”
Well, Professor Jeffrey Berry and Sarah Sobieraj, thanks for being here. I appreciate it.
BERRY: Thanks for having us.
SOBIERAJ: Thanks, Brian.
STELTER: And remember, I’m always interested in hearing what you think of the show. This has been a busy one so far. Look me up on Facebook and Twitter. My user name is Brian Stelter.
Next, the scandal you could not escape this week, Chris Christie facing the media over a bridge controversy. Was it a game-changer in the way the national press covers the New Jersey governor?
STELTER: Welcome back to “Reliable Sources.” I’m Brian Stelter. When news broke of a political scandal surrounding Governor Chris Christie and a few closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge, Christie went into damage control mode and the national media had a unique opportunity to join local New York and New Jersey reporters at a marathon nearly two-hour press conference.
The normally combative and cocky governor turned contrite and even humble. Christie, described by some as a media darling, called local and national reporters by their first names and kept his cool throughout, no small feat, of course, for a governor with a history of bullying reporters once in a while.
So how will he fare with reporters going forward? Joining me here in Washington to discuss, Michael Crowley, the deputy Washington bureau chief of Time magazine and the author of Time’s in-depth cover story about Chris Christie, “The Boss Known as the Master of Disaster.” A full disclosure here: Time is owned by Time-Warner, the same company that owns CNN.
Your cover story came out about a year ago, one of many that we’ve seen of Governor Chris Christie. How would you describe the press’s treatment of him up until this scandal this week?
CROWLEY: I think he’s had very good treatment, and I think that, to some degree, there’s been a little bit of a Chris Christie bubble in the media.
He’s benefited from some really, for him, wonderful political dynamics. You know, his response to Hurricane Sandy, as a matter of pure political theater, was perfect. And I think, in a way, it was like a miniature version of Rudy Giuliani after 9/11. And people in his state loved it.
So I think it was appropriate for the press to say he did a really good job because he was rewarded. And he had a smashing re-election victory. Again, I think to some degree the press is responding to that. But there are some other factors we can get into.
STELTER: Well, if you watched MSNBC this week, they would say that until this week that Chris Christie has been the darling of the Beltway media. Do you think that charge that we hear from liberals is true at all?
CROWLEY: Look, I think it’s fair to say he has gotten pretty favorable press, because I think in addition to the things I’ve just mentioned, he has some other qualities that the national media or maybe we’ll say the Beltway media loves.
One is this at least veneer of authenticity, straight, blunt talk. You know, it was crucial it to the rise of John McCain many years ago, this sense that he’s telling it like it is. Now his critics will say that’s phony and that’s just purely stylistic, but I do think that’s part of it.
The other thing is that he does sometimes unexpected political things, like when he sort of was chummy with President Obama late in the election campaign in 2012, after Hurricane Sandy.
He was infuriating a lot of Republicans. And let’s face it, there’s no denying that the media loves it when a politician kind of breaks ranks with their own party and there’s bipartisanship and there’s a kind of man bites dog story like that.
So I think he has benefited from that. But I think now the table is turning a little bit. There’s a little blood in the water. And there may even be a sense on the part of some reporters that they need to overcompensate as a result.
STELTER: That’s interesting. I was struck at the press conference this week how he was calling on so many reporters by their first names. Let’s roll the clip of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: David…
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: It makes him seem like a nice guy and maybe having a cozy relationship to reporters.
CROWLEY: Yes, you know, my sense is that in New Jersey, he has a pretty good relationship with the local beat reporters in particular. There was a interesting essay in Politico, your viewers can look up if they want, by a guy who has covered him a while, who talks about profane, dishy, off-the-record sessions with Christie over beers.
I think it’s a little tenser with the national media. I know that he can be weary of reporters wanting to parachute in and write about him and disappear. I think he likes to have a relationship with reports. And I think he’s appropriately a little more guarded about people he doesn’t know.
And I do think that if he should run for president, the dynamic would be very different, very quickly. The stakes are so much higher and reporters have a much lower incentive not to burn someone on that national stage as opposed to a statehouse beat reporter.
STELTER: Here’s the cover of The New Yorker we’re going to see tomorrow. It’s Christie playing in traffic. This is one of so many examples of the criticism that we’re seeing, the satire we’re seeing. And, you know, because this is on newsstands this week, there will be a lot more like these.
What do you see in the coming week on this bridge scandal story?
CROWLEY: Well, it’s hard to say where the bridge scandal story goes now. I mean, a lot of these emails were dumped out yesterday. People are still trying to figure out what they mean and amount to. It looks like there’s going to be some more public testimony, subpoenas, investigations.
And, you know, the big question is, will this lead us — will there be any evidence that Christie knew what was going on? And then the story really blows up on to a new level. It’s possible it kind of peters out and we see a lot of embarrassing emails among kind of state functionaries.
But, look, I think something people need to keep in mind is this bridge scandal comes at a moment when there have been other negative stories about Christie bubbling up.
The book “Double Down” talks about that opposition research file that the Romney campaign had that went through a bunch of things in Christie’s past allegedly that don’t look good. I’m sure reporters are chasing that.
STELTER: And it says that he didn’t cooperate fully with the people that were vetting him, right?
CROWLEY: Yes. And that was one of the big red flags apparently for senior Romney people was that he didn’t answer some of their questions. They felt he wasn’t being forthright. There were a bunch of items in that list that had nothing to do with this bridge scandal.
The New York Times had a wonderful report several weeks ago that had many other instances of alleged retribution, many were on a smaller scale. I think there was one politician who had his — or maybe a foreign politician had his security stripped allegedly by Christie’s office.
He had had some security guards he enjoyed as a perk. And they took it away because he had done something Christie didn’t like.
But I think that there’s now — again, it’s not just this one story but a growing sense that, boy, there might be a lot to this guy and the press, I wonder — I wonder if the press may be thinking, we spend a lot of time talking about how funny he is and how blunt and straight-talking, but maybe it’s time to dig a little more.
STELTER: By the way, pretty easy story for the press to cover. You know, New Jersey so close to Washington and New York, the resources are here, they can be there in a few hours. And a I wonder if that’s another reason why this story got so much coverage this week. You know, easy live shots of the George Washington Bridge and things like that.
CROWLEY: Look, for your viewers, you know, who are tuning in, curious about how the sausage gets made, it’s just one of those facts of life. I really think that in the New York media market, there’s a geographical proximity factor.
CROWLEY: What politicians do they get on their local news every night? Who is at the front of their consciousness? It probably helped to build the guy up in the first place, now may be part of the hits he’s taking now and may continue to take.
So it’s a good news/bad news situation for him.
STELTER: Michael, thanks for taking time to be with us here.
CROWLEY: Thanks for having me.
STELTER: Thank you.
After the break we’ll turn our focus to the Middle East for the latest on a disturbing story you should know about, three reporters who are being treated like criminals. Back in a moment.
STELTER: Welcome back. Turning overseas now to a story with serious implications for reporters around the world. This morning three journalists who work for the Al Jazeera news network are still being held in Egypt. They’ve been there since late December.
This week Egyptian prosecutors announced that they would be keeping correspondent Peter Greste, producer Mohamed Fahmy, and producer Baher Mohamed in custody for an additional 15 days. The journalists are accused of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Al Jazeera has publicly condemned the arrests, calling for their team’s immediate release.
Here with me now to discuss the latest developments in New York, Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and Africa coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. And in Manchester, England, Bernard Smith, the Qatar-based correspondent for Al Jazeera English.
And, Bernard, let me start with you on this, what are your colleagues accused of having done and what is Al Jazeera’s response to what seemed like some pretty dramatic allegations?
BERNARD SMITH, AL JAZEERA ENGLISH CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially these three colleagues of mine were just journalists doing a journalist’s job in Cairo. And they were reporting on all sorts of stories in Egypt. Peter had been there covering over the Christmas period. Baher Mohamed had been there all last year. Mohamed Fahmy had been there since the summer. They were picked up in the middle of the night at the end of December from an office we were using in a hotel in Cairo.
And, essentially, they haven’t been charged with anything yet. They have just been detained. They have been periodically questioned by the prosecutor. And the suggestion from the prosecutor is that we were — somehow they were somehow creating stories, twisting them to favor the Muslim Brotherhood. Some of the allegations are that we edited stories in a way that made them sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood and in ways that suggested Egypt was on fire.
I mean, essentially Al Jazeera English’s response is these were just journalists reporting on all angles of the story. Brian?
STELTER: It sounds like they’re taking Al Jazeera and turning it into part of the political debate and, you know, upheaval that going on in the country right now. Is that right?
SMITH: I mean, they are. Of course, it’s known — well-known that Egypt has an ax to grind with Qatar, which hosts Al Jazeera network, hosts Al Jazeera English and its other channels, and there are issues between those two governments. But Al Jazeera operates independently of — of Qatar. But, unfortunately, because our guys were the only physical presence of Al Jazeera in Cairo, it seems that they have decided to pick them up.
STELTER: You’re saying maybe some geopolitics are at play. I mean, you spent a lot of time in Cairo. Have you ever experienced anything like this yourself on the ground there?
SMITH: Well, I mean, you know, last summer, in the crackdown on those pro-Morsi, anti-coup protests in Cairo, it was a very febrile atmosphere. And it was very difficult for journalists, not just Al Jazeera English journalists but for any journalists, foreign journalists, to report from there because the message that the authorities in Egypt were pumping out was that foreign journalists were against the military-backed interim government. They were saying that Egypt was in turmoil and we weren’t towing the line of the domestic media.
So it was a difficult place to operate, certainly, last summer.
STELTER: And one other question for you before I turn to Sherif. Has the Arabic version of Al Jazeera experienced this similar treatment in Egypt?
SMITH: Yeah, I mean, Al Jazeera Arabic — well, none of us have a presence now in Egypt, but Al Jazeera Arabic has not had a physical presence there since last summer, either. They came under much closer scrutiny from the Egyptian authorities because they broadcast in Arabic. So it’s them that a lot of the criticism is targeted towards. But, as I say, the English channel was the only physical presence there. Hence our guys were the ones the Egyptian authorities picked up.
STELTER: OK. Sherif, does this tell us something broader about what the interim government in Egypt is doing and how they are treating the press?
SHERIF MANSOUR: Absolutely. The Egyptian government had been responsible for an increased number of attacks on journalists unprecedented in the case of Egypt. And I’m talking not since Mubarak, since 1982.
For the first time, Egypt was ranked in the 2013 (inaudible) census by CPJ as the third deadliest country for journalists, with six journalists being killed throughout the year, including three in one day, when they (inaudible) the pro-Morsi protests.
Egypt was also ranked for the first time among the top 10 jailers of journalists, this year, in our present census. Coupled with other, you know, detentions, intimidations and public attacks against journalists, you can see that the government is serious about anyone who’s critical or independent in Egypt, including journalists who are telling a narrative that doesn’t go hand in hand with the Egyptian government’s story for what’s happening inside Egypt.
STELTER: What can be done to get these men freed and to improve the climate, Sherif?
MANSOUR: A lot of things, including public pressure, media pressure and government — foreign government pressure. Those journalists include people who have other nationalities, like the Canadian nationality in the case of Fahmy and Greste as well. Those governments must exercise their influence on the Egyptian government because what they are facing is not criminal charges; they are calling them terrorists; they are linking them with the Muslim Brotherhood as a charge for something that they do for their own work as journalists.
So it’s a calculation on the government — Egyptian government side will have to keep interrogating them, holding them without charges or not. And, of course, anything like this that we do will also be useful for the case.
One of those journalists is denied medical attention right now, and he has a presustained injury in his shoulder, Mohamed Fahmy. He has not seen his family other than once, briefly, and he hasn’t had a chance to have legal representation. All these are immediate steps that can be taken even while in custody to improve their situation.
STELTER: Bernard, in the few seconds we have left, any news today on their condition? How often are you getting updates?
SMITH: We’ve got colleagues — we’ve got senior management in Cairo at the moment keeping an eye on our colleagues. We know that Peter is well and is being well-treated. Fahmy, Mohamed Fahmy and Mohamed Baher are in a different part of the same prison. They’re all in Tora prison.
But, yeah, I mean, they just — we just want the Egyptian authorities to release them as soon as possible. They were just journalists doing the job that all other journalists do in Cairo and all over the world, trying to be impartial and report all sides of the story.
STELTER: Gentlemen, thank you both for being here and filling us in on this.
MANSOUR: Thank you.
SMITH: My pleasure.
STELTER: We were going to end the program today on a much more uplifting note about a photograph taken here in D.C. that changed one family’s life. Here it is, but I went long with author Gabriel Sherman, so we’ll put the interview online on our “Reliable Sources” blog and I’ll have a final word in a moment.
STELTER: Well, that’s all for this televised edition of “Reliable Sources.” But over on CNN.com, we have an-depth story about television broadcasters’ lawsuits against Aereo. This week, the Supreme Court said that it will consider the case. Also online, my look at the record ratings for the PBS drama “Downton Abbey” and a look at why my former employer, the New York Times, is redesigning its website and creating new types of advertising. And a very big deal for the women’s website “PopSugar.” It’s getting onto TV in a deal with the TV Guide Network starting tomorrow. You can find all of that and a lot more on the “Reliable Sources” blog on CNN.com. Thanks for watching and we’ll see you Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.