CNN’s Brian Stelter joined me today to talk the Thursday debate and covering the Planned Parenthood outrages:
HH: And what will be discussed at the debate–CNN’s chief media correspondent and the host of Reliable Sources, Brian Stelter. Brian, welcome, great to have you on the program.
BS: Thank you. Good to be here.
HH: Let’s start with the difference it makes to be number eleven and number ten. How important is it to the Friday discussion that one does well as opposed where one does well? debate number one or debate number 2?
BS: Boy, well the 5 p.m. debate will get people talking and it have millions of viewers and maybe, just maybe, it will influence the prime-time debate. You know, if someone says something really interesting, maybe it will come up in the prime-time debate, but the reality is that the highlights of Thursday’s debate, the big moments that we will be talking about Friday morning, they’re almost certainly going to come from that prime-time debate. There really is only one prime-time and it’s gonna be a big deal for Rick Perry, for example, to not be on the prime-time debate.
HH: Now that having be said, on the prime-time stage, on the far-right or left corner will be Chris Christie and John Kasich. I think John Kasich will be like linebacker Paul Kruger of the Browns, a great edge-rusher. I think he’ll go try and tackle the QB’s–Donald Trump here. What do you think? Does it matter where you are on the stage?
BS: It may matter slightly because Donald Trump will be, as you know, as the literal figure in the center-stage. Maybe that makes him more open to attacks, to criticisms from the other candidates, literally coming at him from all directions. But, he’ll also look maybe perhaps very presidential–being in the center-stage along with Jeb Bush.
HH: And Scott Walker. Now the camera shot–now I’m going very nerdy here–the camera shot, if it’s on Donald Trump will either have Walker or Bush in it or all three. If you’re giving production direction down to the floor from the director’s office, do you want all three of them in a shot or just two of them at a time?
BS: I think often times you’re gonna want to see three or four of them–Huckabee, perhaps, as the fourth person there–to see Trump interacting with them and to see the reactions from the other candidates. It was so interesting last night at the forum in New Hampshire, seeing the candidates sitting in the front row, waiting for their turn to talk. Some of them seemed like they do not want to be there, and it’ll be fun to see how many reactions we see on Thursday as well.
HH: Do you think any of the Republicans will repeat the error of Al Gore in 2000 and make noises or stalk around the stage and look like Lurch?
BS: Gosh, I don’t think so, I mean, people have known for months that this day was coming and have been able to think through it, but obviously, the TV junkie looks forward to those unscripted moments. There’s even more to this debate than his first debate than there was in 2000 or 2007 or 2011. Maybe it’s because this debate process was so controversial–this top ten criteria–it’s really amped up interest and enthusiasm for Thursday night.
HH: Oh, I’m going to be watching every minute of it. In fact, I’m doing a radio special immediately after the first–second–debate concludes. It leads off with Carly Fiorina. Now, Brian, let me ask you this, I have already predicted that the first of the Republicans who captures a question and turns it around regardless of what the subject is and makes it into a Planned Parenthood answer wins. What do you think of that proposition?
BS: I think for the primary voters who are most engaged are paying most close attention, then you’re right, that that’s going to be really important. I’m not sure if the more general audience watching that normally watch Fox at 9 pm, but does turn on the debate–I’m not sure if they’re gonna know it much about the Planned Parenthood story as the loyal, base viewers do.
HH: Now, today, the fifth of the Planned Parenthood videos came out, and I’m just reading the description in the Hill and it sounds genuinely horrific. How have you covered these Planned Parenthood videos on Reliable Sources?
BS: Well. . . on Reliable Sources we’ve talking more about the debates, frankly. We’ve had two of the candidates on Sunday. I do think there is a reality here when it comes to the Planned Parenthood story. One of the realities here–you might not like it, you might not agree with me–I think one of the realities is that television producers might shy away from not just abortion, but other stories like this that are so grotesque, that are so awful, to hear about. Now I’m not just talking about CNN here, I’m talking about other channels as well. Do you not think that that sometimes becomes a factor in what we see and don’t see on TV?
HH: It becomes a factor in how I program this show, so I know the reality of this. At the same time, though, I have covered it, I have not given my entire show over to it, but now the momentum of these videos–
BS: Right, right.
HH: –is becoming so extraordinary. This latest one has a Planned Parenthood officially talking basically about “if we alter our process and we are able to obtain intact fetal cadavers, then we can make it part of the budget that any dissections or this splitting the specimens into different shipments is this. I mean, it’s all just a matter of line-items.” That’s horrific, Brian!
BS: Do you think that–and I’m not saying this should be the way it is–but do you think that it will change one person’s mind?
HH: Yes, I actually think that Planned Parenthood is suffering immeasurable damage if it gets coverage, so I guess–
BS: I hate to say this, but I think that people might be so dug in their views on issues like abortion that they’re open to hearing the other side.
HH: Well, you can’t really test that unless the coverage occurs. We’ve seen a lot of Cecil the Lion coverage. Have you covered Cecil the Lion on–
BS: (laughs) I have not.
BS: I’m happy to say I skipped that one.
HH: –on [Sunday], you’ll cover the debate obviously, but what will you do about these videos?
BS: Well, it depends on part on how–to your point–how much it gets attention in the debate, doesn’t it? That’s gonna be an important factor. I agree that there’s more momentum in this story in recent days. I know the exchange on CNN’s Morning Show was really notable yesterday with the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, being asked about the videos, and it was Earnest who said he hadn’t watched, that he had not seen them, and yet was defending Planned Parenthood. Now that’s a tough position to stand by isn’t it.
HH: Have you watched them?
BS: I’ve watched a couple of them. I have not watched the newest one that came out today.
HH: Will you do so before Sunday?
BS: Before Sunday? Absolutely. I don’t know how it works for your show because you’re daily and we’re weekly, we start planning on Wednesday for Sunday’s show, and what’s great about that of course (laughs) is that you have Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday to really absorb all the news stories that are out there.
HH: Now this is a very hard question because of the reality of losing your audience and I have explained to people–when I read that Hill story right now, some people turned off my show. It’s so awful. But at the same time, the news is, Planned Parenthood appears to be running basically infanticide clinics. And so, how I can I not cover that? So how do you balance that, Brian?
BS: Well, I have, maybe, in some ways, an advantage by being a media show, so I can reflect on what the media is doing or not doing. In this case, this story has slowly gotten more and more attention. I think, maybe, the reason I identified earlier, which is the grotesque nature of the story, knowing how awful it is. Of course, that matters less and less these days and you and I both know it because of Facebook and Twitter. I do wonder if this is one of those stories that we’re going to look back and say conservatives knew much about it early on and by the time it reached national consciousness–you know how there’s sometimes stories like that.
HH: The Chick-fil-A story–
BS: –not out of the equation. . .
HH: Yeah, the Chick-fil-A story–when Chick-fil-A–
BS: Ah! That’s a good example. Yeah, so on a much less serious size, but yes, there are those kinds of stories that percolate through the conservative media or to the truly liberal media and by the time they reach mainstream audiences, I think there are some moms and dads or brothers who are at home, scratching their heads and saying “What’s the story about,” whereas folks on the left or the right know all about it already.
HH: Yeah, I think this has already gone to the deepest level of penetration that any media story can and people may not watch the videos, but they know how awful they are, and I think we’re headed for a government shutdown over this, Brian, and that’s why it will be interesting to see how it’s discussed. Before we run out of time, let’s talk Trump. He was on yesterday for fifteen moments. Had a lot of fun with him. And–I disagreed with him a lot on McCain. I aired that out. At the same time, we talked about the third party. . . Donald Trump is the best interviewee on radio right now. . .
HH: . . . What could the other candidates learn from him, do you think, Brian?
BS: Well, I do wish more candidates would call in to more shows whether it’s radio or TV. I mean, Trump has really shown the value of doing that–the value of responding to criticism, of not taking it, of not responding. I reported today that Rupert Murdoch and Trump got on the phone for the first time last week. You know, two weeks ago, Rupert was attacking Trump saying that Trump was embarrassing the whole country. Well, it seems that they’re now trying to broker a peace–a fragile peace–because they are now getting into talking with each other and exchanging pleasantries at least. I think that’s an example of establishment figures–and Murdoch’s the only one–who are starting to change their tune about Trump and belatedly take him more seriously.
HH: Now, but that also means a greater degree of scrutiny on what he knows and doesn’t know. I received a number–I’m not sure if this is correct–but I talked to him about the nuclear triad and a number of listeners do not believe he know what I was talking about yesterday. And I don’t know. I didn’t get into that level of detail to ask him if he knew what I was talking about, but a lot of listeners did not think he did. Those kinds of questions now come, don’t they?
BS: Oh I think they certainly do, I mean, he’s had some very pleasant, easy interviews on television that I’ve seen, and I’m not gonna name channels, but sometimes he does get a rather gentle treatment that will obviously change. But, you know, at the same time (laughs), we’ve the breach on stories, haven’t we? We’ve seen some pretty aggressive reporting about Trump’s past and about president, about some of his advisors–none of that seems. . . To have mattered.
HH: Now, last question, you’re from Maryland originally, right?
BS: I am, yeah.
HH: Are you a Ravens fan?
BS: I grew up as a Redskins fan–
BS: –and I actually–
HH: Stop right there. Dont go further (laughs).
BS: Uh oh.
HH: Don’t switch over to the dark side. Don’t say anything good about the Ravens.
BS: Well, I’ve actually become an Eagles fan. I hate to admit it.
BS: . . .because my wife is such a big football fan. Such a big Eagles fan from Philly that I’ve actually converted. . .
HH: But they don’t actually play football in Philadelphia and luckily you’ll be in Cleveland. . .
HH: . . .Make sure you remember John Kasich, Paul Kruger, edge-rusher. Brian Stelter of CNN, great to talk to you. Kasich is gonna be the Kruger of that debate, I’m predicting it right now. Stay tuned America, it’s the Hugh Hewitt Show.
End of Interview