On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, co-host Hilary Rosen joins Kara to speak with veteran TV news anchor Greta Van Susteren, whose new book is “Everything You Need to Know About Social Media (Without Having to Call a Kid).” She talks about her on-air past as well as her entrepreneurial future with a new app called Sorry, where users can exchange apologies and rate the apologies of others.
You can read some of the highlights here, or listen to the entire interview in the audio player below. We’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Recode Radio presents Recode Decode, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. You may know me as the creator of the new app, Sorry Not Sorry, but in my spare time I talk tech. You’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas and how they’re changing the world we live in. You can find more episodes of Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Or just visit recode.net/podcasts for more.
Today, I’m in Washington, D.C., with my friend Hilary Rosen. She’s a political strategist for SKDKnickerbocker and a political commentator for CNN. Hey Hilary, welcome back.
Hilary Rosen: Hey Kara. Happy to be here.
KS: We had a good month. We’ve had some good months, all women too, which is really interesting. Throughout November, Hilary and I have been doing a bunch of interviews together talking to some really interesting people from the political world. And today’s guest in the red chair, I’m very happy to say, is Greta Van Susteren, who previously was an anchor at CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. She also has a new app for apologies called the Sorry app and is the author of a new book called “Everything You Need to Know About Social Media (Without Having to Call a Kid).” Greta, welcome to Recode Decode.
Greta Van Susteren: Thank you. When you list my experience to all the networks, it sounds like I can’t hold a job.
KS: Okay, we’ll get into that.
Maybe I can’t.
KS: Why don’t we actually do that? For those techies who don’t know who you are. I mean, everyone knows who you are but let’s go through your assorted history, let’s walk through it.
Okay. Where do you want to start?
KS: At the beginning, Greta. Not when you were born or where you went to high school.
HR: You became famous during the O.J. trial, really.
Yes, and I got on TV because, well, actually William Kennedy Smith, because CNN called the American Bar Association and was looking for a lawyer to do commentaries and gavel-to-gavel coverage. They called the American Bar Association and for years I thought the reason that my name was given is because I had two law degrees, taught at Georgetown Law School as an adjunct professor and I’d tried rapes and murders and civil rights cases and everything else.
I found out about 10 years later, though, that the reason that I was chosen was because they called and the receptionist, this was about 1991, gave the person who called my name because in 1976 she lived in a group house and I came here to law school and I went to a toga party at the house and my name was the only one she could remember. So it was a toga party.
KS: Thank you, lady.
HR: By the way, for any of our listeners who don’t know this, TV is that random.
TV is that random right. I mean I always thought ...
KS: We’re not gonna explain toga parties at this point.
Well, I hope they understand, it’s the only toga party I’ve ever been to, I’d like to emphasize. It’s the only time I’ve ever worn just a sheet to a party. But anyway, that’s how I got on TV. I’m the accidental anchor. I went to do a little coverage on William Kennedy Smith and basically I never left.
Then in about 2001, January, AOL bought CNN and it was the ugliest year at CNN in all the time I’d been there. It was always exciting working for Ted Turner, but when AOL came in, it became very corporate. It wasn’t Ted walking through the newsroom in his pajamas anymore, which was actually quite interesting. It was a very different time and it made it really unfun. They started firing all my friends and when corporations come in, there’s so much dissension and ...
KS: That was a particularly fraught merger. I wrote books about it.
It was awful.
HR: Kara wrote the definitive book about that merger.
I’m well aware of that. She wrote the definitive book. I read it.
And so in December, I decided, December of ’01, which was after 9/11, that I’d probably go back to practicing law or do something else but I was done with TV because it was really a terrible environment, I thought. They offered me more money, which annoyed me more. Not because I didn’t like more money, but they were firing my friends and I felt a little bit like a prostitute if I stayed there.
KS: What did you like about CNN from the early days? Because a lot of people who were there early definitely had that point of view.
It was rock and roll, it was cowboy, it was exciting. We were seeing the world. Every news organization thought it was Chicken Noodle Network and not ... It was exciting.
KS: And it was entrepreneurial compared ... It was changing. It’s not the internet, but it did that to television.
Ted Turner was fun to work with. He’s an unusual guy, but he always made it fun and exciting. He had a real can-do attitude, so it was fun.
HR: I have to say in current CNN’s defense, Jeff Zucker’s brought that rock and roll back to news. He’s energized reporters, he’s energized anchors. It does have a feeling again like getting the story out there is kind of the point of it. I think there were some rough years there for a long time in between but, it’s ...
KS: So you leave there ...
I left there intending to go back until I made a stop to talk to Roger Ailes, who I’d never met. I’d never watched Fox. Fox was not No. 1 at that point. I didn’t even know who he was. Vaguely knew who he was. Something to the Bush 41 campaign at the time. I didn’t pay that much attention to it and we made a deal right then and there on a handshake. I went to Fox News. I didn’t know much about it, but they agreed to give me an hour. They agreed to give me the resources I need. They agreed to leave me alone so I stayed there for 14-and-a-half years.
KS: Talk about that experience.
KS: About you going there. You didn’t know anything about it. You knew it was a more conservative network.
Actually, when we were at CNN at the time, we didn’t pay any attention to Fox News. In fact, in July of ’96, MSNBC launched. We all were around the TV looking at MSNBC launching, and all the comments about it was that they had nice studios or something. In October of ’96, three months later, is when Fox launched, we didn’t pay any attention. Nobody paid any attention to Fox at CNN at the time, none.
HR: Because you were dominating.
Yeah, we were No. 1. Now, coincidentally, when I left, that was the last time CNN was No. 1. It then flipped over to Fox. But, I had never seen O’Reilly. I’d never seen O’Reilly in the entire ... He was also on it the same time I was. I was on at eight o’clock with a show so that was another reason why I never saw O’Reilly, but I had no idea who he was till I got to Fox.
So I went to Fox and I will say this, that in 14-and-a-half years, nobody ever bothered me in terms of telling me what to do. I never had any command influence. I had all the resources. I traveled the world, went to North Korea three times, Afghanistan ... I had a real old fashioned reporter’s experience at the Fox News Channel.
Then of course, I left on September first of 2016. Rupert Murdoch and I had a rather ... We had an argument and both of us were quite stubborn and I had a good clause in my contract that let me leave, so I left.
KS: What was the argument about?
I’m pausing because I’m trying to think of what I can tell you and what I can’t. It was basically about what I wanted to do with the network. And anyone who knows me is that I like to get out of the studio. This is the problem that you have with corporate-owned media. Not that state-owned is so great either, but corporate-owned is worried about the bottom line for the obvious reason because they have shareholders and fiduciary duty to the shareholders not to waste money.
Well, I wanted to travel and do specials and the problem is, specials don’t do well. They don’t rate well. I’ve done human trafficking ... I did a human trafficking story in Cambodia and Fox put it on the Fox Business Channel, which I’m grateful for, and the viewers don’t watch it. Everyone says, “Oh yeah, I want to watch that stuff,” but people really don’t watch that stuff.
So, it was a little bit over my contract, a little bit over what I wanted to do. But it was mostly over that neither one of us was listening to the other and it was a very tough time at Fox. I think in Rupert Murdoch’s defense is that he was quite surprised to find out that things had been turned upside down and what was going on at Fox News. He was unwilling to listen to me and I added a clause. I had 60 days on it.
I’m not leaking that, that was actually in the Drudge Report. I’ve never leaked anything about my contracts, but the Drudge Report in July wrote that I had this clause in my contract that I could leave within a period time after Roger Ailes left. I had 60 days and Fox, to me, was in complete turmoil, totally upside down. I thought that I’d have the same experience I did at CNN for that year and I hated that. And so, I had 60 days to make a decision. There was also a financial component to it so I opted to leave, so I left.
HR: So, you went to MSNBC who offered you an evening show, and we can get into that and talk a little bit about that short-lived moment. But I want to go right to the Roger Ailes and Fox situation, because the reason that Roger Ailes left obviously is a major story right now, which is this sexual harassment. Who knew that that domino falling would be one of the first ones to fall in such an overwhelming fashion that we’ve seen in the last several months?
Almost everything has been said about this issue, but maybe not everybody has said it. I want to ask you kind of from a different angle a little bit, which is, do you think that women in media, that it’s a more toxic environment than other professions? And therefore, this has been particularly unique with men Mark Halperin, Roger Ailes, Charlie Rose, and sort of the media politics, Harvey Weinstein entertainment environment. Do you think it’s particularly more toxic or do you think it’s just that they’re more famous and we’re a more self-referential world and so that’s who we report on?
I suspect that it ... Look, if you’d asked me a year ago I’d probably give a different answer than now. Seeing how everything has unfolded, I don’t think it’s limited to the media. We just have a bigger spotlight and we put a giant spotlight on it. I will say this and I will give you a little background on what happened at Fox. The Fox thing was shocking, absolutely shocking. Everyone said, “How could you not know?”
HR: You were shocked about Roger Ailes.
Let me tell you this, Roger Ailes worked in New York, I worked in D.C., I saw him once a year. I’d have lunch with him in his office once a year in April. Maybe I’d see him some other time, but probably not, because he never was in the D.C. bureau. The last time I saw him in April, he was hiding from me the fact that he had a walker. So, here I have in my mind this very ... And obviously someone can do something with a walker, but my vision of him was a man that had a walker and didn’t seem particularly aggressive towards women and that he’d never been towards me.
Then the other thing, too, is that if you look at the statement that got me into so much trouble is that the night it broke, I was interviewed ...
HR: Tell our listeners first what it was that got you in trouble.
It was Gretchen Carlson. Gretchen Carlson filed a civil complaint. That started it and there was no information about anything else. It was just Gretchen Carlson. So, Fox asked to talk to me to tell what I knew. I said, this what I know, I said, “It never happened to me. I never heard about it,” and I knew that Gretchen was a disgruntled employee. That’s what got me into trouble, because here’s the problem is that, Gretchen worked in New York I worked in D.C. As a consequence, you don’t know these people. It’s a big corporation.
I’d had one in-depth conversation ... I think I only talked to Gretchen once in my life off camera and that’s it. We both got sent to London to cover Prince William’s wedding. At the time, I was in a bar having a beer ... I’m from Wisconsin so that’s allowed. I was having a beer ... We were all staying at the same hotel and she walked in. She sat down and she told me she was very unhappy at Fox News.
She told me she’d been valedictorian of her high school class, she’d gone to Stanford, she was Miss America. She’d done all these ... And that Fox didn’t recognize all her attributes and she was very angry at Fox. She never mentioned sexual harassment to me. Now, that’s a very personal private thing, but I ...
HR: It turns out a lot of people didn’t mention it.
No, no. And I totally understand that, but I had never heard anyone so unhappy in my life. She had a long litany of things. I sat there listening to it so that was fixated in my brain. That’s why I said that.
KS: Looking back on that, not knowing, I think it’s a really interesting thing because a lot of the discussion around women is not saying something. Of course, now everybody’s saying something.
Yeah, but people don’t say things for good reasons. They’re scared, they’re worried about their jobs or it’s embarrassing or whatever. I got that, but you know ...
KS: Within Fox News after it started to come out, how did your thoughts change? Because it really was the beginning of ... It metastasized to everybody.
It was just stunning. I remember being at the Republican convention two weeks later and we’re all standing around looking at the computer reading the Drudge Report as a group, as we were reading this. There were so many people in many news organizations and certainly in Fox that just were shocked. We knew nothing. Here we’d had a very sort of stable situation for ... Some of them had been there 20 years at that point and didn’t know anything. It was just shocking, absolutely shocking.
KS: What about the bosses who seem to have known or to have some sense of it, given the payoffs?
I don’t know who the ... Roger was the only boss. Look, Bill Shine was ... I still don’t ...
KS: The lawyer, the PR lady Irena Briganti.
Irena Briganti and I, we haven’t spoken since 2003 or 2004. There’s no secret that I was not a fan of hers. Bill Shine, it still shocks me to this day because I don’t know what’s fair in terms of Bill Shine. I really don’t. I’d been around him, I’d never heard him say anything inappropriate about women. I never heard him make any cracks, so I never saw any ... I don’t know.
KS: Can you pull out a little bit to being a lawyer when you look at all this, how this has unfolded? Because a lot of it is, it used to be sort of he said, she said, and now it’s so clear these are patterns.
Let me tell you the difference of law. Let’s take this guy Roy Moore down in wherever, Alabama. Eight women, I think, have come out, maybe more. You take eight women and as a normal person, I think eight women, he had to have done it, he was guilty. How could that possibly be? How could eight women make the same accusation?
If we were in the courtroom, there would be eight separate trials, because people tend to think if so many people made the same accusation against you, must have done it. The court looks at it ... The law looks at it differently. You’d have eight separate trials in the courtroom.
KS: Meaning what?
Meaning you asked me to look at it as a lawyer.
KS: Yeah, but when you look at this as it’s playing out, where does it go? Where do you think it goes? Then I want to get back ...
I don’t look at it as a lawyer but more as just a woman making observations. I think we’re going to have a lot of time of self-reflection. I think people are going to learn a lot and I think that ... I hope that women emerge stronger. I hope that men stop doing this. I hope we don’t demonize all men. Many people are raising sons and the responsibilities, we want the sons to be treated fairly in the future, but I think that’s going to be an incredible time of self-reflection. These careers are destroyed, and some rightfully destroyed.
HR: What has changed is a little bit different than the legal standard. Just from a journalist’s point of view, it used to be considered rumor if somebody printed something like this where somebody wouldn’t go on the record with their name and the like. I think the Weinstein story kind of changed that. The standard then became, if there was a corroboration at the time — in other words, if the woman had told somebody at the time that this had happened — and that person was willing to go on the record. And then the second piece was if there was a pattern. Those facts sort of changed editors’ willingness to put this story out in a way where maybe in the past they wouldn’t have.
I think also it’s awareness. If you go back to the Clinton days, I think that a lot of women gave Bill Clinton the president pass. As I look back as my own coverage of it, I think I should’ve been more aggressive in my own coverage of it. I think if it were happening today it’d be a different story.
KS: Absolutely, although just nine months ago, the same things were leveled at the current president. It’s interesting that the one that really caught was AOL’s O’Reilly, to Weinstein to Rose to ...
Well, I think that there was internal corporate problems at Fox and sort of a fight at the top over Roger Ailes ... I’m just repeating stuff that I’ve read. I don’t have any personal knowledge is that, the two sons wanted him out so that made a very convenient time to move him out. I think that was probably a contributing factor. If this had happened 10 years ago, maybe it would’ve had a different ...
HR: Yeah, it would’ve had a different past, which is very interesting. All right, let’s get up. So, you went to MSNBC, tried a show. How do you look at the state of cable news? Because you’ve been one of the iconic characters.
I don’t know why I got fired at MSNBC. It’s the same show I’ve done at CNN, Fox, MSNBC. You’ll have to ask them. I’m certainly unwilling to in any way do anything I think is bad judgment that doesn’t pursue the facts. I thought my show was fair. I thought it was smart. I had guests who were Republican, Democrat. I had all of it and that apparently was not what management wanted.
My ratings were at 94 percent overall in June. That was the mark they sent to me, documents they sent everybody. Is that my rating were up 94 percent overall, 92 percent in the coveted demo. Other shows were up more, but in less than six months ... 94 percent and 92 percent over the show I replaced, which was Mark Halperin, whatever the show was.
KS: Whatever that was.
HR: Irony alert.
My numbers weren’t up as high as some of the other shows at MSNBC, but considering that I’d come from a different network where it’s going to take people a while to warm up to me. I had the same problem over at Fox. When I went from CNN to Fox, it took a while to warm up, but once they warm up I was No. 1 at Fox News for 14 years. I was there 14-and-a-half years, but I never got that chance at MSNBC.
HR: So what’s happening in cable, do you think? What do you imagine is happening? Because a lot of people feel ... I feel like it’s a screamfest of panels and just partisan bickering.
I’ll let the listeners decide, because I still have friends at all these networks.
KS: But in general, where do you imagine it going?
Here’s what I think is going to happen. I think all three cable networks may find themselves getting some competition from somebody else. I’m hoping that some person comes along with a couple billion dollars and decides ... and wants a network that simply turns the temperature down, puts less pressure on its anchors and its correspondents, gives the right amount of money so that they can do their jobs, get them out of the studio.
The reason why I think that so many people miscalled this election is that not enough anchors got out of the studio. If the anchors had gone to my home state of Wisconsin, which a Democrat had not lost since 1984, they would’ve learned that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ought to spend some time in Wisconsin. She lost that state. That would’ve probably made the difference in whether she’d be the president or not, but they thought ... Everyone thought that she was on lock. But if you went out and talked to people who I grew up with, you knew that she was in trouble.
KS: You mentioned cable doing that because you just talked about you did human trafficking, you did all these things, and yours weren’t there.
Look, let’s go back to the question. The problem is money. Money ruins politics and money ruins the news business too because if you’re worried about the bottom line in a corporation — and you have to be. These corporations are not going to have shareholders if they spend the money wildly, but it’s wildly expensive to do stories on human trafficking unless all the viewers want to watch it.
If all the viewers don’t want to watch it, you’re just wasting your money and so they’re not going to do anything. They can put five people in the studio and get more viewers and they’ll have happy shareholders. Let me just say one thing in response to the management. They do try to be responsible and try to do the news gathering too. I’m obviously making sort of a ...
KS: When we get back we’re going to talk about what you’re doing on the internet, because you’ve moved and you have an app and everything else. I think one of the answers is, will people start watching this stuff on the internet? Where does news go, and how does it shift? We’ll talk about that when we get back.
We’re here with Greta Van Susteren, she’s been an anchor on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and she has a new app for apologies called the Sorry app. And she’s the author of a new book called “Everything You Need to Know About Social Media (Without Having to Call a Kid),” or perhaps a Russian. When we get back we’ll talk about that.
HR: And we’ll talk about another section, which is really Greta’s very special relationship with Donald Trump.
KS: Yes, absolutely. We’re not going to let you go ...
My special relationship? I’m dying to hear that.
KS: We’re back with Greta Van Susteren, who previously was an anchor on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. She also has a new app for apologies called the Sorry app and is the author of a new book called “Everything You Need to Know About Social Media (Without Having to Call a Kid).” We’re also here with my friend and political strategist for SKDKnickerbocker. She’s a commentator on CNN, Hilary Rosen, who’s been my guest this month where we’re talking about political topics and the political world.
Greta, let’s talk a little bit about the ... Which one do you want to do? The app or the book first? The book. Now, social media is so in the news because of the weaponization of social media, the misuse of it by Russians, all kinds of things going on. Talk about why you wrote the book and then I’d love to get your thoughts on what’s happening.
First, why I wrote the book is because I thought I knew everything about social media having had the first anchor blog in 2003 and you can be sure that I actually wrote it. I had missing words and spelling errors.
KS: That’s early.
And so, I thought I was a real expert. And then about two years ago, about Thanksgiving time, I asked one of my nieces a question, which I thought was reasonably sophisticated because I was such an expert in social media, to which she responded, “Seriously?”
KS: What was the question?
I don’t know, it was something about Instagram. And I thought, “You little brat. I remember when you couldn’t even talk,” and she’s saying “seriously” to me. Anyway, I said, “Yes, seriously.” I didn’t know so she answered the question, whatever it was. I thought, well, if I hold myself out of this noise, maybe there’s a book there. I started to research the book and I discovered lo and behold, I didn’t know much about social media. It was a shock.
KS: What did you find out?
Just how to use things and what you can do with Facebook. Even the difference between ... My Instagram and Facebook were pretty much the same. They were all pictures of my cats, my dogs and my work and everything. I really had no pattern or mission, even how I used Twitter. So I learned a lot of tricks. I learned things about how to make it private in terms of how to avoid some of the pitfalls.
And by the way, I put in my book — and you’ll love this, Hilary, since it’s ... I accidentally sent a picture to Al Gore in the middle of the night of a blonde sleeping on a couch, which I write about in the book. I meant to send it to Eliza, one of my nieces, and instead it went to Al Gore. So you can also learn the autocorrect. The autocorrect or the autokill ...
HR: I’m sure he was totally befuddled.
I was so humiliated and so embarrassed. I didn’t find out about it for about eight hours because I’d sent it to someone else and someone said, “Why did you sent a picture of a blonde sleeping on a couch at one o’clock in the morning to Al Gore?” To which I said, “I didn’t do that,” and she said, “Yes you did.” So anyway, I also learned stuff. I’ve learned a lot of things. I’ve been more careful with autocorrect. Muting versus blocking on Twitter, so there are a lot of things.
HR: I like to think of it as kind of the remedial edition, which is sort of social media for dummies.
I look at it as, for everybody over the age of 40 who thinks her or she knows everything about social media might learn some tips there and for those who have missed the revolution and want to get on social media. And here, it’s also for everyone under the age of 40, who is sick and tired of answering questions to those of us over 40 and just wants to buy a cheap book and throw it at their parents.
KS: Talk a little bit about — because right when you’re publishing this, all the social media companies are on Capitol Hill testifying. How do you look at what’s happened? You’re obviously paying a lot of attention, but obviously their platforms have been misused. They seem to not have control of them. They seem to make excuses about these platforms, which are incredibly powerful. Can you give me some thoughts on ...
Well, all these social media platform companies, they want to pretend that they’re the telephone company and they can’t help it if you’re making obscene phone calls or prank calls and asking if your refrigerator’s running and that you’d better go catch it. But they are more than that. They’re much like Drudge. They’re aggregators of news. And here’s the problem: Everyone’s getting sick and fed up about all the fake news they influence in terms of from other countries and our elections using their platforms, so they have a choice.
They can either figure out a solution themselves, which would be a really good idea because the American people are fed up, Congress is. Or, they run the risk that Congress is going to get in their business and start regulating them. Then of course we’ll have the whole First Amendment battle, but they’d be smart right now to figure out a good solution and make everybody happy. Ball’s in their court.
KS: But they haven’t done anything.
Not yet, but they better start thinking of something. Do you think they want regulations?
KS: No, they don’t, but I’m just curious what you ... You’ve been covering Washington for a long time, obviously regulators just love to regulate. This is an area that hasn’t been regulated. Most of the tech community has been avoiding that forever.
HR: Well, then I think much of Congress acts sort of the way you talked about, kind of the befuddled parent, which is, if a tech company says, “You’d better stay away from this because you never know what you’re going to do to screw up innovation. Don’t worry your pretty little head about it you’re not smart enough to regulate in this area.” Do you think that that’s having an impact? That that’s actually winning the day?
I don’t know. I think there’s going to be hell to be paid for the platforms if they don’t figure out a solution. This is not going to be better for them.
KS: Do you think of them as media companies when you look at it?
HR: I do, I do.
I do too because they’re like the Drudge Report. The Drudge Report puts a bunch of articles up, what’s different than putting them up on a platform on the internet? What’s the difference?
HR: What are your thoughts on the Russian interference using these platforms?
It’s horrible. I don’t know why there’s a discussion. They shouldn’t be poisoning our election.
HR: What do you imagine they do about it? Who is ultimately responsible? Because a lot of the tech companies have said, this is your country attacking us, not individual hackers. This is full-country attacks, so the government has responsibility.
Of course they’re not going to say they’re responsible. They need the Sorry app. But I think it’s also us, how we consume news. We have to be more vigilant in terms ... I mean, if you read something that seems unbelievable, chances are it is unbelievable. A good consumer, if you’re going to go out and buy a stereo, at least you’d go look at “Consumer Reports” in the old days to see if you got a good stereo. People should crosscheck, look at the sources, be an aggressive consumer of news.
KS: But they aren’t.
The thing is, people tend to ... If someone says something really awful about someone you don’t like, you tend to believe it whereas if it said something wonderful about somebody you like, you tend to believe it. But look, American people are just going to have to be more aggressive in how they consume news and also these tech companies have got to be more aggressive in what they do. Also, the government has to do what it can to prevent us from being hacked and any poisoning from any other country.
HR: Talk a little bit about the relationship between politicians and journalists. This might bring us to Donald Trump on this score, which is that it is very much in some politicians’ interest — like President Trump — to exacerbate that all journalism is fake news unless it’s praising him. What impact do you think that’s having on what people believe and ...
Let me tell you a little old tech story about that stuff. When I was at Fox and Senator Obama was running for president, he would do an interview with me. When he became president, he wouldn’t do an interview with me because he didn’t like Fox News. I get it, I got it.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I’ve been interviewing her since she was first lady. She was willing to do interviews with me, but what I was told ... I don’t know if this is true, but what I was told was that she couldn’t do an interview with me, the White House wouldn’t let her, whoever the White House was. I don’t even know who that was. The White House wouldn’t let her do an interview with me on American soil. I had eight interviews with her in four years when she was secretary of state in Afghanistan, in India, Mexico, Germany. She couldn’t do an interview with me on American soil because the Obama White House hated Fox News so much.
Now fast-forward and I’m over at MSNBC and now we’ve got a Republican president. When Donald Trump was first running for president, even before I said, “If you ever become president, I want the first foreign trip,” because I’m interested in the foreign stuff, I’m interested in the foreign policy, and he always said he would. So, he became president, to many a great surprise, and I held him feet to the fire. I wanted that first foreign.
I started working there January 9th, January 20th was the inauguration. His first foreign trip was in May on a NATO trip and I thought, “Bingo, that’s where I’m going to go,” and I was very happy. I started contacting the White House and pointing out that the president had promised this to me, the first. And Trump, I thought he was pretty loyal to his promises.
Well, I was told in May that ... Well, they didn’t deny that I had been promised that, that I wouldn’t get it and the reason I wouldn’t get the foreign trip, the first interview with now President Trump, was because Joe Scarborough called him, said he had dementia and was deranged or something else. Now I’m getting punished by the Democratic ... I’m being punished by a Republican president for a Democratic-leaning network when I had the flip side over there.
KS: Right, and they don’t even need the networks because they can reach out directly.
That’s where we go now with this. Think about it, a responsible person has an obligation to ask questions when he’s a politician, no matter what level. President Trump ... And President Obama tweeted, but not like President Trump. But, he realizes that he can bypass the media and he can put out 140, now 280 characters and reach the American people, his ... I think 50 million people follow him, without having to go through a journalist.
HR: Right. Well, President Trump hasn’t done an interview with a real journalist in seven months.
KS: What does that mean from your ...
I think he did one with Lester Holt.
HR: I think that was seven months ago.
In May. Look, I think he should do more sit-down interviews and he should ... with CNN, MSNBC. He doesn’t with Fox, with CBS. He should do them with all. I think he should.
HR: What happens in this area of social media? He’s an adept user of social media.
Yeah, he’s outsmarted everybody. He’s outsmarted everybody with it.
HR: Do you think it is really outsmarting, because now some of it is coming home. A lot of things he was saying on Twitter months ago is now being used in court cases. You’re a lawyer, you see them use ... The travel ban, now with this AT&T merger.
Look, there’s an awful lot of noise associated with it. I think we’ll know whether it harms him if he runs in 2020 and he’s elected. I think that’s when we’ll know whether it has harmed him or not. He used it effectively as a weapon and he got elected and it makes all of us journalists mad that we can’t get him to sit down and do interviews with us. But nonetheless, you can’t deny that it has been effective for him. And so far nothing has stuck, and I don’t think we know if anything sticks until we see the next election and we count up the votes.
HR: Right, except for these legal cases, right? Talk about that as a lawyer, because several legal cases are citing these tweets.
Yes, I am, but which one? That immigration one out in California?
HR: It had an impact, what he was saying on Twitter.
Yeah, the judge used it. I don’t know what to say about that. That wasn’t good. I don’t know what to say.
HR: There is a repartee, though, that he has with certain people and he has that with you. I saw that the president actually retweeted you the other day, which means that the president follows you, perhaps.
I wouldn’t call that a repartee. What I’d call it is this, is that he follows 45 people. He’s the 45th president, so I think ... that’s probably his magic number. I am one of the 45. I don’t know why.
HR: That’s a big deal.
I’ll leave that to you, but here’s what I know is that, I had tweeted ... I’m a big animal lover. I’m a vegan and the thing about the elephants just drives me up the wall. The fact that we would lift the ban on trophies, that just drives me up the wall. I tweeted to him, hoping he would see it — and I don’t make a practice of this — on the elephants, “Please, Mr President, don’t lift this ban.”
And others did too. Ellen was big on it. She’s got a big following on Twitter, but a lot of people, I wasn’t the only one. Then he lifted the ban, but only temporarily. So I thought, okay, I want to encourage that. I don’t want to discourage that, so I said, “Thank you, Mr President, for doing that,” because I wanted to encourage it. He liked my praise or acknowledgement, however you want to do it, and he then retweeted it. Of course, that then became a story in and of itself.
Look, people said to me, “How in the world could you ... It was only temporary,” or, “He was going to do it anyway.” Frankly, I don’t even know if he knew about it in the beginning. These presidents, we assign everything to them in their administrations. He may not even have known about it in the first place.
HR: I would guess on that one.
That he what?
HR: That he didn’t know.
Yeah, he probably didn’t know, but he knew it when it got this critical force and then he did know, critical mass. But, my thought is that ... People jumped on me. “How can you thank him for something that’s only temporary,” or something like that. And my thought was like, “I want it permanent,” and if it takes me saying thank you to him, have at it.
HR: But here’s the thing that’s interesting, which is that you get him. You knew that praising him would get his attention on an issue that matters.
Don’t criticize me for being smart.
HR: No, I’m not criticizing you. I’m impressed with you, as always.
I’m teasing you.
HR: As always, I’m impressed with you. But here’s my question, because I do think you get him and I do think you have spent more time with him than most journalists in this country have.
Never a personal tie, you understand.
HR: No, I understand.
And I don’t think I’ve been in the White House since he was elected, but go ahead.
HR: But on the campaign trail and times past and the like, give us some insight into this piece of President Trump, because you know him better than Kara and I ever will. Is he in on the joke, particularly around things on social media? Does he admit that he is chasing the shiny object, do you think?
You know what, Hilary, I have no idea. I really don’t have a sense of ... I mean, the only off-camera experience that I have with him, which was sort of an unusual one, was during the Obama administration. I went down to Mexico to get this Marine out of prison down there because I thought he was in prison for a really stupid reason, it was a stupid reason. He’d made a wrong turn, which first I didn’t believe anyone can make a wrong turn, but then I made the wrong turn so I got it.
I spent a lot of time on this story and he got out. And so I’m sitting in my office one day a few days after he gets out and I get a phone call, “Hold for Donald Trump.” I was like, “Okay, I’ll hold for Donald Trump,” and Donald Trump gets on the phone and he says to me ... He says, “Greta, what’s Sgt Tahmooressi’s address?” And I said, “I have no idea. I don’t know what his address is.” And he said ... I said, “I have no idea what his address is.”
He said, “Okay, well I’m sending you a check and I want you to get it to him.” And I said, “Why are you doing that?” He said, “Because I want to give him a jump start. He needs a jump start. He’s had a rough time." So I go, “Okay.” The next day, a FedEx arrives with a check for $25,000 made out to Sgt Andrew Tahmooressi. Then I had the job of tracking down his address, Tahmooressi, and I sent the check off to him. I hear ... and I don’t want to be in the position of having to defend Donald Trump. I can only relate facts of things that have happened.
HR: You don’t have to defend him. I was asking you to interpret him as opposed to defend him.
Everyone says to me, “I’ve never seen anything like it,” and I say, “Well, you think I have?” Nobody has.
HR: Do you object to his tweeting?
I like manners. Most of my tweets, once in a while people get under my skin, I guess, and I’ll take the bait, but for the most part I don’t. It’s just not the way I would tweet.
HR: What about governing, though? Because I think that he was made aware of it by your tweets and others versus ...
What do you mean governing?
HR: Meaning he’s making governing decisions based on things he sees on cable news or on Twitter versus anywhere else. Do you care? Do you think it matters?
I hope he’s making decisions based ... I mean, even decisions I disagree with, I hope there based on talking to his staff, thinking about it, and having good counsel even though it’s decisions I disagree with. I don’t think decisions should be made on Twitter. I’m not convinced that he’s necessarily making them on Twitter. I think he’s engaging people on Twitter and picking fights. I think fighting with people on Twitter.
KS: When you think about social media — and in the next session we’re going to talk about your Sorry app — when you think about the impact of social media, a lot of people now think it’s turned ugly. Really, it’s not redeemable at this point. Away from the Russia things, but privacy, how people engage in divisiveness. I personally [think] Twitter has become kind of a cesspool.
You never feel good after using these apps except for maybe Instagram, which is a nicer version of things. Even there you find ... Comments on YouTube have gotten really out of hand. The other day I was with the head of the ADL. We were looking up ADL on Google and it came back with the correct results. This is the ADL, the Anti-Defamation League, here’s what they do. But then when you went to YouTube and searched it, which is owned by the same exact company, it was all anti-semitic hate speech. All of the top 20 selections were hate speech.
Okay, I have a thought about all this. First of all, it’s like in the ... I’ve seen some pretty horrible things on the internet, horrible things said about me. I get it, but the internet is here to stay. Social media is here to stay, so we can all sit around and hate it for its nastiness. I guess I just haven’t given up. I still think it’s a wonderful research tool. I think there are wonderful things you can do with it and I’m still willing to give it a try to make it better.
I like to flood it with better things, but it really it’s incumbent upon us and how we use it. It’s going to be an uphill battle. This is incredible. Hate is a very powerful weapon. It’s a very powerful weapon, but I’m not giving up on social media. I might give up on social media if I thought that it was going to go away, but it’s not.
KS: Today’s guest has been Greta Van Susteren. She was previously an anchor at CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. We’ve been talking about a range of things including her book, “Everything You Need to Know About Social Media (Without Having to Call a Kid),” but also this app she’s doing. Explain your app.
Can I say one other thing I’m doing?
KS: Yes sure, yes.
I’m doing “Voice of America TV” as a volunteer, and I’m doing the most exciting ... I’m doing shows in Iran, in Russia, Ukraine, Afghanistan.
KS: Explain “Voice of America” for people.
Voice of America was created in the 1940s as a radio ... as a way to get behind the Iron Curtain to tell what the American people, basically to get behind the Iron Curtain. Well, naturally like everything else, it has evolved and it’s in 70 countries ... 47 countries in 70 languages or 70 countries in 47 languages, all these services. It’s radio, it’s TV, it’s shortwave. It’s unbelievable, but it’s broadcast by charter only outside the United States and the only way you can see Voice of America news domestically here in the United States is to go on the website.
But, when we talked about news, go to voanews.com and it really is very factual. The controversy, of course, is that it’s government-funded, as opposed to the corporate-funded, that’s the controversy with that. I don’t like either government-funded and I don’t like corporate-funded news so, go figure. I don’t know where I am.
KS: You like internet-funded?
I don’t ...
HR: Greta News.
Greta News. It’s been really fun because I like the foreign stuff. I’ve done stuff on North Korea where I’ve been three times. To me, Voice of America has been ... I’m doing it as a volunteer and it’s very exciting to me.
HR: Let’s hope the Trump administration doesn’t kill it.
KS: Yeah, that’s true. The app that teaches you how to make things right with the ones you’ve wronged. How did this come about?
Because I was unemployed and had nothing to do when I left Fox News. I walked out with no future, no nothing. All of a sudden I walked out ...
HR: My violin is huge.
I didn’t know what I was doing with my life and so I started working on this. There are a couple parts.
KS: Why did you do an app?
Why do you own Silicon Valley and all ... I know, but it’s because it’s exciting.
KS: All right, so you wanted to learn.
Yeah, I wanted to learn. Anyway, here are the features. One is, when we finished rolling out all of them, which they are ... It’s free. It’s called the Sorry app. It’s free. One is peer to peer. I could apologize to you, you get the apology and after you watch it disappears like Snaps so you can’t weaponize it and show all your friends like, “Look what a loser Greta is, trying to apologize to me.” If you accept it I know it’s great and then there’ll be a way I’ll monetize it later. I’ll send you flowers ... There’s a way to monetize it. That’s one.
Then there’s the public one. Let’s say Kathy Griffin does her apology and now everyone who has this free download can look at the video. We’ll upload the video and everyone gets to vote whether she was sincere or not. You get to accept or reject it, because so many politicians ... I mean, look at like even Eliot Spitzer apologized for cheating. He brought his wife as a date to the thing. Everyone gets to watch and think whether it really is a good idea. So publicly, people get to accept or reject.
You can also do your own ...
HR: You could have a whole Anthony Weiner section, right?
It could have a whole internet. Then the other is that people just maybe want to publicly apologize for whatever reason. You and I, probably, and Hilary, if we’re going to apologize, we’re going to do it in person. People who are younger tend to do everything on the smartphone. Millennials don’t even like to answer the phone. They can publicly apologize, do apologies. They could put up there ... I do fun apologies. I have one up there now that my dog apologizes sort of for shredding the mail that comes in through the slot, one of my dogs. So, some are fun, some are heartfelt.
Our biggest problem right now are the trolls, but we have a feature that if two people flag it, it automatically disappears. Then there’s going to be Throwback Thursday. We’ll put up old apologies, whether it’s Anthony Weiner ...
HR: Favorite apologies of the past.
Right, right. Favorite apology, Anthony Weiner, whether it’s Nixon for Watergate, but every Throwback Thursday, so you can vote whether you think it’s genuine or not in a new unit of time, so to speak. The apologies look very different after years pass.
And then finally the feature I think that Hilary will like most as such a good Democrat is the who should apologize section. I imagine that probably there’ll be a lot of people that she thinks should ...
HR: I don’t know, this week it feels very bipartisan, that section.
When it’s finished it’ll be that.
KS: I want to know how you got this idea. It’s kind of a fascinating idea, actually. They all come across my desk, but where did you get the concept for Sorry?
Because everybody’s bullying everybody. Have you ever seen so many right people in your life? It’s like everybody’s blaming everybody. It’s stunning how people blame. In the beta we were just testing things and I did an apology. I apologized for not saying goodbye to my viewers when I left MSNBC and then I said ... And when I watched it seemed snarky. I said I didn’t know it was going to be my last night, which was snarky to MSNBC and I thought, “That was so lame,” so I redid it.
When I even saw my own it’s like ... When I apologize, I have all the excuses that go with it. I don’t do, “I’m sorry if I offended you,” but I do have a lot of excuses. So anyway I thought, let’s have a little fun. Let’s lighten up a little bit. We can have fun apologies. We can have heartfelt ones. You can send flowers ...
KS: But this is the ideas for that, but did you feel like you weren’t sorry enough or did you feel just people are blaming you?
I think I’m always right, ask my husband.
KS: Okay, but you thought people were blaming each other, that we’ve gotten to a ...
Thought! Have you watched any ... I mean, if you live in this town, if you watch cable news ... Then the only time we hear apologies, it’s a lot of, “I’m sorry if I offended you.” Take some of the sexual harassment ones. “I thought it was shared,” or something like that. “I thought it was shared that you had a broken nose.”
HR: Those were my favorite ones, [where] 70-year-old guys think that 25-year-old women are really into them. “I thought it was mutual.”
We’re going to eventually post those videos. We’re rolling this out, we’re developing ... I’ve actually had two venture capitalists call me. I don’t even know what to say. I’m learning new language, like whether I have a deck. Do you know what a deck is?
KS: Yes I do, I can help you with it. I’ll help you.
I didn’t even know what a deck was.
KS: I’ll give you some tips.
Everything’s an experience. I’m learning your language. It’s like everything’s an experience-
KS: And there’s a lot of people creating apps. How did you develop this?
HR: Isn’t the concept of Sorry ... I often think ... and by the way, I draft a lot of apologies in my PR business for other people.
Maybe you ought to get them on my app. Get them on my app instead.
KS: But it always feels to me that anyone who would give such a public apology is probably not the one who really needs to do it. The people who really need to say they’re sorry hardly ever do.
Then I think, Hilary, you’re going to be on the section which is who needs to apologize a lot. I think that you’ll probably like that part of the app.
HR: I get to fill that one in? Okay.
You’re going to have the most fun with that.
KS: I’m going to ask you in a second, Hilary, who needs to apologize, but I wanted to know how you made this.
Here’s how I made it.
KS: Because you’re in the App Store or Google Play.
My niece works for WPP. You know what WPP is?
KS: Yes of course, Martin Sorrell.
I talked to him, actually I saw Mr Martin Sorrell recently and I said, “We’re partners. We’re business partners,” because we are. I have the majority percentage, but I struck a deal with one of his companies, VML out of Kansas City. They did the development on it. I own more than 50 percent of it, and so Martin Sorrell and WPP are my partners on this.
KS: All right, so they developed it for you.
Yeah. Well, I mean, they did the labor, which I can’t do.
KS: The interface and the design and everything like that?
Yeah, we worked together, but yes. I give them credit for that. If you look at the Sorry icon, it’s a little bit sort of Twitterish, Facebookish. They did a great job.
KS: It’s a really handsome app. And it’s peer to peer ...
You can do peer to peer right now, but we’re going to make it real easy. That’s the next feature we’re rolling out. But that I hope high school kids do it.
KS: Where were you getting inspiration from? It looks a little Snapchatty, it’s got a little bit of that going on.
A little bit of everything, and I was writing the book at the same time.
KS: What would you like to have happen to this? Would you like venture capital money? Would you like ...
Yeah sure. Look, I want it to succeed. I would love venture capital money to come in. You know what else I also want to do ...
KS: Is it that you want it to succeed or you want more people to say they’re sorry?
Both, both. I actually wanted to launch a television show years ago at Fox, one of other thing I never got to with Rupert. It was “The Sorry Show” where you could show the ... Oh, here’s what you need to know. We did the analytics, and as of April last year on social media, every 24 hours there are more than 475,000 apologies.
KS: Apologies show, I want to go back to the show.
It was basically an extension of the app. We put up videos and have panels of people who could text in whether they accepted it or not. Sort of a modern day “Judge Judy.”
HR: It’s like “Dr Phil” only going one way.
When you listen to these apologies ...
It’s stunning, but sometimes they’ll be an apology and, “Okay, that’s a good one. That’s a good one.” But some of them I think, “Oh brother.”
KS: That’s like God. God has to do this all day long right?
I hadn’t thought about it, but it’s a little like the courtroom, guilty or not guilty. That’s where I started my career.
KS: So you wanted to do a show where ...
An interactive live show where you’d put the apologies up there and ... Remember the old “Queen for a Day”? Are you old enough for that?
KS: No, I’m not.
You don’t know “Queen for a Day”? “Queen for a Day,” you need to go on YouTube and do “Queen for a Day.” It was an old game show, not game show, where ... You could go watch it, but anyway, it’s sort of a judging show and whether you accept it.
And here’s the other thing to, if you are Kathy Griffin and you did that apology and let’s say 90 percent of people said “reject,” you might think like, “Maybe I’d better do something. Maybe I should go work in a soup kitchen or maybe I should go work at a battered women’s center and come back after five days and say, ‘Look, you know what, I really thought about it. I was so lame. I really don’t know how people live. My humor is bad, ’” or whatever it is. I’ve redone it and this is what [inaudible 00:51:02]. Now we watch the next one and we go, “Okay, I’ll give her a pass on that.”
HR: Forgiveness is what you’re talking about.
Forgiveness, and I’m actually sick of the hating and the fighting.
KS: Let me ask you a question, because it was really interesting when we interviewed Hillary Clinton at the Code Conference this year. One of her supporters came up to me and said somebody had given her a lot of money, one of the internet people. And even though I wanted to focus it around Russia, which as it turned, she was pretty accurate on a lot of ... It was before a lot of this stuff came out.
I didn’t want her to discuss not going to Wisconsin or whether she was an uncomfortable campaigner, whether she was likable. That really wasn’t what the interview was about. He came up to me and he said, “She didn’t say she was sorry enough.” It was really interesting. I’ve gotten that so many times and I was like, “But that really ...” She did actually say it three times.
How many times do you have to say it?
HR: She would say that she spent a year with people telling her that she didn’t say sorry enough.
KS: Saying sorry, but still to people she’s not sorry enough and you still see that in the memes. So, there’s a really good character who seems to ... I finally was like, “If she went over broken glass on her knees and begged you, it still wouldn’t be enough.” When is that ... you’re sick of the hate, but people not accepting the forgiveness, or not being willing to. How does that change?
I don’t know. I don’t know if it’ll change with the app, but maybe people just start talking about it more. I don’t know, but I’m sort of a bleeding heart. I mean, I did criminal defense work for years where my clients did some pretty bad things and it’s hard to explain to a jury why someone shouldn’t be convicted or getting a long sentence to a judge. I think at least getting the dialogue going, even hating my app gets the dialogue going.
HR: We will see it with some of these big sexual harassment cases and some of these famous men, whether there is a resurrection possible, whether their sorry is enough. Some of them have said they’re sorry and some of them haven’t, and will it matter?
KS: But there’s also the flip side, which is a lot of people of color and women say, “Why do we always have to forgive? Why do we always have to make it pat?”
Because you feel better.
KS: Yes you do, but if you’re always doing it.
Oh, yeah I agree. Why should I always have to do it?
KS: Why should you always have to, and one of the things I thought was interesting was the giving the pass. Certain people get passes and don’t and certain people get their, “I’m sorries,” very quickly and others don’t, and so I think there is a great rage in this moment of people like, “We’re tired of saying okay.”
And then they vote “reject” on the app. But you know what, your book on AOL is that, who doesn’t remember the, “You’ve got mail,” is that when I started coming up with the idea for the app I’d be with my husband and I’d get a little ... I get irritable sometimes and sometimes he’d say, “You need the app.”
HR: So in big apologies and small.
KS: We’re going to go through it. We’re going to finish up. Hilary first, who do you think should apologize? And who do you need to apologize to with pretend word and Jewish holiday?
HR: Sarah Sanders at the press conference this week asked all the reporters before they were allowed to ask a question, they had to say what they were thankful for. That’s what you doing this to me reminds me of, Kara Swisher.
I would say who has to apologize, I think that this country is in pain over all of these sexual harassment stories and I think a lot of it is that we have a president who is in a constant state of combat rather than compassion on this issue. And so, No. 1 for me would be the president saying he’s sorry.
You know who I think owes apologies is ... It really drives me crazy around this time of the year that these corporations with management who have not managed the corporations well suddenly decide because it’s the end of the year, they need to do these big layoffs. They themselves don’t get laid off, but the people who are actually doing the jobs that they were told to do and assigned to do and everything, they’re doing the jobs but the people whose job it was to run a company efficiently and effectively, they’re not the ones who get laid off.
I can’t stand that layoffs, the layoffs make me crazy. These corporations, they almost seem heartless sometimes and I think to myself, who did the job? The workers or the ones who are now doing the layoffs who didn’t manage well whose job it was to make sure the company was managed well?
KS: I think internet companies. They didn’t think hard enough about the consequences of their creations very much at all, in fact. I have a line that I’ve been using a lot, one of the lines of Facebook was “move fast and break things” and I’m tired of them breaking things.
They break a lot of things.
KS: Right, and then secondly I would have to say, I think just the commentary on both sides of the political aisle. It’s getting insane. That sexual harassment has become partisan. It’s crazy. They’re all awful. They’re all awful men. Every single one of them on all sides of the aisle. It’s that you can’t decry both sides when it’s very clear.
It’s almost like, whatever happened to manners? If you look at this, it’s all about manners, how you treat other people and now of course, it’s sexual harassment. But that’s just manners. I mean, why would you be disrespectful to a woman like that? Why do you think you should do that and can do that?
KS: They do.
I know, I know, but I’m just saying. It’s like whatever happened to manners?
KS: We’re finishing up now, Greta. I thank you for coming, but what are you going to do? This is going to be your focus? You’re going to be an internet entrepreneur?
I’m actually on the phone with “Voice of America TV.” I don’t know. I’m really interested in this app. I really want to make this app go right. I got to figure out how to handle the trolls on it. We’re getting rid of them and stuff but ...
HR: They’re hard. They’re real good at trolling.
Well, I’m not giving up. Anyway, I want to ...
HR: Never let them see you sweat, Greta. That’s the key to trolls.
So anyway, I want to get people to use the app and let me repeat again, it’s a free download.
HR: Right, at the App Store.
At the App Store.
HR: Greta Van Susteren has become a Renaissance woman. She was a journalist, she was a lawyer, and now she’s an internet entrepreneur.
KS: Do you want to do web TV?
It sounds more like I can’t keep a job every time I hear this. That’s all I think about.
HR: We’ve lot’s of solutions for you.
KS: In any case, thank you so much for coming on the show and thank you, Hilary, for joining me on this side of the interview table.
HR: Super fun, Kara Swisher.
KS: And I’m sorry for whatever I did to you. I don’t know what I did, if I did anything bad, but I don’t think I did.
HR: Well, I’m not sorry for what I did to you, whatever it was.
That’s a great apology.
HR: I think all of your listeners think you deserved it, whatever it was.
My husband’s apologies, “I didn’t do anything. I don’t know why I have to do this.”
KS: Yeah, that is a bad way to do it.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.