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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Judy Miller's Case; Hurricane Hype; Tom DeLay's Troubles

Aired October 2, 2005 - 13:18   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KURTZ: Welcome back. The man journalists call The Hammer has long had a contentious relationship with the Fourth Estate. And with Tom DeLay's indictment this week on charges of helping funnel corporate cash to candidates in Texas -- which he dismisses as a sham -- journalists face the challenge of being fair to him and to the Democratic DA he accuses of partisanship, Ronnie Earle. The indictment shook the Capitol, where DeLay has had to step aside as House Majority leader. Since then the DeLay story has been all over the air waves.

TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: It's very clear the Republicans are now going to have to take on a withering Democratic attack, abuse of power and incompetence.

KATRINA VAN DEN HEUVEL, THE NATION: What Tom DeLay built in these last years was the most blatant pay-to-play corporate operation, running out of the Republican offices in Washington.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: He's a zealot, Earle is a zealot. We all know that.

KURTZ: Andrea Mitchell, hasn't Tom DeLay, from his point of view, had strained relations, to put it diplomatically, with journalists for a long time?

MITCHELL: He has. But I've got to tell you -- I covered the hill. When we had ethics investigations of Dan Rostenkowski, of a long string of Democrats, the Savings and Loan crisis, Jim Wright, Tony Coelho, we had more coverage of them along the way as the Ethics Committee was investigating them than we've seen of Tom DeLay. This is the only House leader, Republican leader, who has had so many bipartisan charges and slaps on the wrist from his own Ethics Committee. I think he's actually not had a tough ride. There's been plenty of stories about Ronnie Earle and the pros and cons of Ronnie Earle and whether this is a bad case. But boy, I think, along the way, Tom DeLay has not had tough coverage.

KURTZ: From DeLay's point of view, he blamed an "Austin American Statesman" editorial for the indictment. A few months ago, when the "New York Times" reported that his wife and daughter were on his political payrolls to the tune of $500,000, he called that "just another seedy attempt by the liberal media to embarrass me." I get the impression the two sides don't like each other much. HARWOOD: We've talked about this before. Does the mainstream journalist community lean Democratic or left of center in how they privately feel? Yes, that's true. Do Republican politicians spend an awful lot of time whining about that? Yes, they do. That strains that whole relationship, probably exacerbates the situation.

Look, a felony indictment of a House leader is a big deal. Whether or not Ronnie Earle is going too far, we're going to have a trial to determine that. This is a serious matter.

KURTZ: Byron York, the cover of "Newsweek" out today says, "Power Outage." In there's a column by Jonathan Alter who talks about DeLay's "house of shame, the most corrupt House in history," Alter says, "Hijacked by a small band of extremists." What do you make of that kind of rhetoric?

YORK: That's the kind of stuff that gives Tom DeLay more ammunition. Although I have to say --

KURTZ: It is a column.

YORK: It's a column. He's a "Newsweek" columnist. DeLay's complaints have been against Ronnie Earle. You can quota few things he has said about the press. What's going to shape up in coming weeks is the Tom versus Ronnie show and not as much Tom versus the press.

MITCHELL: In fact, Chris Shays, a Republican, although a moderate Republican, with Wolf just earlier today said he would not like to see Tom DeLay back, even if acquitted, as his leader. He does not not have a lot of support amongst those Republicans who are embarassed by this and think it is damaging politically. He does have support, though, of course, of those who have raised a lot of money for him.

HARWOOD: The Republicans say, this is something that everybody does, these kind of account shifting to shift hard money, soft money, that sort of thing.

KURTZ: It is a complicated charge.

HARWOOD: It is a complicated charge. And it's true that it happens all the time. But if you are pulled over by the cop that doesn't mean you weren't going 68 in a 55, and that's going to be a challenge for Tom DeLay to prove that he was innocent.

KURTZ: Here's the remarkable thing. Usually a politician is indicted, he shuts up. You see his lawyer a lot. You do not see him talking. Tom DeLay has been on a lot of shows this week. Let's look at what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. TOM DELAY, HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: This is nothing but a political vendetta, a political witchhunt.

This is just the worst travesty of justice I have seen. Everybody says you can indict a ham sandwich with a grand jury. This is a ham sandwich indictment without the ham.

This will be cleared up, hopefully, before December.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Be cleared up when?

DELAY: Hopefully before December.

BLITZER: Before December of this year?

DELAY: Will you let me answer?

BLITZER: Please.

DELAY: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: What do you make of this?

YORK: You could say it shows a lot of confidence on his part. I will say, to play off what John said, the indictment itself is rather skimpy on evidence. And the --

KURTZ: Doesn't allege overt acts by DeLay.

YORK: Exactly. The "Washington Post" editorialized in favor of caution toward this because this is the kind of complex finance arrangements a lot of politicians deal with. It could perhaps end up being a civil matter instead of a criminal matter. DeLay, the reason he is going into public so much is that I think he has some level of confidence that his case is pretty good.

MITCHELL: Unless of course, Earle has turned somebody. We don't know what's happening locally, whether he has turned or whether he hasn't, a witness connecting him to the money. Another thing is DeLay made a mistake today in one of his interviews by suggesting he will still be behind the scenes, sort of going against the rules which say that he had to step down as leader. Still working as a leader behind the scenes.

KURTZ: That's a house rule that the Republicans tried to change but then backed off under public pressure.

Since we talked about Ronnie Earle a couple of times, the Democratic elected district attorney in Travis County, Texas, let's take a look at his press conference earlier this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RONNIE EARLE, TRAVIS COUNTY, TX, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We have, over the years, prosecuted a number of elected officials. At last count, that total stood at 15, 12 of whom were Democrats and three of whom were Republicans.

KURTZ: Seems to me that Tom DeLay is trying to turn Ronnie Earle into the Ken Starr of this case.

But I want to turn the broader question: every news analysis I've read, Andrea Mitchell, says this will hurt Bush, the Republican party, this is the beginning of the end of an era. Isn't a lot of that journalistic speculation?

MITCHELL: It's lazy (ph), overstatement. You have a president who is having problems because of Katrina, because of gas prices -- which I think in our NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" polling has the biggest impact. You have a question of competence with the a war. So they're at a down side. A couple weeks is a lifetime in politics. You have House members and senators concerned about '06, they're concerned about the mid-term election. You may see some of them running away from DeLay if they think he's in trouble, and running away from the White House simply because they're now worried about their own hides.

KURTZ: Byron York, is there an effort by at least some of the media to tar the entire Republican Party and the Gingrich Revolution and so forth with this DeLay indictment?

YORK: Sure. You see a number of stories joining DeLay and Bill Frist, Plamegate and Bush's problems. On the other hand, I think it does seem to be entirely possible that Bush could have a recovery scenario. The CNN/"USA Today" poll, 40 percent approval of treatment of handling Katrina, 71 percent approval of handling of Rita. It shows that Bush's efforts seem to be working.

KURTZ: Senator Bill Frist, just to clarify, is under investigation because of a sale of stock in his family-owned healthcare company and whether or not that was done with any insider knowledge before the stock nose-dived.

But bringing in Frist, bringing in President Bush -- who is not Tom DeLay's best friend -- is this a reach on the part of journalists? Who knows whether or not people are now going to view the Republicans as a party of corruption. That seems to be the media theme.

HARWOOD: I'm not sure how much of a reach it is. It is true the election is not for more than a year. It's true that the president is down. He's come back a little bit in the polls and has got more time to come back. Not just --

KURTZ: Leave aside the election. Are we being fair to the Republican Party?

HARWOOD: Not just the liberal media who is doing this. Look at publications like "The Weekly Standard," which has drawn these things together and said essentially the Republican revolution has lost its way. Sure, Bill Frist doesn't relate to Tom DeLay. It is a separate matter. But there is an accumulation of incidents that I think is worth examining by reporters and it's not illegitimate.

MITCHELL: One of the reasons is that the Republican base -- including "The Weekly Standard" -- are concerned about the huge spending and the deficit by a Republican Congress. They have lost some credibility with their own peolpe because of that.

KURTZ: That's the elephant in the room, and that's starting to get a lot of press attention.

All right, John Harwood, Byron York -- thanks very much for joining us. Andrea Mitchell, stick around. When we come back, we'll talk about Andrea's career. Got some questions on that -- the highlights and the lowlights in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. Andrea Mitchell is still with us. She's been one of the most familiar faces in network news for decades covering the White House, politics, diplomacy and since 1994, chief foreign correspondent for NBC News. Andrea's also the author of "Talking Back to Presidents, Dictators and Assorted Scoundrels" You write in this book that you were the first last year to report that John Kerry was going to pick John Edwards as his running mate. And you say that, to outsiders it may seem like a silly competition, but in our business it is the World Series and Super Bowl combined. But we're going to find out in a few hours anyway. Why is it such a big deal?

MITCHELL: In fact in that case, we could have reported it the night before. We decided that there was some outside chance that perhaps Kerry could change his mind, so we didn't. I had done the Quayle -- broken the Quayle story in 1988 when no one anticipated that it would be Dan Quayle.

And it's fun. It is part of the chase for the story. We want to get it right, we want to be first. Being right is more important than being first. But it is the only unknown in a political convention, which is usually scripted. So that's fun.

KURTZ: You did better than the "New York Post" which said that Dick Gephardt would be the running mate.

MITCHELL: Exactly -- that same morning.

KURTZ: Permanent exclusive.

In 1981, after John Hinckley shot President Reagan. You write that you were banished by NBC from TV to radio. What did you do?

MITCHELL: I showed up -- I was told I was just going to be with a camera crew, they were going to get a shot which we all wanted, across the tidal basin, they were going to get the first picture of John Hinckley coming off a helicopter being transferred to a motorcade to go to his arraignment. And I didn't have to do anything. The Today Show was on the air. There's nothing that I could see, except the cameraman could see it through a telephoto lens.

KURTZ: And then?

MITCHELL: They came to me -- Andrea, what do you see? I think Brokaw on the Today Show. And instead of having the wit to make it up or ad-lib, I stammered. Because I couldn't see a thing. The cameraman could, I couldn't. And the then-president of NBC said, I don't want to ever see her on television again.

KURTZ: I think it is safe to say you've recovered from that little incident early in your career.

MITCHELL: That's one of the themes in the book is you have to pick yourself up and brush yourself off and keep going.

KURTZ: Now, you go to State Dinners and White House parties and other events with your husband, Alan Greenspan, the Fed chairman. You write in the book that at some of these events -- which are closed to working journalists -- "It gave me an uncomfortable feeling that I might be gaining unusual access but losing some independence." Are you?

MITCHELL: I really have wrestled with that over the course of my career. I wanted in this book, in "Talking Back" to write about, how could I be a correspondent, married to the Federal Reserve chairman. The truth is that other reporters go to State Dinners. They always invite some members of the press. The fact is, we knew each other. We were dating. We were a couple when he was in business, on he was on Wall Street, had a commuting relationship.

KURTZ: Now he's one of the most powerful people in the United States.

MITCHELL: So we developed rules of the road that very first day when he got the appointment. I went into Tim Russert and said, here's the deal. I don't cover finance, i don't cover monetary policy. We monitored this really carefully. I do think that there is too much coziness in Washington. I acknowledge it and write about it in the book. We all know each other. You know it. It is a small town.

KURTZ: Must be hard though to be tough on the people you socialize with. For example, you say that Colin Powell, when he became secretary of State -- he was at your wedding -- you say it is a difficult balancing act because you consider him a friend. But you also have to report on him.

MITCHELL: I covered him as secretary of State. But I knew him from long ago. I knew him in the Reagan years and then up through the years in and out of government. So when I'm tough on him -- and I was -- he didn't like it at all. He could be a little thin-skinned, as many of us know. It was tough times. He was being marginalized, as I write, by the Cheney/Rumsfeld, if you will, Rice wing in the White House, in the war councils. It was a very hard time on a lot of issues, not just Iraq: the Middle East, North Korea, Iran. I wrote about it, I questioned him toughly when he was secretary and probably did damage the friendship. KURTZ: Got about a half a minute. You are the chief foreign correspondent; big foreign story for years now has been the war in Iraq. How do you think the press coverage has been in the last two years? Are the networks suffering from Iraq fatigue? Another day, another casualty count?

MITCHELL: No. I think that since 9/11, the networks have been really engaged in foreign policy. I write in the book about how we weren't before then. The big story in 2001 was Chandra Levy and not the growing threat of al Qaeda. But on Iraq, I think and I write fairly candidly we all made errors. We were not challenging enough, we trusted government sources.

KURTZ: Before the war on weapons of mass destruction?

MITCHELL: Before the war. I think now we are doing the best job we can. I know Don Rumsfeld and others feel we're not covering the, quote, good news out of Iraq. It's really dangerous; we've lost a lot of people -- more in this war than in any other. We're doing the best we can. But I think we are absolutely engaged.

One criticism could be Katrina and other crises take our eye off the Iraq war, but we're back in.

KURTZ: All right. Andrea Mitchell, "Talking Back." Good luck with the book. Thanks for joining us.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, three leading bloggers weigh in on Judy Miller's release, Tom DeLay's indictment and whether the media went overboard in reporting on the violence in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

But first, here is Gerri Willis in Atlanta with a check of the hour's top stories.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN NEWSDESK: Now in the news, police in Indonesia say the man who's circled in this amateur video is believed to be one of three suicide bombers who carried out yesterday's attacks on the island of Bali. The man wearing a backpack entered this restaurant just before a bomb went off. Yesterday's attacks killed at least 19 people and three bombers.

In New Orleans, worshipers gathered this morning to celebrate mass in the French Quarter's famous St. Louis Cathedral. It's the first mass there since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans more than a month ago.

Throughout the day here on CNN we'll focus on the rebuilding of the storm-battered Gulf Coast.

Those are the headlines. I'm Gerri Willis in Atlanta. CNN's RELIABLE SOURCES continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back to this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

Joining us now, three bloggers who serve up very different views on very provocative websites. In Los Angeles, Arianna Huffington, the founder and editor of huffingtonpost.com. In New York, Jeff Jarvis, who blogs at buzzmachine.com, also now a consultant to the "New York Times" company, and in Knoxville, Tennessee, Glenn Reynolds, who blogs at instapundit.com -- he's a law professor at the Universtiy of Tennessee and has an upcoming book, "An Army of Davids," on how technology is empowering ordinary people, that'll be out in February.

Jeff Jarvis, how is the "New York Times" handled the Judith Miller story? She's out, but there's a lot we don't know, here, including why she finally accepted this waiver of confidentiality from Cheney aide Scooter Libby that she could have had three months ago.

JEFF JARVIS, BUZZMACHINE.COM: It is so strange in media, how we find ourselves in the position where we are supposed to open up secrets, and now this is about keeping secrets and not tell the public what we know. I have no idea what's going on. Judy Miller has the right voice to play Emily Litella (ph), saying, Nevermind.

But it's more than that -- blogs all over, powerline blog is speculating, Arianna's speculating, Jay Rosen is speculating. But nobody knows what's happening. That's a very frustrating position for the public, for fellow journalists and, I have to imagine, the newsroom of the "New York Times" as well.

KURTZ: I can attest to that last point, after having done some reporting.

Glenn Reynolds, what do you make of Judy Miller finally testifying after accepting this waiver, after some months of saying she would not accept a waiver and she would not testify.

GLENN REYNOLDS, INSTAPUNDIT,COM: I have to agree with Jack Schafer at Slate, that the big loser is the credibility of the "New York Times" and the New York Times editorial board which put itself in the awkward position of demanding this be investigated as a big crime and having to argue in court filings that, hey, maybe there hasn't been a crime here at all. None of it makes sense.

I know some people are saying this is an argument in favor of shield laws. I think if anything it is an argument against shield laws. I think it is not at all a strong argument in favor of journalists keeping secrets. I think journalists ought to tell us what they know.

KURTZ: Arianna Huffington, you have been a leading voice, hammering Judith Miller and the "New York Times." Let me ask you this: don't you give her any credit for going to jail for 85 days to defend a principle she believes in, whether you agree with it or not?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONTIMES.COM: It's not whether I agree with it or not, Howie. You know perfectly well that the facts as Judy Miller and the "New York Times" present them just do not add up. To the credit of the blogosphere, we've all been saying that since Thursday, when Judy Miller came out of jail, that it simply does not add up, to say a waiver which Libby's lawyer says was given to her freely a year ago was not good enough for her, while it was good enough for Matt Cooper, for Walter Pincus, for Glen Kessler of the "Washington Post." And so what's the problem here?

Today it's something stunning. The "New York Times" does not have a single story, a single column about Judy Miller. It's as though they have ceased journalistic operations. It's George Orwell's memory hole. None of their star columnists is writing anything about her clearly because they are not going to defend her and they don't want to upset Sulzberger, the publisher of the paper, who has taken her cause so much to heart and is really hijacking the newspaper, as Jay Rosen is saying on the huffingtonpost today. They have really hijacked the whole newspaper of record behind a cause which is incredibly troubling.

KURTZ: All right. Want to move to Tom DeLay, the big story in Washington this week.

With so much mainstream media coverage of DeLay, Jeff Jarvis, what's the role of bloggers -- to pick apart the indictment, to write about the prosecutor, Ronnie Earle? Do bloggers have a piece of this story?

JARVIS: My favorite part of the story came a few weeks ago when Josh Marshal had bloggers find out who voted which way in the secret DeLay rule vote that allowed him to just take a little vacation here. I think that was an example of what -- I read this morning a blog by Mitch Radcliff, who argues there is a formation of paramedia, or I'd call us parajournalism. And I think it's not unlike Glenn Reynolds' porkbusters movement, where we bloggers can maybe swarm together and try to find out the facts that the media are not finding out.

In the case of the DeLay story going on, I think it's going to be mainly a lot of sniping.

KURTZ: Mainly a lot of sniping. I'm shocked to hear that bloggers would engage in such a practice.

Glenn Reynolds, you are a conservative. Do you get heat from other conservatives when you write, as you did of the DeLay case, "it is obviously an embarrassment for the GOP?"

REYNOLDS: What's striking is how few people -- I don't know that I count as a true conservative by any means. To me the most damning thing DeLay has done was his remark, a couple of weeks ago, that there was no fat in the federal budget. Once a man says that, how can you believe anything else that comes out of his mouth?

KURTZ: Arianna Huffington, you wrote on your website, speaking of Congressman DeLay, "if this is what integrity looks like, let's bring back oval office oral sex." I will clean it up a little bit for television. Would you be just as critical of Nancy Pelosi if there was complicated campaign finance charge brought against her, or does this stem from the fact that you don't like Tom DeLay and don't agree with what he stands for?

HUFFINGTON: Absolutely not. I have been critical of Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry's stance on the war in Iraq. The huffingtonpost and I in particular are critical of Democrats all the time. In fact, as Glenn Reynolds made clear, these right/left distinctions that the mainstream media are obsessing over are much less clear in the blogosphere.

You take the Judy Miller case -- it is very hard to tell who is on the right and who is on the left. You take the Tom DeLay case, and what Glenn Reynolds has been saying, it is actually much more interesting and people are much more willing to take on what is supposedly their side.

KURTZ: You're not suggesting this is not a mostly liberal site and that you are mostly, or at least with the greatest passion, hammering President Bush and Republicans and people like Tom DeLay and Bill Frist?

HUFFINGTON: Absolutely not. We have a conservative voice on our site, whether it is John Fund or Tony Blankley or Danielle Crittenden. We take on whoever we believe is pedaling hypocrisy and going against the public interest in the mainstream media or in Congress or in the White House.

KURTZ: Glenn Reynolds, as instapundit -- and Jeff Jarvis referred to this briefly earlier -- you've put your cyber muscle, so to speak, behind the porkbusters effort. This is an effort by commentators online to get members of Congress to give back some of those arguably wasteful projects -- bike paths and other things in the highway bill that have helped send federal spending out of control at a time when the money is needed for hurricane relief. Can bloggers really have an impact on this sort of thing?

REYNOLDS: It's certainly been catapulted onto the national stage. We noticed we were getting a lot of traffic from senate.gov and house.gov domains on the site, so I think they're paying some attention. It's hard. We're hoping since all politics is local, as Tip O'Neill said, we're asking people to look at pork in their own districts and talk to their own representatives about this. Hopefully it will change the psychology and do a little bit of good.

KURTZ: Jeff, are you a pork buster?

JARVIS: I have to admit that I wasn't promoting it enough, so before I came on the show, I blogged in from the Starbucks on the corner to make sure I was okay with Glenn. I believe in this. I think we can come together. It's more than media. You know, the Internet is not a medium, it is a means of doing things. The Internet allows us as citizens to get together and not just run media but run government better. And I think pork busters is a step in that direction.

KURTZ: Arianna Huffington, I want to come back for a moment to the Judy Miller case because you've written so much about it. You talked about you're not happy with the way the "Times" has covered it. Does Judith Miller, who now testified -- she's not facing any more possibility of jail time, she spent her 85 days in a Virginia jail -- does she have some responsibility to write a piece that tells everything she knows about her involvement in this case?

HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. That's the first thing I blogged about. Now that she has testified, that she has hugged her dog and eaten, I hope, that special meal she wanted her husband to prepare, now is the time for her to tell us everything she knows. That's her responsibility to her readers. Matt Cooper did that after he testified. The "New York Times" needs to put that on page one. I watched yesterday the Ed Murrow movie that George Clooney has just completed. It's amazing. It was all about getting the facts straight and telling the public everything you know. Judy Miller and the "New York Times" are not doing that.

And the mainstream media are not doing that. I watched Tim Russert today. There wasn't a single word on Judy Miller. This is a major story that goes beyond one reporter.

KURTZ: I agree with you on the major story point. I have to get a break. We'll talk with the guests about Hurricane Katrina's toll on the truth. Did the media get the story wrong about all that violence in New Orleans in the aftermath of the storm? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back. The media reports were rampant, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina: snipers in the streets, sharks swimming through the city, dead bodies in the Superdome.

SHEPARD SMITH, FOXNEWS: At the Superdome, people have waited in line for four days in squalor with shootings happening in there and people being raped. That's not conjecture, that's not speculation. That happened.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As they hustled us off the street, some of the officers told us that groups of young men have been looting (ph) the city, shooting at people, attempting to rape young women.

KURTZ: But some of these reported atrocities turned out to be sheer rumor, as the "New Orleans Times-Picayune" extensively reported four weeks after the storm. Jeff Jarvis, journalists got plenty of praise for their aggressive and passionate reporting of this disaster. Should they also be condemned for some of this rumor-mongering?

JARVIS: Condemned may be strong. Listen, everybody in the fog of war and the speed of news, which is now much faster, got things wrong. Certainly the media did, certainly public officials did and even witnesses understandably did. My problem right now is that, as things turn out to be not as bad as rumored, that doesn't mean this isn't a really, really bad scandal in America. And we should treat it as such and investigate it at such, and not let anyone at any level of any party off the hook. That's my problem now, is now we're seeing the positioning going on both ways conveniently. This was still a national scandal. We have to investigate it as such.

KURTZ: And of course, tens of thousands of people are still homeless and living in shelters and so forth.

Glenn Reynolds, the dilemma for reporters is that in some cases -- New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said 10,000 people could be dead, the police chief, Eddie Compass, said there were babies being raped in the Superdome. Did bloggers play a role in either knocking down some of these reports or at least being more skeptical about them?

REYNOLDS: Some of both. I compared the reports coming out of New Orleans to a disaster novel, and little did I know that was also because they were fiction. I think that there's a lot of accountability. With all the resources that the big media through at this story, it's really amazing how much of it turned out to be wrong. I think it is fine to invoke the fog of war or the fog of disaster. But I think it is funny that members of the press who set such high expectations for everybody else aren't willing to fess up and admit that they were reporting rumor and frequently getting it wrong.

There's one other point, which is, I wonder how quick they would have been to report reports of babies being raped and cannibalism and such if it had been a group of middle-class white people involved. I think even when politicians talk, I think we would have been more skeptical.

KURTZ: That's a very interesting point.

Arianna Huffington, journalists have widely been seen during these regents weeks as challenging the Bush administration and FEMA and Mike Brown more strongly and more aggressively than they have in years. Is that a good thing, or, as you well know, critics say it is a liberal attempt by the media to blame Bush for everything, maybe even including the hurricane itself.

HUFFINGTON: I think probably the media are beginning to feel they didn't question the president and the administration enough in the lead-up to the war or in the execution of the war. This is their opportunity to actually question him much more, especially when there is so much coming out of the administration about not playing the blame game and the media decided, no. This is the time to actually point fingers and demand accountability. KURTZ: You are saying it is a makeup call for the coverage of Iraq?

HUFFINGTON: I think it is a makeup call. Of course, it's very valid on its own terms, but it's also a makeup call.

KURTZ: You have 20 seconds if you want to make one more point.

HUFFINGTON: To thank Glenn Reynolds for putting the most exhaustive list of groups that everybody could donate to to help in New Orleans that many other bloggers are using and linking to.

KURTZ: Shows you the power of the Internet in times of disaster when everyone else has a hard time getting that information out.

Arianna Huffington, Glenn Reynolds, Jeff Jarvis, thanks very much for stepping away from your typewriters to join us.

Ahead -- the "New York Times" and what its TV critic really meant when she wrote about Geraldo -- a nudge and a New Orleans rescue. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Two weeks ago we told you how Geraldo Rivera was demanding but not getting a correction from the "New York Times." We showed you this footage of the Fox correspondent helping -- okay, grandstanding -- in the rescue of a wheelchair-bound woman in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. "Times" TV critic Alessandra Stanley wrote that Geraldo had nudged an Air Force man aside so that he could complete the rescue, on camera of course. We told you the tape showed no such nudge, no physical contact involving Rivera. Then "Times" ombudsman Byron Claim wrote that even though Geraldo might best described with a four-letter word -- he didn't say which one -- the newspaper had flunked the fairness test by refusing him a correction. That prompted the "Times" to run a somewhat grudging editor's note, saying that while Stanley had meant the word nudge as a figurative reference, some folks, believe it or not, read that as a factual assertion.

The note says, quote, "The "Times" acknowledges that no nudge was visible on the broadcast. No word on whether the "Times" editors are now muttering four-letter words over this. We'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: That's it for this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday for another critical look at the media. Up next, a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.

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