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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Coverage of Miers Nomination; Interview With George Clooney; Judith Miller Out of Jail
Aired October 9, 2005 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Revolt on the right. Conservative commentators rip President Bush for naming Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Why has the choice of an obscure White House aide turned the media world upside down? We'll ask Frank Rich, Gloria Borger and David Frum.
The actor and the icon. George Clooney sounds off about his problem with television news and his much-buzzed about movie about Edward R. Murrow taking on Joe McCarthy.
Judy out of jail. Judith Miller hitting the airwaves to defend her deal to testify in the Valerie Plame leak investigation. Has "The New York Times" covered this controversy fairly and aggressively?
And have journalists been too quick to predict indictment for Karl Rove?
Plus, O.J.'s media legacy 10 years later.
KURTZ: Welcome to this one-hour edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, where today, we turn our critical lens on the coverage of the latest Supreme Court battle. I'm Howard Kurtz.
Ahead, George Clooney makes his long-awaited return to this program -- long awaited at least by some women in our audience.
But first, when President Bush makes an important nomination, journalists are accustomed to running to Democrats and liberals for critical reaction, as reporters did with John Roberts. But when Bush chose his White House counsel and long-time personal lawyer who has never been a judge, it was conservatives like George Will, Charles Krauthammer and Ann Coulter who held their noses.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BAY BUCHANAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The president has made a terrible, terrible mistake.
ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: We're talking about the Supreme Court. This is not a reward for, you know, best attendance at office of legal counsel meetings. PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC ANALYST: If she had not been female and not been the president's friend, she would not have one chance in a thousand of being nominated.
WILLIAM KRISTOL, WEEKLY STANDARD: I just think it's a mistake. And it's a mistake that could be rectified by Ms. Miers deciding that it might be for the good of her president if she stepped aside.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Even Rush Limbaugh went on the offensive, openly challenging Vice President Cheney during an interview on his radio program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I think you'll find when you look back 10 years from now that it will have been a great appointment.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, that's what everybody is hoping. The question is why do we need to wait 10 years? There are people that he could have nominated that we would know that about now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What explains this vociferous reaction on the right? And has this led to a deep split between the conservative media and the president?
Joining us now in New York, Frank Rich, columnist for "The New York Times." And here in Washington, David Frum, who writes for "National Review Online" and is a former speechwriter for President Bush. And Gloria Borger, CBS News political correspondent and a columnist for "U.S. News & World Report." Welcome.
David Frum, about an hour and a half after this nomination was announced on Monday, you wrote on "National Review Online" that you worked with Harriet Miers. This was a serious error on President Bush's part. Was that hard for you to write?
DAVID FRUM, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: Yes. It's hard personally. It's hard professional.
Those of us who have been criticizing this nomination want this administration to succeed. We do not want to deal trouble to this administration. But the trouble has been chosen. And there is no way around it. We are talking about the integrity of the Supreme Court. We're talking about the future of the conservative movement. And we're talking about the credibility of everybody who is involved in this administration. So there is no way to back down from this.
KURTZ: Frank Rich, how do you explain this revolt, this uprising by conservative pundits who usually march in lockstep with President Bush? FRANK RICH, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think -- excuse me -- I think a couple of things are happening. First of all, it's a very weakened president, and weakened by a lot of issues, including the mismanagement of the war in Iraq and the mismanagement of recovery to Hurricane Katrina, with poll numbers that are at all-time low or close to it.
So you have a guy who is vulnerable, who is rapidly becoming a lame duck, who also has riled his conservative base by overspending, having the biggest amount of government spending since the Johnson administration. So here is somebody who seems possibly to be a crony, obviously is not the best choice for the Supreme Court of all the people available in the land, as the president has claimed.
But I do think the change in Bush's fortunes is a major fact here. After all, is Harriet Miers that much less qualified than Clarence Thomas was? He was also not a star legal performer. In fact, Harriet Miers may be more qualified. So I think a lot of it has to do with the sea change in Bush and less with Harriet Miers.
KURTZ: We'll come back to some of that. Gloria Borger, you were the first broadcast network reporter to focus on the conservative reaction on Monday night. Usually, to find conservatives who are going to criticize the Bush administration, you have to file a search warrant. Was it difficult for you?
GLORIA BORGER, CBS NEWS: No, you just had to scratch the service, quite frankly. I started talking to conservatives early in the morning, when we learned about Harriet Miers' nomination, and quite frankly, aside from those who were working with the White House to push this nomination...
KURTZ: In other words, those who had to say good things about it.
BORGER: Who had to say good things. The minute I started making some phone calls, I was, quite frankly, astonished, because the vitriol was coming out. There is 10 years of pent-up demand to appoint a real conservative to the court. They felt that they had sort of let John Roberts go through because he was brilliant, and they were really spoiling for a fight this time. They wanted a conservative. They didn't get what they wanted.
KURTZ: And there has been a little bit of a backlash now, late in the week, David Frum, against you critics. In fact, let's take a look at what FOX's Brit Hume had to say on this subject.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, HOST, "SPECIAL REPORT": Our colleague, Mr. Will, lacks enthusiasm for Harriet Miers, as does Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Laura Ingraham and the former Justice Department lawyer John Yu (ph), not to mention David Frum. What do they all have in common? Well, they are products of the most prestigious eastern schools.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So you're all a bunch of Ivy League intellectual elitists?
FRUM: Well, I just think of, you know, it just shows how the White House has declined that they can't write better talking points than that. I mean, in my day we would actually come up with an argument that worked. That's just silly. That this whole -- first of all, I think this elitism argument is a very dangerous one for the White House, because if you want to say, we are against elitism, we think people should get there by -- what? Favoritism? This is not a merit appointment. This is not -- this is a favoritism appointment. And the more you emphasize that, the question of what are the motives that people bring to this, the worse Harriet Miers looks.
KURTZ: Just for the record, what college did you go to?
FRUM: I went to Yale and I went to Harvard Law School. But look...
BORGER: Let me add something to that.
FRUM: All of the -- our favorite nominees, the conservative right's favorites, have gone to a wide variety of schools.
BORGER: Well, I spoke with Ed Gillespie at the White House, who is shepherding this nomination...
FRUM: Former Republican chairman.
BORGER: Former chairman of the RNC. And he raised the elitism argument, saying she didn't go to Harvard, what's wrong with SMU? OK, nothing wrong. I went to Colgate University and loved it.
And he also said, it was sexist. And that was really interesting, because I've interviewed conservative women who say, is this the best the president could do? And so conservatives are really taking issue with the White House talking points.
KURTZ: The notion that it's sexist, that the coverage is sexist, is that...
BORGER: Well, you know, I had Kate O'Beirne of "National Review" say to me that this is an affirmative action appointment.
KURTZ: Well, she's a woman.
BORGER: And she is a woman, and this is an administration who needed to find a better woman. I think they felt that perhaps there were better women, but they could not get confirmed.
FRUM: The more Ed Gillespie sounds like Barbara Mikulski, the worse this gets for the White House.
KURTZ: I want to go back to Frank Rich, and I want to play for you some sound from President Bush's news conference earlier this week, first one in months. And let's listen to some of the questions that the reporters had for the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Harriet Miers the most qualified to serve on the Supreme Court?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you worried about charges of cronyism?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you ever discussed with Harriet Miers abortion, or have you gleaned from her comments her views on that subject?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you say to these critics specifically, and how can you convince them that they -- that she is as conservative as Justices Scalia and Thomas?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Frank, do you see the White House press corps becoming more aggressive perhaps than in recent years?
RICH: Yeah. I think it actually began with Katrina, and this is just, you know, a second chapter in that story. But they are becoming more aggressive. And that's a good thing. They're not there to second the motion of whatever is said by people in power.
I also think that we're probably going to see a bunch of reporting now, investigative reporting perhaps, that will shed more light on all of this. There is so much we don't know about how this nomination happened. For instance, "The Los Angeles Times" last week had a story that really sort of went unnoticed, that Karl Rove had spoken four different times to James Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family, one of the few conservative leaders who has endorsed the Miers nomination, and Dobson has gone around saying, I was told things I can't -- I can't tell anyone else. He's actually saying this to the press.
So we have Rove -- another Rove sort of leak, not an illegal one obviously, that's going to be caught up in this coverage, and I think it's going to keep building in an investigative way, not just in an opinion way.
KURTZ: Well, I want to bring in Gloria Borger. Do you find it as odd as I do, the notion of this Texas judge, Nathan Hecht, who has come out and done a lot of TV interviews, almost acting as a spokesman for Harriet Miers, on-again, off-again boyfriend, "The L.A. Times" had a whole piece about why they never got married. Let's take a look at what Nathan Hecht had to say to NBC News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE NATHAN HECHT, TEXAS SUPREME COURT: She's pro-life. Harriet and I have attended pro-life dinners in Dallas years ago. She attends an evangelical church in Dallas when she's there and has for 25 years, that takes a very strong pro-life position.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So has this guy been sent out to give the media the message, even though she can't say she's pro-life?
BORGER: I think he has, but on the other hand, being pro-life doesn't mean that you are going to vote to overturn Roe v Wade. I mean, everybody sort of assumed that John Roberts was pro-life, too, but he also said he believed in the strength of precedent. And so, we don't...
KURTZ: Settled law, yes.
BORGER: ... really know where she stands. And she can be as pro-life as James Dobson, but that doesn't mean she'd vote to overturn Roe.
FRUM: But evangelicals are in danger. I don't think they're going to do it, by the way, and I think Dobson is backing down. But they're in danger of making the same mistake that Mario Cuomo made back in 1986, when he endorsed Antonin Scalia because he thought, well, he's an Italian-American like me, so therefore he'll agree with me.
KURTZ: But FOX's Bill O'Reilly says that some of the coverage has been anti-evangelical, because Harriet Miers is a born-again Christian and belongs to an evangelical church in Dallas. Do you agree with that?
FRUM: No, no. And again, I think that's a silly White House talking point. Look, one of the great things about blogging is you get to talk to your listeners -- your readers. They come back immediately. And I've had thousands of e-mails about this, and hundreds of them from evangelicals, saying, I want the best. I want the best.
KURTZ: And how do you...
FRUM: And merely attending a particular kind of church, there are 10,000 people in some of these churches. They can't all be on the Supreme Court.
KURTZ: Just briefly, have you had any pressure from either the White House or some of your conservative friends that suddenly you've gone into the opposition on this issue?
FRUM: There have been some complaints and some kind of comical incidents. But look, the pressure comes from inside. You want the administration to succeed, you don't want to hurt it, but you don't want to hurt the Supreme Court either.
KURTZ: All right. Frank Rich, you're a former theater critic. I want to play for you what possibly could be a very crucial source of television criticism of the Harriet Miers nomination. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This wasn't a choice based on friendship. We're not even that close.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ashley, send in Ms. Miers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bushie!
Come on, Bushie, put me down!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What does it mean when "Saturday Night Live" comes out against you, Frank Rich?
RICH: Well, it's not good. There's two interesting things about that. One is, most of the country really has no idea -- or had no idea who Harriet Miers was. So it shows that she's now getting brand name recognition. Also, it makes you long for Dana Carvey, who would have just been fantastic in the part.
KURTZ: I knew we could count on a critical assessment. All right, we need to get a break here.
Coming up, more of our all-star panel. We'll talk about whether the media are just itching for Karl Rove's indictment.
Plus, George Clooney on Edward R. Murrow, Joe McCarthy and modern-day media failures. My interview with the outspoken actor ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Gloria Borger, the Associated Press had a scoop the other day about White House adviser Karl Rove. The headline was, "Rove to give additional testimony without guarantee he won't be indicted." This of course in the Valerie Plame leak investigation. Well, most witnesses that go before a grand jury have no guarantee they won't be indicted, except unless you get immunity. So is that kind of a loaded headline?
BORGER: It could be a loaded headline. I think what's going on here is that reporters have covered this case now for too long...
KURTZ: Two years.
BORGER: Two years. It's a very convoluted, very complicated case. Reporters can't figure out either why it's gone on for so long -- there has got to be something there -- we don't know whether there are going to be indictments or no indictments.
And I think Karl Rove is of course the most recognizable White House figure involved in this. Scooter Libby, who works on the vice president's staff, is not as well known. So the target of the reporters' investigation tends to be Karl Rove. KURTZ: David Frum, I was going to ask you about the liberal media beating up on the president, except here is your magazine, "National Review," it's got a picture of a ship-wrecked vote and it talks about the GOP adrift. So are some journalists salivating at the prospect of a Rove indictment, or is this all just sort of piling on the president now?
FRUM: Obviously, there are lots of journalists who are salivating over the prospect of a Rove indictment, although not ours, of course. But it is a sign I think of how much damage this Miers nomination has done the president and how they have not fully taken on board the magnitude.
This is an administration that faces a lot of troubles. It needs its friends. This -- in the first term, the administration often had the idea that if you turned on your friends, you could make points with your enemies.
KURTZ: And by friends, you mean in part certainly the conservative media machine on talk radio, on the Internet, in the magazine world.
FRUM: Your conservative supporters, the people who elected you, the people who supported you, the people who believe in you, the people who share your values, that sometimes the administration would ostentatiously distance itself from those people in order to make points with the middle.
Well, at this point, the administration, for better or worse, does not have the option of governing from the middle. They have to govern from their conservative base. And so in Rove week, they are going to need all the people who are enraged by the Miers decision, and that's one of the many reasons that politically, it was a catastrophic thing to do.
KURTZ: Frank Rich, do you see any irony in the fact that an investigation of unnamed sources leaking a CIA operative's name to Robert Novak two years ago, which sparked a lot of outrage from the press, that journalists keep quoting unnamed sources about Karl Rove and Scooter Libby and in some cases Judy Miller?
RICH: Well, there is, there is, of course, an irony. I think this is a very special case. You have in Patrick Fitzgerald a prosecutor who, unlike, say, Ken Starr before him, has really been scrupulous in keeping the press out. There have been very, very few leaks. And so what -- so there is this irony, that what leaks there have been have come from unidentified sources.
But the truth is that we don't really know what's going on. And we won't know until the prosecutor tells the world, which we all think is going to be imminent. So you have sort of a nature abhorring a vacuum here and tons of speculation. And we don't -- in many cases, we don't know who these sources are. We're going to have to actually wait and find out.
KURTZ: And are you frustrated, Frank, as a columnist in "The New York Times," that your newspaper has not yet put out a big piece explaining Judy Miller, and how she found her notes, and what she testified to, all of that?
RICH: I am frustrated. I think that it will come, and I hope it comes soon. But I think "The Times," now that she has testified, has to be transparent about what happened, why her situation was different from Matt Cooper's, and indeed ultimately about her grand jury testimony, which, as I understand it legally, she's free to disclose, or will be presumably after Mr. Fitzgerald is finished with her. He's called her back for murky circumstances next week.
KURTZ: I have just a few seconds. Does all this hurt the reputation of journalism?
BORGER: I think it's hard to say right now, Howie. I want to say to Frank, we journalists who have been covering this story, we are all awaiting Judy Miller's piece in "The New York Times." We would like to read it, too.
KURTZ: Or at least a piece about her. And I'm hoping that will come soon.
KURTZ: Gloria Borger, David Frum, Frank Rich in New York, thanks very much for joining us.
Ahead, our interview with George Clooney.
And 10 years after the O.J. verdict. Why television news is now addicted to sensational trials.
KURTZ: When you think of the really big stories of the last decade -- impeachment, terrorism, war, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes having a baby -- few epic tales have had as great an impact on television news as the O.J. case. Ten years ago, the former football star was acquitted in a racially charged double murder case that roiled the country and was brought to the country day after day on CNN.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not guilty of the crime of murder.
KURTZ (voice-over): Ten years ago, a former football star was acquitted in a racially charged double murder case that roiled the country and was brought to the country day after day on CNN. That pretty much launched the TV careers of a posse of legal analysts. Greta Van Susteren got a CNN show called "Burden of Proof." Marsha Clark became a frequent guest on "LARRY KING." Geraldo Riviera launched a legal program for CNBC. Johnny Cochran did one for Court TV." And these days, MSNBC's Dan Abrams and Nancy Grace of "HEADLINE NEWS" host shows devoted to legal issues. But the Simpson trial also fueled a hunger among TV executives for more celebrity cases. Martha Stewart, Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant, "Baretta" star Robert Blake all got their spot in the white hot spotlight.
But there is a finite supply of famous folks in trouble, so the cable networks and morning shows decided they could transform ordinary people into celebrities. After all, the O.J. trial turned Mark Fuhrman, Lance Ito and even Kato Kaelin, who got a radio show, into grade B stars. And so the cases involving Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, and the latest missing white woman, Natalee Holloway, were pumped up into national melodramas.
Even when is their is no crime, as with the hoax perpetrated by runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks, the exposure can lead to a big book deal and a Katie Couric special.
KURTZ: O.J. thankfully has faded from the news and spends his time playing golf and searching for the real killer, but his impact reverberates today in an increasingly tabloid, crime-obsessed and celebrity-fixated television world.
Up next, a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.
And then, my interview with George Clooney. His take on television news and his latest Hollywood venture about a media icon, Edward R. Murrow.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. He's a big-time movie star. He has done battle against the paparazzi, he's got plenty of opinions about the media. Now, George Clooney has a new movie out called "Good Night and Good Luck," about one of his journalistic heroes, Edward R. Murrow, taking on Communist-hunting senator Joe McCarthy a half century ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritages and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the results. We proclaim ourselves, indeed as we are, the defenders of freedom wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I recently had a chance to sit down with the actor and activist.
KURTZ: George Clooney, welcome.
GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR: It's good to see you again.
KURTZ: We'll get you moving in just a moment, but you've been very critical of television news lately, saying that people are less well-informed now than 15 years. Does that mean that CNN, MSNBC, FOX, are doing a lousy job?
CLOONEY: I don't think I've ever said that people are less informed. I said that what the difference is, or the problem is, is the information that is out there, it's just tougher to find because there's so many -- it's fractured in so many different pieces.
I don't think ...
KURTZ: You wouldn't want to go back to the days of three broadcast networks, would you?
CLOONEY: I don't know, sometimes I have a romantic vision of that, when everyone started with the same basic facts and then sort of took them into their own social and political experience, and then came up with their own opinions, so that everyone started with somewhat of the same fact base, rather than starting with very different fact levels.
KURTZ: In other words you think that many of these media outlets -- we're awash in 24 hour news networks ...
KURTZ: ... as you well know, are too opinionated and that's part of the problem?
CLOONEY: I don't know if it's too opinionated. I think that there is -- like magazines and newspapers over the years have become, you go now to the place that best represents your own personal social and political beliefs.
It's OK, it happens. It creates, oftentimes, polarization, I think. But I don't find -- growing up as the son of an anchorman, I don't find that to be -- my father's job as a news director -- he wrote his own news, was constantly to fight the powers that be, the people who had the money, to keep entertainment from pushing news off the air. So it's not something new, it's something that's been going on for a long time.
KURTZ: And you think that today's media organizations don't do as good a job? They surrender to entertainment?
CLOONEY: No, but I think that there are times that we have certainly dropped the ball in the last few years. I think that there were -- I think that when "The New York Times," for instance, admits that they shirked their responsibility in the lead-up to the war and says, we should have asked some tougher questions about some Judith Miller's articles, you know, I think that there is a very dangerous step, because to me, growing up as a son of a journalist, the most important thing, as Thomas Jefferson taught us, was he would rather have a free press than a free government.
KURTZ: A lot of news organizations, like "The Times," could have done a more aggressive job. Now, you could have made "Ocean's 13," "Ocean's 14", "Ocean's 15."
CLOONEY: This is actually "Ocean's 13," we didn't want to -- we just wanted to hide that.
KURTZ: Instead you chose to make "Good Night and Good Luck." And you co-authored the screenplay for a dollar, you donated your director's fee, which has been reported at $120,000, and you put up your $7 million home as collateral. You must have really wanted to make this movie.
CLOONEY: I wanted to make the film. It's hard to get a black and white film made about a historical event that very few people remember. So it wasn't an easy thing to do.
But I must say, the truth is, if you want to get it done you can get it done, and that's what's the good news about that.
KURTZ: To many journalists, Ed Murrow taking on Joe McCarthy is a familiar story, but when you screen-tested this movie, did you find that people had any clue about this?
CLOONEY: I would say 50 percent of the people that we tested had never heard of Murrow. About 20 percent had never heard of Joe McCarthy. About 10 percent of that knew of McCarhthyism, but they didn't relate the two.
We had about 10 percent of the audience ask who the actor playing Joe McCarthy is, because we actually have -- Joe McCarthy plays himself in the film. So we want to take out an ad that's for your consideration, for best supporting actor, Joe McCarthy.
KURTZ: I guess he can't get union dues anymore.
KURTZ: So why did you choose to play not Murrow? It's your movie, you could have been the star, but to play CBS producer Fred Friendly?
CLOONEY: A number of reasons. The first one is that Murrow is a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and always did, and there's a sadness to him about that, and I don't think anyone ever equates the weight of the world on the shoulders with me. So I felt like I needed to get an actor that had that sort of gravitas. And David Strathairn was the perfect actor for the job.
KURTZ: And was there something about Friendly that appealed to you? CLOONEY: Yes, very much. Friendly was sort of the general, he was the guy who sat behind the scenes and said, you go there, you go do this, you go do that.
KURTZ: And you like that? You like telling people what to do?
CLOONEY: I like being the -- I like being the boss. That's why you direct. You get to be the boss.
KURTZ: Now, are there McCarthyite elements in today's political atmosphere that made you want to make this particular movie now? You have talked about concerns about the PATRIOT Act being renewed, for example.
CLOONEY: Sure, there are certainly issues that -- I wouldn't call it "McCarthyite," because I think we're a long way from the Senate and the House bringing people in front of them and trying them by innuendo and with sealed envelopes. There are issues -- the Padilla case I certainly think brings to mind some issues. Padilla...
KURTZ: Jose Padilla?
CLOONEY: ... actually I think to me is the perfect example, because it illustrates the complexities of this problem, why there aren't good and bad and easily answered.
Padilla might very well be a terrorist. He might be, as he's held in Guantanamo Bay, but either he is a criminal and he has a writ of habeas corpus and the right to a speedy trial and a right to a lawyer, or he is a criminal -- I'm sorry, a prisoner of war. And if he is a prisoner of war, he gets Geneva Convention rights. Period. Or we fail.
Now, you can't let him go, so what do we do? And that was what I found similar with this, was when Murrow kept saying, we must find a way to balance the right of the state and the right of the individual at the same time.
KURTZ: Now, Ed Murrow was not perfect. He interviewed celebrities on one of his shows.
KURTZ: So is there any danger here that you're re-imagining a golden age that didn't quite exist?
CLOONEY: I think we've showed that, though. I think we've showed that fairly in this. We were very careful -- the secret to doing a piece like this which is of a specific time -- is to go through all the arguments against him, against Murrow, and how he handled that. You could argue that he editorialized for the first time, and it's opened the door for people who editorialize. He did it responsibly, but there is that argument.
You could argue that he didn't accurately, or didn't fairly attack the mistakes -- some of the mistakes that -- for instance, the Alger Hiss story when you see the film. Those were things we got out of the schools of journalism and out of other people's books.
KURTZ: I'm tempted to ask you are you now or have you ever been a liberal, but of course it's pretty well-known that you are.
KURTZ: In a recent interview, you said you're concerned about speaking out these days. Backlash from Bush supporters, for example.
CLOONEY: I never said I was concerned about speaking out. I ...
KURTZ: You were quoted by somebody as saying that.
CLOONEY: Whoever quoted that is a misquote. I have always said I find it fascinating -- I said that I've found myself at times targeted, but not targeted in a way that managed to hurt or change my career. Just targeted.
You know, Bill O'Reilly did a half an hour show on why my career was over a couple of years ago, because I was -- of my liberal views.
KURTZ: And he has repeatedly criticized you for raising money, most recently for tsunami victims, without knowing where the money is going.
CLOONEY: I believe I invited him, and he showed up to the tsunami telethon. Because I said, you know, put your money where your mouth is, and you show up and you do the check and balance. I wonder how that's going, Bill, I wonder -- we haven't seen a lot of the check and balancing going on from the FOX News about the tsunami thing. I can tell you, it's going quite well.
KURTZ: But that kind of very personal criticism from somebody like O'Reilly, has that colored your perceptions of television news?
CLOONEY: No. Because there's still a bunch of kids getting killed in Afghanistan and in Iraq and really good reporters doing as good work as I've ever seen, sticking their necks out, doing -- bringing us important news.
I am not at all -- I am a fan of news. I am the son of an anchorman who spends his days and nights still fighting to get good news out there. I believe in it, and I think we succeed at times and at times we fail. And this was a film to say, look at a time when we really did it well.
KURTZ: Is there a market for this kind of serious film? I mean obviously you attract a lot of attention because of your star power and you're directing the movie and so forth, but it was hard -- I wonder if someone else could have gotten this movie made if they weren't George Clooney.
CLOONEY: I don't, probably, you know -- Altman -- somebody could have gotten it made.
Do I think that there's a market for it? I don't know. You know, if you, on paper, no, on paper not a chance in the world that anyone is going to see it, but on paper...
KURTZ: Why is that?
CLOONEY: Because it's a black and white small film about ...
KURTZ: Even if it had been in color?
CLOONEY: Because it's not designed to be a big -- as you well know, you see -- "Ocean's 11" is designed to be a big film and will be sold as such. This is a film that sort of requires critical help along the way to keep it going.
But we've been very surprised. You know, we just -- we opened in our first place overseas, and we did as much money as we did with "Ocean's 12," so I'm going to wait and see. You never know.
KURTZ: We'll keep an eye on it. George Clooney, thanks for sitting down with us.
CLOONEY: Good to see you again.
KURTZ: George Clooney. Up next, with Karl Rove set to testify a fourth time before the grand jury in the Valerie Plame case, journalists, bloggers and plenty of others still buzzing about the controversial role of "New York Times" reporter Judith Miller. We'll talk about that, next.
KURTZ: It's been 10 days since Judith Miller was released from a Virginia jail. "The New York Times" has drawn growing criticism from journalists, including some at her own paper, for testifying in the Valerie Plame case about one of her sources, Scooter Libby. The Dick Cheney aide released her from her promise to protect his identity, but said she could have had the same waiver a year ago. Miller defended her decision with ABC's Barbara Walters and CNN's Lou Dobbs, who proved to be a member of her fan club.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: Did Mr. Libby reveal Valerie Plame's -- Wilson's name to you?
JUDITH MILLER, NEW YORK TIMES: I'm afraid I can't get into that, Barbara. It involves grand jury testimony.
Until I knew that that source genuinely wanted me to testify, and I heard that from him, I was willing to sit in jail.
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": I will not forgive Fitzgerald for what he did to you. I think it is an onerous, disgusting abuse of government power.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Now, "The New York Times" also coming under journalistic fire for pulling its punches on coverage of the story, according to some critics.
Joining us now in New York, Jay Rosen, a press critic and professor of journalism at New York University who writes a blog at PressThink.org.
In Knoxville, Glenn Reynolds, law professor at the University of Tennessee, the blogger known as Instapundit, and author of the upcoming book "An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower the Little Guy to Beat Big Media, Big Government and Other Goliaths."
And here in Washington, "Newsweek" investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff.
You know, I said on last week's program that Judith Miller should say what she knows, because she could still face legal jeopardy. "Times" editor Bill Keller tells me that she does face legal jeopardy. I said that she did not. So I stand corrected on that. She's been called back to talk to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.
But you know, when you run into problems with sources, for example on the Korean desecration story at Guantanamo Bay, "Newsweek" did an investigation and set the record straight. Has "New York Times" done that here? Has "New York Times" come close to doing that here?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NEWSWEEK: Clearly not. I mean, I just find the "Times'" conduct at this point inexplicable. There is nothing to prevent Judy Miller from detailing chapter and verse, not only exactly what she told the grand jury, but exactly what she and Scooter Libby talked about in all their conversations at this point.
In fact, I find some of the coverage, you know, bizarre here. All the context of whether or not Scooter Libby's waiver applied to Judy Miller in particular, and this back and forth over the time -- all the discussion was in the context of what -- whether or not Judy Miller would testify before the grand jury. How about whether the waiver would let Judy Miller detail chapter and verse to the readers of "The New York Times" what happened from the very beginning when they started talking?
It seems to me that there was nothing -- once Scooter Libby signed the general waiver to prevent Judy Miller from calling him back up and saying, hey, can I write about it now? I mean, the ultimate obligation -- and I've said this time and time again -- is not to the source, it's to the readers. And that's who Judy Miller was in the business of serving, or should have been in the business of serving, and it's almost as if their interests in this, which are the ultimate interests of "The New York Times," have been completely forgotten.
KURTZ: Jay Rosen, you write on your blog that you don't trust the "Times" reporting on this story. And they were not up to it. Why do you say that? JAY ROSEN, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Because I think "The New York Times" has lost the capacity to tell the truth about itself in this story. It's completely overidentified itself and the majesty of the institution with Judy Miller and what its own people describe as her personal decision making. We know that other reporters in similar circumstances were able and thought it wise to work out deals with the prosecutor. And here we have this great institution allowing itself to be, in effect, muzzled by Miller, her decision that her waivers weren't good enough, her decision to change her mind after the waivers were now good enough, and it's just inexplicable, as Michael said, that beyond reporting about the Miller case itself, "The New York Times" has apparently shut down, either implicitly or explicitly, all its columnists. It hasn't done pieces looking at the state of the law and what the Miller case has done to press law. Nobody has been able to say a word about it. And I think that a big mistake in judgment was made when "The Times" threw its weight behind the decision making of an individual.
KURTZ: Well, in fairness, "The Times" editor Bill Keller told me that a big piece is in the works, that these things take time. And I think it may have been delayed by prosecutor Fitzgerald's decision to call back Judy Miller for questioning on Tuesday.
Glenn Reynolds, it's difficult, let's face it, to report on yourself. Has "The Times" done a credible job in your view?
GLENN REYNOLDS, INSTAPUNDIT.COM: I have to agree that it hasn't. And I have to say, looking at how they are acting, with all this parsing and stonewalling really, and hiding behind various ethical rules, they're acting like defendants. They're acting like the target of a scandal. They're not acting like the journalists who investigate a scandal.
KURTZ: Why do you use the word "stonewalling," Glenn?
REYNOLDS: Well, I really think that Judy Miller has been free to tell us what's going on for a while. Perhaps I'm wrong about that. But I don't see why we didn't have a big piece in "The Times" as soon as she was done with her grand jury testimony at the very least, and really sooner. I think journalists should tell people what they know. And I think that should be sort of the touchstone. And departures from that should be very rare.
KURTZ: Michael Isikoff, do you see Judy's role in the Plame case as related to her controversial and sometimes flawed reporting on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction?
ISIKOFF: Well, it's hard to know. Clearly, Scooter Libby, the chief of staff to the vice president, was a key figure in the formulation of Iraqi intelligence, how it was presented prior to the -- in the run-up to the war in Iraq. It seems pretty clear -- and we know that much of the -- many of the most controversial pieces that Judy Miller wrote were pieces of intelligence that were being pushed by the vice president's office. The famous aluminum tube story, which was presented as evidence of Iraqi nuclear weapons program. Turned out to be false. But that was something the vice president was pushing.
So clearly, there seems to be some relationship there. But I mean, obviously there is a lot here that "The New York Times" has not explained.
KURTZ: Jay Rosen, it seems to me that editors naturally would support a reporter who gets subpoenaed in a case and ends up going to jail for 85 days. But are you saying that the editors of "The New York Times," that their judgment is clouded by their strong defense of their reporter?
ROSEN: I think so. And I think that they began to assimilate this case to the great history of "The New York Times" resisting government encroachment -- in the Pentagon Papers, in many other cases -- and they saw this as another chapter in the glorious fight of "The New York Times" against government power. But the facts of the case are so ambiguous, and it kind of doesn't pass the smell test in a lot of ways. And that's why it was unwise to suspend reporting while Judy Miller's case played out. It isn't the First Amendment drama that they think it is. It's a much more complicated, darker and ultimately dubious tale, and that has suspended journalism at "The New York Times."
KURTZ: Well, "The Times" has covered this to some degree. I don't think they'd say they suspended their reporting, but certainly the full story has yet to be told as even "The Times" would acknowledge.
Glenn Reynolds, a lot of bloggers have been beating up on "The New York Times" over this story. Is some of that driven by ideological hostility to the paper?
REYNOLDS: Well, I don't know. They're getting hammered pretty hard from both the left and the right, which sometimes is a sign that you're getting it right, and sometimes a sign that you're getting it really wrong. You know, I hate to sound like Johnny One-Note, but "The Times" knows a lot they aren't telling us, and I don't know why they've decided not to tell us, but it seems to me that it's their job to tell us what they know in the first instance, and they just haven't been doing that. They've been very -- I'm sorry, go ahead.
KURTZ: I just want to turn to Michael Isikoff. When Matt Cooper of "Time" magazine was facing jail in this very same case, you broke the story that his source, his secret source had been Karl Rove. Would you have been upset if other reporters had tried to unmask your sources on stories that you've covered? Is that an unusual position to be in?
ISIKOFF: Of course it was unusual. In fact, I joked that was one scoop I've had that I never thought would hold up, because prior to publication we obviously had to check with Matt Cooper and his editors. And once I did that, I assumed that they themselves would go with the story, knowing that their arch competitor, i.e. us in "Newsweek", were going to write the story. Yet they didn't, inexplicably. So we were able to break it cleanly. But I think this shows how this whole case has twisted news organizations in knots. And I come back to the point of lost track of what we're in business to do.
Look, we obviously have to honor our commitments to sources. Once you say you're going to treat a conversation as confidential, you have to honor that commitment.
But that's very different from protecting sources. That doesn't mean you can't go back to that source, time and time again, and say, look, we talked off the record before, but now we need to talk on the record, especially when, in this case, the White House has been clearly not been forthcoming about Scooter Libby and Karl Rove's conduct.
KURTZ: Glenn Reynolds, I got about a half a minute. Members of Congress are pushing a shield law to limit the circumstances under which journalists would have to testify about sources. The bill as written would cover online reporters for news gathering organizations, but not millions of individual bloggers. Does that bother you?
REYNOLDS: Oh, it bothers me a lot. I think that when the Constitution talks about freedom of the press, it doesn't mean freedom of the press as an institution or a trade; it means actually freedom of the printing press, freedom to publish. That's something we all enjoy, and I don't think we should set up some kind of a guild system where we have special privileges for professional journalists. I think that's wrong.
KURTZ: Jay Rosen, I got just a few seconds. Does this case, CIA leak case, hurt not just the reputation of "The New York Times" but all of journalism?
ROSEN: I think it has. But there is still time for "The Times" to recover itself and for the rest of the press to show that this -- truth can be told. And that's what we're waiting to see.
KURTZ: And we are waiting as well. We'll cover that on this program.
Jay Rosen, Glenn Reynolds down in Knoxville, Michael Isikoff here, thanks very much for joining us.
Coming up, Sir David Frost finds a surprising new home on the TV airwaves.
And your viewer e-mail about the controversial Judith Miller. It's all just ahead.
KURTZ: PBS has become the first national TV news network to hire a full-time ombudsman. Michael Getler, who's finishing a five-year stint as "The Washington Post" ombudsman, has signed on to become the in-house critic for a network that has been battling charges of liberal bias. Getler's criticism will appear on the PBS Web site. And David Frost, the veteran British journalist who gained global fame by interviewing Richard Nixon after Watergate has a new gig. Sir David has signed on with Al Jazeera International, an English channel planned for early next year which will have a major bureau here in Washington. Frost tells me he's been promised complete editorial control over his weekly interview show, and doesn't believe the Arab media operation is sympathetic to terrorists. Besides, he says, so many former BBC folks are joining up that he feels at home.
Now, checking our viewer e-mail: Lots of you wrote to us about Judy Miller. One viewer saying, "If Ms. Miller had secured a shaky waiver to reveal her source, she would no longer be able to serve the public's right to know, because her sources would dry up. Her value as a journalist would be at an end."
But most of you were much more critical. Phyllis writes: "Why hasn't anyone commented on the possibility of her trading a jail stint for instant hero status and redemption from her sign-on to the administration's WMD fabrication? Where was her journalism career going before this act of professional heroism? She did in a few months what might take years."
We'll be right back.
KURTZ: Well, that's it for this one-hour edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Thanks for watching. Join us again next Sunday for another critical look at the media. "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer begins right now.
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