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ABC News Anchor Wounded in Iraq; Should Networks Air Tapes from al Qaeda Leaders?

Aired February 5, 2006 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): The wounding of Woodruff. Should the ABC anchor have gone to Iraq and faced the danger of roadside bombs? Are Bob Woodruff's injuries getting too much media coverage when so many American soldiers have suffered the same fate?

And will Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson help ABC's Elizabeth Vargas stay competitive at 6:30?

Terror on the airwaves. Should Al-Jazeera and American networks be airing those tapes of terrorist leaders and kidnap victims like reporter Jill Carroll? We'll ask the newest employee of Al-Jazeera International, former ABC newsman Dave Marash.

And a lowly scribe with a big mouth on the brink of football stardom? A look at the real Tony Kornheiser.


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn a critical lens on the wounding of an ABC anchor.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Ahead, the generally downbeat coverage of the president's State of the Union.

But first, we got the word last Sunday morning shortly before we came on the air that Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt had been injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq. ABC has now released footage of the stand-up report Woodruff was taping just before the explosion.


BOB WOODRUFF, ABC NEWS: We're on patrol with Iraq's 9th Division. There's only one mechanized division in the entire Iraqi army. They say that the insurgents are particularly afraid of this group. They patrol up and down the main corridor north of Baghdad.


KURTZ: A short while later, as cameraman Vogt is shooting pictures of an Iraqi soldier, the camera dips and the tape goes to black. In the following hours and days, it was big news on all the networks.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: It is a reminder that in our highly competitive business we are colleagues and we are friends, first and foremost.


KURTZ: NBC's tom Brokaw called Woodruff's wife, Lee.


TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: After the explosion, he turned to his producer and said, "Am I alive?" And "Don't tell Lee." And then he began to cry out in excruciating pain.


KURTZ: But after days of media attention, some critics said, enough already.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: The press coverage of ABC newsman Bob Woodruff and photographer Doug Vogt, some military people are angry at the media's devoting so much time to these men.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about all this, Martha Raddatz, ABC's White House correspondent who has spent time reporting from Iraq and covered the wounding of Woodruff and Vogt last weekend; Pam Hess, Pentagon correspondent for UPI; and Nic Robertson, CNN senior international correspondent.


Martha Raddatz, how difficult was it last Sunday to act as a reporter when it came to covering the very serious injuries suffered by your colleagues?

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: It was very difficult. But I sometimes think as journalists that's our shield and that's the way we cope. We can see things through that lens.

But I will not downplay the fact that it was -- it was very difficult to go on the air, literally just hours after I found out about it. And I think continuing to report on it and trying to find out what happened to Bob and Doug helped me cope and helped me understand and helped me talk about it. But very, very tough.

KURTZ: Is there a temptation to leave out some of the details out of concern for the families? Because, of course, these are people you know personally.

RADDATZ: Well, I hope I always have concern for families of the wounded and those who have died in Iraq or anywhere else. I don't think I've ever been a "how does it feel" kind of reporter.

There are definitely concerns. There are things that ABC didn't release that others did. But I think that's a matter of taste and looking at your own news organizations and how you cover these things. For me, going on the air that morning, there was just no question that foremost in my mind were their families.

KURTZ: Pam Hess, you've been hearing from some military folks who question why this is getting so much attention. After all, more than 16,000 Americans have been wounded in Iraq since 2003. Tell us about that.

PAMELA HESS, UPI PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Right. More than 9,000 of the injuries that have occurred in Iraq are from IEDs. And that's what happened with Woodruff and Vogt.

So what I've received are a number of e-mails with people saying, "Why is this such a big deal? Don't you guys understand that this happens every single day to some 20-year-old, especially gunners, people standing up out of turrets like Woodruff was?"

KURTZ: And what's the answer to the question?

HESS: I think -- I don't know the question. But the question is, is it because he's famous, is it because he's one of us, or is it because this is such an unusual event to have a network news anchor out there and getting hurt? And I think we need to look in each of our own news organizations and figure out the answer to that question.

KURTZ: Nic Robertson, is there a natural tendency by journalists -- this also came up with the kidnapping of Jill Carroll of the "Christian Science Monitor" -- to pay more attention to the problems or injuries or tragedies that befall other journalists?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that there's an opportunity and a way to personalize these particular situations that there aren't in other areas with, perhaps, Iraqis or with troops. There are good reasons that we don't get a lot of details about the injuries for U.S. troops.

It takes several days for their families to be informed. And if the U.S. military was to give details of injuries and where they happened and how they happened, that would pass a huge amount of information to insurgents. And that would not be beneficial in the war in Iraq at the moment.

So I think in many ways, it does personalize for people the tragedies that are befalling many soldiers -- and let's not forget them by any stretch of the imagination -- and the tragedies that are befalling Iraqis.

KURTZ: Martha, go ahead. RADDATZ: I think we have all covered the wounded and we have all covered the dead in Iraq. I think without question this reinforces our concern and does focus again on something we should be covering all along.

I have to say that the e-mails that I've gotten from military people I've dealt with over the years are phenomenal. They've been so supportive. There are people who have e-mailed me who have lost soldiers, who have had their brothers die, their sons die, and e- mailed me and said, "We feel so bad for you."

So I think it's a small group of people who are perhaps saying this is terrible that Bob's gotten so much attention. If anyone read Lee Woodruff's statement about the injuries to her husband and Doug, and how they realize that military people go through this every single day, then they would not doubt that Lee and Bob and Doug believe attention should be focused on others as well.

KURTZ: Now, this has given rise to a number of feature stories about these improvised explosive devices. And, for example, there have been a number about the field hospital at Balad air base where Doug Vogt and Bob Woodruff were treated, and which their families say saved their lives.

You went to that hospital.

HESS: I did.

KURTZ: But you didn't write a story about it.

HESS: Exactly. And I wrote a piece on this this week.

I was watching ABC News, and they did a great piece on the field hospital. And I realized that I knew a great deal about that field hospital as well because I'd been there but I hadn't written it.

And my problem was -- and this is perhaps the myopia of journalism -- I didn't have a news hook at the time. I could have done sort of a bland feature story about how many people this hospital serves and the capabilities that they have, but I didn't have that personal detail that would have made it into a news story. And that's my fault because I didn't look hard enough.


Nic Robertson, you spent a lot of time in Iraq, as well as in other war zones. When you have five killed, 10 killed, 20 wounded almost every day, is it hard to turn that into news, or at least big news, when no one famous is involved?

ROBERTSON: No. I think we report to the best degree that we can. And in Iraq at the moment, it's very difficult to go out and get personal accounts from -- from family members, perhaps if it's Iraqis or if it's U.S. troops. It's very difficult in the immediate aftermath of those -- of those very tragic events to get the kind of details that help tell the tragedies and the losses and the sufferings of the people involved.

KURTZ: To personalize them, in other words.

Martha Raddatz, tell us a little bit about Bob Woodruff and why, having gotten this hotshot anchor job on "World News Tonight" he would want to go off into a dangerous place and ride around with an Iraqi military convoy.

RADDATZ: First of all, he's not a hotshot and he's not a hotdog. Let me make that clear. I think Bob...

KURTZ: He has a high-level job was the point I was trying to make.

RADDATZ: Yes, he does. I know. I know. He -- both he and Doug have covered conflicts around the world.

I think Bob and Doug want to go to these places because they want depth. And I think that is so important in an anchor and a reporter, that I've said this during the week. It is important to me.

I covered the Pentagon for 12, 13 years. It was important to me to go see who I covered.

I was a Pentagon reporter. I could have sat in the Pentagon all day. But it's a war. You have to go see it.

Bob wanted to cover that war. Elizabeth Vargas had just been there.

KURTZ: Right.

RADDATZ: It is the most important story there is in the world right now. And if they don't go, if you don't see it first hand, you don't have doubts.

I said this week that a year ago I was there with Peter Jennings. And Peter Jennings' marvelous reputation as an anchor is because he had seen the world, he had reported on the world. And we are "World News Tonight." This is what our organization does, just like your people do in newspapers. Bob and Elizabeth want to do that.

KURTZ: Pam Hess, you had -- you spent recently nine weeks in Iraq. You've been there before, obviously. You were embedded for part of that time with the U.S. military.

Do you have a kind of illusion of safety when you're embedded because you're surrounded by all these soldiers, but in some ways you're more of a target, right?

HESS: You have an illusion of safety against being kidnapped, like Jill Carroll, which is the reason why you would embed as to going unilateral. But you know that every time you go out on the road there's a good chance that something's going to happen.

There wasn't a single crew that I went out with that hadn't already been hit by one or two or three IEDs. I got very lucky when I was over there and nothing happened. But definitely, when you're standing up out of a turret, they encourage you to sit right back down because there's no protection from blast fragmentation wounds.

KURTZ: Now, I have interviewed a lot of journalists who have spent time in Iraq and it's amazing how many close calls there have been or people have been detained and released or been shot at. And just in December, Nic Robertson, you had kind of a harrowing moment that I remember from watching on CNN.

Let's play that tape.


ROBERTSON: The station, though you can't see them from here, is being manned by tribal militias. There are three polling stations. That was one of the first big explosions in this city. That's what we're talking about here.

Anderson, we have to go in.


KURTZ: What happened after that?

ROBERTSON: We went inside the building. The Marines whose base we were at there made it very clear that if there was an incident, that we should immediately follow their orders. And that's exactly what we did.

We were in a place where we had cover from the road. We could see down the road. We were trying to show people what was happening.

It was election day. We wanted them to be able to see perhaps people in the distance going into the polling station that was behind us. But when the Marines said go, we went.

KURTZ: But are things reaching a point in Iraq -- and you've also reported from Kosovo and Bosnia and places like that -- where it is just very difficult for journalists to effectively report anymore in terms of getting out on the streets and talking to ordinary Iraqis because of this escalating level of violence?

ROBERTSON: It's much harder than it was in other wars that I've covered. It is very difficult in Iraq at the moment. It's not impossible.

There are risks. We do our best to mitigate those risks.

We think that it is such an important story to cover, that there are so many things that people should know, that we want to continue to do it. And I think, and our executives, I feel, believe this as well, that while we can do it with reasonable safety in mitigating those risks, that we'll try to continue to do it. But it is very hard, yes. KURTZ: Martha Raddatz, given what you said a moment ago about Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas and other television people who go there -- and interestingly, Woodruff is a friend of David Bloom, and when Bloom died during the 2003 war, he left to comfort David Bloom's family -- does it bother you that there is some of this criticism now that maybe there's just been too much media attention to these two people, when these roadside bombs are claiming an awful lot of casualties?

RADDATZ: Does it bother me? I think it's a natural reaction for some people to say, hey, why is there so much attention on him?

I guess I like to think of it as the silver lining that I think people will focus more on the wounded, they will focus more on Iraq. And it's a way for Bob to continue to report, I guess, right now, because I think he'd want attention focused on others and on soldiers and on Marines who have lost their lives. I mean, your paper yesterday had a front page story on the wounded at Walter Reed and Bethesda.

KURTZ: I wonder if that story...

RADDATZ: So does it make me angry? I don't think it makes me angry. What I don't want is for a few Marines and soldiers to be upset about the coverage. I guess I want them to know we're thinking about them all the time as well.

KURTZ: Right. Well, we're happy also to hear of continued improvement for both Doug Vogt and Bob Woodruff.

Martha Raddatz, Nic Robertson, Pam Hess, thanks very much for a very interesting discussion.

When we come back, former ABC newsman Dave Marash on why he's joining Al-Jazeera International.

Stay with us.



Americans often think of Al-Jazeera as the channel that airs videos of Osama bin Laden or his top deputies. Now the Arab satellite network is getting ready to launch Al-Jazeera International, an English language operation with a large Washington bureau.

Its latest hire from ABC's "Nightline" and "20/20" is Dave Marash, who joins us now from New York. He's also been a local anchor in New York and Washington and has just returned from a trip to Yemen for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Dave Marash, speaking of protecting journalists, let's talk for just a moment about Bob Woodruff, your former colleague at ABC. What was it that compelled him, even as an anchor, to continue to go into these dangerous war zones? DAVE MARASH, ANCHOR, AL-JAZEERA INTERNATIONAL: Bob always was a reporter first and is a reporter first. And as Martha was saying, there's no way to know about the war until you're actually out there and looking at it.

I actually was in Iraq with Bob several times and worked very frequently with Doug in Iraq, in the Balkans, in many hotspots around the world. And I would echo what Martha said. Neither of these guys is cowboys -- are cowboys. Neither of these guys are excessive risk takers. They're simply journalists who feel that the world needs to know and that they will go to acquire facts to inform the world.

KURTZ: All right.

Now, as I mentioned at the top, you are joining Al-Jazeera International. And I know that is separate from Al-Jazeera, the parent company, but did you have any hesitation while weighing this offer to be joining an outfit whose parent company has been condemned by the U.S. government and critics as a tool for terrorists?

MARASH: I think if you look at the preponderance of evidence, people who specialize in the Middle East, people who specialize in the war on terror know that Al-Jazeera, in fact, has been an incredibly positive influence in the Middle East. It has opened political debate and public discussion like literally nothing else in centuries. It applies American standards of journalism, trying to collect the widest palette of points of view.

Some of those points of view are very obnoxious to Americans. And in the context of the Middle East, to exclude them would be to cripple the discussion and cost Al-Jazeera credibility. Instead, they cast a very wide net.

As for their sources in the terrorist community, they report the heck out of that story. They are very well-sourced there. But all the information, all of the videotapes, all of the pronouncements from bin Laden or Zawahiri or the others are treated strictly as news. And, in fact, moments after they are aired, edited and usually surrounded by commentary and analysis on Al-Jazeera, they're also broadcast on CNN and the American networks and virtually every other television system in the world because Al-Jazeera makes them available.

And I should say that Al-Jazeera also makes those tapes available to the American government and to American intelligence.

KURTZ: Well, you sort of anticipated my next question which is, should CNN and NBC and CBS and ABC and the others run some of these tapes, particularly, for example, these cruel and chilling videotapes of Jill Carroll of the "Christian Science Monitor," who remains kidnapped in Iraq? Aren't all of us just giving the terrorists what they want, which is more attention for their murderous cause?

MARASH: You can make that argument, although polls suggest that the more is known and the more is shown of bin Laden, al Qaeda, Zawahiri, Zarqawi and their lot, the more disaffected the Arabic speaking populous has become from them, because they're revealed as psychopaths and criminals and people who are mostly taking the lives of fellow Muslims and fellow Middle Easterners.

So that I think that here, sunlight is the best disinfectant. The more you see of these people the better you understand them. You can't combat an enemy that you don't understand and have information about.

KURTZ: But does it make you uncomfortable at all, coming back to Al-Jazeera, that that network seems to have kind of a pipeline to these terrorists and whenever they want to speak to the world, they just make sure that one of the tapes shows up without Al-Jazeera and then it's put on the air around the world?

MARASH: Howard, that's like saying "The New York Times" had a pipeline to the Unabomber because he sent them the letter. He sent the letter to "The Times" because he considered it the best distribution point and the most credible news source. That's the way the terrorists apparently feel about Al-Jazeera.

The question is, how are their materials treated? And at Al- Jazeera, in Arabic, and certainly at Al-Jazeera International, once we get started, all of that will be treated as news, placed in context, evaluated, critiqued and debated. And to me, that's a public service, not a public danger.

KURTZ: Dave Marash, you did so much good work over the years for ABC and "Nightline." What message did it send when ABC decided to drop you in revamping the program after Ted Koppel's departure?

MARASH: I think it sent a message that they're going in a slightly different direction and that somebody at ABC felt that I was not a good fit for that direction.

KURTZ: Do you think they were trying to go in a younger direction?

MARASH: I really don't want to speculate on that, Howard. They're doing what they're doing. I think the show is a very mixed bag of continuing to be very admirable on many points and moving in the direction of sort of promo speak, rather than news speak and other points.

KURTZ: All right. Got about a half minute here, Dave.

What do you think are the chances that this new Al-Jazeera International can find an audience in America, for example, given that there's a lot of cable choices out there?

MARASH: I think we're going to do something different. What I describe it as is the "Nightline" of cable news channels.

We're going to have fewer stories. We're going to do them with more context and more depth. We're going to limit our stories to stories that really do matter, both to a global and to an American audience. And I think that by doing stories at greater length and greater depth, there is a market for that more sophisticated level of information that I hope we're going to provide. I think we're going to provide.

KURTZ: Well, I hope you'll come back and talk to us once that's under way.

Dave Marash, thanks very much for joining us.

When we come back, the Pentagon opens fire on a political cartoon about the military, and why you'll be seeing more about "The New York Times" on one of TV's top game shows.

All that and more in our "Media Minute" just ahead.


KURTZ: Time now for the latest from the news world in our "Media Minute."


KURTZ (voice over): "Washington Post" cartoonist Tom Toles has come under heavy fire for his depiction of a nameless soldier with no arms or legs. The cartoon this past week shows the doctor, Donald Rumsfeld, saying, "I'm listing your condition as battle-hardened." This based on remarks the Pentagon chief recently made in denying that the Army was being stretched too thin by the Iraq war.

The drawing drew a blast from General Peter Pace and every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who wrote "The Post" that the cartoon was "beyond tasteless" and "a callous depiction of those who volunteered to defend this nation."

Pulitzer Prize-winning Toles stands by his work.

TOM TOLES, "WASHINGTON POST": There was no intention to make light of the situation. I was trying to point out and I felt that I did point out the seriousness of the situation.

KURTZ: Media questions for 200. The answer: "The New York Times" and "Jeopardy." The question: What newspaper just signed an unusual cross- promotion deal with a popular game show?

"The Times" will now run as part of an ad a daily clue such as this: "This short jacket worn open in the front is perfect for listening to Ravel's music of the same name." Want to know the question? You'll have to watch "Jeopardy."



KURTZ: The payoff, "The New York Times" will be an occasional category on the game show. CBS's chief White House correspondent John Roberts quit this week to join CNN as a senior national correspondent. Roberts, who had long had been considered a probable successor to Dan Rather, left after CBS news president Sean McManus told TV critics that the next anchor would come from outside the network. Now public mention of Katie Couric, who CBS has been courting for the job.


KURTZ: Ahead in our next half-hour, we'll jump back into the debate over whether ABC anchor Bob Woodruff's injuries in Iraq were given too much attention.

Plus, why are the media so down on the president's State of the Union?

And is "Monday Night Football" ready for a big-mouth columnist like Tony Kornheiser?

All that in mere moments after a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And hello again, everybody. I'm Rick Sanchez at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Now the news.

A suspect in the Massachusetts gay bar attacks has died just hours after his capture. We're just now learning that police are saying in northern Arkansas that they shot 18-year-old Jacob Robida during the gun battle and he has now passed away.

A police officer and a woman traveling with Robida died in that same gunfight. Robida was accused of attempted murder, assault and hate crimes in this Massachusetts attack.

A global search is under way for the mastermind of the attack on the USS Cole. Authorities say he's among a group of terrorists who escaped from a prison in Yemen two days ago.

Also, in western Pakistan, an explosion aboard a bus today killed at least nine people. The cause of the blast is the city of Quetta. It's still undetermined, though.

More news at the top of the hour.

RELIABLE SOURCES is back right after this.



It's gotten an avalanche of media coverage, the life-threatening injuries sustained in Iraq last weekend by ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt. They remain in serious condition while being treated at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. But some critics say the journalists are drawing too much attention when U.S. servicemen and women are killed or injured in Iraq almost every day.

Joining us now, David Zurawik, the television critic for "The Baltimore Sun." And in Boston, Emily Rooney, of WGBH, executive editor and host of "Greater Boston" and "Beat the Press."

Emily Rooney, everyone knows Iraq has become incredibly dangerous for journalists. Should ABC News have sent its co-anchor there as opposed to one of its many able correspondents?

EMILY ROONEY, HOST, "BEAT THE PRESS": I'm not sure you're getting more by sending an anchor there. I was listening to what Martha Raddatz had to say. I understand why he wanted to go, but I'm not sure it really adds anything more to the story than to, say, have her go there.

So I think it's -- you know, "The New York Times" had a sub headline that said the other day it was something of a ratings strategy. The timing was a little off on that story by saying it was a ratings strategy. But basically, David Westin and the people at ABC News admitted that that was part of their strategy, by having one of the anchors in the field.

KURTZ: Speaking of that "New York Times" headline, "Field Reports Were a Ratings Strategy." ABC News president David Westin has a letter today in the paper today calling that demeaning.

Did you think that was an unfair headline?

ROONEY: No. I mean, I thought the timing was off.

The headline came on the very next day...

KURTZ: Right.

ROONEY: ... after the report came out. And that could have been developed over a few days. So I think that was really the issue, more the timing.

KURTZ: David Zurawik, why can't anchors function as reporters? Or is it more difficult for a network, for in terms of logistical support, when you send a Dan Rather or a Peter Jennings or a Bob Woodruff to Iraq?

DAVID ZURAWIK, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": I think they can in a limited basis. I think the problem here, Howie, is the extent to which ABC News was doing this. This guy was on the road more than he was in the anchor -- back at the anchor desk, it seemed, in that first month on the job.

KURTZ: And that was the strategy.

ZURAWIK: Well, exactly. And what is the strategy? I think what's important, what's being lost in this discussion, is the fact that you have a broadcast, as Martha said earlier, called "World News Tonight." But in the last decade or so, the world coverage at ABC News has been shrinking and shrinking and shrinking with bureaus closing.

KURTZ: That's not unique to ABC.

ZURAWIK: No, to all networks, absolutely, Howie. You know, when Ted Koppel left, I interviewed him. And he said when he joined as a young foreign correspondent ABC News, they had 25 foreign correspondents. Now, as he leaves, he said, "We have five, if even that." He said, his quote, "You cannot cover the world that way."

So what do you do if you have a broadcast called "World News Tonight"? You bring in an anchor who hop scotches like a pinball from place to place to place to place to place to give the illusion of covering the world.

That is not to condemn Westin, it's not to condemn in any way Woodruff. But it is an illusion that cheats the public. You're not giving them the kind of coverage.

Now, you say, what about other people who went there? Peter Jennings, remember, opened a bureau in Beirut in 1969 and spent seven years there. Yes.

KURTZ: Let me go back to Emily.

I mean, we talk about hop scotching around the world. On the other hand, when a high-profile journalist, television journalist goes to a place like Iraq, it brings more attention to the story. And, of course, Woodruff has unintentionally brought more attention to the dangers there through the tragic accident.

What's your take on this?

ROONEY: There's absolutely no question we are paying more attention to it. And listening in to what Martha Raddatz and your panel had to say a few minutes ago about whether we're paying too much attention to Bob Woodruff, they had to be a little more cautious than I am. I'm going to say absolutely not.

This has put -- I mean, it's a cliche, but it has put a face on the war. We're learning so much more about how it works.

Some of those graphics that Martha put in her pieces last week about the convoys and where they were going and what their missions were, what happened, what an IED is, what that hospital in Balad is, I mean, I'm interested in the story a lot because of Bob Woodruff, but if I am, I think a lot of other people are. And I've learned a tremendous amount this week.

So if that's the sacrifice, if you will, of putting an anchor person in the field, well, maybe it is worth it. I question that, but maybe.

KURTZ: Want to respond to that?

ZURAWIK: Well, you know, I agree. I don't think we've given it too much coverage. And I don't think the networks have given it too much coverage, because there's a bond there between viewers.

Once they pick one channel over the other, or one network over another, they formed a bond with that reporter or that anchor and they care about it. And it is true, Howard...

KURTZ: But, of course, military families say...


KURTZ: ... many, many, many of their sons and daughters and brothers and sisters have suffered these wounds and they get barely a mention in the hometown paper.

ZURAWIK: It's absolutely understandable that they should feel that way. This is television. We're a television culture. And this is the way -- this is the way we react to this kind of thing. I don't think it was too much coverage.

Yes, when an anchor goes there, it does get more attention. So should an -- it's better than not having an anchor go there. But we forget the old model of having correspondents like Charles Collingwood and Eric Severeid and people who spent there, understood the culture.

And I'll tell you what, Howie, when you spend the kind of time Peter Jennings did in Beirut, you understand the situation better. Dropping people in, parachuting them in for a couple days at a time from Jerusalem, how could Bob Woodruff possibly be the best source of information on that election?

KURTZ: Well, in fairness to Bob Woodruff, he had been in Iraq a number of times/

ZURAWIK: Yes. Yes.

KURTZ: He had covered the Iraq war in 2003 -- the invasion, I should say. And so he was not just simply somebody who didn't know anything about the situation.

ZURAWIK: No, no, no. But I'm saying he can't be the best expert on Iran and then Iraq two days later and then Jerusalem two days after that, the way they were using him to bounce around. There's a better way to do news. Not that anchormen shouldn't go there from time to time, but that's not the only way to cover the world.

KURTZ: Emily Rooney, since Bob Woodruff sadly will be out of action for some time, ABC News has now named its two biggest stars, Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer, to fill in with Elizabeth Vargas on "World News Tonight."

Why do you think they decided not to just have Elizabeth Vargas fly solo for a while?

ROONEY: Well, I hate to say it, but I think it's because they don't think she's strong enough. I'm actually a fan of hers. I like her, I like her work, but I always have this kind of uneasy feeling that she doesn't quite have the depth.

You know, the other night I was watching the State of the Union Address, and the minute she tossed to Charlie Gibson, I thought, well, they've brought the adult into the discussion. And I think there's no question about it, if this had been a reverse situation and, I hate to say, if Elizabeth had been wounded, I think Bob would be in the anchor chair solo.

You don't need two people to anchor 20 minutes of news. It's patently ridiculous. And it's also sort of the local news format which the networks had shied away from.

It makes it look too much like them. I mean, are Diane and Elizabeth going to sit together some nights? I find it ridiculous.

And also, I don't think Charlie and Diane can travel. After all, they're still the main people on "Good Morning America." They can't get into the field and hop around. As David said, they're not going to be the hop scotchers.

KURTZ: Clearly they won't be the traveling correspondents. ABC says that because they're doing a daily Web cast and because they're doing live updates for the West Coast, which means one of the anchors has to stay still until 10:00 p.m. Eastern, that they built this model as a job for two people. I'd like to...

ROONEY: That's killing the staff, by the way, that 10:00 p.m. thing.

KURTZ: It's a lot of work.

What's your take on Charlie and Diane?

ZURAWIK: Listen, they ought to put two statues, Charlie and Diane's atlas, holding up ABC in front of the headquarters there in Manhattan, because when "Good Morning America" was going in the tank, remember, they pulled them in and said, it's just going to be temporary.

KURTZ: They told me they wouldn't be there more than a year.

ZURAWIK: You and I both reported that story.

KURTZ: That was eight years ago.

KURTZ: And they saved it. And it's like having two .300 hitters who are utility players. And they are saving ABC News. And I'm sure they'll do fine in this.

And as a matter of fact, Diane Sawyer -- and I agree with Emily, I'm a fan of Vargas' too, but she does seem thin out there. I can't wait to see Diane Sawyer's presence on that set. I think it may even help the ratings, Howie.

KURTZ: Well, I'm sure that occurred to somebody.

David Zurawik, Emily Rooney, thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Still to come, why are the pundits skewering the president's State of the Union Address?

And the military declares war on a newspaper cartoonist.

Stay with us.


KURTZ: Welcome back.

As President Bush was preparing to deliver his State of the Union Address, the media's prognosis was, well, negative.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: The country is just in a sour mood. Coming into the speech tonight, the president's approval rating is at 42 percent, 10 points below where it was last year.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: The president is struggling to regain his political footage.

JOHN ROBERTS, CBS NEWS: Bob, it's an uphill battle for President Bush tonight with sagging poll numbers and far less political clout than he had at this time last year.


KURTZ: And after Bush's speech to Congress, journalists saw no reason to change their minds.


TERRY MORAN, ABC NEWS: He really had a tough year. And it showed not just in the substance of the speech tonight, which was much more small bore, but also in his tone.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: Is anyone going to remember the speech a week from now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't think we're going to remember it two days from now, I'm afraid.


KURTZ: Joining us now, Dana Milbank, political columnist for "The Washington Post," and Byron York of "National Review."

Dana Milbank, the press was down on Bush going in, down on Bush coming out. Now, this is just a wild guess, but could it be related to the fact that he's at 39 percent in the polls?

DANA MILBANK, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I never read polls. I'm sure nobody else here does.

KURTZ: They kept mentioning it.

MILBANK: Well, you know, part of it is the logistics of this. You've got the speech at 9:00 at night. Any information that's given to us by the White House in advance is embargoed. We're not allowed to talk about it, but yet we have to talk about the speech.

So what are we going to do? Well, we talk about the president. And what can you say about the president while his poll numbers are down?

KURTZ: Bush could have delivered the Gettysburg Address out there and journalists would still be saying he's in trouble.

Do you agree with that?

BYRON YORK, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Oh, absolutely. But in part, it's just the nature of the event.

The State of the Union, like the Super Bowl, is a planned news event. You know, it's not like a plane crash when we don't know what is going to happen. So the news is all in the buildup. And sometimes the Super Bowl is boring, and the State of the Union was not very newsworthy. So before and afterwards, they were looking for things that really weren't in the speech to talk about in the buildup.

KURTZ: Now, the pundits criticized Bush, as you know, Dana, for giving an address with a lot of small-scale ideas. But if he had made sweeping expensive proposals, they would have said it's politically unrealistic. So it seems like he couldn't win.

MILBANK: Well, it may, in fact, be that sort of a situation. But, you know, as Byron was saying, it has become just pure political theater. Really, what I...

KURTZ: Was it never any different?

MILBANK: Well, I think it was different when, you know, President Wilson first started to deliver this and there was actually some sort of curiosity about what the agenda would be.

YORK: It was just on paper for...

MILBANK: And, you know, when I go into the chambers to see who is sitting on their hands, who is leaping up and clapping and what the reaction is...

KURTZ: Excuse me, but what about the substance? I mean, whether it's a well-delivered speech and whether the people are sitting on their hands, this is a time when the president, you know, puts forth his agenda for the next year. MILBANK: People are, you know, crunching through the substance. We get the text of it just beforehand. People are looking through that.

But again, a lot of this is logistics. Certainly in the newspaper business. The speech is done at 10:00. Thirty minutes later you've got to have a complete story in the paper that says everything about the speech.

YORK: Well, look, there was substance in the speech. The part about alternative energy was interesting because it came from President Bush, who in the past when he talked about oil, had been talking about how to get more oil, how to refine more oil. There wasn't, I think, enough attention to that.

You did a hard-hitting piece on whether the Supreme Court justices clout or didn't clout during the State of the Union.

KURTZ: No, he said the president -- he said America is addicted to oil. He put forth energy proposals that some embraced and some criticized.

YORK: And coming from George Bush's mouth, that was very interesting.

KURTZ: A Texas oil man.

But usually conservative commentators defend their guy whether it's a great speech or not. And I heard a lot of them compare this to a Clinton speech, which in right wing world is not exactly considered a column (ph). So is there some disillusionment among conservative commentators at this point of the Bush presidency?

YORK: Well, I think what they were saying is they didn't really like small ball. And it really wasn't really small ball. I mean, there were no school uniform proposals in it.

KURTZ: To use a Clinton example.

YORK: Exactly. On the other hand, there wasn't something like the Social Security reform proposal, but, you know, that didn't work. So, you know, I think they were holding him to an unrealistic standard.

KURTZ: On this question about whether we all make too much of these annual events, I mean, George W. Bush couldn't even hold the "American Idol" audience. It had been about 33 million people just watching on the FOX network, and that dropped off by more than two- thirds when the president started to speak.

So is it that journalists are duty bound to cover this but America is kind of tuning out?

MILBANK: I certainly think if the president were to sing the entire State of the Union Address, he would get -- he would get much better... (CROSSTALK)

YORK: They were waiting for...

KURTZ: So do you think that the media gave this speech short shrift, or do you believe that the speech just isn't that -- wasn't that important?

YORK: It wasn't really that newsworthy. I mean, the idea of the president calling for his tax cuts to be made permanent is not news. The president calling to stay the course in Iraq is not really big news. So, no, I don't think that it was going to make news for weeks afterwards.

KURTZ: Now, I want to turn now to the subject of political cartoons. We have two sets of them to talk about.

In Europe, as you know, there have been demonstrations and even riots over the cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammed, who is not supposed to be pictured, according to Islam law. Just today, I think we have some pictures, there was continued violence in Lebanon over this. And yesterday, two embassies in Syria were attacked.

I think it was the Danish embassy and perhaps a Norwegian embassy. This after a Danish newspaper had published this. And then a bunch of European newspapers in sympathy published the same Mohammed cartoons.

Why if you're a protester go after the embassies of these governments when they don't have any control over what the newspapers publish?

MILBANK: Well, you have a lot of anger out there in the Muslim world, for one thing, which is why you have that. Now, there are two issues here.

One, is your right to publish cartoons, and the other is whether you should be publishing the cartoons. And I think the Europeans are saying we have the right to. That doesn't mean it was a wise thing to do or it served any particular purpose. So, in a sense, they're somewhat complicit in furthering and provoking the riots.

YORK: You know, recently, "Rolling Stone" magazine did a cover story called "The Passion of Kanye West," in which they have the rapper with a crown of thorns and sort of a full crucifixion outfit. Now, that offended many Christians, but we didn't see this kind of reaction.

I mean, this does show you the freedom of the press and the total acceptance of the freedom of the press that we have here and that does not exist in many parts of the world.

KURTZ: So you believe it was gratuitous for these European newspapers months after the original cartoons were published to publish them again? YORK: I do believe that the original cartoon should have been perfectly protected. But it does seem a little much for everyone to print them just for the purpose of printing them.

KURTZ: All right.

Now, I mentioned earlier in the show the Tom Toles cartoon in "The Washington Post." If we could put that up again.

This showed a soldier with no arms and legs, a wounded soldier in a hospital bed with Dr. Rumsfeld talking about how the Army was battle-hardened, which was an actual thing that the defense secretary said. Some people found this offensive. The Joint Chiefs all signed a letter of protest to "The Post" which was published.

Do you think that cartoon went too far?

MILBANK: No, I didn't. And I think a very revealing thing was, as I understand from Tom, there was really no complaint about it until about 4:00 p.m., when the letter came out from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It seemed very orchestrated in that way.

And, you know, I think it's unfortunate that, given the array of things the Joint Chiefs of Staff need to be worrying about in Iraq, or Iran, or North Korea, or elsewhere, that they have to be sending a letter complaining about an opinionated cartoon.

KURTZ: Well, why shouldn't they be free to send a letter complaining about a cartoon that they found offensive, that they thought -- and Toles certainly says he meant no disrespect whatsoever to the soldiers. His target was Rumsfeld, but that the Joint Chiefs was demeaning to American servicemen and women.

YORK: They should be. I thought it was a completely tasteless cartoon, and the idea of the Joint Chiefs of Staff getting together, if that means orchestrated, then it was. But they have every right to say this, and I think it was a good idea that they should.

KURTZ: You seem to see it as more of political grandstanding.

MILBANK: They have a right to do it. Does that mean it's absolutely the most important thing?

I mean, look, it was very clear what Tom was indicating. He was not making fun of wounded soldiers. He was trying to portray a broken Army, to use those exact words.

It's the stereotypical cartoon thing. You put the wounded guy in the hospital bed. Usually, it's with his leg up.

YORK: But they can walk and chew gum at the same time. They can conduct a war in Iraq and a war on terrorism and write a letter.

MILBANK: And be cartoon critics.

YORK: It doesn't -- it doesn't mean that they can't talk about press coverage.

KURTZ: Has this become kind of a proxy war? In other words, the cartoon just the latest flash point, and the people who are very strongly for the war or against the war, and Toles caught in the crossfire?

YORK: I wouldn't say that he's caught in the crossfire. I thought that -- I take them at their word. I think they were offended at the cartoon, the idea of the multiple amputee soldier there being sort of abused by Rumsfeld. I think they were offended by that. By the way, Rumsfeld is also their boss.

KURTZ: We have just a few seconds.

Tom Toles told me that if you don't run the risk of offending some people in political cartooning, you're not going to have any effect or can't get out a message.

MILBANK: Or in political journalism as any type. Last week, I was being attacked by this man's publication. This week, I was being attacked by Media Matters and the left wing. It's just part of the business.

YORK: I'm sure we were correct.

KURTZ: It's a good thing you have a thick skin.

Dana Milbank, Byron York, thanks very much for joining us.

When we come back, how is it that ink stain-wretched (ph) Tony Kornheiser is on the verge of becoming a multimillionaire football commentator? I mean, really!

The scoop just ahead.


KURTZ: Tony Kornheiser and I came to "The Washington Post" about the same time. We're both from New York, we both talk fast, and here, see for yourself. I'm clearly better looking and have more hair.


KURTZ (voice over): Tony became a sports columnist and later landed a radio show and an ESPN talk show with his pal Michael Wilbon.

TONY KORNHEISER: I'm Tony Kornheiser, and I've got him right here. What's that, Mr. Groundhog? What's that? He says, leave me the bleep alone.

KURTZ: Here's an example of his learned commentary on this program when I asked if he had season tickets to the Washington Nationals.

KORNHEISER: When I went to the opening game, I wandered around like a Bedouin in the desert. I had no seat and I took any empty seat that was available. And when I got kicked out, I moved to another seat.

KURTZ: OK. So, he's kind of funny, not to mention funny looking. He gets worked up and waves his arms and basically sounds like your cousin Vinnie after too many drinks.

Now I read that Kornheiser is close to a deal to become the third anchor at "Monday Night Football," which is moving from ABC to ESPN. What? He's suddenly Howard Cosell?


Not only that, they're talking about paying him $2 million a year. Not only that, the wuss is afraid to fly so ESPN will get him a bus and spend five months driving him from game to game.

Well, I do get bus fare from CNN.

So this loud mouth who's so in love with the sound of his own voice that he practically phones in his increasingly short column to "The Post" is going to a Monday night TV superstar? Well, I guess I can live with it. At least I knew him before he was hot stuff. I'm sure he'll still return my phone calls.

Won't you, Tony? Tony?

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES on this Super Bowl Sunday.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Join us again next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.


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