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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Has Bush Administration Declared War on Media?; San Francisco Reporters Document Bonds' Steroid Use; Interview with Dave Barry
Aired March 12, 2006 - 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): Tightening the screws. Is the Bush administration declaring war on journalists by investigating and prosecuting sensitive leaks or just trying to protect national security secrets?
Foul ball. Two San Francisco reporters document years of steroid use by Barry Bonds. Did the rest of the press give the homerun king a pass?
America's funniest columnist on why he gave up his newspaper job and why the industry's future may be a bad joke. A conversation with Dave Barry.
Plus, a top CEO defends his campaign of feeding material to bloggers to polish Wal-Mart's image.
And after the collapse of the ports deal, are the media declaring the Bush presidency caput?
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on the mounting investigations and threats of jail against journalists.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Ahead, one of the reporters who broke the Barry Bonds steroid scandal wide open.
But first, it's no secret that the Bush administration is trying to choke off the leaking of secrets to the press. CIA employees are being given lie detector tests, according to "The Washington Post," and the Justice Department is talking about using a World War I Espionage Act to prosecute reporters for receiving classified information.
Commentator David Gergen, who once worked in the Nixon White House, offered this assessment on RELIABLE SOURCES last week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GERGEN, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: This administration has engaged in secrecy at a level we have not seen in over 30 years. Unfortunately, I have to bring up the name of Richard Nixon because we haven't seen it since the days of Nixon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales deflected a question from CNN's Wolf Blitzer about the chilling effect on the news business.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have a strong press, but we also need to have a way for the Department of Justice to gather up information that may serve to be valuable evidence with respect to the commission of a crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: In just the last year, former "New York Times" reporter Judith Miller went to jail in the Valerie Plame leak investigation. "TIME's" Matt Cooper narrowly avoided jail, and Tim Russert and Bob Woodward were among those testifying in the case.
There were also leak investigations over "The New York Times" disclosure of domestic eavesdropping by the administration and over "The Washington Post" report on secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe.
Joining us now to talk about the impact on the fourth estate, Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine; and in Minneapolis, John Hinderaker, an attorney and co-founder of powerlineblog.com.
Michael Isikoff , every administration tries to block leaks, but are you concerned about the magnitude and the intensity of the Bush administration's efforts against the press?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, "NEWSWEEK": Well, clearly they have ratcheted it up to a agree that we haven't seen in some time. And using statutes like the Espionage Act, which is so vague and open for -- you know, the number of investigations that could conceivably flow from this strategy is enormous and, you know, it's hard to see how it could not but have a chilling effect on doing, you know, standard reporting on what the government is up to.
KURTZ: John Hinderaker, journalists have long had a kind of protected status in terms of receiving classified information. It's the leakers, the people who gave the protected information who sometimes face the prosecution.
In your view, should journalists now be subject to prosecution for the simple act of obtaining classified information?
JOHN HINDERAKER, POWERLINEBLOG.COM: Well, obtaining or publishing. I mean, it's the publication that's really important, Howard. And if you look at Section 798 of the Espionage Act, it's not vague at all. It makes it a felony to publish classified information concerning the communications intelligence activities of the United States. That's exactly what "The New York Times" did. So, it's very, very clear both obtaining and publishing that information is a crime punishable by 10 years in prison.
KURTZ: Lucy Dalglish, why should journalists be shielded if it's a crime to leak it, classified information, when they're on the other end of that transaction?
LUCY DALGLISH, REPORTERS COMMITTEE, FREEDOM OF PRESS: Well, you know, I -- theoretically, you know, "The Washington Post" probably this morning in my newspaper broke the law 45 times. I mean, you cannot pick up a newspaper without reading classified information.
KURTZ: In other words, you could find the illegal justification to prosecute reporters every day of the week?
DALGLISH: You could find the -- absolutely you could. And there's a reason why the 1917 Espionage Act has never been used to prosecute journalists. It would be an absolutely ridiculous proposition.
KURTZ: With all these criminal leak investigations going on, Mike Isikoff, there's also a civil suit involving several journalists by the former Los Alamos nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee. Is it making your job more difficult? Do you think two and three times now whether you would be willing to go to jail for an unnamed source who you are protecting?
ISIKOFF: No, you do -- you do your job as you always do your job.
KURTZ: You're not more cautious? You don't think more about it?
ISIKOFF: Well, I certainly make a strenuous effort not to be any less aggressive than I would otherwise be, otherwise I'm not doing my job. You know, and it's not just the civil suits. It's -- we have -- we have another lawsuit by Steve Hatfield who was identified at one point as a person of interest in the anthrax case. He is following up on Wen Ho Lee.
So we're seeing a potential proliferation of these civil suits. This is -- you know, it's part of the overall atmosphere that I think is -- you know, is going to be really dangerous.
Just one point on what Mr. Hinderaker just said. He was -- selectively quoted from a portion of the National Defense Act. There's other -- there's other language in there talking about communications relating to national defense which are incredibly vaguely worded, nowhere defined, and can be used to prosecute just about anything.
KURTZ: Well, John Hinderaker, let's concede for purposes of this discussion that the legal language is there, the legal tools are there for any Justice Department that wants to go after reporters in these kinds of cases. Would you acknowledge that reporters under this aggressive effort would be less able to dig out information that might be classified, but might also be politically embarrassing to an administration?
HINDERAKER: Well, I think that's their whole purpose. I think it's interesting that this morning we have heard the admission that you can hardly read a newspaper without reading classified information.
The CIA, in particular, has conducted a five-year-long war against the Bush administration by leaking primarily to "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post." I think those leaks of national security information are a bad thing and ought to be stopped. And they can be criminally prosecuted.
That's very clear if you read the Pentagon papers case. At least five of the justices, a clear majority of the justices, specifically said that while you can't enjoin the publication in advance, it could be criminally prosecuted, and they referred specifically to Section 798...
KURTZ: OK. Let's move -- let's move beyond the legal justification. You think the public doesn't have a right to know because classified information is involved that the CIA is maintaining secret presence in Eastern Europe, that the Bush administration is conducting wiretaps in this country without -- without warrants? You would be just as happy if reporters could not publish that kind of information?
HINDERAKER: Oh, absolutely. There's all kinds of information that you can't give to the American public without also giving it to the terrorists. That's what "The New York Times" did, and as a result our security has been compromised.
The NSA program was capturing lots of international terrorist communications. That's dropped off drastically since "The New York Times" published the story. So they've -- they've damaged our security.
ISIKOFF: One of the recommendations of the September 11th Commission is that there was way too much classification in government, and that was hindering national security. That the overclassification stifled the flow of information within the government itself and to the public so that there could be informed debate about crucial national security decisions.
A couple of examples -- and maybe Mr. Hinderaker would like to address these.
If reporters were told prior to the war in Iraq that the National Intelligence Estimate that had been presented to the public as showing clearly that there was weapons of mass destruction was, in fact, rife with dissent from intelligence agencies, saying that we're not so sure about this nuclear program, we're not sure about these UAVs, that some of the key sources being used to justify the war, such as curveball, for instance, had never been questioned by the CIA or, in other cases, had flunked CIA polygraph tests, would he think that reporters who published information that was so central to one of the main arguments and justifications for the war shouldn't be published and should be criminally prosecuted?
KURTZ: Let's give him a chance to respond.
HINDERAKER: Yes, they should be criminally prosecuted. You are wrong, by the way, in the way you characterized the 2002 consensus estimate. And I agree, though, that there sometimes is overclassification, but not here.
ISIKOFF: Well, wait a second.
HINDERAKER: James Risen, one of "The New York Times" reporters who wrote this story, specifically said that this NSA international surveillance terrorist program is the number one secret held by the executive branch. There's no question of overclassification here.
KURTZ: Let me get Lucy Dalglish in.
DALGLISH: Well, you know, Howie, in the last five years, the rate of classification of documents in this country has more than doubled. We've got -- last year, 15.6 million documents were classified. It's an outrageous number. We're having the state secrets claim in federal courts being raised all over the place.
KURTZ: But there's no dispute that some of the stories we're talking about here are about -- about torture, about secret CIA prisons, about eavesdropping, all very sensitive national security secrets. But the question is, should reporters be able to ferret out that information?
And would you agree that there's perhaps less public support for journalists these days because of, for example, what we saw paraded before us in the Valerie Plame leak investigation?
DALGLISH: You know, I think the Valerie Plame investigation did hurt the reputation of a lot of journalists out there. However, I think this most recent round of stories, the Risen and Lichtblau story, the Dana Priest CIA prison story, I think those are the kinds of stories that Americans have come to expect to hear from the -- from the media. I think they're very important stories, and as a citizen, I'm very glad I now have that information.
KURTZ: All right.
ISIKOFF: want to turn briefly to the coverage of Iraq. Just this past week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had this to say about media coverage of that conflict at a Pentagon press briefing...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Much of the reporting in the U.S. and abroad has exaggerated the situation. The steady stream of errors all seem to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: In light of all the sectarian violence there in recent weeks, the mosque bombing, the mass kidnapping, how fair is it to complain about the press coverage?
ISIKOFF: Well, you know, this is news. I mean, when you have bombings and near civil war going on, people can kill -- I mean, I don't quite understand the objection to reporting this. I mean, is it the suggestion that this should be suppressed from the American public? I mean, I don't even...
KURTZ: Well, I think the suggestion is that it's -- if you add it all up, it's a distorted picture.
I wonder, John Hinderaker, if you believe that journalists, some of them at least, are deliberately emphasizing negative news when it comes to Iraq, where clearly there's been no shortage of negative news?
HINDERAKER: Well, I assume it's deliberate. I mean, it's the constant reporting that we get from Iraq. The only thing that gets reported is explosions. Positive developments there don't get reported.
There was this two weeks of hysteria over the alleged civil war that hasn't happened. One thing that didn't get reported was the excellent performance of the Iraqi army in keeping order during this period of time. So there's -- Iraq is a mixed bag. You have good news and bad news, but it's only the bad news that we seem to hear here in the U.S.
KURTZ: All right. Well, I hope that the alleged civil war stays alleged and things don't get worse there.
John Hinderaker, Lucy Dalglish, Mike Isikoff, thanks very much for joining us.
Our email question this week: Should the Bush administration prosecute journalists to prevent leaks of sensitive information? Send us your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And later on CNN, White House Correspondent Dana Bash on the story of the standoff between Congress and the president over the ports deal.
Just ahead, funnyman Dave Barry on why he gave up his weekly column and the not-so-funny plight of newspapers. We'll match wits with him next.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Very few newspaper columnists are household names, but Dave Barry -- Dave Barry can make people laugh.
CBS even made a sitcom about his life called "Dave's World."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, "DAVE'S WORLD": Actually, I, myself, do have the psychic gift from time to time.
HARRY ANDERSON, ACTOR, "DAVE'S WORLD": Well, maybe you can exchange it for a nice sweater.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Barry, who wrote a syndicated column for "The Miami Herald" for two decades, now blogs at DaveBarry.com, and is the author of "Dave Barry's Money Secrets: Like: Why is There a Giant Eyeball on the Dollar?"
He joins us now from Miami.
Dave Barry, you had the best job in journalism. All you had do was be funny once a week -- I mean, how hard is that -- and 500 newspapers would run your column.
Why did you give it up?
DAVE BARRY, HUMOR COLUMNIST: Well, I did it for 30 years. And I still kind of like doing it, but I thought it was better to stop while I still liked it and at least some people wanted me to keep doing it.
KURTZ: When somebody is as successful as you are, the 25 best- selling books and the Pulitzer Prize and the TV sitcom and all that, do you just lose the hunger? You get kind of fat and happy and want to sit around wearing Hawaiian shirts?
BARRY: Well, I'm happy, but can you really -- do you really think I'm fat? Do I look fat in this shirt?
KURTZ: You look OK.
KURTZ: Don't take it personally.
BARRY: Well, no -- you know, I still wanted to do it. I still kind of liked doing it, but I could see the time coming when I wasn't going to like it anymore. That was on the horizon, and I didn't want to get there and still be just cranking it out for the sake of just having to do it.
KURTZ: Got it.
Now, you recently told the "San Francisco Chronicle" -- and I want to read the full quote here so we get the nuance -- "Newspapers are dead."
Now, did the paper leave out the punch line, or is that as depressing as it sounds?
BARRY: Well, no, there were caveats around that. I should stress that I still am an employee of "The Miami Herald," which, you know, if my children have dental problems, "The Miami Herald's" dental plan is what covers them. And my wife is a sportswriter, and pretty much all of my friends are newspaper people.
And I still think they -- they're amazing people. I love the newspaper business. I love the people in it. But...
KURTZ: But everybody doesn't lot of us.
BARRY: Right. And I think about my son, who is 25, very smart, likes to think of himself as well-informed. Neither he nor anybody that he knows, as far as I can tell, reads a newspaper. He might call me up sometimes and ask me if there was something in the newspaper that I should tell him about, but that's a widespread -- I mean, I'm not the first person to observe that. And...
KURTZ: Is that because he is reading news online, or is he just tuned out of news altogether?
BARRY: I think it's a combination. I used to say they were reading the news online, and I think they still sort of are, but they read this kind of mutant version of news that is evolving online where there's the traditional news sources like "The Washington Post," but there's also blogs and there's also email and there's also who knows what. And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.
I just think newspapers -- and again, I'm not the first to observe this -- have to sort of accept the fact that it's not so much the news that people don't want, it's the paper that's getting harder and harder to be -- you know, to include in people's lives. Especially younger people.
KURTZ: Is that because newspapers in an age of caution and political correctness and all of that have gotten boring?
BARRY: Yes. That is part of the reason.
I mean, I really believe that if I were to try to start my career now, writing essentially the same kind of just sort of weird column I wrote, it would be much more difficult for me to be accepted because I think editors, because of the shrinking readership and because of the limited news hole (ph) now, are much more cautious about what they're willing to put in there, and they're competing against media that are not cautious, that are -- that like to be edgy, and we know who wins that fight usually.
So I think that's -- that's one reason. But I also think that people kind of -- including people my age -- are spoil by the Internet. We like the idea that we can affect it, that it's not just the -- you know, the all-powerful news medium telling us what's true and what's not, and that's that. And maybe we can write a letter to the editor, and maybe three weeks later they'll print it.
Now people don't accept that. They like to know, well, what is your source, and what other sources are there, and who disagrees with you? And they like to be able to put something on the Internet themselves if they find a flaw. And obviously we get lots of nut balls doing that, but there's lots of really smart people doing that too. And my own...
BARRY: Yes -- I'm sorry.
KURTZ: ... nut balls can be interesting to read, as you well know.
KURTZ: But that's fascinating to me that you feel that if you were starting out today with the same column, you would have trouble, you know, getting a foothold in the business.
What about these podcasts? Your wife, you mentioned, "Miami Herald" sportswriter. And she recently covered the Olympics, and I understand her editors asked her to do podcasts.
What was your reaction to that?
BARRY: I thought that was pretty stupid. I mean, you know, it's like, the newspaper business is kind of grabbing at everything now. For a while they didn't even know what a blog was. Then they didn't want any part of them.
Now they want everybody to have a blog. So now they've heard about podcasts, and they suddenly think everybody should be doing those. Or at least some people do. And it's nuts to -- in the case of my wife.
Here she is, she's going over to cover the Olympics. They want her to be at the speed-skating venue and record something that, you know, can appear on the Internet as an -- as an audio file about an event that's on television.
You k now, it seems like a little bit -- we'll get it all sorted out. I'm not -- you know, I think there's probably a place for podcasts. I just don't think, you know, essentially reading a news story into a -- into some kind of recording device is the answer.
KURTZ: Well, is part of the situation, compared to when you started out those many years ago, that age of Comedy Central and "The Onion" and funny blogs and everything else, that there's just more competition even for humor writers like you? BARRY: I don't know that that's the case, because I think there's actually less competition for humor in the news pages. I think there used to be more established humor in newspapers than there is now, and I -- my theory is editors are scared. They're just really scared.
They don't want to annoy any reader. And if you write humor, the first thing you find is that any topic you write about annoys somebody. And in the newspaper business, you said it, when people -- when the phone rings, it's usually somebody annoyed about something.
And I think in the old days, when newspapers felt there was no other real option for news, the editors didn't worry about it so much. You know, they said, go ahead, cancel your subscription. We don't care. You know, we have plenty -- and now, they say, oh, my gosh, this column annoyed somebody, we better cut it out. And what happens...
KURTZ: So you think the problem is timid editors who are afraid to take risks and possibly alienate some readers out there?
BARRY: I absolutely think that. I think newspapers are more focus group-intensive now, and they're listening more and more to consultants who tell them what people want. And I just don't think that's going to work. I mean, I think we need to be -- we need to still be bold and daring and edgy as we -- I think we were more 20, 30 years ago to hold on to any readership.
KURTZ: I've got to ask you about one bit of breaking news this week. Canada beating the U.S. team in something called the World Baseball Classic. What did you make of that?
BARRY: What is -- what is going on here? And where are -- where are -- you know, where is Dick Cheney when we need him?
In my opinion, we need to go back to the system where they used to have the World Series for only teams from the United States. I didn't even like letting Canada in the first place, but this is outrageous, beating us in baseball. We can't allow this to happen.
KURTZ: All right.
Now, if the few seconds we have left, answer the question in the subtitle of your book, why is there a giant eyeball on a dollar?
BARRY: National security. That eyeball can actually see you. All right? If you see an act of terrorism, hold up your eyeball dollar, people. Your government thanks you for that.
KURTZ: All right.
Well, Dave Barry, since you're not doing the column anymore, perhaps you'll come back on our show and keep us all amused.
BARRY: How about next week? Just kidding -- kidding.
KURTZ: Let me check my calendar.
Dave Barry, thanks very much.
BARRY: Thank you.
KURTZ: Coming up, Alan Greenspan, zillionaire author? The free market at work.
And later, Barry Bonds exposed by two newspaper reporters.
And a trip through the spin cycle on the pundits, the president and the ports.
KURTZ: Welcome now.
Checking now in the world of media news, "The Village Voice" must be a very tolerant place to work. Nick Sylvester, a top editor, recently wrote a cover story for the New York weekly that included a scene in a bar with a couple of television writers in which they talked about their techniques for picking up women. Sylvester later admitted he had totally fabricated the scene.
"The Village Voice" has merely suspended him for the infraction, but he was forced to resign from "Pitchfork," an online music magazine where he also worked.
Sylvester has apologized.
Talk about irrational exuberance. You would think that being Federal Reserve chairman and tinkering with the nation's money supply isn't all that dramatic a job, but the publishing world has a different view. Alan Greenspan has just sold his memoirs to Penguin Press for more than $8 million. Wonder how much of that is for the chapter on his wife, Andrea Mitchell?
And some good news to report about injured ABC anchor Bob Woodruff. Five weeks after being badly hurt by a roadside bomb in Iraq, Woodruff now at Bethesda Naval Hospital, is said to be making some progress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIZABETH VARGAS, ABC NEWS: Today we learned Bob is talking and starting to walk again. He's a bit groggy as a result of painkillers, but his brother Dave describes the progress as "great leaps forward."
DAVE WOODRUFF, BOB WOODRUFF'S BROTHER: Just this morning after I had left "Good Morning America," I got a phone call from his wife and she put him on the phone. And he was commenting on how he did, and actually, frankly, giving me a lot of grief about how I did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Everyone in journalism is pulling for Bob Woodruff. Ahead in our next half hour, should bloggers be posting material from P.R. companies? Wal-Mart ignites the debate.
And Barry Bonds called out on strikes in a new book about his steroid use. Did the press go too easy on the slugger because he was hitting all those homeruns?
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris at the CNN Center in Atlanta.
"Now in the News," in Iraq, explosions tear through two marketplaces in Sadr City. A car bomb damaged one facility. A mortar landed in the other. Iraqi police say they are still counting casualties. At least five people are dead.
The U.S. government bans its employees from all commercial flights out of the Baghdad International Airport until further notice. It's the response to a security breach yesterday at the facility. Royal Jordanian Airlines has a small envelope with a suspicious material that was found near one of its flights minutes before takeoff.
We can expect autopsy results on former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic sometime later today. That's according to the chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor. Milosevic died Saturday in his prison cell. He was on trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
More headlines in 30 minutes.
RELIABLE SOURCES continues after the break.
KURTZ: Welcome back.
Two "San Francisco Chronicle" reporters stunned the baseball world this week with a new book excerpted by "Sports Illustrated" charging extensive steroid use by Giants outfielder Barry Bonds. The media pounced on the story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Tonight, news that is rekindling the controversy over steroid use in Major League Baseball.
VARGAS: Dramatic new allegations of steroid use against the baseball slugger Barry Bonds.
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: You just have to wonder, can he still play baseball with this hanging over him?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Bonds isn't saying much, and his lawyer calls the book an unfortunate distraction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you say you guys, what do you mean?
BARRY BONDS, BASEBALL PLAYER: You, you, you, you, you, the media.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The homerun king, no fan of the press, lashed out at reporters last year when he announced he would miss most of the 2005 season because of an injury.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BONDS: You wanted me to jump off a bridge. I finally have jumped. You wanted to bring me down. You finally have brought me and my family down.
You've finally done it -- from everybody, all of you. You know, so now go pick a different person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So what does the book tell us about the media coverage of Bonds when he was slugging his way to more than 700 homeruns?
Joining us now from San Francisco, Lance Williams, reporter for the "San Francisco Chronicle" and co-author of the book "Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroid Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports."
And here in the studio, "Washington Post" sports columnist Mike Wise.
Lance Williams, just this morning columnist George Will says that he finds it difficult to judge the credibility of your book because many of the sources are unnamed and others are kind of low-lifes, some of whom were facing jail terms.
Does he have a point?
LANCE WILLIAMS, AUTHOR, "GAME OF SHADOWS": I would respectfully disagree that most of the sources are unnamed. Most of the key facts in "Game of Shadows" are based on documents, on-the-record interviews, and other sorts of material, including a tape recording of Bonds' own trainer discussing Bonds' use of banned drugs.
KURTZ: Well, how were you and your co-author able to crack this case and to come up with findings when so many in the press weren't able to document these allegations?
WILLIAMS: Well, we had a tremendous advantage in getting the story. There was a federal investigation into BALCO. That's the nutritional supplement company that was at the center of the big doping conspiracy.
The fact that the feds were involved, you know, created documents that we were able to obtain and also identified a constellation of potential witnesses. So that helped quite a bit.
KURTZ: All right.
Mike Wise, every baseball writer saw that Bonds suddenly created this huge muscular body effect. We have the before and after pictures, if we can put those up. You see him in 1997 on the left, and then this sort of Incredible Hulk figure on the right in 2002.
So did reporters look the other way?
MIKE WISE, "WASHINGTON POST": I think if you want to look back to the early 1990s, the late 1980s, there were a plethora of baseball writers covering the sport, only a few of which actually had the courage to take on that -- what turns out now to be the steroid generation.
Thomas Boswell, my colleague, was one of them. He called Jose Canseco's nutritional supplements the "Canseco milkshake," and he was criticized widely. There were thoughts of libel suits. It turns out Thomas Boswell was correct. Nobody else wanted to touch that story at that time.
KURTZ: Even recently, when Bonds hit number 700, I checked some of the stories, and some of them didn't even mention steroids, and others had about a half a sentence about steroid speculation.
Lance Williams, you -- you tackle this in the book. In the excerpt I read, you write that, "Sportswriters didn't press the question. Most attributed the changes in Bonds' body to a heavy workout regimen, as though a 34-year-old man could gain 15 pounds of muscle in 100 days without drugs."
What do you think explains the lack of coverage on this issue up until now?
WILLIAMS: Well, nailing the story, nailing a particular athlete for steroid use in a way that would be credible, that's a hard get, a hard story to obtain in the absence of what we had in BALCO. My partner, Mark Fainaru-Wada, and I have talked about this a number of times. He's pessimistic that you could have done real solid investigative reporting and broken the steroids story in the absence of government action of some sort.
I have been more optimistic about it. I do think sportswriters write a lot and often write more than they know. And they were willing to cut breaks to athletes and not really think about the import of some of these claims about, "I'm just using nutritional supplements" and so forth. So a little too credible.
WISE: Yes. With all due respect to Lance, there are a lot of great writers and reporters who happen to write about sports in this country, and a lot of them have broken other stories.
I do believe what Mark Fainaru-Wada was talking about, that this was a hard story to get at. Along Lance's point, there are also a cadre of writers out there who were frustrated high school athletes, and these guys are physical astronauts. When you see a guy hitting a shot in a batting cage that goes to the moon, you don't want to know how that ball got there. And I think all of us deep down inside, we don't want to admit that, but some of us didn't ask the questions that we probably should have.
KURTZ: Now, in your book, Lance Williams, you write about Bonds' ex-mistress Kimberly Bell (ph), and she's -- you recreates some scenes in which Bonds told her she needed to disappear, and he told her that he had married another woman who was black because the media gave him too much stuff -- I'm paraphrasing here -- when he had married a white woman the last time.
She looks like to be one of the sources. You know, couldn't it be said that she maybe she had an ax to grind?
WILLIAMS: Well, every source has a motivation for coming forward. She had a financial dispute with Bonds after a long relationship that went very bad at the end.
But first, her story of her relationship is documented with all sorts of stuff, including letters from Bonds' own lawyer that acknowledges many of the facts that she claims. And the other thing is, Kim Bell (ph) is one source of a number and provides important but limited information that the foundation of the reporting is way beyond what she tells me.
KURTZ: So you're saying you took her animosity toward Bonds and her financial dispute with the baseball player into account?
WILLIAMS: You absolutely have to. And yet --and when I met her, I wasn't sure we could get a story out of it. I assumed this would just be a swearing contest, that Bonds would deny even knowing her, really, and we wouldn't be able to push forward. But as I say, she had tremendous documentation -- voicemail, letters, and correspondence...
WILLIAMS: ... ticket stubs, the whole nine yards.
KURTZ: I mentioned earlier the difficult relationship between Bonds and the press. Let's take a listen to what FOX's Bill O'Reilly had to say on the subject.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: This just looks like piling on. We already know the guy did it. I mean, you know, so now we've got to go through this again?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I agree. I think -- I think... O'REILLY: I think the press hates him. I think the press hates him and that's what this is all about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WISE: I mean, with all due respect to Bill O'Reilly, shut up. I mean, come on. This is -- we have credible evidence. We have grand jury testimony. Don't shoot the messengers here.
KURTZ: But don't we also have fairly credible evidence against Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who certainly have not received anything like the kind of negative coverage Bonds did?
WISE: And that is a great point. Mark McGwire, we should have went after him as hard as we went after Barry Bonds.
Now, did he have his grand jury testimony that was leaked about his possible steroids use? No. But we saw a sodden hunk of a man at the congressional hearings, and we should have took him down at the time that we decided to take Barry Bonds down.
KURTZ: Last question. We've got less than half a minute.
How does the press cover Barry Bonds now? I mean, he is about to make an assault on Babe Ruth's homerun record of 714, maybe eventually Hank Aaron. Is he going to be treated as a pariah?
WISE: I think he will. And if I'm Hank Aaron, one of the most respectful, great men in baseball history, not to mention, you know, society in general, I wouldn't show up at his Hall of Fame -- Hall of Fame induction.
KURTZ: All right.
Mike Wise, Lance Williams, co-author of "Game of Shadows," thanks very much for an interesting discussion. We appreciate it.
Coming up, Wal-Mart's P.R. company befriends the blogosphere. Is there anything wrong with bloggers posting corporate material without disclosing where it came from? The CEO of one of the biggest public relations company talks back to the media.
KURTZ: Welcome back.
For several years now, Wal-Mart has been beaten up in the press. Now America's largest retailer has a new strategy, according to a "New York Times" report this week, using bloggers to get its message out. But "The Times" story raised questions about whether some bloggers are just reprinting propaganda provided by Edelman, Wal-Mart's P.R. firm.
Joining us now to talk back to the media about his company's approach is Richard Edelman, chief executive of the public relations giant who maintains his own blog, and Jeff Jarvis, a veteran magazine editor who blogs at buzzmachine.com.
Richard Edelman, your firm, representing Wal-Mart, sent tips and information written in kind of breezy blog language to some pro-Wal- Mart bloggers, a few of whom printed it without disclosing the source.
Anything sneaky about that?
RICHARD EDELMAN, CEO, EDELMAN PR: Howard, I think the most important points are, one, we did acknowledge that it came from a P.R. firm.
Second, that we had a relationship with Wal-Mart.
Third, that we wanted to have a relationship with bloggers, that we were not interested in just having our material reprinted in any form.
And then, fourth, that we absolutely want Wal-Mart's story to be in a discussion, in a conversation. That's the essence of the blogosphere.
KURTZ: Why is it important for you to have a relationship with bloggers?
EDELMAN: Because we feel that it's part of the democratic process, that, in fact, it's the voices that are now yearning to be expressed. In fact, the Edelman trust barometer has shown definitively the rise of trust in a person like yourself, which is substituted for, in some cases, trust in traditional institutions, whether it's business, media or government.
KURTZ: Jeff Jarvis, do you see anything novel or troublesome here about Wal-Mart trying to use bloggers to get a positive message out?
JEFF JARVIS, BUZZMACHINE.COM: Howie, I think "The Times" story was a sucker punch against a few bloggers who didn't understand how to finesse this stuff. The story it really brought out is the relationship of the press to P.R..
Now, I advise bloggers in my blog that they should always reveal when a story comes from a P.R. agent, that they should reveal information that comes from P.R., and they should reveal any relationship, including lunches, that come from P.R. How many reporters do that? We don't.
How many stories -- we did an audit of a day's TV news, locally or here on CNN, or your paper or any other paper, and see how many stories actually started with P.R., how much information came from P.R. So what "The Times" was asking the bloggers to do, the press doesn't do. And that's a double standard.
And in this age of transparency, I think the real lesson is that the bloggers know how to be transparent, they'll push. A few didn't know. OK. Now we'll teach them how to do it better, and the press has to get better about transparency and its relationship with spin.
KURTZ: Richard Edelman, do you see "The Times" report as trying to hold bloggers to a higher standard than the mainstream media themselves when it comes to being completely forth right about where a story might have originated?
EDELMAN: Public relations has always been about telling the side of its client, but we only benefit when we're telling the truth. And I think that, absolutely, disclosure of source is critical, and in the event -- "The New York Times" I think did in this story have a double standard.
KURTZ: Now, Jeff Jarvis, what about some of these bloggers scooping Michael Barbaro of "The New York Times" on his own story after he had contacted them for comment? Is that fair or unfair? If I call you up and say, look, I'm doing a story, I want your comment, and then you put it on your blog before I can get it into print, I'm likely not to be too happy.
JARVIS: Tough. All is fair in love and press.
You know, I think the bigger -- the meta story going on here, Howie, not to get too academic -- is that we're seeing the death of the gatekeepers. The gatekeepers used to be those in power, then it was those in the press, and then -- yes, now it's P.R., who are gatekeepers to the powerful and the rich and the famous.
But now the people have the press. And I harp on this obnoxiously, I'll admit, but what it really means is that there's no scarcity anymore, and that we can push those in power to be transparent. And to not hold back information, which is what gatekeepers really do.
So for reporters acting as a gatekeeper, they're doing the wrong thing.
KURTZ: If gatekeepers don't have this kind of influence anymore, Richard Edelman, does that benefit public relations companies like yours?
EDELMAN: We believe that there's incredible dispersion of authority in the world, and we think that in order to achieve belief today, you have to have a story communicated multiple times. It is very important that traditional media cover a story to get trust, but also, the echo chamber that is, in fact, the blogosphere is urgent for companies and government and others to recognize and participate in.
KURTZ: But Jeff Jarvis, isn't there a danger that some bloggers -- and I'm a big fan of bloggers generally, as you know -- but could be compromised if they're seen as shills for a particular company or as passing on propaganda without, you know, explaining where it came from? Is it...
KURTZ: Could that -- could that hurt bloggers? JARVIS: Sure, but I think there's two answers to that, Howie.
One is that we have to train bloggers in this, I think, and share that knowledge and share that concern. And so rather than going after and hitting them over the head with a stick, why don't you say, guys, here's a problem here?
But the other truth is that blogosphere is a much more self- correcting mechanism. If I seem to be shilling for Mr. Edelman, somebody can attack me right on my blog and question me about that and find out. I can't do that with a reporter at a big newspaper. It's not possible.
KURTZ: Richard Edelman, you recently had some things to say to the press at an awards dinner. You said, "You don't have a Walter Cronkite anymore. You're not god anymore." And you suggested that the -- that all this is making the job of public relations company easier because there's a decline in trust in the press.
Why is that?
EDELMAN: What I was trying to communicate was that any individual reporter cannot consider himself the be all and end all of source of information. That there's this cacophony out there, and that it's the opportunity, but also the responsibility of those of us in public relations to communicate with multiple sources of information -- traditional media, as well as the blogosphere.
KURTZ: But if people don't trust us, or fewer people trust us in the mainstream media, why should they trust you? Because, after all, your company is being paid by a client to put out a message.
EDELMAN: The point of this is not to say that public relations people should be trusted. It is that the information that they convey must be trustworthy, and that we must be very transparent about our motive. At the end point, it's either the blogger or the newspaper or television reporter who will communicate that information.
KURTZ: Jeff Jarvis, as a journalist or a recovering journalist, are you suspicious of public relations firms, whether they're dealing with the mainstream press or with bloggers?
JARVIS: Yes, always have been, Howie. That's our job, I think. And we recognize, as Richard just said, that it's their job to get the story of who is paying them across. And if they get back to that, I think that's more important.
I think that -- I was a --I was a, you know, TV critic during the days when media discovered the value of a famous face on the covers, and the P.R. people became the gatekeepers to those famous people. And that really made them ultra-powerful, which just changed from the press being ultra-powerful.
I think what we're seeing now is that the people have their own voice, and we can question the P.R. people the same way reporters should do. And people expect that, I think. KURTZ: So you are saying that not only did the press once have this great power to control information and who found out about what, but also often public relations companies, by controlling access to the stars for magazines covers, have that influence as well?
JARVIS: Right. And now we're in an age of transparency where the highest ethic is not objectivity or gate-keeping. The highest objectivity is openness.
KURTZ: All right. Well, we'll try to live up to that standard.
Jeff Jarvis, thanks very much.
Richard Edelman, thanks for coming on to explain how your company does business. We appreciate it.
Coming up, the pundits have had plenty to say about that ill- fated Dubai ports deal. Now they've got some dramatic predictions about the president.
A trip through "The Spin Cycle" next.
KURTZ: Time now for a trip through "The Spin Cycle."
KURTZ (voice over): When word first surfaced that a Dubai company would be taking over management of six American ports, it was such a huge, earth-shaking, politically-sensitive deal that most of the press either buried the story or missed it entirely. But once Republicans started turning on President Bush, it became a classic Beltway feeding frenzy.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A showdown may be brewing over port security.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The amendment is passed.
KURTZ: Now, there's no question that when a House committee rejected the ports deal this week 62-2, and the UAE company agreed to toss the hot potato to an American outfit, it was a significant setback for Bush. But the media magicians with their crystal balls transformed it into a cataclysmic event, the virtual end of his second term.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Both sides realize in the Republican Party that this was a political death spiral.
TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: Congressional Republicans are panicked, and they are petrified.
KURTZ: On one program after another, few could resist the image of a wounded bird.
BLITZER: Now many people are wondering, has lame-duck syndrome set in?
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: A second-term president whose party sees him as a political liability as they approach the fall election that, that president is not a lame duck. That president could be a dead duck.
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Did Mr. Bush still receive his unofficial T-shirt this week that reads, "I was a lame-duck president and all I got was this lousy ports deal?"
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we don't want to be too premature. I mean, he is certainly starting to waddle, if he's not -- is not quite quacking.
KURTZ: Now, maybe the pundits are right that a president with nearly three years to go will limp to the finish line, or maybe they're just piling on because Bush is under 40 percent in the polls, or maybe it's in the nature of Washington journalists to magnify every victory and exaggerate every defeat.
Remember "Mission Accomplished" day when the president went gaga as the president landed on that aircraft carrier? Just remember, reporters get bored by the same storyline, so there's still time for a Bush comeback.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
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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