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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Coverage of War in Iraq; Interview With Howie Carr; Wallace Retires
Aired March 19, 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): War without end. Three years after the invasion of Iraq, a new offensive, a bloody insurgency and continuing controversy over the media's role. Do the pundits who said it would be a cakewalk owe the public an apology?
Cheating death. "Boston Herald" columnist Howie Carr talks about claims that a convicted mobster tried to kill him.
Still ticking. Mike Wallace hanging it up at 87. Will "60 Minutes" be the same?
Plus, the latest celebrity tactic against the press: paparazzi for hire.
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on the coverage of the war, three years later.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Ahead, our interview with a columnist targeted by the mob.
But first, we go straight to Baghdad and CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson.
Nic Robertson, when you were embedded with the 101st Airborne during the beginning of this air assault this week, did you get a good overall picture of that assault or, by definition, a very narrow snapshot?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I got a narrow snapshot, Howard. We were taken on the second day of the operation after that big air assault was over.
The air assault was all about lifting the troops, the 101st Airborne, Iraqi troops into the area. We were able to see two different locations, static locations.
The operations there had essentially completed. There was just sort of a security stance there, if will you. We didn't get to see an actual operation under progress to see how it was performed and who did exactly what. KURTZ: Now, did allowing you to tag along kind of serve the Pentagon's purpose here in that the coverage of a U.S. military unit on the attack is likely going to be positive?
ROBERTSON: We went because we heard that this was the biggest air assault since -- since the war began. We petitioned overnight as soon as we heard about it, the coalition press office here. By the morning, we had got a flight up to the Samarra area to go and watch.
Normally, it takes a lot longer to set up this kind of embed. It was clear to us that they did want us along to see some of it.
We wanted to stay longer. We asked to stay longer. We went with bags to stay for days, but we were told it could only last several hours -- Howard.
KURTZ: Given the well-known record of U.S. journalists or Western journalists killed, in some cases injured, in Iraq -- ABC's Bob Woodruff being perhaps the most prominent example -- were you worried at all about your safety purring during this embedding?
ROBERTSON: Perhaps the helicopter flight was the most worrying, only because you fly over Baghdad, you fly over other areas. Helicopters are targets.
In the area of the operation we were told no shots had been fired. We didn't see any hostile activity. We didn't see anyone hiding and ducking for cover. It didn't feel as if the threat actually in the area of the operation from what we saw, the limited vision we had, was particularly a high threat -- Howard.
KURTZ: All right. We'll come back to you in a few moments, Nic Robertson.
As you know, that U.S.-led military offensive in Iraq this week provided yet another reminder that the war launched three years ago this very week is far from over.
For the journalists and the pundits, no issue is more important or better defines the Bush presidency than Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIZABETH VARGAS, ABC NEWS: Now to what the U.S. military is calling the largest air assault in Iraq since the invasion.
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Today at least 87 more bodies were found.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: Iraq on the brink of utter chaos.
LARA LOGAN, CBS NEWS: This is undoubtedly a time where civil war is on everyone's mind.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Violence in Iraq between Iraqis has many believing this nation is closing -- is inching closer to civil war.
FRED BARNES, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": There's not going to be a civil war. I think the chances of a civil war are nil.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Amid the fog of war, these questions: Is the coverage fair? Is it focused too heavily on violence? And do the commentators who predicted that all this would be easy owe anyone an explanation?
Joining me now, Jake Tapper, ABC News Washington correspondent who just got back from Iraq on Monday and blogged about his experience on his "Down and Dirty" column on abcnews.com; Michelle Cottle, senior editor at "The New Republic"; and David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter who now writes for "National Review Online" and also recently traveled to Iraq.
JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS: Yes, sir?
KURTZ: ... initially, no embedded reporters. Plenty of Pentagon video. This was all over cable for a day or two, the biggest air assault since the 2003 war.
Did the media get taken in here? Was this trumpeted by the military as being a bigger deal than it in fact was?
TAPPER: I think taken is a little strong, but certainly the media was on the receiving end to what was, to a degree, a press release from the Pentagon, and images provided by the Pentagon in a lot of cases on the evening news. The footage that you saw was shot by the Pentagon, by them You would see it was the Department of Defense. So, in that -- in that sense, yes, they were serving the -- what the Pentagon wanted us to do.
That said, I don't necessarily know that there's anything wrong with providing their point of view when they're the only ones able to provide a point of view.
KURTZ: Which was exactly the case.
Let me turn to the White House press briefing on Thursday. I want to play for you, David Frum, a question to the press secretary from NBC's David Gregory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: Support for the president is at rock bottom. Support for this war is at rock bottom in this country.
Does the president think it's important as a show of U.S. and Iraqi force to mount these kinds of operations to try to change public opinion? SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, see, I can't accept the premise of your question because this was a decision made by our commanders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Is that a fair question about the political impact, or does it reflect a certain journalistic cynicism?
DAVID FRUM, "NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE": It's a terrible question because it's a question with the answer embedded in the question. So I don't think -- I don't think you ever elicit interesting information as a journalist by saying to somebody, I have this theory that is -- that you are lying to me, am I right or wrong? You're just not going to learn anything.
KURTZ: But isn't it true that sometimes what the administration does to rally support for this war and the war on terror is done with politics in mind?
FRUM: I am sure that's right. I don't think you get very far by saying, isn't that true? If...
TAPPER: It would have been a great moment if Scott McClellan had said, yes, as a matter of fact...
MICHELLE COTTLE, THE NEW REPUBLIC: I keep waiting on that.
TAPPER: ... we launched this assault just to improve his poll numbers.
FRUM: Exactly. I think that's a little bit -- I mean, and this is one of the problems with actually televising these press conferences, is the journalists stop actually using these briefings as chances to learn something and they start working on their television careers.
KURTZ: Michelle Cottle, watching the air assault as a viewer on Thursday, Operation Swarmer it was called -- I kind of thought it was operation swarm the media -- I thought it was -- you know, there were no bombs dropped here. I thought it was a much bigger deal than it turned out to be.
Do you believe to some degree that journalists fell for a degree of hype here?
COTTLE: Well, sure. And it's telling that it was a bigger deal on the television journalists in -- than it was on print journalists. If you looked at the morning papers...
KURTZ: It was not on anybody's front page.
COTTLE: ... there wasn't anybody's front page. I mean, what happens is, when you have good video, you go with it. And I think the Pentagon knew this, and they put out those great pictures, and so it looked compelling, even if kind of the news value turned out to be not so hot.
KURTZ: Jake Tapper, this morning's "Washington Post," Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, has an op-ed pieces which says, in part, "History is not made up of daily headlines, blogs on Web sites, or the latest sensational attack. History is a bigger picture."
Now, since you are just back from Iraq, do you believe the journalists provided a distorted picture, or did it seem different to you when you got there than you might have expected?
TAPPER: It's a very complicated question, obviously. What journalists, when, who, what are you talking about specifically?
I think that there is a lot of violence still in Iraq, and I think that if you listen to commanders on the ground and if you go to Iraq, you'll see that that security situation is an incredibly important one. And as much as the Pentagon may not want to talk about it or may want to talk about the positive, the parliament and the elections and the things that are being achieved, which are tangible achievements, the violence makes it very difficult to get past, you know, the daily boom.
Let me just -- one quick story.
We wanted to do a story about the freedom of the press in Iraq, and we went to the set of a new Iraqi sitcom that they're filming, because there's been -- there's all this entertainment now, and it's one of the things that the ambassador there has trumpeted.
KURTZ: So what happened?
TAPPER: We got there, and the guy who had set it up with us -- we shot -- we shot for a little while, and the guy who had helped us arrange it was assassinated the very morning while we were there on the set. And so our cameras were rolling while the director and the producer and the cast and crew found out that the guy that had green- lit the show and the guy that had set up our being there was killed.
So no matter how hard we try to cover the positive, the violence has a way of rearing its head.
KURTZ: Talk about changing your storyline.
Nic Robertson in Baghdad, what do you make of the Rumsfeld argument, which he's made before, that the focus is too much on the violence, too negative, and that people like you and your colleagues, you know, go to for the video of the latest suicide bombing attack and that drowns out everything else?
ROBERTSON: And I think that often that's untrue. We do go for what is -- has news value, and it may not necessarily be the latest news headline. We look into it.
And I would like to go back to what you were saying about whether or not the journalists were taken in by Operation Swarmer. We looked at the information. We never thought that this was a massive aerial bombardment. We thought that it was an air assault, meaning helicopters, 101st Airborne.
When we analyzed the information that -- the next level of information that came out, we could see this perhaps wasn't something that was quite implied by those initial headlines. And when we went there, when we did get the access on the ground, I think we did a very good journalistic job of trying to examine what we've been told versus what we can see.
So I think from our perspective here, I don't think anyone was particularly taken in. I think some people in some places might have read the headlines and jumped to some conclusions and perhaps had some bad analysis in their reporting. But I think form where we stand, I feel very comfortable about -- about what we did.
But to get back to your question, I do think that there is an awful lot of what might be construed as bad news here. But it is the dominant information. It's the prevailing information.
The news about a school being built here or perhaps a hospital receiving some equipment, we will get to those stories. We do do those stories on occasion. But there are many times when the assassination of a political -- of a political figure or some turn of political events has far more momentum and far more importance for the whole country.
KURTZ: Right. Or the assassination of a sitcom person, as Jake Tapper...
COTTLE: And the administration is just as guilty about picking out things that they want to focus on. I mean, we can focus on the success of whatever election they want to talk about, but when you are talking about democracy-building, elections are great, but it's only part of the picture, and have you to take into the security situations and the social infrastructure and stuff like that.
KURTZ: Did your trip to Iraq change your view of the coverage?
FRUM: I came back thinking the coverage was better than I thought it was.
FRUM: I think I've become -- speaking as one of the (inaudible) that despises bloggers, I have become very impatient with the dynamic that goes on in the way we talk about coverage here, which is that there's this debate where the people who criticize the war will emphasize the negative and the people who support the war emphasize the positive. And the idea is, that if you support the war, if you think it's right, if you think the United States needs to win, that you, therefore, have to say, well, all this bad news is unreal, and the real story is one of progress.
I don't know why it's not intellectually accurate to say the war is right, it was right to enter it, it has to be won, but it's not going very well. And, in fact, bad news is a service to the country because it is the way you correct mistakes. One of the things that I was very impressed with when I spoke to a lot of military people there, they actually have now a pretty good military strategy in place. But they didn't for the first year and a half.
FRUM: And the reason the military strategy is better today is precisely because of the recognition of the failure of some of the initial ideas. And that is achieved through constant criticism and self-criticism.
KURTZ: Now, "The New York Times" has a front page story today about another secret detention facility in Iraq nicknamed "The Black Hole," where prisoners were beaten with rifles butts, and it's almost like another Abu Ghraib. I'm sure that the people who support this war are going to say, there they go again, more negative stuff from the press. But is that news or is that not news?
COTTLE: Well, I think it's news in that the Pentagon had made it seem like there were just a couple of bad apples the first time around.
KURTZ: Right. This is an aberration.
COTTLE: This was just a couple of freak shows out to do, you know, kind of harm on their own. And this kind of feeds -- you know, this addresses that theory that it's kind of a wider-spread problem than they want to admit. I mean, part of the problem is the administration's unwillingness to come and really dig into these things a lot of the time.
KURTZ: Jake Tapper, some liberal columnists -- and I know you follow this stuff closely -- are now demanding that some of the pro- war commentators admit that they were wrong, at least wrong in 2003 when they talked about how easy this would be.
Is that fair in the op-ed wars?
TAPPER: It's kind of beside the point. I mean, whatever -- there are all these semantic fights. This is the thing I learned the most when I was in Iraq, when I was in Baghdad.
Whether you call it a civil war or sectarian strife, whatever the generals are saying, whatever the bloggers are saying, there are 27 million Iraqis, and most of them are good people who want to be able to just live their lives. And whatever criticism bloggers get focused on is beside the point.
These people just want to be able to live their lives. They just want to be able to go to work and provide for their kids.
Most of them don't even seem to care about Shiite versus Sunni. And when we get bogged down in this silly political sniping about what Charles Krauthammer may have said three years ago versus what Bill Kristol may have said three years ago, that's not doing anything to help the cause of the Iraqi people.
KURTZ: Well, here's Andrew Sullivan, the blogger and columnist in "TIME" magazine, saying, "We have learned a tough lesson, and it has been a lot tougher for those tens of thousands of dead, innocent Iraqis and several thousand killed and injured American soldiers than for a few humiliated pundits."
What do you think about that?
FRUM: I think as a journalist you should look outward, not inward, and I think...
TAPPER: You're on the wrong show.
FRUM: ... you shouldn't be -- you should not be focused on yourself. I mea, no one who does journalism for a living is going to get to the end of his career without ever making a mistake, or anyway, without being a pompous, useless bloviater.
KURTZ: But the question is whether you acknowledge that mistake.
FRUM: But I think the way you acknowledge the mistake is by -- is not by saying, you know, here's my coverage and isn't it interesting? You do it by constantly trying to do a better job.
And so you say -- I mean, if there's something -- if there's something that you put a factual error on the record, have you to correct that. If all the story is, is that your assessment and opinion was incorrect, well, that's going to be true a lot of the time.
KURTZ: A brief thought?
COTTLE: But when you're talking about these people who are putting out their opinions as a way to shape public opinion, then if they decide they were wrong, I think on some level they should come out and say, well, here's what we need to look at, at this stage. You know, I told you this, and this is how we should look at things, but now, you know, I was wrong.
I think the point is to shape public opinion when you are a pundit.
Nic Robertson -- let me going back to Baghdad. We've got about a half a minute here.
Three years after this war began -- and you continue to do good reporting there -- what is your single biggest frustration when it comes to trying to cover this conflict?
ROBERTSON: It really is getting out and talking to people. It really is the independence that we had a window of opportunity for in the summer of 2003 right after the invasion ended.
Saddam Hussein, under his regime, we couldn't talk to people. The insurgents and their terror prevent us getting out and talking to Iraqis, prevent them talking to us. It's very difficult to get a very good assessment under those circumstances.
KURTZ: All right. Nic Robertson, in Baghdad, thanks very much for helping us out this morning.
The rest of you, stick around.
When we come back, it was one of the most chilling photographs of the horrors at Abu Ghraib. How a "New York Times" interview with a prisoner under the hood backfired big-time.
And later on CNN, Pentagon reporter Barbara Starr is on the story of Operation Swarmer. That's coming up at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Last Saturday, "The New York Times" ran a front-page story profiling Ali Shalal Qaissi, who the paper said was the blindfolded prisoner standing on a cardboard box in that chilling image of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. But after "Salon" magazine challenged the account, "The New York Times" said yesterday it had the wrong guy. In another front-page story, the paper said that while Qaissi was at Abu Ghraib, he wasn't actually the man standing on the box in that photograph, which the former prisoner now admits.
Michelle Cottle, how big a mistake was this by "The New York Times"?
COTTLE: Well, it wouldn't be quite so embarrassing if "The Times" hadn't have had to run a correction saying, if only we had looked at our stories from a couple of years ago where they had identified somebody else as the guy in the guy in the -- guy in the photo. So it's pretty embarrassing just because they -- they themselves had reported something different earlier. So...
KURTZ: The editor's note that ran yesterday, David Frum, said that "The Times" did not adequately research Mr. Qaissi's insistence that he was the man in the photograph and should have been more persistent in seeking comment from the military.
So this guy was telling the story, and they kind of bought into it.
FRUM: Look, I would say on the scale of this particular mistake on the scale of mistakes, I -- not so terrible, because there -- there was some -- I mean, it's want like you're putting a false claim into the world. I mean, there was some guy who actually had that experience.
KURTZ: Yes. It just wasn't this guy. FRUM: But what it ought to be a reminder of and something that is important and that has done a lot of damage, which is there have been a number of people who have come out of Guantanamo, a guy who just Britain, particularly, and told stories about what happened there that have been accepted absolutely credulously. And it is a reminder that one of the tactics that the terrorists and the extremists use in this conflict is lying.
And people who have killed people will also lie. And I think generally, especially with the Guantanamo narratives, which are now being turned into plays in Britain and documentaries, that there should be a lot more skepticism exercised. And if this incident is a warning to particularly the British press, do not believe everything that these guys tell you, check it independently, then it will have served a useful purpose.
KURTZ: Now, "The Times" was not the first publication to say that Qaissi was the hooded prisoner. "Vanity Fair" and PBS and others had done it. But, you know, given that it's so difficult to verify one ex-prisoner's story, would the story have made you nervous if you were pursuing it?
TAPPER: All this stuff makes me nervous because the fog of war makes accuracy very, very difficult. The Pentagon is not always incredibly cooperative, as you may or may not find surprising, as to -- my favorite comment was when the Pentagon wouldn't talk about who was in the photograph because to do so would violate the Geneva, of course. Not that anything that happened at Abu Ghraib necessarily did. But I think, you know, the larger issue is that there is difficulty in telling these stories.
When I was in Iraq, which is -- this story came out while I was there. Actually, the more controversial story among journalists was a "Washington Post" front-page story about whether or not 1,300 people had been turned over to Iraq's morgues in the immediate aftermath of the sectarian violence, triggered...
KURTZ: By the mosque bombing.
TAPPER: ... by the mosque bombing in Samarra. That was a much more controversial story. And because somebody was telling "The Washington Post" that it was 1,300, and yet other reporters were saying that their sources were telling them it wasn't true, it's all -- it's all very difficult to ascertain.
KURTZ: The fog of war may be a cliche, but it accurately describes what journalists are up against there.
Jake Tapper, David Frum, Michelle Cottle, thanks very much for joining us.
Coming up, has the name of the latest Valerie Plame leaker finally been revealed? That and more from the world of media news.
And later, the mobster, the columnist, and the missed opportunity that supposedly saved his life. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KURTZ: Checking now in the world of media news, 32 newspapers, including "The Miami Herald," changed hands this week as the Knight Ridder chain faded into oblivion. But the buyer, the much smaller McClatchy chain, isn't keeping all the papers.
McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt says he will sell off "The Philadelphia Inquirer," "Philadelphia Daily News," "San Jose Mercury News" and nine others that he deems to be in lower-growth areas. McClatchy was the only bidder, so the $4.5 billion deal highlights the fragile health of the newspaper business.
Knight Ridder CEO Tony Ridder says he feels terrible about the sale, but many of Ridder's employees blame his years of cost-cutting for the decline of some of the country's great newspapers.
KURTZ (voice over): Do not adjust your television set. Does this cover shot of former Virginia Governor Mark Warner look strange to you? The apparently colorblind editors of "The New York Times" had to run a correction for this picture in last Sunday's magazine saying Warner's jacket was charcoal, not maroon, that his shirt was light blue, not pink, that his tie was dark blue with stripes, not maroon. "The Times" is blaming a type of film that allows colors to shift.
Just when you thought the Valerie Plame leak case couldn't get more confusing, "Vanity Fair" is quoting former "Washington Post" editor Ben Bradlee as saying he believes he knows who leaked the CIA's operative's identity to Bob Woodward.
According to the Bradlee interview, it's a fair assumption that the source is former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage. Bradley says he doesn't remember using those words, and while he has been told about Woodward's source, it was not, repeat not, by "The Post" reporter himself.
"Vanity Fair" says its writer, Marie Brenner, has the Bradlee comments on tape.
Armitage is staying mum.
KURTZ: And checking now with our viewer email, last week we asked whether the Bush administration should prosecute journalists to prevent leaks of sensitive information. Plenty of you were untroubled by the notion of reporters behind bars.
Bill DeWalt in Waco, Texas, wrote, "Absolutely, journalists should be prosecuted for publishing classified information. No one has given Bill Keller at 'The New York Times' or any other person outside of government to declassify information. What happens when the press leaks something and it hurts someone? 'Oops, sorry about that' is hardly enough of a price to pay."
But many of you disagreed.
Roberta Sweet writing, "Why not prosecute the administration officials who leaked this supposedly secret information to the reporters to begin with? Let's go after the source, not the reporters."
Ahead in our next half hour, "Boston Herald" columnist Howie Carr on being targeted by the mob.
And Mike Wallace stepping back from the "60 Minutes" spotlight. Was he a ground-breaking journalist or just a very good TV showman?
More RELIABLE SOURCES coming your way.
SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Susan Roesgen at the CNN Center in Atlanta.
"Now in the News," in Gaza, in the Middle East, the militant Hamas group is set to present its cabinet to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas failed to bring in moderate factions and could face a cutback in desperately needed foreign aid. Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament in January.
Somali militiamen who clashed with U.S. Navy ships say they didn't fire the first shot. The Navy says they did and that the Navy returned fire, killing one person and wounding five off the coast of Somalia yesterday.
A South Carolina judge has denied bail to convicted rapist Kenneth Hinson. Captured Friday, Hinson is charged with abducting two teenage girls and assaulting them in an underground room behind his home.
We'll have more headlines in 30 minutes.
RELIABLE SOURCES continues after the break.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Howie Carr is a "Boston Herald" columnist and radio talk show host on WRKO who has periodically written about one of the city's most notorious fugitives, James "Whitey" Bulger. On "60 Minutes" last Sunday, Kevin Weeks, a former convict who was once Bulger's closest associate, told Ed Bradley he tried to kill Carr. In fact, said Weeks, he was positioned to shoot Carr with a rifle when the commentator came out of his Massachusetts home, but didn't pull the trigger.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ED BRADLEY, "60 MINUTES": Why did you have to pass?
KEVIN WEEKS, FMR. CONVICT: I didn't want to kill him in front of his daughter.
BRADLEY: You had him in your sights?
BRADLEY: So, if he had come out the door by himself, he would be a dead man?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And joining us now from Boston, very much alive, is Howie Carr.
Do you believe Kevin Weeks when he says he tried to kill you?
HOWIE CARR, "BOSTON HERALD": No. As I told Ed Bradley, I don't think he had the stones. His boss, Whitey Bulger, he had made threats against me, and I was concerned about those threats.
One time they told a co-worker of mine that if I ever went into their liquor store, which I used to pass all the time, that they had a new dumpster out back and they were going to chop me up. But I had to -- I had to take those threats seriously, Howard, because Mayor Kevin White, in my new book about the Bulger gang, "The Brothers Bulger," I have quotes from Kevin White saying he was afraid that Whitey Bulger was going to murder him.
So you had to take any kind of statements like they made at the liquor store seriously. But...
KURTZ: But, so here's -- so here's Bulger's closest associate now out of prison, and he says that he was either going to shoot you with a rifle or he was going to put an exploding basketball on your home court.
Why wouldn't you take that seriously?
CARR: Well, the fact is, Howard, that his -- he has a close relative who lived around the corner from me when I lived at this house, so he obviously knew where I lived. I'm sure his relative had just told him in passing. And for 10 years he has been talking about -- he has told everybody who will listen that he knew that I lived across the street from a graveyard.
I mean, I -- again, I mentioned it in my book in the preface. That's how seriously I didn't take it. It's mentioned in the motion by the Massachusetts State Police for pretrial detention for him in 1999. This story has been around for a long time, but he has just now embellished the story with this silly notion of a basketball full of plastic explosives and picking me off as I come out of -- out of the house. If they were going to get me -- and again, they can get you, and they threatened other reporters. I'm not the only one. But I think they would have done it on their home turf, not my home turf, especially when it's the -- also the home neighborhood of the brother of the guy who was going to do it.
It doesn't make sense.
KURTZ: So why would Kevin Weeks make this up, embellish the story, as you say? What's his motive?
CARR: Well, I think he wants to be a tough guy. You know, he always -- when he was in court and he was a defendant and he was testifying in some of the cases against corrupt federal agents and against fellow mobsters, he always said that he was just a grave digger.
He was asked at one point, why didn't you -- why didn't you try to stop these murders? And he said, well, because I would have been going into the hole, too. But I think he -- now he has to be a tough guy, and this is what he has come up with.
And I'm a well-known figure, and it's known in the Boston area that Whitey Bulger, his boss, wanted to kill me. So this is just sort of a semi-believable story that he has concocted because he knew I lived across the street from a graveyard.
CARR: Believe me, Howard, I wish I could make myself out to be a big hero here, you know, a guy who was a danger all the time. And, you know, maybe I was to a certain degree in Boston, but I just don't think that this guy was crouching in the graveyard.
You know, another thing, there was a big stone wall. He -- it would have been a tough shot. He would have had to go way back in the graveyard, unless he had one of Whitey's magic guns that shot around corners.
KURTZ: Well, Weeks is also promoting his own book, so maybe those two are not unconnected.
But now, in your case, you have written about this in your column and you've talked about it on this radio. You've got this book, "The Brothers Bulger," which is on its way to becoming a best-seller. So, in a bizarre way, all this has been good for your career.
CARR: It has. I mean, I thanked him on my radio show for doing this for me. My book has been out a month. I thought it had peaked, and then I get another shot on "60 minutes," and again, I get to portray myself as the crusading journalist here.
I appreciate what Kevin has done for me. But again, I don't -- I don't put a lot of credence in it, and I don't think most people do in Boston.
He's a -- he's just not a -- he was a coat holder. That's what he was, Howard, basically.
KURTZ: Well, I know how modest you are, so I know that this must be very difficult for you to promote yourself in this way. But...
CARR: It is, Howard. I can't stand making all these TV appearances.
KURTZ: But haven't a lot of journalists in the Boston area in particular written about Whitey Bulger? Why did you get singled out?
CARR: Well, I think I also went after his brother, Billy Bulger, who was the president of the Senate, and he took that very personally. And I think another -- another thing was just that -- just because of the location of where I worked, "The Boston Herald," and in those days channel 56, I had to go by the liquor store all the time, and these guys just used to -- it was amazing.
They would stand outside the liquor store because there was a traffic rotary, and they -- the feds or anyone else couldn't put a bug -- near -- near where they were talking. So they always hung out there, and they used to see me every day. And I think that, you know, familiarity bred contempt in Whitey's case. He just -- he would become irritated by people.
KURTZ: You know, it's a lot of fun to now joke about it since none of this happened, but, you know, during these years when you were going after Whitey Bulger and his brother, who was a politician, weren't you nervous at all? I mean, taking on a mobster in such a high-profile way? I mean, obviously, they do kill people sometimes.
CARR: Right. No, I definitely was, Howard. I took precautions.
After they said they were going to chop me up, I started going home a different way every night. I didn't want to become a creature of habit. I didn't want to make it easy for them.
I used to like to occasionally frequent bars near "The Herald." You know probably some of them, J. J. Foley's (ph). I really basically stopped going there.
I just didn't -- I didn't want to give them any opportunity. I knew they liked to hit people as they came out of bars after they had a few drinks.
Yes, I definitely changed my patterns of life. And it's just one of these things you had to do, though, because in those days -- and again, not to -- not to portray myself as a hero or anything, but who were you going to go to?
Whitey Bulger was paying off six people in the Boston FBI office. Billy Bulger had tried to put one of the members of the gang in as the Boston police commissioner. Now, he would claim that he didn't know at the time that -- that this FBI agent was actually a racketeer. But they -- and the -- and then anybody in the state police who had gone after Whitey Bulger was somehow punished or demoted in anonymous writers that were attached to state budgets.
There wasn't anybody you could actually go to if you found yourself in this kind of situation.
KURTZ: Right. All right. Well, if it kept you out of bars, that's certainly a significant lifestyle change.
Howie Carr, we're glad you are around this morning to join us and talk about this.
CARR: Thank you, Howard.
KURTZ: Thanks very much.
Coming up, mike Wallace retiring. A journalistic hero for his "60 Minutes" style or one of the pioneers of "gotcha" journalism? We'll take up that debate next.
KURTZ: Welcome back.
If it seems like Mike Wallace has been on television forever, well, that's not far off the mark.
KURTZ (voice over): He was a talk show host in the 1950s, and then in 1968 helped launch the most successful TV news magazine of all time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is "60 Minutes." It's a kind of a magazine for television.
KURTZ: In the process, he interviewed civil rights leaders...
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: There's no doubt about that.
KURTZ: ... and first ladies...
NANCY REAGAN, FMR. FIRST LADY: Remember when...
KURTZ: ... and ayatollahs.
MIKE WALLACE, "60 MINUTES": And he calls you, imam --forgive me, his words, not mine -- a lunatic.
KURTZ: He got sued by retired General William Westmoreland over a story on the Vietnam War. WALLACE: But tonight we shall offer an explanation for one of the great mysteries of the war, why for so long our government apparently believed and wanted all of us to believe that we were winning the war.
KURTZ: He even ended up on the big screen played by Christopher Plummer in the movie "The Insider," which chronicled Wallace's investigation of the tobacco industry and subsequent battle with CBS's own lawyers.
Wallace said he was cutting back on his workload two years ago, as he explained on this program.
WALLACE: Can you imagine being 83 and packing a bag which you take on wheels because you don't trust the airlines to get your bags there if you check them? In addition, then you have a garment bag because you have a couple of suits and some shirts here and you have another satchel with your material when you walk a mile to your plane, and then you take off your shoes, and if it's wintertime, you have a 10-pound winter coat on.
The heck with it. I mean, come on. It's just too damn hard for an old bugger.
KURTZ: Now at the age of 87, Mike Wallace said this week he is stepping down at "60 Minutes," at least as a full-time correspondent.
Joining us now from New York, Jon Friedman, media critic for marketwatch.com, an online news and business publication, and David Blum, television critic for "The New York Sun" and author of "Tick... Tick... Tick... The Long Life and Turbulent Times of 60 Minutes."
David Blum, Mike Wallace has survived plenty of controversy over the years, lawsuits, his public battle with depression, that spiked tobacco story, but it never seemed to slow him down, did it?
DAVID BLUM, "NEW YORK SUN" TV CRITIC: No. He's been just a force of nature to be reckoned with for such a long time. It's really remarkable.
He maintained that great voice and that great television persona for so long that it became very difficult for him to leave. I think he became addicted to the red light of the camera, and it's been hard for him to let go.
KURTZ: Well, that's shocking to me that any television star would be addicted to this kind of exposure.
BLUM: It is. I know.
KURTZ: Jon Friedman, you've been very critical of what you describe as Wallace's "gotcha" style of interviewing. Explain.
JON FRIEDMAN, MARKETWATCH MEDIA CRITIC: Well, I think it started out very seriously as news, but became very popular and successful with the ratings, and then became kind of a "gotcha" entertainment show biz sort of thing with CBS, especially, you know, the four worst words in language: "Mike Wallace is here." It seemed more entertainment than news.
KURTZ: But certainly they did a lot of serious investigative work. I mean, but what you are objecting to is the -- are the -- is the ambush style where they would -- you know, Mike would run up in his trench coat to talk to some (INAUDIBLE) as he came out of a doorway?
FRIEDMAN: Yes, that was part of it. It was like Columbo, in a way, with a microphone in his hand. It was very serious news. And Mike Wallace is a giant, no question about it, but the whole approach CBS and Wallace took later on in the whole "gotcha" style turned me off to a large degree.
KURTZ: David Blum, you know, some of these ambush interviews which were so popular in the '70s and '80s are kind of frowned on by journalism today. But on the other hand "60 Minutes," I think it's fair to say, you know, remained and remains more substantive than a lot of its cheaper imitators.
BLUM: Right. Well, they had to finally abandon it once it got adopted by local television and used for much lesser purposes. But they were using it for stories on Medicaid fraud, bioterrorism, immigration issues, and really significant stuff. And Wallace was at the forefront of it.
No one had ever done it before, really, put themselves into the story the way he did, and become a personality. And that's what created really to a large extent the whole notion of celebrity journalism -- celebrity journalists, that is to say, people like Wallace and Diane Sawyer and other personalities who sort of took over the stories that they covered.
KURTZ: Well, that spawned a very large industry, in fact.
BLUM: They sure did.
KURTZ: Jon Friedman, was "60 Minutes" edited in such a way, at least on the hard news pieces, so that Mike and Morley and Ed Bradley and the rest would be the heroes and somebody else would be the villain, and was kind of packaged like a nice morality play?
FRIEDMAN: Oh, for sure, yes. I mean, it was great ratings. Everyone tuned in every Sunday night to see Mike Wallace get that guy or get that woman, get that creep, that rogue businessman, that dictator.
Yes, sure, it was definitely a morality play, as you said. And I think it produced great ratings. So it sure worked.
KURTZ: But what's wrong with seeing Mike Wallace get that creep, if, in fact, the person was a creep? FRIEDMAN: Well, I think the whole tone of the "gotcha" style is not what it could be. I think Mike Wallace started out on the show and CBS started out with great intentions, but as the ratings got bigger and bigger and the pressure got bigger and bigger to be successful, I think they kind of went overboard in entertainment and show biz.
KURTZ: So you think that they all became caricatures of themselves?
FRIEDMAN: Yes, to a large degree, that's true, yes.
KURTZ: All right.
David Blum, do you think that now -- because Wallace has talked before about cutting back, slowing down, even quitting. Do you think that he is voluntarily stepping down, or did he get a shove from CBS?
BLUM: They've been trying for the past several years to get him to cut back, and he would always agree, and then he would always produce far more pieces than he was contracted to do. They were very anxious to open up not only that slot, but also that considerable amount of money that he was earning to hire younger correspondents, more correspondents to fill out the show.
The fact is that there's an entire generation, if not multiple generations of people, who really don't know who Mike Wallace is. And I think that CBS had to acknowledge that and is trying to bring about a change in the show. But it took a long time because Mike wouldn't leave.
KURTZ: How -- what do you base that on?
BLUM: Well, knowing a lot of people at "60 Minutes," knowing Mike Wallace, knowing that he was very anxious to stay on the show for as long as possible.
KURTZ: And you're saying that they -- that he would have a contract to produce 10 pieces a year and he would produce even more even though he wasn't getting paid for the additional work?
BLUM: Way more. He couldn't stop. He literally couldn't bring himself to stop traveling, to stop doing stories.
He was always the most aggressive correspondent in the office. He was, you know, rifling through papers at the fax machine at the age of 86 to see what everybody else was working on so that he could get there first. He was always the most aggressive correspondent at "60 Minutes" from the very beginning, and he really never stopped.
KURTZ: So what is wrong with that, and why, since he is such a brand name -- and I wonder how many people who own a television set don't know who Mike Wallace is -- why would CBS have been unhappy with that? Why do they want to get him off the stage, as you put it?
BLUM: Well, he wasn't attracting viewers anymore. The sad truth of the matter is that Mike Wallace once had a huge following and a huge audience, but today's television consumer is a lot younger, and certainly CBS hopes it would be, and they don't know who Mike Wallace is. And to spend that many millions of dollars to keep him on staff every year just wasn't cost-effective spending for CBS when they could better devote it to Katie Couric's salary, for example.
KURTZ: Join Friedman, does "60 Minutes" take a bit of a hit here in that Wallace has been such a mainstay since that program was launched in 1968? I mean, every show would open, "I'm Mike Wallace. I'm Morley Safer."
So does this hurt the program just a little bit?
FRIEDMAN: Well, I think it will short term because they need his ID. Everybody knows Mike Wallace. I think Mike Wallace is a giant, and Mike Wallace is the best known guy on the show by far. And they've got to replace him with someone like a Katie Couric type, someone who is younger, obviously, and more in tune with today's styles and today's viewers.
KURTZ: Is one of the problems for "60 Minutes," David Blum, that since the folding last year of the weekday spin-off edition, "60 minutes II," they now have too many people? They've got Charlie Rose and Bob Simon and Scott Pelley and Dan Rather who went to "60 Minutes" after leaving the CBS anchor chair. We see some of the many people who have shown up on that program.
And so did they just sort of need to make more room?
BLUM: That was exactly the problem. I don't think we'll be seeing much more of Dan Rather after this season. His contract is soon to be up.
Morley Safer has cut back. Ed Bradley they would like to have cut back.
They have too many correspondents, not enough viewers. That's really the problem. And then next year they go up against football for the first time in a while when NBC starts, and that will present a threat to "60 Minutes." And it's a show no matter how successful or popular it's been, that I wouldn't put it past the forces of CBS to cancel it if it doesn't get good numbers.
KURTZ: You're saying not enough viewers. I mean, it has remained remarkably -- for such a veteran program, you know, it has remained certainly with better ratings than most of these TV news magazines.
BLUM: Sure. In raw numbers it still gets a fairly decent rating. But what the network really cares about is the demographic, and that's how they sell their advertising. And they're just not getting the demographic audience they need, except when it follows football in the fall.
But in the winter and spring, the show plummets every year to low levels which just don't justify the kind of dollars that they need to get out of a show. CBS is a business.
KURTZ: Well, they're all businesses, and I doubt -- but I personally doubt that we'll be seeing the demise of "60 Minutes "any time soon.
Jon Friedman, I've got about a half a minute here. In an age when television supposedly wants younger and sexier, how is it that Mike Wallace at 87 and Bob Schieffer at 69 has been getting such good reviews for his year as anchor at the "CBS Evening News"?
They seem to be doing pretty well.
FRIEDMAN: In a word, integrity. They have a lot of integrity, and viewers respond to that very well.
KURTZ: In a word, integrity. Experience I would think also counts.
FRIEDMAN: For sure.
KURTZ: All right. Thanks very much, gentlemen. Jon Friedman, David Blum, we appreciate your joining us.
Up next, Gwyneth, Angelina and the rest. How candid are all those paparazzi photos of Hollywood celebrities? The answer might surprise you.
KURTZ: The tabloid press is at it again this week. Let's go "Behind the Headlines."
"The National Enquirer" has Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes right here in a secret Scientology wedding on a yacht. "US Weekly" says, "It's a Boy," right here. Their unborn baby, that is.
"Star" magazine -- here we go -- says Tom is forcing Katie into a silent birth on a boat.
Now, it's hard to know who's right in this orgy of coverage. We do know that lots of Hollywood stars complain about being chased and hounded by pushy photographers, and now they've come up with a solution; fake paparazzi shots. Everyone knows they're fake, that is, except you.
KURTZ (voice over): "The Wall Street Journal" disclosed this month that the stars now hire their own pseudo-paparazzi and pay them to take "unscripted photos" that are actually as choreographed as the finest ballet.
When Gwyneth Paltrow had her first baby, according to "The Journal," she and her husband tipped off a friendly photographer who took what purported to be surprise shots of the couple as they left a London hospital. And the photographer sold the pictures to "People" magazine for $125,000.
Larry Hackett, managing editor of the Time Warner magazine, said he knew the photographer had been tipped off, but saw no reason to share that information with the readers.
"US Weekly" played along with a prearranged shot of Angelina Jolie in the park with her adopted son at a time when she was trying to project a more maternal image after her breakup with Billy Bob Thornton.
Which brings us back to Tom Cruise. "Rolling Stone" has a tough piece titled "Inside Scientology." According to "New York Magazine," Cruise, a prominent Scientologist, was supposed to appear on the cover of the magazine "Men's Journal," which, like "Rolling Stone," is owned by Jann Wenner. When "Rolling Stone" wouldn't kill the piece, Cruise bailed on "Men's Journal."
KURTZ: For celebrities, you see, it's all about control. And the media too often play right along.
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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