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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Oval Office Uproar; Vieira Makes 'Today Show' Debut
Aired September 17, 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): Oval Office uproar. Journalists charge that George Bush's speech on the September 11th anniversary was pure politics. Democrats demand equal time from the networks.
Did the White House go too far or is the president just defending his policies?
From a game show to the "Today" show, Meredith Vieira jokes her way through her NBC debut.
Is she the next Katie Couric? Veteran correspondent Lynn Sherr joins our discussion.
Plus, Tucker trips up on the dance floor, and the online search for lonelygirl15.
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on the president, the press and the finger-pointing over the war on terror.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Ahead, we'll look at the controversy surrounding the suicide of a woman whose 2-year-old had gone missing. The woman killed herself the day after she was interviewed by Nancy Grace on CNN Headline News.
But first, it was a solemn occasion on Monday, the fifth anniversary of 9/11, when President Bush spoke to the nation from the Oval Office.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm often asked why we're in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The answer is that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a clear threat.
KURTZ (voice over): That defense of Bush's Iraq policies and what critics call the president's merging of the Iraq conflict with the broader effort against al Qaeda had the opposition party up in arms and the media on high alert. CHARLIE GIBSON, ABC NEWS: Democrats immediately denounced the speech, charging that the president was using a solemn day to rally support for his Iraq policies. Republicans said the president could not avoid talking about Iraq.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: The president's speech was in part about Iraq. That means politics to many Democrats who are now demanding equal time.
PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": In Washington tonight, a political firestorm is raging over President Bush's address to the nation last night linking the war on terrorism and Iraq.
KURTZ: Things quickly heated up at the White House press briefing.
QUESTION: Was the president's speech last night political?
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No.
QUESTION: How can you say that?
SNOW: Because, I'll tell you, the way I can say it -- how I can not?
Give me the sentence.
QUESTION: It was a crystallized greatest hits of the eight-day period in which he made four speeches where he laid out his philosophical underpinnings about the war on terror heading into the election.
KURTZ: So, are journalists holding the president accountable or taking sides?
Joining us in now in New York, John Fund, columnist for "The Wall Street Journals' opinionjournal.com. In Washington, Gloria Borger, national political correspondent for CBS News and a columnist for "U.S. News and World Report." And David Corn, Washington editor of "The Nation" and a FOX News contributor, also the co-author with Michael Isikoff of "Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War."
KURTZ: Gloria Borger, your colleague, Jim Axelrod, and some of the other White House correspondents sounded almost offended that Bush delivered what they considered to be a partisan speech on the 9/11 anniversary.
GLORIA BORGER, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I'm shocked that the president delivered a partisan speech. I mean, we are in the midterm elections right now, and I think there's no doubt, despite what Tony Snow said, that this speech was partisan because the president obviously feels on the defensive because he cannot link Saddam Hussein to 9/11, the war in Iraq to 9/11. KURTZ: And it's the job of journalists to repeatedly and forcefully point that out?
BORGER: Yes, I think so. And, in fact, he said in an interview with Katie Couric during her first week as anchor, "That's the hardest thing that I had to do." And again, that is exactly what he was trying to do that evening.
KURTZ: David Corn, if the president hadn't mentioned Iraq, reporters and people like you would have accused him of ducking an unpopular war that he started. So why shouldn't he?
DAVID CORN, CO-AUTHOR, "HUBRIS": I think he should have. I mean, he has defined 9/11 by the war in Iraq. I think years from now historians will go back and write the history of this time and they'll give the Afghanistan campaign a few sentences and the war in Iraq a couple of paragraphs. And so I think he should be defending that.
I think the Democrats are right that they don't get enough attention, but that's always the case with the minority party. But the issue is the journalists should zero in on his charge that it was a clear threat. That's the issue at hand.
KURTZ: On the point that David just raised, John Fund, Democratic leaders asking the networks for equal time. Now, they're not going to get it, but do they have a valid complaint if the president gets all this air time to make partisan speeches?
JOHN FUND, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM: Look, I don't have a problem with people getting equal time. We have elections every two years. It used to be that there was an election season, and then there was a time when you talked about policy. I think historians will look back on this and say the media has basically created a political season for all two years. Everything is all politics, all of the time, so if they want equal time, fine.
KURTZ: All right.
And now on Friday the president met with the press at a news conference and White House correspondents asked some pretty aggressive questions.
Let's take a brief look at some of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Mr. President, former secretary of state Colin Powell says the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.
QUESTION: With respect, if other countries interpret the Geneva Conventions as they see fit, as they see fit, you're saying that you'd be OK with that?
QUESTION: What do you say to the argument that your proposal is basically seeking support for torture, coerced evidence and secret hearings?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Gloria Borger, on torture of detainees, on terror on Iraq, have journalists become skeptical, if not hostile, toward President Bush?
BORGER: Well, I think you're seeing is from the press conference that, clearly, the journalists are becoming more skeptical, but what they're doing is they're really voicing the concerns of some really senior senators in Congress who have voiced those concerns. And so, you know, we live down at the bottom of the food chain, Howie, in case you didn't know, and so we are voicing the concerns that we are hearing on Capitol Hill, and asking those questions directly to the president because his fight right now is a fight he didn't want to have with his own party.
KURTZ: Go ahead.
CORN: But let me make a suggestion here, too. The president and the vice president had a chance to prove to the public and the world that when they tell us things they basically get it right. But everything they said about the war in Iraq, the connections between Saddam and al Qaeda and Saddam's WMDs proved out to be wrong. Everything that Donald Rumsfeld has said about the war in Iraq in terms of how it would go has proven to be wrong.
So I think any time they tell us anything, the media is right to say, given your record, prove it. What do you mean?
KURTZ: But Gloria, you say the journalists are just voicing the concerns of senators who are in opposition. But isn't it also our job to voice the concerns of politicians who might support the president?
BORGER: Well, I think it is. And some might say that journalists have been doing that for the last couple of years. But I think, honestly, that now there is a huge controversy, and what we're doing is reflecting that. And I think you see that in the press room at the White House.
KURTZ: John Fund, how important is it, particularly on this torture debate, when you have John McCain and Colin Powell opposing President Bush and, let's face it, they are pretty popular figures with the media?
FUND: Absolutely. And, of course, they have some standing. But I would simply say they also have an obligation.
I think the media needs to ask them specifically, exactly what is your alternative? And to the extent that you know, is that going to be enough for us to find out the information the terrorists have?
CORN: But there is an alternative. They -- they're proposing an alternative bill in Congress. They have -- and John McCain has been on this. And you have, you know, Defense Department people and people, you know, in the Justice Department and others who have come forward and said that these interrogations...
FUND: It would be a lot -- it would be a lot better if more former Defense Department and more former CIA people and, frankly, even perhaps some political detainees were brought into this debate. It shouldn't just be Washington talking heads.
KURTZ: But I just want to pick up this point with you, Gloria Borger. You seem to be suggesting that it's part of journalists' responsibility to voice the criticism of opponents, even when it's within the Republican Party or Democratic side.
KURTZ: But doesn't that run the risk of making journalists look like they're part of the opposition?
BORGER: Yes, I think it -- I think it does. And I think (INAUDIBLE), Howie.
I think what we're doing is, honestly, trying to get a second-day story. And if you have John McCain and John Warner and Lindsey Graham, three very well-respected senators on Capitol Hill, complaining about something, you're going voice their concerns because, you know, Howie, you don't get that many chances to ask those questions directly to the president of the United States. And I think when you have that opportunity to do that you just take it.
CORN: Isn't it the role of the media to provide somewhere of a check and balance? And the only way you do that is by being somewhat oppositional, by saying, "What do you mean by this? Can you prove that?"
And, you know, the press's oppositional nature waxes and wanes depending on how they read the tealeaves on Capitol Hill...
KURTZ: More oppositional now because Bush is down in the polls?
CORN: Oh, certainly.
KURTZ: Because people in his own party are challenging him? That makes it -- the journalists freer?
CORN: It makes it much easier -- much easier.
BORGER: Or because there's an election. You know?
CORN: They can point to McCain and Powell and feel better because of that.
KURTZ: Earlier this year a huge story in Washington was the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and you covered it. Many journalists covered it.
On Friday, Ohio Congressman Robert Ney pleaded guilty to helping Abramoff clients in exchange for thousands of dollars in contributions, traveling, gambling chips, you name it. But up until this Ney plea, the whole issue of lobbying reform seemed to have dropped off the media radar screen.
BORGER: First of all, Ney is not running again. Secondly, it's not a partisan issue anymore.
The Democrats had their own problems with William Jefferson. And so it's a political issue. It seems to have waned.
Howie, it doesn't even register anywhere in the public polling. So what we're seeing is this was one of the huge Washington firestorms that suddenly seemed to evaporate.
KURTZ: Or is this a case with the president, particularly with this latest media blitz on national security, manages to blot out coverage of other issues because he wants the campaign to be about national security?
CORN: Well, blotted out a lot of things with this -- with this recent campaign, including developments in the war in Iraq and Iraq.
CORN: Well, go ahead.
KURTZ: Go ahead, John Fund.
FUND: Look, this is an important story, and I think the media fell down on the job uncovering the secret holes that were put on bills that were going reform earmarked, pork barrel spending, lobbying reform. Senator Stevens put a secret hold on the bill. There's a bill out, a bipartisan bill to do this.
I think the media should cover it more. If the media believes in anything, it should be in transparency, and they're not covering it.
CORN: And what happened, too, this past week was that the Congress passed an earmarked reform bill as a substitute to lobbying reform, and that was a very, you know, deliberate Republican strategy, and it got some attention, but not a lot.
KURTZ: But remember that House Speaker Dennis Hastert vowed...
BORGER: Yes, absolutely.
KURTZ: ... that there would be lobbying reform this year.
BORGER: Absolutely. KURTZ: And it's kind of like, how does the press cover it when nothing happens, even though political leaders vow that something was going to happen?
BORGER: I think John is right. I think that we made this into a huge story. And we should now, Howie, go out of our way to say, look, they fell down on the job. They promised huge lobbying reform. And they did not get it.
And by the way, neither Democrats nor Republicans really wanted to end earmarks because it's not in their own personal interest to do so.
KURTZ: The fact that both parties don't want to talk about this, I think, is not justification for the media to not want to talk about it.
BORGER: I agree. I agree.
KURTZ: I think we might have a consensus on that narrow point.
Let me get a break.
When we come back, Robert Novak in a heated dispute with his once secret source in the Valerie Plame case. Why is the final act of the CIA leak investigation getting so little attention in the press?
KURTZ: Welcome back.
It was the last remaining mystery of the Valerie Plame leak investigation triggered by a Robert Novak column three years ago. If Karl Rove was Novak's first administration's source on Plame's CIA employment, who was the second?
Well, the new book co-authored by David Corn revealed it was Richard Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state, and he finally fessed up and expressed his regrets in an interview with CBS' David Martin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD ARMITAGE, FMR. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: I feel terrible every day. I think I let down the president, I let down the secretary of state, I let down my department, my family, and I also let down Mr. and Mrs. Wilson.
DAVID MARTIN, CBS NEWS: You feel you owe the Wilsons an apology?
ARMITAGE: I think I've just done it.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: David Corn, so you revealed that Armitage was the other leaker in this Plame case, and he's not part of the White House cabal, and the press kind of yawns and I think loses interest.
CORN: Well, I think there's been a good job from the opposition here in terms of the Bush defenders by pointing to this disclosure in our book and saying that makes everything go away, that Karl Rove wasn't involved. The book that I co-wrote with Mike Isikoff shows that at the same time Armitage was speaking to Bob Novak, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and others in the White House were actively plotting as well to undermine Joe Wilson. And, of course, as has already been revealed, were leaking the same information to other reporters.
So there was really a two-track process going here. And, you know, Armitage has come forward and disclosed what he's done. Karl Rove still hasn't. And the White House, that once vowed to fire anyone involved in the leak, still hasn't done anything.
KURTZ: John Fund, when Karl Rove was the focus of the coverage -- remember, he testified several times before the grand jury, and there was all this speculation about whether he would be indicted -- it was intense. And now we find out that Armitage was the other leaker in this case, and you couldn't certainly describe the coverage as intense.
FUND: Sure. Well, one small correction. Armitage was the first leaker. But let's bring this back to the media.
This has been an unmitigated disaster for freedom of the press. And that's just not my opinion.
Lucy Dalglish, who runs the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, says we now know that special prosecutor Fitzgerald knew no crime had been committed in the Valerie Plame leak investigation, yet he continued to pursue reporters. He demanded they reveal their sources. He put one reporter in jail for 85 days. The sponsor of the Federal Shield Law has set back passage of that probably three or four years.
It has been a disaster, and I blame the media in part because they didn't learn the lessons from the excesses of special prosecutors and, yes, the Clinton years, that they always are often rogue operations. And also, in 2004, we know from a bipartisan, unanimous Senate Intelligence Committee that Joe Wilson had serious credibility problems. That should have been a warning that perhaps there should have been some more balance in the story and the coverage.
KURTZ: A lot of media missteps here, Gloria Borger?
BORGER: Yes, I think a lot of media missteps, and I'll tell you why the Richard Armitage thing was sort of a big yawn and why we didn't cover it that much. It's because, first of all, everybody was anticipating a Karl Rove indictment, and that would have been a huge, huge story. Top adviser to the president. Scooter Libby, top adviser to the vice president, had already been indicted for lying. Well...
KURTZ: And that was overheated, by the way.
BORGER: And that was -- right.
KURTZ: I mean, he was certainly vulnerable.
KURTZ: And he testified four or five times. But, you know, a lot of journalists practically had the date circled on their calendar when he might be charged.
BORGER: Right. And the blogs had been blogging, oh, Karl Rove is going to get indicted. Well, guess what? Karl Rove was not indicted. The air went out of the balloon at that particular point.
CORN: Listen, Karl Rove, as we tell about in the book, was very close to being indicted, and then he wasn't. The vice president's chief of staff...
BORGER: What does close mean?
FUND: But not for the original crime, not for having a different memory under testimony.
CORN: That happened in Watergate, too. It's often the cover-up. If Scooter Libby and Karl Rove had told the truth and had gotten it right at the beginning, then the Fitzgerald investigation would have been over in five months.
KURTZ: Hold on. I want to ask John Fund this question, because Armitage says he just casually let this slip in a conversation three years ago with Robert Novak and Novak. And Novak says, no, no, no, no, no, he deliberately gave me specific information for use in my column.
What do you make of the dispute between the columnist and his source?
FUND: I'm not going to choose sides. I will say this: Richard Armitage -- Richard Armitage could have stepped forward and solved a lot of this and caused a lot less grief. And remember, Richard Armitage disagreed with several people under oath who had different recollections, and yet Richard Armitage wasn't pursued for perjury or obstruction of justice.
I want to ask David, should Richard Armitage have been pursued vigorously?
CORN: You're wrong on the facts here, John. You're wrong on the facts.
KURTZ: I'm going to interrupt because I want to ask you something else. And that is, as you know, Robert Novak went on C-SPAN Friday and took a shot at you. Let's play that for the audience and get your response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT NOVAK, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Mr. Corn is a nasty piece of work, let me tell you that. And he was the one who really built the story up.
Here's (INAUDIBLE), what I think is a deliciously ironic situation, because he was one of the people much more, I believe, than Chris Matthews, for building the story up at the -- at the outset. As I said, he was advising Joe Wilson, which he never puts in his -- in his column.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Go ahead.
CORN: Well, that's not true. I was never advising Joe Wilson. In that same interview he called me a left wing ideologue.
Being called an ideologue by Bob Novak is like being called a cheat by Jack Abramoff. I mean, he's the last one to talk.
And I think he's mad, because this past week I pointed out that three years ago he wrote a column saying the leak was an "offhand revelation." This week he wrote a column saying it was a deliberate act.
So Bob Novak has an argument with Bob Novak.
BORGER: The point is that in the end this may have been much ado about nothing. Should we be shocked that people in the White House were going out of their way to play politics and discredit somebody who wrote an article about them that they didn't like?
CORN: The question is...
BORGER: I don't know about you, but that's never happened before.
CORN: The question is, can you leak classified information? And if you do, what should you do about it?
BORGER: And did you knowingly leak classified information? Did Armitage know that she was an undercover CIA operative?
KURTZ: All right. We've got to go on that point. Nice to go out in an argument.
Gloria Borger, David Corn, John Fund in New York, thanks for joining us. Just ahead, a "New York Times" reporter out of fashion after upsetting a famous designer, and the cable pundit who danced his way out of the limelight.
And later, Meredith Vieira's "Today" show debut.
Stay with us.
KURTZ: Time now for a look at the news business in our "Media Minute."
KURTZ (voice over): If you think fashion is a nice and easy beat, guess again. When "New York Times" critic Cathy Horyn turned thumbs down on Carolina Herrera's fall collection, calling it "remarkably irrelevant," it didn't go over well with the fashion house. According to "Women's Wear Daily," the Herrera organization barred Horyn from its spring show.
A "Times" spokeswoman told the paper Ms. Horyn's brief review was focussed on the clothing, not Carolina Herrera personally. I guess everything's personal when the company bears your name.
KURTZ: I have a confession before this next item. I am not the world's greatest dancer. I can get by at weddings, and that's about it. So when MSNBC's Tucker Carlson decided to risk humiliation by training for an appearance on "Dancing with the Stars," I gave him credit for risk taking.
And then Carlson and his professional partner hit the floor this week and... ouch!
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of the problems started as soon as you stood up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What an awful mess! I'm sorry. That was dreadful!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The couple with the lowest score and, therefore, leaving, Tucker and Elena.
TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC: I mean, this -- it was like Einstein teaching addition to a slow child.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And he thought being on "CROSSFIRE" was tough.
Hang on to your day job, Tucker. Ahead in our second half-hour, a woman whose toddler is missing commits suicide after being questioned by Nancy Grace on CNN Headline News.
Meredith Vieira takes Katie Couric's old chair on "Today." Has she lived up to the hype?
And why did Matt Lauer sit down with Debra Lafave, the ex-teacher convicted of seducing a young student?
All coming up after a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Joining us now to talk about a variety of TV topics, in Philadelphia, Gail Shister, television columnist for "The Philadelphia Inquirer."
And here in Washington, David Zurawik, television critic for "The Baltimore Sun."
The suicide of Melinda Duckett, a Florida woman whose 2-year-old son Trenton had been missing for two weeks, is starting to venerate plenty of media attention. The reason, Duckett killed herself on September 9th, the day after being interviewed by Nancy Grace on her CNN Headline News show.
Grace was typically aggressive in questioning her guest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY GRACE, HOST, NANCY GRACE: Why aren't you telling us and giving us a clear picture of where you were before your son was kidnapped?
MELINDA DUCKETT, 2 YEAR OLD SON MISSING: Because I'm not going give those kind of details out.
DUCKETT: Because I was told not to.
GRACE: Ms. Duckett, you're not telling us for a reason. What is the reason? You refuse to give even the simplest of facts of where you were with your son before you went missing. It is day 12.
DUCKETT: That's with all media. It's not just there. It's all media, period.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Headline News find out about Duckett's suicide shortly before airing the interview and added a bottom-of-the-screen graphic, taking note of her death, saying, "Since show taping, body of Melinda Duckett found at grandparents' home."
A Headline News spokeswoman said, "While we were saddened to hear of this development, our original goal in doing this special was to bring attention to this case in the hopes of helping find Trent Duckett. We decided to air the show, including a graphic announcing the news about Ms. Duckett, in keeping with that goal."
On "Good Morning America" ABC's Chris Cuomo asked Grace whether she felt any responsibility for Duckett's suicide.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRACE: I think it happened because Melinda Duckett may very well know where her son was. If anything, I would suggest guilt caused her to commit suicide. And while I sympathize with her family, and know as a firsthand victim of crime myself you look for somebody to blame, anybody -- and today the family is blaming me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Gail Shister, this question: Does Nancy Grace's show bear responsibility from Linda Duckett's suicide? And should the program have aired that interview after learning of the woman's death?
GAIL SHISTER, "PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Well, Howie, Nancy Grace makes me very nervous. If she asked me if I did anything, I would confess, whether I did it or not. She makes me sweat. But to blame her for somebody killing themselves, I think it really is blaming the messenger.
What I have a problem with absolutely is that CNN aired the show after the young woman had killed herself, and then run a little message across the bottom that is sort of a P.S., oops, she died. I just thought that was irresponsible.
KURTZ: David Zurawik?
DAVID ZURAWIK, "BALTIMORE SUN": Howie, you know, I went back and looked what we could do with this when I freeze-framed her face while she was questioning, Nancy Grace's face, and it is the face of the bully. It's Joe McCarthy questioning at those Senate hearings.
There is something very ugly and disturbing about that aspect of the media, that they let people like her run rough shot this way. You could take her face while she was saying, you know, "Where were you?" to that person, and it's a poster for the meanness of the media.
I think, look, you can't blame anyone -- you know, as a journalist, if we print information that we verified and we know that it's true, we can't be responsible for what happens. But what was the purpose of what she was doing there?
KURTZ: This is what she does. There have been other cases where people have committed suicide...
ZURAWIK: Yes. KURTZ: ... where journalists have been blamed I think unfairly.
ZURAWIK: I think unfairly as well.
KURTZ: I think for Headline News to air that after finding out about the suicide was just the height of insensitivity and exploitation.
I want to turn now to another big event in the television world, morning news shows which increasingly market themselves as a "family," to use Matt Lauer's word.
KURTZ (voice over): A number of big-time NBC journalists have been part of that family, from Barbara Walters, to Tom Brokaw, to Bryant Gumbel. Sometimes the family gets dysfunctional and there has to be a divorce, as when Deborah Norville replaced Jane Pauley 15 years ago and then got the boot.
The latest transition came this week, three months after Katie Couric's departure to CBS, when Meredith Vieira joined the cast.
MEREDITH VIEIRA, "TODAY": I feel like it's the first day of school and I'm sitting next to the cutest guy, you know, in the class.
MATT LAUER, "TODAY": And you can stay.
VIEIRA: The president of the United States of America asking Matt for an autograph on his photo in "People" magazine right there.
LAUER: Doesn't he have better things to do than read "People" magazine?
VIEIRA: No, apparently he doesn't. He's turned by your abs, honey.
LAUER: Don't make me go to "Esquire" from 1988 to a picture which we could get to later, all right?
VIEIRA: Well, that's how far back you have to go for me!
LAUER: Don't make me go here, OK?
KURTZ: And joining our discussion from New York, veteran journalist Lynn Sherr, correspondent for ABC News and author of the book "Outside the Box."
Lynn Sherr, when Meredith Vieira joins an institution like the "Today" show, is she being graded as a hard news journalist or an entertainer or a celebrity?
LYNN SHERR, AUTHOR, "OUTSIDE THE BOX": Well, I think there's a little bit of prime queen in it, isn't there, Howie. You know, there was a time when to get that job you had to either open a refrigerator door -- remember Betty Ferness (ph), that kind of thing? There was a time like Barbara Walters, you had to snag the really hard interviews And now it's all about family.
You know, it's really interesting. When I first got into this business it was hard for women to get hired at all because they were afraid we were going to get pregnant and have babies and never be around. Now a kid is a kind of a prop, and it's really helpful to be a mom.
So, you know, it only took 50 years. How times have not changed.
KURTZ: Gail Shister, Meredith Vieira has gotten a fair amount of attention, but nothing like Katie Couric going to CBS. But isn't -- you know, aren't -- isn't the morning show wars a very big deal?
SHISTER: Well, Howie, Martians landing in front of the White House wouldn't have got as much attention as Katie Couric did. I mean, that was a tsunami of media press. I can't get over that. Anything by comparison would be small.
But the morning shows are a huge deal, particularly since they're such big cash cows for the networks. The "Today" show is the most profitable show in television, and it makes NBC more than $250 million a year in profit alone. So it's a huge deal.
Plus, the morning hours are the only day parts in TV that are really growing at a fast rate.
SHISTER: So it's a huge hire. It's a big deal.
KURTZ: David Zurawik, Meredith Vieira generally got good reviews, but in Gail's paper, "The Philadelphia Inquirer," David Hiltbrand wrote, "She was trying too hard. It looked more like an audition for 'Desperate Housewives.'"
ZURAWIK: Well, I'll tell you what, listen, she's going to be -- you know, you lose Katie Couric, you get Meredith Vieira. It's like, you lose Derek Jeter and Miguel Tejada is suddenly available.
They plugged in. She's going to be great. She's a great choice.
ZURAWIK: ... you know this -- it's not the -- it is the family, you're absolutely right about it. But watching her over-the-top performance -- and it continued through Friday. I thought it wasn't fair to just look at her Wednesday. I went back and looked at her Thursday and Friday.
KURTZ: You get paid to do this, by the way. ZURAWIK: These big eyes that she looks at Matt Lauer with, they're almost Nancy Reagan eyes. And this thing about, "I'm sitting next to the cutest boy in the class," you know, Meredith said prom queen -- I mean, Lynn said prom queen.
ZURAWIK: It really is the morning show as high school homeroom, and this is the couple that everybody is supposed to want to see get together. And the way -- honestly, Howie, it was like two people flirting.
First she said all these nice things, he said these nice things. And by the end of the hour she was touching him, putting the icing from the cake on his nose. They had a whole affair in two hours. Where...
SHERR: And it was really a first date, wasn't it?
ZURAWIK: Yes, first date.
SHERR: I mean, first dates are notoriously -- there's a lot of pressure.
No question, Meredith gets the callback the next day. She was smooth, she was comfortable.
I do want to point out since I'm still at ABC News, is she more smooth and comfortable than Robin and Diane? That's up to the viewers. But this is what the morning shows are now about.
KURTZ: If I could...
SHISTER: Yes, but David...
KURTZ: Go ahead.
SHISTER: I have to -- I have to jump in here. David, for somebody who doesn't like people being mean on TV, you are mean! I mean, I know it's been a very long time since you've been on a first date because you usually don't get second dates, but first dates -- I mean, first dates, people are nervous and the adrenaline's going.
KURTZ: Let me try to move this in a slightly higher plane.
Lynn Sherr, there was also about a six-minute profile on that first morning of Meredith Vieira. We saw her kids talking about how she's not a very good cook and all of that. Why is a journalist -- and she is a journalist, and she was a good one when she worked for "60 Minutes" and CBS News" -- getting this sort of puffy celebrity treatment on the debut show?
SHERR: Well, is that celebrity treatment? Or again, is that soccer mom treatment?
I think, as a said, kids in a way have become props. And it's helpful for women, incidentally, not for men, to be seen as good moms, as well as good reporters. So, this is all part of the game.
KURTZ: But we don't care about the private life of men? They're not fathers? They don't go to soccer games? The audience doesn't want to know about that sort of thing?
SHERR: Yes, yes and yes.
KURTZ: Oh. So disappointing.
SHERR: I mean, come on. What did you know about how many times Peter Jennings took his kids to soccer games?
SHERR: What did you know -- exactly. And for women -- listen, this goes with the territory. The same way clothing goes with the territory when you're female.
I mean, Roone Arledge, the late president of ABC News, was once unhappy with something I was wearing and got Pam Hill, an executive producer, to come and tell me about it. It was like President Bush asking Condi Rice to tell Karen Hughes her lipstick was too bright.
I mean, the men don't know how to deal with this kind of stuff, but everybody cares about what women wear, what the family situation is. It goes with the territory.
KURTZ: Gail Shister, "The Boston Herald" said that Vieira's debut exposed how soft the "Today" show has become. I don't necessarily agree with that, but it talked about 45 minutes on a wedding couple challenge.
Is this what morning TV basically does now?
SHISTER: I think it's very easy to take a shot based on that one show and the 45 minutes. But the fact is, the nature of the beast is it's a mix. And if Meredith was over the top the first day or the first week, I'm giving her a pass on that, because I happen to know her and she is my kind of broad.
She really is completely opposite of the type of TV diva that you've come to expect on TV. And if they show her kids, that's cool with me, because I think it's going to be a very seamless transition. She's smart, she's a terrific reporter, she's a good interviewer.
She'll settle down once the estrogen level calms down.
KURTZ: I'm sure Meredith will use that as a blurb, "My kind of broad" -- Gail Shister, "Philadelphia Inquirer."
David Zurawik, the morning shows today, "GMA" and so forth, they've always been kind of a mix of news and a lot of softer features particularly aimed at women later in the show, right?
ZURAWIK: Well, you know, it's interesting. Friday Meredith Vieira did three interviews and they were all for NBC shows. They were all promotions for NBC shows...
ZURAWIK: ... from "Studio 60" on down. But at the same time that show was telling its audience -- and what a perfect audience to get this message -- about the E. coli virus in spinach, which is a really important story, you know -- and that mix can be just discombobulating in some ways.
KURTZ: And speaking of mix, on that same debut show when we first saw Meredith Vieira on "Today," we also saw an interview by Matt Lauer, a two-part interview, I should add, with Debra Lafave, the Florida woman who had pleaded guilty to seducing a 14-year-old student when she was a teacher, let's take a brief look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAUER: At one point you invited him to your classroom and you kissed him.
DEBRA LAFAVE, HAD AFFAIR WITH STUDENT: Yes.
LAUER: What did you guys say after you kissed?
LAFAVE: There wasn't anything to say. It was -- at that point it just turned into a little schoolgirl crush. Pretty much, it was oral sex.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Lynn Sherr, was this worth two segments on the "Today" show and a long piece on "Dateline"?
SHERR: Oh, come on, Howie. Sex sells. It always has, it always will. And if they need to get ratings, they're going use it. Absolutely.
SHISTER: Howie, I don't think they did enough. I would like to see all sex all the time.
ZURAWIK: My thesis of the morning show is high school homeroom. There it is, Howie.
SHERR: And it really was...
KURTZ: It takes it back to the actual high school.
SHERR: Yes. Exactly right. Exactly right.
I mean, this -- this is the kind of thing that is not -- I mean, it's on primetime. It's on in the evening. It's on in the morning and it will on everywhere.
And Gail, you're going get your wish. One of these days it is going to be all sex all the time. KURTZ: Well, I should add that Matt Lauer did a very tough interview on Monday with President Bush at the White House, but he also, you know, sat down with Britney Spears.
So is he now moving, Gail Shister, into the sort of celebrity interviewer role that maybe had been more the province of Katie Couric beforehand?
SHISTER: I think he was a celebrity interviewer a long time ago when he started showing off his abs. And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.
I think by definition, anybody who's on a big show like that is a "celebrity interviewer," because you're going to be interviewing everybody from the president, to Britney Spears. So I think that's -- that's much ado about nothing.
KURTZ: That's a wide range, George W. Bush to Britney Spears.
Brief closing thought from you, David.
ZURAWIK: Look, I think she is going to be terrific. It's a terrific -- but I really am disturbed that this thing -- you know, I wonder about the woman's movement, about her -- she sort of has to flirt with Matt to get this job, look at him with Nancy Reagan eyes and say how hot he is. I don't know about that.
SHISTER: Oh, Zurawik, take a pill!
KURTZ: It's called chemistry on television.
David Zurawik, Gail Shister, thanks very much for livening up our Sunday morning.
Lynn Sherr, stick around. We will talk more with you about your quarter century in television news and taking on the issue of sexual harassment.
KURTZ: She was a female reporter on network television at a time when that was a relative rarity. In 20 years at ABC News, Lynn Sherr has covered, well, just about everything, including plenty of political conventions, and she's even spent time in Africa with giraffes.
I love that video.
All of which she recounts in her memoir, "Outside the Box."
Lynn Sherr, what happened when you were just starting out as a young woman and tried to look for a newspaper job? SHERR: I was told point-blank by every newspaper editor in New York City, "We don't hire girls." That is just the way it was.
They called us girls. We called ourselves girls. You couldn't get in right out of college. It just wasn't going happen.
KURTZ: Did that make you mad? Frustrated? Apoplectic?
SHERR: You know, it made me angry, but I just then went out, and then I went out and I got a job where I could get a job. I worked in magazines for a while. Worked at "Conde Nast," because they understood that women were good to hire and you didn't have to pay them very much.
I wound up then at The Associated Press, and finally got into television in a little while after that.
So it was -- someone told me that the book is kind of a tale of survival. It's about how I did it. It's a way of telling other people, this is how you can do it. It's kind of a how-to for young women and young men who want to get into the business.
KURTZ: You were, in a matter of speaking, the first woman anchor on a network, isn't that right?
SHERR: Dripping with qualifiers. I was the first woman to anchor a regularly-scheduled primetime network serious. I have to think it through.
This was when I was at PBS, and it was a show called "USA People in Politics," back in 1976. And I was the first woman to do all of those things. This was a couple of weeks before, of course, Barbara Walters was about to become the first woman anchor of a network television news five days a week. But it was kind of fun, and I was, yes.
And I was very glad to be able to do it, because my role model growing up was a cartoon character, Brenda Starr. So to be able to provide a flesh and blood model -- role model for young women and men today to me today is very important.
KURTZ: You at one point turned down a chance to be ABC's White House correspondent. In the book you said you didn't want to live in Washington. But I wonder if it was more than that. Was there something about that allegedly prestigious job that didn't appeal to you?
SHERR: No. You really got it right the first time. It was mostly that I didn't want to be in Washington.
I loved covering politics, but I didn't want to live there. I loved living in New York and traveling around the world and the country. And I felt that I could just broaden my resume a little bit more by staying right where I was. And, in fact, I did.
As you know, I did the exit polls every election night, which was a wonderful way to analyze politics. I covered plenty of campaigns.
I didn't want to live in a little room in the White House. I was much happier out in the big, wide world.
KURTZ: For a time at ABC News you had kind of an ombudsman role, and you dealt with complaints from some of the women on the staff. Tell us about that and the culture of network television.
SHERR: It's terrifying. I'm not sure it's any different from the culture of other places five, 10, 15 years ago.
There was definitely sexual -- there were sexual harassment complaints, some of which were investigated, not all of which were. And let me tell you how new the subject was.
In 1979, I had been at ABC for two years. I did a series on sexual harassment, and it was kind of a push to get it on. They wanted it, but they weren't sure.
We did it, and it was such a new phenomenon that I had to spelled out the words on the screen and had to define what the term meant. Mostly -- and it was mostly men at the office at the time and didn't have a clue to what it was.
It has existed at virtually every company in America, probably around the world, since women got into the workforce. Is it still there? Probably. And the only way we get back at it is for women to speak out and for men to take notice.
And a lot more of them are taking notice. There are a lot of good policies in place at companies like mine and all over the place.
KURTZ: Probably, it is perhaps in more subtle forms, for example, is it harder for women in this sort of very looks-conscious television business to succeed on the air when they get older?
KURTZ: OK. Would you like to elaborate on that?
SHERR: Well, I think television is a young medium, and I think that for the most part, certainly the people that are hired for a lot of reasons tend to be younger. It is harder, but there are a number of us that are still on the air, and I think this is hopeful.
I used to say that why it was that men were allowed to get old and fat and wrinkled and bald and be on television and women still had to look gorgeous? Well, at least some of us have been allowed to age a little bit on television news.
So -- so I think -- you know, I think there's some of that. I mean...
KURTZ: Let me just jump on because we're short on time. Half a century after the nightly news was invented, we finally have a woman solo co-anchor, Katie Couric, at CBS. Is there a lot of pressure on her for gender reasons? And more broadly, how do you think she's doing?
SHERR: I think she's doing fine. I think she's got to figure out, she's got to hit her stride.
I think as you well know the evening news is not just about one person. It's about the entire program. And they've got to work that part of it out.
I think as far as her representing all of womankind, no. I don't think that's fair.
She has proven herself already. She now has to just prove she can do something slightly different.
And, you know, I think people watch television news and they're not sure what it's about. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to give away some of the secrets about what goes on behind the camera for people who don't want to be in it.
KURTZ: All right.
SHERR: So that's what's there.
KURTZ: All right. Lynn Sherr, "Outside the Box."
Thanks for getting inside our box and joining us.
When we come back, a lonely girl, a mystery, and a video and a cautionary tale about truth and hyperbole in cyberspace.
KURTZ: She had a huge cult following on the sizzling hot video Web site YouTube. A 16-year-old sharing her teenage angst with voyeuristic fans watching her little soap operas 2.5 million times. Her Web name was LonelyGirl15.
JESSICA ROSE, "LONELYGIRL 15": Why am I telling you this? Because I'm having certain issues with my parents right now. I guess this whole putting personal videos up on the Internet thing wasn't such a good idea.
KURTZ (voice over): She called herself Bree, and no soon did she become a cyber star, with fan sites devoted to her and her weird boyfriend Daniel, than the amateur detectives became obsessed with the question, who was she, really?
Other YouTube users put up videos making fun of Bree or questioning whether she was really just a shy girl in her bedroom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I noticed that it was almost too perfect. Her off-the-cuff remarks are incredibly charming, and, you know, you can tell that it's scripted, but it's almost scripted to the point that it's crazy. I also noticed that she was lit really well. KURTZ: It took a blogger at Silicon Valley Watcher to crack the case. LonelyGirl isn't really lonely. She's a New Zealand actress named Jessica Rose.
Three filmmakers created her character as part of a guerilla marketing campaign, and they've already got a big-time Hollywood agent. They were so determined to protect LonelyGirl's identity that they removed pictures of Jessica Rose from MySpace and other Web sites.
Even the networks took note of the scam.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: The story of a young woman who attracted a lot of attention online.
KURTZ: LonelyGirl, that is, Jessica Rose, even wound up with Jay Leno.
ROSE: I'm actually not Bree.
JAY LENO, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": OK.
ROSE: My name is Jessica Lee Rose. I'm also not 16. I'm 19.
KURTZ: YouTube has become such a phenomenon that everyone wants a piece of the action.
Musicians now find an audience by posting their own videos, bypassing the record companies. NBC has a deal to promote its entertainment shows on the site. ABC's "Good Morning America" plays snippets of YouTube's most popular videos.
But the greatest thing about the Internet, that it's open to anyone, also means that anyone can pretend to be anyone else. It's like this famous "New Yorker" cartoon. "On the Internet nobody knows you're a dog."
And no one knows whether you're a lonely girl or perpetrating one heck of a hoax.
KURTZ: Andy Warhol had it wrong. In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 seconds. And then, apparently, they'll try to get a movie deal.
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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