Return to Transcripts main page
CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
2006: Media Report Card
Aired December 24, 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): It was a year of war, and politics, and scandal. A year of media frenzies over accidents, and investigations, and missing mountain climbers, and an if-he-did-it murderer, and a fraudulent murder. A year when you took control on the blogs and on YouTube. 2006, a media report card.
The anchor wars. Brian Williams still on top as he battles two newcomers, Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. How do their newscasts stack up?
And Rosie versus the Donald. Why the media can't resist a celebrity food fight.
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on just about everything on the media landscape: network newscasts, cable news, blogs, YouTube and some of the highlights and lowlights of 2006. I'm Howard Kurtz.
We begin with the network anchor wars. After more than two decades of Dan, Tom and Peter, their successors are finally in place, battling not just each other, but declining ratings for network news.
Whether it's top-rated Brian Williams and NBC Nightly News, second place Charlie Gibson and ABC's World News or the third place CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, they all do their share of hard news. But in an effort to lure an audience to what was once considered appointment viewing at 6:30, there are plenty of feature stories as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, CBS EVENING NEWS: In this country, where many kids have so much, ask them what they want and the answer is, in a word, more. But what about children who have nothing? What do they wish for?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLIE GIBSON, ABC WORLD NEWS: We asked our poll respondents, Are you envious of the kinds of toys and presents for children that are available today, or do you think the toys and presents you received as a child were better?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS: For more than a decade, a man in Maine, without much fuss and without many people paying attention, really, has been bringing thousands of holiday wreaths from Maine to Arlington Cemetery in Virginia to decorate the graves of soldiers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the evolution of these newscasts: in Philadelphia, Gail Shister, television columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer; in Tampa, Eric Deggans, media critic for the St. Petersburg Times; and here in Washington, David Zurawik, television critic for the Baltimore Sun.
David Zurawik, how has Brian Williams managed to stay on top for two years now, and is Charlie Gibson starting to give him a run for his money?
DAVID ZURAWIK, BALTIMORE SUN: I think Charlie Gibson is really establishing himself, but Williams has done a terrific job. If you go back to Katrina, he really did a good job of making that his story. And you know, if you look at Williams, one -- first of all, there was the orderly transition that NBC had. They did the best planning; that helped enormously. You look at all of the dues he paid at Triple A on MSNBC, before he came up to the big leagues.
But also, he is very -- he's established a blog, he has a much better blog than anyone else. He actually found a voice for it. So he's working on all the fronts, and he's really doing a good job. But the main thing is, Howie, he's really working hard. He really -- like Katrina, he went out there, his blog -- everything worked for it.
KURTZ: Gail Shister, does Brian Williams' newscast differ much from that of Tom Brokaw? And for that matter, is Charlie Gibson putting on a different kind of show than, say, Peter Jennings had?
GAIL SHISTER, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: I can't tell any substantive differences. I agree with everything David just said. I think the big thing that Brian Williams had was time. And he had time to adjust, he was so far out ahead of everybody else. ABC was a mess when they had Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff. They had passed over Charlie Gibson the first time. They went back to him. So they were in chaos. And CBS had the expectations so high for Katie Couric she couldn't possibly have achieved the ratings that they -- the public was expecting from her.
So I don't think it's so much a question of different content; I think it's a question of less chaos.
KURTZ: All right. Of course, ABC was also hurt by the injury to Bob Woodruff, which screwed up their anchor transition. Eric Deggans, we tend to talk about the anchors -- we do it on this show -- but what about the bench strength? For example, NBC Nightly News has Tim Russert and Jim Miklaszewski and David Gregory, and ABC has George Stephanopoulos and Brian Ross and Martha Raddatz.
ERIC DEGGANS, ST. PETERSBURG TIMES: Exactly. I think NBC has always had a long-established tradition of developing people who are -- they're ready to plug in, if needed. And one of the knocks that I've heard, sort of privately, against both Dan Rather at CBS and Peter Jennings at ABC, was that they stifled efforts to develop successors before they were ready to step down. And certainly at CBS, I heard that quite a bit about Dan Rather, and it seemed that, when he was removed and pushed out, they didn't have very many people ready to consider to take his place.
KURTZ: David Zurawik, put the third-place ratings aside: what do you think of the CBS Evening News under Katie Couric and her attempt to fashion a more personable newscast?
ZURAWIK: You know, Howie, if you looked at election night, when we saw all three of the new anchors against each other, part of the problem with CBS's strategy with Couric was evident there. It was all Couric, and because they are so committed to her, the camera was tight on her through almost the whole night.
KURTZ: It wasn't all Couric; there was a lot of Bob Schieffer.
ZURAWIK: There was, but the camera was Katie Couric against a bleak background -- she looked pinched and unhappy. It was unhappy mom -- I don't want to watch this. If you looked at NBC, you saw that bench strength. You saw Russert, you saw Brokaw, you saw Brian Williams against Rockefeller -- with the American flag. It was a really inviting show, and it had substance on top of it.
They're too committed to Couric, they put too much pressure -- too much of their future is bet on Couric. And they made a million mistakes, as you know, in terms of public relations, with her, as they went along.
KURTZ: But I can't help but be struck, Gail Shister, by all of the flak that Katie Couric gets -- far more than the other anchors. And she recently told Esquire that the critics are after her and some people are rooting for her to fail. What do you make of that?
SHISTER: I think some people are rooting for her to fail, and I don't think it's because she's a woman; it's because -- part of it is the money that she's making -- estimated $15 million a year -- and there's a lot of resentment about that.
KURTZ: The jealousy factor.
SHISTER: Yes, jealousy factor. Part of it, I think, is because she's gotten so much publicity and it's so clear that CBS is making her the center of their solar system, that I think there's some envy there. And she's under the microscope partly because CBS put her there, with this extraordinary promotional campaign. And some of the shots, I think, are fair, some are unfair. Her ratings are not strong; her ratings in November, during the sweeps, were actually lower than what Bob Schieffer had gotten a year before. So CBS has got to be concerned. The party line there has always been, This is a marathon, not a sprint, but they have to be worried.
I should bring something up that David just said -- he referred to Katie as "an unhappy mom," and that was very interesting, what you said, David, because she has been positioned as "the mom," when in fact, Brian Williams is a dad, and Charlie Gibson is a dad and a grandfather. So...
ZURAWIK: I agree. That's one of the mistakes they made. That's what I meant when I said, they made a few mistakes.
KURTZ: Wait a minute! Wait a minute! She is a mom, she talks about her family, she shares more of herself, I think, than we're used to at night. Why is that a bad thing?
ZURAWIK: That's an artificial persona that they've crafted. They don't have to emphasize...
KURTZ: But why do you say it's...
ZURAWIK: ... she doesn't have to emphasize...
KURTZ: Why do you say it's artificial?
ZURAWIK: I'm saying, they could emphasize other aspects of her. CBS chose to make her "anchormom," and that was a bad decision.
KURTZ: Eric Deggans, do you want to get in on this debate?
DEGGANS: Sure. I'm not sure I agree with that. I think one thing that we learned from Bob Schieffer's tenure is that these ratings take a long time to turn over. And one of the things that I think has confused the issue is that it took a long time for the looky-loos, the people who came to Couric because of all the press and because of all the attention -- it took a long time for them to stop watching the CBS Evening News. It took at least six weeks for those people to kind of fall off.
And now, Katie's got to convince people who regularly watch the evening news to start sampling her show, and changing to her show.
DEGGANS: And it took Schieffer...
KURTZ: Let me break in here...
DEGGANS: It took Schieffer a year to convince those people.
KURTZ: No, no -- these things do not happen overnight or close to it. But I think the CBS news has gotten newsier since those opening weeks when there were a lot of features. For example, on Thursday, Katie Couric was the only broadcast to lead with the Haditha massacre, the charges against the Marines in that case.
But -- so, the question is, is that working, or -- is that working?
SHISTER: I think...
DEGGANS: I think one of the things that CBS has struggled with is, how do you transfer her strengths, as an anchor on the Today Show and what she's traditionally done for them, into an evening news format? And one of the things that we've seen them constantly tinker with is, how do they do that? Do they do that with longer interviews, do they do that with features that allow her to show her more personable side?
KURTZ: You've set me up...
DEGGANS: And they're still struggling with that, I think.
KURTZ: You've set me up very nicely for this next transition, because I want to turn to the search for those missing mountain climbers, those stranded mountain climbers on Oregon's Mt. Hood, which just exploded into a 24-hour cable and broadcast obsession. And by Monday, after searchers had found the body of one missing climber, that story led two of the three network newscasts. On Thursday, four days after the body of James Kelly was found -- excuse me, Kelly James -- it was Katie Couric who interviewed his widow, Karen James.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COURIC: Is there any part of you that's angry that he did this?
KAREN JAMES, WIDOW OF CLIMBER KELLY JAMES: I'm not angry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Gail Shister, what do you make of that interview and the way television just turns these local tragedies into national soap operas?
SHISTER: I think there's two reasons, Howie: number one, you could argue it was a slow news week; number two, there were no attractive blondes who had gone missing. And I think that was the biggest factor -- it was the most compelling story of the week. It had a lot of drama in it.
I think the other appeal, from a TV point of view, is, no matter how it turned out, there was going to be an intrinsic drama, whether these climbers were found dead or alive. That was dramatic, and that makes for a good story, and there were a lot of good pictures.
As for Katie's interview, it just -- it had a very high cringe factor for me. I'm sure she was sincere -- I mean, she lost a husband also, and I'm sure that that was part of the attraction for the interview, but what makes me...
KURTZ: Let me turn to David, because we're short on time. SHISTER: OK.
KURTZ: I mean, this is kind of like the missing women and summer of sharks -- it's got this emotional tear-jerker quality to it.
ZURAWIK: Well, there is. You know, I was in Texas when Baby Jessica went down that well, and everything in Texas stopped till they got her out. You know, I think maybe we need Karl Jung to answer this, about what it is about the earth or nature swallowing up people? And if you get a rescue, it's a great, almost mythic story. But this one was long-past the time for network news hoping for that ending.
KURTZ: And on that point, Eric Deggans -- I mean, I have great sympathy for the families involved, but these climbers were taking a tremendous risk in climbing a dangerous mountain in winter time, and I didn't see much of that reflected in the coverage.
DEGGANS: Yeah, well, it's tough to make that point when you know that they're dead. And you know, I think Gail made a great point: it was a slow news week. I think, if you want to look at a trend, in terms of migrating stories, we have to look at the way that blogs sort of -- the coverage of blogs migrated into the network news and the cable news. The fact that cable news and what they cover might migrate onto the networks, that's been happening for a while. If you watch the cable channels in the evening, and then you watch the Today Show in the morning, and then you watch the evening news, you're always going to see a story or two that will migrate through that whole...
KURTZ: It does kind of feed on itself.
Let me get a break, here, Eric. When we come back, Rosie vs. The Donald: why can't television resist hyping these celebrity feuds? That's next.
KURTZ: So you know all about the latest celebrity food fight: Donald Trump makes a big show of forgiving his Miss USA pageant winner, who's heading into rehab, Rosie O'Donnell slams Trump in very personal terms on The View. The Donald goes on about 14 different shows to rip Rosie in even more personal terms. Here's a little bit of the nastiness.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROSIE O'DONNELL, ACTRESS: He's the moral authority -- left the first wife, had an affair, left the second wife, had an affair, had kids both times, but he's the moral compass for 20-year-olds in America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, ENTREPRENEUR: Well, Rosie's a loser; she's always been a loser. Rosie is really somebody that, she's unattractive in every sense of the word. From a physical standpoint, she looks like hell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Gail Shister, these two people thrive on publicity, they crave publicity, and we're just suckers -- we give it to them, right?
SHISTER: Oh, big time! It reminds me of that old joke, when the guy's at the doctor, and the doctor says, You're fat, and the guy says, I want a second opinion, and the doctor says, You're ugly. So, it reminds me of kind of a schoolyard fight, and the bar -- it's like verbal limbo, the bar just keeps getting lower and lower and lower. And it is great fun to watch, because they've taken off the gloves, and it is a food fight, and they're both alpha people. And Rosie clearly is not going to back down, and Trump's never met a camera he doesn't like. So this is just a story made in heaven.
KURTZ: It is kind of an early Christmas present for the press. Is this an excuse for everyone to have a good time, David, and also to show those pictures of Miss USA prancing around in her bikini?
ZURAWIK: You know, Howie, actually, that ties into something that I think, for this story to take off this way, I think again, there's something deeper going on. When Trump got to the point where he started talking about Rosie's body parts in derogatory terms, I think he's -- a nerve was struck with women about men judging them by these unrealistic standards. And I think that's powerful stuff.
I mean, I agree with everything Gail said about this being a food fight and silly and the press -- and both of these folks, by the way, are hyping shows that -- you know, Donald's got a dead-in-the-water Apprentice coming out in a couple weeks...
KURTZ: They love to fight because it's good for both of them, and you make the point.
Now, Eric Deggans, I was going to keep it nice and superficial, but David insisted on going deep, as he put it.
DEGGANS: I was going to say, he's over thinking this one.
ZURAWIK: I think you're right, Eric.
KURTZ: Is this sort of controversy good for The View? There's been a lot of controversy this past year since Rosie O'Donnell joined that show. I mean, the other day, Joy Behar likened Donald Rumsfeld to Hitler -- I thought that was under-covered. So is this good for a chat show to be churning it up like this?
DEGGANS: It'll be interesting. I mean, obviously, their ratings are up. So obviously this kind of conflict helps. Both of these people have a long history of public fights: Donald Trump had his fight with Martha Stewart, and Rosie, you can pretty much pick any celebrity and she's fought with them at one point or another.
The question is, when will Barbara Walters and the executive producers at The View finally get tired of this? I do think this is kind of a one-trick pony, and right now we're interested because we like seeing celebrity food fights. But after a while, I think this kind of conflict -- week after week after week -- I mean, one minute, it's Chinese people upset, Asian people upset with Rosie for what she said, the next minute it's Donald Trump. And I think, after a while, viewers may get tired of it.
SHISTER: I got to jump in, here, Howie.
KURTZ: You've got 10 seconds.
SHISTER: If it's between Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell, my money's on the lesbian.
ZURAWIK: Talk about (inaudible) of the culture, though, at the level of discussion...
KURTZ: All right, we've picked enough fights to try to help our ratings.
Gail Shister, Eric Deggans, David Zurawik, thanks for joining us.
Up next, Ted Koppel, Jim Lehrer, Mike Wallace, Charlie Gibson -- they've all been on RELIABLE SOURCES this year. We'll look back at some of their words of wisdom.
Plus, what the media got wrong, and occasionally right, in 2006.
And later today, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, join John Roberts for a special "THIS YEAR AT WAR."
KURTZ: We've covered all kinds of stories this year -- from the war in Iraq to the anchor wars, from the midterm elections to the Mark Foley scandal, to Fox's O.J. debacle. And whatever the details, one of the running themes has been, what's wrong with television news?
KURTZ (voice-over): Ted Koppel sees one root of the problem as pandering to younger viewers.
TED KOPPEL, DISCOVERY CHANNEL: I think the commercial broadcast networks -- ABC, NBC, CBS -- have become so cowed by the demographic demands of advertisers that doing the kinds of documentaries that my colleagues and I like to do is seen as the sort of thing that you give a veteran anchor if it's the only way to keep him happy.
KURTZ: For Jim Lehrer, the key question is whether journalists have eroded their own credibility. JIM LEHRER, PBS: A lot of it is our own fault, not so much -- there's been some malfeasance, there's been, you know, some incidents -- Jayson Blair, or Janet Cooke, if you want to go back further than that, Jack Kelley, all of that. But when those things happen, we in journalism have not created an atmosphere of openness, an atmosphere where the public understood what we were doing and why we were doing it. So when something goes wrong...
KURTZ: Because we are too defensive? Because we are too arrogant? Because we are too full of ourselves?
LEHRER: A little bit of all three. A little bit of all three.
KURTZ: Two weeks before the election, Charlie Gibson took on the charge that the media were tilting toward the Democrats, who, as it turned out, won both Houses of Congress.
CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: We try to be -- and I say try -- I always keep in mind something that David Brinkley said years and years ago, there is no such thing as objectivity, there are only lesser degrees of subjectivity. You cannot breed out things that you have in your own mind. But your constant desire, your constant striving is to be as objective as you can be.
And I don't think it's unfairness to the Republican Party.
KURTZ: Our most difficult moment came early in the year, when shortly before air time, we learned of some grim news from Iraq.
Some breaking news this morning out of Iraq. ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff is in surgery in a U.S. military hospital in Iraq after he and a cameraman were seriously injured by an explosive device while embedded with the Army's 4th Infantry Division.
Martha Raddatz talked about how it felt reporting on the tragedy involving her colleagues, Woodruff and Doug Vogt.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: But I will not downplay the fact that it was very difficult to go on the air, literally just hours after I found out about it, and I think continuing to report on it and trying to find out what happened to Bob and Doug helped me cope and helped me understand and helped me talk about it.
KURTZ: No subject stirred more passions than the war. CBS' Lara Logan took vehement exception to criticism by administration officials that the coverage was too negative.
LARA LOGAN, CBS NEWS: I really resent the fact that people say that we're not reflecting the true picture here. That's totally unfair, and it's really unfounded. You don't think that I haven't been to the U.S. military and the State Department and the embassy and asked them over and over again, let's see the good stories, show us some of the good things that are going on? Oh, sorry, we can't take you to that school project, because if you put that on TV, they're going to be attacked, the teachers are going to be killed, the children might be victims of attack. Oh, sorry, we can't show this reconstruction project, because then that's going to expose it to sabotage, and the last time we had journalists down here, the plant was attacked.
KURTZ: And Mike Wallace admitted on this very program that "60 Minutes" had gone too far with its brand of ambush journalism.
MIKE WALLACE, CBS NEWS: I have no doubt that what we started is -- has become a plague, because -- and that's a million years ago. But we got caught up in the drama more than we caught up in going after the facts.
KURTZ: A look back at RELIABLE SOURCES in 2006.
In our next half hour, the YouTube revolution. Citizens armed with cell phone cameras, the growing proliferation of bloggers. What impact is all of this having on the mainstream media?
And from Iraq to Mark Foley to O.J. Simpson. How have news organizations performed this past year? All that after a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
All year long, the media have been hammered from both the left and the right over coverage of the Iraq war and the mid-term elections. But looking back at 2006, there were dozens of controversies in which journalists were accused of getting things wrong, rushing to judgment, hyping, sensationalizing, trivializing, or otherwise mangling the facts.
But new organizations did manage to get some big things right. Joining us now to examine the performance of the news business, Matthew Felling, media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs; David Folkenflik, media critic for National Public Radio; and Geneva Overholser, former editor of "The Des Moines Register", now director of the University of Missouri's Journalism School's Washington Program.
David Folkenflik, coverage of the Iraq war came up again at President Bush's news conference this week. CBS's Jim Axelrod asked him how he had moved from, "absolutely, we're winning," to "we're not winning, we're not losing". Let's take a brief look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you still willing to follow a path that seems to be in opposition to the will of the American people?
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am willing to follow a path that leads to victory. The fact that there are still unspeakable sectarian violence in Iraq, I know that's troubling to the American people. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: My question to you: Has the media coverage helped turn the country against the Iraq war? If you look at the whole landscape of this year?
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, MEDIA CRITIC, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: If you look at the entire year, I'd say that the media has been often reflective of some of the things that have gone very badly for U.S.- led forces in Iraq, and its allies in the Iraqi government. And you see that in some of the recriminations, bitterness and pushback from the military officials and from administration officials over the course of that year.
At the same time, I used to have an editor who would say, you know, the media can follow polls as well as anybody else. And there seems to have been some shift in the American people, as well, as to what they think about this, and where they're at. You can see that in the polling, you can see that in the election results in November. And you can see that reflected in some of the questions being asked at presidential press conferences, like today.
KURTZ: Adjusting the tone to match public opinion, interesting.
Geneva, we had 32 journalists killed in Iraq this year. The highest total for a single country, ever -- at least, according to the records that have been kept by various groups. Did the injuries to Bob Woodruff and Kimberly Dozier, and the kidnapping of Jill Carroll, all of which happened this year, convince journalists -- help convince them that things are out of control there?
GENEVA OVERHOLSER, UNIV. MISSOURI JOURNALISM SCHOOL: Well, I'm sure they did have that impact, but again, it is sort of as David was saying, they also affect the way the public feels about it. I mean, I think these injuries to people whom the public is familiar with, added to the growing toll of deaths of our forces, is an important piece of why the public opinion has shifted.
KURTZ: Matthew Felling, we heard it again from Laura Bush, the other day, media -- things are going better in Iraq than the media reportage would suggest. Does the Bush administration have a point in saying the coverage focuses too much on the violence.
MATTHEW FELLING, CNTR. FOR MEDIA & PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Well, I think they walked into this trap themselves. I think at the very beginning of the war, we had Rumsfeld saying, you want to know what, there are no metrics for success. Well, in the media business, we like to have measurables. We like to say, OK, they said, X,Y and Z, and we've only gotten X done. But there is no way to have a "USA Today" snapshot of a pie graph saying, here's the percentage of hearts and minds that we have won so far this year.
And I think that what I've seen this year. And I have to disagree a little bit with David, I think I'm still waiting for some sense of context. I am waiting for a little bit of -- if not fact checking at least calling them on their rewrites. KURTZ: Calling who on their rewrites?
FELLING: On the White House, on the White House line. I can tell you how many pounds Nicole Ritchie weighed when she was pulled over. I can tell you what John Mark Karr ate on his flight over from Thailand. What I can't tell you is our working definition of what victory means in Iraq and what we are willing to give up to accomplish that.
KURTZ: On the other hand -- I'll let you in in a second, National Review editor Rich Lowry says that the media turned out to be right about conditions in Iraq and conservatives who are complaining about the coverage ought to get off it.
FOLKENFLIK: I think that if you look over the course of this year, and it's not simply defined by calendar year, but nonetheless, you've seen some very contextualized, very tough reporting under extremely dangerous conditions, about how things have fallen about. About how civil society is not cohering, how there has been sectarian strife, you can call it civil war, as a number of media organizations have started to do.
FOLKENFLIK: But regardless of the terminology, how it's not cohering there, and I think that has provided an understanding for why years into this, we have not accomplished the goals that have been set out by the government.
OVERHOLSER: One of the problems now is going to be is that we won't be able to get reporting from Iraq. Tom Lassiter, the -- one of the reporters from McClatchey newspaper was quoted recently saying, I miss Iraq. He's in Baghdad. The fact is, it is very hard for reporters to get good information.
KURTZ: Let me move to the campaign. There was a drumbeat, started in the spring, all year long, particularly on television, "terrible year for the Republicans." Well, it did turn out to be a pretty bad year for Republicans. But I'm wondering to what extent the polls and the constant prognostications might have contributed to that?
OVERHOLSER: You know, I don't think that that generally is what happens, prognostications bring election results. Look at '94, we had the reverse. Nobody expected the big Republican takeover. I think if anything we ought to say, turns out they got this one right.
KURTZ: Mark Foley scandal dominated the final weeks, House Ethics report showed that the GOP was negligence, leading House Republican lawmakers, but also that a Democratic operative was pushing that story on the press, which we didn't know at the time. In retrospect, was that story somewhat overplayed?
FELLING: Was it overplayed? It probably didn't deserve to be the top of the news for about two or three weeks. I mean, it was extremely newsworthy, but the thing is it was... KURTZ: It was a juicy story.
FELLING: It was a snowball. We had the CIA leak case, which ended to be a little bit hollow. And then we had Abramoff, then we had all the Iraq stories. Then we had the poll numbers. And it was just an accumulation of all of these bad, sordid stories with this peak of the Mark Foley story, particularly given the irony that he was the guy who had authored the Internet child protection law, or whatever it was. It was just -- you could not lay off it as a journalist.
KURTZ: Let me run through a series of things that were a big deal at the time and ask whether they seem quite so important in retrospect. Dick Cheney's hunting accident, dominated the news for 10 days.
OVERHOLSER: Not as important. But one reason it dominated it, was his handling of it. If he had been more forthright...
KURTZ: What about the fact that the White House press corps was ticked off because he didn't talk to them?
KURTZ: He didn't give the news to them, he gave it to a small newspaper in Texas.
FOLKENFLIK: There is a little bit of meat behind this, and that he is the most powerful vice president in the history of the country, as far as we can tell, and we know almost nothing about what he does. You don't know his schedule. You don't know precisely ...
KURTZ: So it tapped into a larger narrative about Cheney's secrecy?
FOLKENFLIK: I talked to a number of people both inside the White House press corps and who cover the administration in different ways. And they really don't understand how he works. This was something where something burst out of that black box, and it was their only venue into it. And it tapped -- it was sort of a surrogate fight, over what he's doing, over much more substantive things. Although, you don't want to make light of a guy being shot.
FELLING: Well, it's also -- there was a sense of consistently, at least, to it. For years we've seen the Bush administration say that they like to go around the filter. They don't to want to have to talk to CBS, they don't want to have to talk to Howard Kurtz.
FOLKENFLIK: So what do they do? They went to like the local, Main Street newspaper, in this town. And they gave her this story. And that's the big reason the White House press corps...
KURTZ: The Corpus Christi Caller-Times. And by the way, I resent -- they should talk to me. OVERHOLSER: Because they'd take care of it.
KURTZ: CIA leak investigation, Valerie Plame, was a huge story. There were a lot of speculation about Karl Rove was going to be indicted. Well, he wasn't indicted. And then it turned out some of the sources weren't who we thought they were. Was that story overdone?
FELLING: It was not overdone, but the end, the denouement, was extremely overdone. When Richard Armitage comes out and says, oh, yeah, you know, the Scooter Libby thing, you know the Karl Rove thing -- it was actually me. And that story was covered a little bit. But...
KURTZ: Considering (ph) it dropped off the table.
OVERHOLSER: Now -- it isn't over yet. Cheney is going to be called to testify, I mean...
KURTZ: This was a constant front-page, top of the newscast story.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, I've got to plead a little bit of the Fifth here, in the sense that I covered a fair amount of this because it involved the press. This was an interesting window into sort of how the administration dealt with criticism. And how the administration dealt -- you know, finagled things with the press, to some degree. Whether or not it turned out to be criminal is a very different question. I mean, as we know, Mr. Libby is up for charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, not for anything involved in leaking things to Judith Miller, formerly with the New York Times.
KURTZ: And some prominent reporters may be called in that trial, we have indications of that.
A more recent controversy, the O.J. Simpson special and book, that never saw the light of day, because people were angry and appalled by this. Judith Regan lost her job with the Fox empire, and now there's a battle between her and publishing house, HarperCollins -- excuse me -- whether she did or did not refer to a Jewish cabal out to get her in a phone conversation. Is there any media sympathy for this woman?
FELLING: No, I think it is completely consistent with the character that she's drawn out for herself. I mean, she's a woman who likes to peddle in these little prurient tales. I mean, she had -- she had Jenna Jamison, porn star, she had a book by her, on her label. So, we kind of know where she's coming from.
But the thing I love about this story is the NewsCorp angle, where NewsCorp has the whole business model completely solved. On one side, the Fox Entertainment, they get to put out "Married by America". They get to put out really questionable material on their Fox entertainment. And then on the other side, Fox News Channel, they get to show outrage over what's happening to American culture. It's -- they've got both sides covered.
KURTZ: Although Fox News commentators did rise up against the O.J. special and I give them credit for that.
OVERHOLSER: That is not a major story. I don't see why it deserves even our discussion today.
KURTZ: Not a major story?
OVERHOLSER: No, the Judith Regan thing? I mean, if we're looking back over a year worth of stories, think how many more important things took place than that.
KURTZ: But can you think of another example where there was such a wave of public revulsion that a major media corporation had to back off and cancel a book and cancel a TV special?
OVERHOLSER: Definitely. It deserves to be noticed.
KURTZ: That's the argument that...
OVERHOLSER: But it doesn't deserve a chunk of time out of our -- I would say if we're going to look at media stories, we ought to look at what happened to the media this year. The second largest newspaper owning company collapsed, its shareholders forced it to sell. The Boston Globe lost money one quarter. This is an enormous media story, and it's a lot more important than Judith Regan.
KURTZ: All right. James Frey, you remember went on "Oprah" touting his memoir, a life of crime. Turned out there was a lot of -- shall we say, embellishment in that? That also kind of put a spotlight on the publishing industry standards.
FOLKENFLIK: One of the things that was an interesting insight to me was the question of the credence that we give books and the skepticism we give newspapers. It turns out that your daily newspaper, the little daily miracle, 365 days a year, seems to be much more scrupulously fact-checked, edited and tested than things put out between hardback covers. For me, that was an interesting insight that I hadn't given a lot of thought to.
KURTZ: All right, we've got to wrap it up there. David Folkenflik, Matthew Felling, Geneva Overholser, thanks very much for joining us.
Still to come, "Time" says you, all of you, get the Person of the Year Award. Two top bloggers weigh in on how the digital revolution is transforming journalism.
KURTZ: Welcome back. Most people never heard of YouTube a year ago; by October Google had snatched it up for $1.6 billion. It was there that Senator George Allen had his "macaca" moment, there that an actress staged a phony soap opera under the name LonelyGirl15. So, with bloggers, podcasters and YouTubers stealing the media spotlight this year, "Time" magazine didn't give its Person of the Year Award to some boring world leader.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN: Rick, who is it?
RICHARD STENGEL, TIME MAGAZINE: "Time" 2006 Person of the Year is, You.
O'BRIEN: Literally me?
STENGEL: Yes, you, me, everyone, who is transforming the information age by creating and consuming content.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about this digital media revolution, in New York, veteran journalist Jeff Jarvis, who blogs at Buzzmachine.com, and, here in Washington, Ana Marie Cox, Washington editor for Time.com.
Jeff Jarvis, let me congratulate you, first of all, on your "Time" cover.
JEFF JARVIS, JOURNALIST: Thank you.
KURTZ: Was that cover a copout, a marketing ploy or a profound cultural statement?
JARVIS: I think it was finally realizing what the reality of the world is; that we are in charge. The truth is, we've always been in charge, it's just that the powerful couldn't hear us, the people. And now they have no choice but to hear us. So I think it was a recognition of the way the world works.
KURTZ: Ana Marie Cox, is your career kind of an example of this empowerment? I mean, you kind of knocked around journalism for a while, and then you started this blog, Wonkette, and that enabled you to get booked on RELIABLE SOURCES, which was a pivotal moment.
ANA MARIE COX, TIME.COM: My career making, really.
KURTZ: Yes, and then you wound up blogging for Time and writing for the magazine, as well.
COX: Except that if you notice -- well, you could say that that's an example, except of course the triumph of my career is now that I've joined the media elite. So...
KURTZ: You sold out.
COX: Right. So, if this is really -- of course, I do believe that Person of the Year is you and me, and everyone else. But there's still some -- a role that the mainstream media plays. And obviously, even to be able to make that choice, says that there's power in being in the mainstream media. KURTZ: Jeff Jarvis, people now watching 100 million videos a day, I think, on YouTube. Yahoo has its UwitnessNews. And CNN, just the other day, during the Denver snowstorm was asking people to send in their pictures and video and posting as if it was getting it from journalists. This is great, it's fun, it's fabulous, but is it journalism?
JARVIS: Sure it is. Who says that only journalists do journalism? Anyone can do journalism. It matters what the motive is, what the factual nature of it is. It matters whether we want to know it. And not everything that we do online is journalism, not by any means, Pew said only a third of us even try to.
But the truth is, that any one who witnesses news can now share that with the world. And on the other side of this, big journalism, big media has to distribute differently. I, now, do not watch you on the air, I watch you on the subway on my iPod.
Congratulations, by the way.
And I think that's really important -- you look good small, Howie.
KURTZ: Does it count in the ratings?
JARVIS: Well, that's your problem to deal with. But I think that TV has exploded this year. The fact that all these tools came together, cheap tools, easy tools, distribution -- thank you, YouTube -- and marketing via links, means that, we, the people take over TV, just like we, the people, took over print before. So watch out, the revolution is coming down the track.
KURTZ: You wrote a piece in "Time" about campaign fakery. For example, videos that are put up that aren't real videos. There was one that you mention involving Madeline Albright, the former secretary of State, singing "Kum-ba-ya" with a group of Islamic terrorists.
KURTZ: So, aren't there some trust issues here?
COX: I think there are. I think that as user-generated media has become more popular and has become more dominant, user need to, you know, generate a little more skepticism as well. I mean, I've always thought they should have the same skepticism about mainstream media and they should have the same amount of skepticism about The New York Times as they do as what they see on YouTube.
But I think people are developing that. I think one of the really great things about the explosion of people being online is that people are developing tools, not just tools make content, but also tools to critique content. And when things are wrong, I mean, there's a great filter out there. People tend to find out frauds pretty quickly.
KURTZ: If some of this is journalism, and some of it is not journalism -- and I realize these labels are not that important, Jeff Jarvis, but how would you describe the stuff that is not journalism that is either people's family pictures, or blogging about what they ate for lunch and all of that?
JARVIS: It's conversation. It's people talking -- which, if you're a politician or a big company, you should listen, because that's your constituency talking; now you can hear them and if you don't listen you're a damn fool. So, I think we have to look upon blogs and YouTube, and all of that, not necessarily as everybody trying to be you.
It's people just talking, primarily. But then some do want to publish to the world. And they can publish to the world. And I think there is an opportunity now, for big media and small media to work together.
The business of journalism is shrinking. That doesn't mean journalism shrinks. If we learn to work together, journalism can grow bigger than it ever was. It can reach out into the tentacles of society like never before, but only if we get along together and cooperate.
KURTZ: But don't you think that this also has at least the potential to eat the mainstream media's lunch?
JARVIS: I don't think so, actually. Because mainstream media, let's be honest, Howie, is very inefficient. The American press is terribly inefficient. It is driven too much by ego. We send 15,000 correspondents to the conventions where nothing happens. We all have movie critics when the movies aren't any different. There's a lot of waste in media.
And I think the big media has to get over being one-size-fits- all, everything-to-everybody, figure out what it does best, work cooperatively with all these reporters out here, help them do a better job. It doesn't mean it's all the same -- you do have a meritocracy here -- and then come up with new things to do together.
KURTZ: I really care about news. I've spent my whole life in news. The number one Google news search this year was for Paris Hilton. What does that tell us?
COX: That you are rather unique. I think that -- I mean, that's sort of the -- there is a dark side to all this user-generated content. There is an aspect that is, are we amusing ourselves to death? However, I think the logic behind the choice is, it actually has to do with what Jeff said, which is, the conversation that people are having with one another.
You know, Time is now also part of that conversation. It used to be that people talked to each other in stratospheres. And now, you really can talk, you know, the top can talk to the bottom, the bottom can talk to top. And everyone has to listen; Jeff is right.
KURTZ: And we can all talk about Paris Hilton, apparently. Let me get a break here. When we come back, who is reading all these blogs, anyway?
KURTZ: Welcome back. Ana Marie Cox, there are now 13 million blogs in America, aren't most of them sputtering into cyberspace?
COX: And most of them, I think, there is some statistic I read that most people who have started blogs have now stopped them.
I think we're rapidly reaching sort of a land of diminishing returns, when it comes to everyone blogging. Although everyone can produce content, perhaps not everyone really wants to, or should. That doesn't mean -- because we have a lot of content out there, the mean is still the same. Like there is still sort of the same average amount of what's actually useful to people.
And I think that we're at, right now, sort of a Gold Rush days for it. And I think that eventually it is going to sort of shake out and become more of a meritocracy, where you see the people who are really good at this, they're going to get more attention and move on to a next level.
KURTZ: Let' me come back to that, but Jeff Jarvis, in that issue of Time, that celebrates, you, me and everybody else in America, Steven Johnson writes that the media has become one long battle between Edward R. Murrow and "America's Funniest Home Videos," and "Home Videos" won.
JARVIS: I think that's a little unfair. And the question you asked before, about, uh-oh, the most popular search is Paris Hilton, or the top video on YouTube is silly, is the wrong way to analyze it. That's the big, old media way to analyze it, when you had to be huge to afford all these cameras and stuff. That's no longer the case. So I think what this world is now is niches. You're going to find pockets of great niches.
Terry Teachout, of "The Wall Street Journal," went in and found brilliant jazz performances in YouTube. It's not all people tripping and falling. And so I think it's a mistake to act as if old TV, Murrow and such, were this vaunted wonder and everything now is crap. No. We have a new world of niches; a mass of niches and we're going to find, as Ana Marie said, the good in each of those.
KURTZ: Let me turn to the subject of correcting mistakes. You recently wrote that the head of the Britain's press complaints commission was a Brit twit, for suggesting a voluntary code of conduct for bloggers and then you -- you had more to say about that: explain.
JARVIS: Well, the BBC had misquoted him. So on the basis of what he had said, which was supposedly that he was endorsing a code of ethics for bloggers and a way to manage bloggers, I made fun of that. It turns out he didn't say that. And he agrees that, if he had said that, he would have been a twit. But he's not a twit. The point of this really is that I corrected the mistake. And I corrected it as quickly as possible. And there is this self- correcting mechanism at work. There is also a problem is that there is whack-a-mole going on out there, is that other people still think he said this stupid thing.
JARVIS: You talked about the blogosphere becoming a meritocracy. But the way that happens is that people like you, and InstaPundit, and Jeff Jarvis' Buzzmachine, link the people that you like and they develop a following. So, aren't there still sort of gatekeepers, to help us guide us to the hip, the cool, the brilliant, the incisive?
COX: I think there are always going to be gatekeepers, because people want gatekeepers. People don't want to read every single blog out there. They're going to make a choice about people who they think are interesting and intelligent. And if they think that someone else is interesting and intelligent, then they'll go ahead and follow the link to that. I mean, that's why we have movie critics and music critics.
It's not that no one wants to, you know, consume, all of that information that's out there. I think what's important about this revolution is that people are producing it. Not that everyone is reading everything, but that any one can do it.
KURTZ: All right, on that note, Ana Marie Cox, Jeff Jarvis, thanks very much for a good discussion.
And that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. Hope you're having a great holiday on this Christmas and Hanukkah weekend. And thanks for watching us this year. We'll be taking a New Year's break next week, but join us again the first Sunday in January, 10 a.m. Eastern, for the first critical look at the media of 2007.
"Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer", begins right now.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com