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Anna Nicole Smith Hearings; Interview With Diane Sawyer

Aired February 25, 2007 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Lights, camera, cue the judge. A bizarre case of blubbering judge and the power of TV turn the Anna Nicole hearings into a farce. And some cable channels milk every minute.

ABC's frequent flier. From confronting the leaders of Iran and Syria, to chatting up stars at the Oscars, we'll check in with Diane Sawyer.

Spinning the war. Tony Blair says British troops will start leaving Iraq, and the White House says that's good news? How do you cover an administration that sometimes seems at odds with reality?

Plus, laugh track on the right -- the fake newscast that lampooned all those liberals.


KURTZ: I had thought about a week ago that the Anna Nicole Smith frenzy had peaked. Boy, was I wrong.

The media took the court hearing on where to bury her body and turned it into a daytime soap opera. Most people thought cameras in the courtroom were a great idea until the O.J. trial turned into a circus. Many judges have since turned down requests for television coverage in the post-O.J. backlash. But not Larry Seidlin, who presided over the Anna Nicole hearings in Fort Lauderdale.

While CNN just dipped in and out, MSNBC and FOX News breathlessly covered the proceedings wall to wall. And from the center ring, Judge Seidlin made sure to give them a good show.


JUDGE LARRY SEIDLIN, BROWARD COUNTY: There's no circus here, my friend. There's no circus here.

This is life. We all come with some broken suitcases.

Let's face it -- money is the root of all evil. Am I right?

When I used to teach tennis, I used to wear white shorts and a white top. It always looked good.

You look good.

Instead of fighting, you should join hands. Join hands, because it's only in this country that you can join hands. We don't have these kinds of religious wars in and all these other issues that take place around the world.


KURTZ: But is the televising of this bizarre case good for the justice system or just good for ratings?

Joining us now in New York, Diane Dimond, investigative journalist and author of "Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case."

Also in New York, Catherine Crier, host of "Catherine Crier Live" on Court TV, and author of the newly-released book "Final Analysis: The Untold Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case."

And here in Washington, David Zurawik, television critic for "The Baltimore Sun."

First question, a quick answer from each of you, please.

Catherine Crier, obviously Court TV wants as many trials as possible to be televised, but would you agree that this turned some trials into circuses?

CATHERINE CRIER, COURT TV: Well, unfortunately. It is an aberration, just like the original O.J. Simpson case. The civil case we didn't see had plenty of decorum. You've got these anecdotal cases that upset many judges, but most judges do a fine job, control their courtrooms, and this sort of fiasco doesn't occur.

KURTZ: Diane Dimond, you've covered a lot of these celebrity trials. Don't you find that judges and lawyers and witnesses play to the cameras?

DIANE DIMOND, AUTHOR & INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: I think they can't help themselves, Howie. I think it's just human nature.

When they know a camera is in the courtroom, somehow everybody seems different. I've seen it both with a camera and without. And with a camera, it's much more animated, it's much more melodramatic, frankly.

KURTZ: David Zurawik, the argument for cameras in the courtroom is that it's a great education about the legal system. But is that always true?

DAVID ZURAWIK, "BALTIMORE SUN": Well, look, Howie, I think the one thing left out of this is this is good for citizens. I think we should be able to see that this is the way this court is run.

Look, you and I sit down and have a conversation. They say cameras change everything. They don't change everything. We don't act like fools. We put on a little makeup, we put on a certain kind of suits to conform to the aesthetics of television. But we don't give up our professional principles. If judges and lawyers do that, they're hot dogs, and the public should know that's what's going on in the courtroom.

KURTZ: Hot dogs -- that's a shocking notion.

Now, when it really got weird is when Judge Seidlin got ready to deliver his verdict about awarding custody of the body to the baby's guardian. He got really emotional. Here's how it looked and here's what some journalists had to say about it.


SEIDLIN: And I hope to god you guys give the kid the right shot. I want her buried with her son. I want -- there's no -- there's no shouting. This is not a happy moment.

I want her buried with her son in the Bahamas. I want them to be together.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Many of those watching came to the inescapable conclusion that the judge in the case was auditioning for his own TV show.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: The world is full of eccentric judges. Not this eccentric.


KURTZ: Catherine Crier, the judge was so broken up, it sounded like he was the baby's father.

What did you make of that performance?

CRIER: I've been practicing law, sitting on the bench or covering courtrooms for 28 years, and I've never seen anything like it. And that's what I want everyone to know, that this is a real aberration.

I'm not sure whether he was auditioning for his own show. I've had lawyers who practice in his courtroom saying this is Judge Seidlin.

But given that circumstance, in my opinion, it is inappropriate behavior for a judge. He did not conduct the courtroom as would be appropriate for a jurist. And we were all witness to it.

KURTZ: Diane Dimond, do you agree with this ruling by Judge Crier?

DIMOND: Yes, I do. I think he was overly dramatic. But I also agree with David, that this is a prime opportunity for the public to see how a courtroom operates.

Was this a typical judge? No. Did he make the right decision in the end? In my opinion, he did. It was clear Anna Nicole didn't want to be buried in Texas.

But I think it's important for people to know that courtrooms are very emotional places. They sometimes are very dramatic and melodramatic at times.

This time, however, I felt like I wanted to take a little mental health break, a little timeout for this judge. I don't think he'll ever get a reality show. He's way too emotional.

KURTZ: Well, despite the fact there are reports that he's distributing a demo tape.

David Zurawik, it wasn't just the judge's demeanor and all the personal stories he told from the bench. I mean, he took what everything thought would be a short hearing and turned it into this week-long extravaganza about sex and drugs and nasty e-mail.

I guess this is a look at the justice system as well.

ZURAWIK: I absolutely agree. I mean, Howie, you know, a lot of this branch of government likes to operate in darkness. And we have all been told, when you get your day in court, you'll have this august Solomon-like figure who will give you a good ruling.

This is what you really get in that court. We should know this. Listen, this guy...

KURTZ: And having print reporters there, as they are in the Scooter Libby trial, for example, doesn't fully capture the flavor of what's going on?

ZURAWIK: Look, if this guy is so easily seduced by the camera, what else is he seduced by? You know what I'm saying? That's the kind of information we need to know as citizens. It's such a basic principle that more light is better than darkness. Why wouldn't we want a camera to show us that?

KURTZ: Let's talk a little bit about the television coverage.

Catherine Crier, this is obviously a great story for Court TV. This is what you do. You cover trials. You analyze the legal system.

But MSNBC and FOX News just went wall to wall with this, day after day. When the court -- when the hearing was in recess, they would have a banner up saying, "Hearing to resume soon." And they would have all the legal experts, blowing off basically other news in the process.

Was that too much?

CRIER: Well, I certainly think it's too much. We have an entire network, Court TV, devoted to covering these sorts of stories. But whenever there is a very, very high-profile trial, we have seen this happen again and again. And it's because the public is truly fascinated with these cases, and ratings becomes an integral factor. Now, I happen to disagree. I would like to see news channels focusing heavily on news, and we've got the courtroom covered. But, in fact, when the numbers come in, the channels oftentimes will follow.

KURTZ: But what that means, Diane Dimond, is that there's a relatively small percentage of the public that will tune in to any cable channel that has some tabloid story up. It doesn't mean that, you know, millions and millions of Americans are demanding wall to wall coverage of the Anna Nicole hearings, but it does give you a short-term bump in the ratings.

DIMOND: Well, and that's -- that's the whole bottom line here, Howie. The dirty little secret about television news today is that it is a business. It's dedicated to getting ratings and not dedicated to good journalism.

You know, when "20/20" -- and I admire that program -- but when they give her an entire hour, Anna Nicole Smith, who is famous for being undereducated and a sexpot, gets an hour, when MSNBC goes for five straight hours on this story, I have to ask as a journalist, where's the daily menu of the balance of news that these news stations are supposed to be giving me? They win the ratings battle, but I'm afraid they lose the war on good journalism.

KURTZ: Let me just ask you a question about CNN, David Zurawik.

CNN obviously made a conscious decision that it was not going to do this wall to wall. And it took a beating in the ratings.

Was that the right move, or was CNN acting above the news, above a story that there was no public interest in?

ZURAWIK: Well, Howie, you know, listen, I think CNN did it with some balance. But listen to this. You know, we are so bad in the media today.

When the public really cares about a story the way they cared about the O.J. story -- you know, I experienced a little of this when I wrote about the Anna Nicole thing. There was a lot of back and forth -- should we treat it this way, should we treat -- listen, the public cares about something this much, we ought to not be above it.

We ought to try -- now, there's way to explain it. Help us understand why we care about it.

DIMOND: But five straight hours?

KURTZ: I'm sorry? Go ahead.

DIMOND: Five straight hours? Come on.

ZURAWIK: But it's...

CRIER: I have to agree with you. David, there are so many important things in the world. We're talking about Iraq, whether we're going to invade Iran...

ZURAWIK: Yes, but that's not the only channel in the world. That's not the only channel in the world.

CRIER: But a balance -- a balance is appropriate. And I'm not sure that the other networks struck much of a balance.

DIMOND: And you know what, Howie? If a less popular person died, and it wasn't Anna Nicole, the sexpot -- say it was Dick Cheney. I guarantee you he would not get five straight hours of coverage on MSNBC or a full hour on "20/20." So...

ZURAWIK: But, you know, everyone points to the Simpson trial as this debasement of American journalism because of all the time we spent on it. Howie, we learned so much about race in America from that trial.

CRIER: I agree.

KURTZ: That was a murder trial.

ZURAWIK: Yes. And we may learn something here as well.

KURTZ: All right. All right. Let me turn to something that CNN and everybody else did consider breaking news. Let's put that up on the screen.

I remember watching the "NEWSROOM" the other day. I saw this big breaking news headline.

Have we got that?

"Britney Spears in Rehab."


Diane Dimond -- and then there was, you know, this -- her antics landed her on the front -- we'll see all the networks here -- landed her on the front cover of "The New York Daily News,'" that photo of her with an umbrella attacking photographers' car.

This was, Diane Dimond, big news, medium news, small news?

DIMOND: Well, it's certainly news, because this is a young woman who our young people have looked up to. Frankly, she's been in a spiral. She hasn't had a hit record since 2003. She shaved off all of her head -- all of her hair off of her head and there were pictures of it, so it became big news because we were watching a personal train wreck.

I do think, however, there was a little bit of overkill on the amount of coverage. Again, these things are news. And yes, we should cover them. I agree with David.

KURTZ: OK. DIMOND: But to the extent that we cover them? Oh, come on. There are wars going on and a healthcare system that's in a mess and pedophiles running across the land.

KURTZ: All right.

DIMOND: There's lots of other things to cover.

KURTZ: I've got to jump in here.

You know, look my take is this -- the biggest tragedy here -- excuse me, the biggest travesty was not just the way this wild and crazy judge carried on, but the way that some cable channels treated this as the only story in town for the entire week. Yes, it was interesting, the sex, the drugs, the ex-boyfriends and all of that. But this is "People" magazine stuff.

Maybe in this age where we all kind of obsess on celebrities, maybe we're all "People" magazine or "US Weekly".

Want to thank David Zurawik, Diane Dimond, Catherine Crier in New York.

And before we go to break, there was a journalist on "Saturday Night Live" last night that looked suspiciously like Wolf Blitzer. And he seemed torn between two different stories.

We've got to see this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": There's a counter raid to American power. But this week, the British prime minister, whose Labour Party has seen its approval ratings plummet to the lowest levels in more than 10 years has announced a plan to begin phasing out British troops.

Has the coalition of the willing finally come apart? And what are the implications for our nation and his?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The White House, already reeling from dismal poll numbers of its own and midterm election results that can only be read as a repudiation...


KURTZ: All right. We're cutting Wolf off.

When we come back, from Ahmadinejad to the Oscars, Diane Sawyer seems to be doing it all. We'll check in with the "Good Morning America" star her on her coverage of several hot topics next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: She's been to Iran, Syria, and North Korea, done a primetime special on poverty, interviewed all 16 female senators. And that's just in the last couple of months.

Now Diane Sawyer, the co-host of "Good Morning America," is on the road again, this time to cover the Oscars.

The ABC newswoman joins us now by phone from Los Angeles.

Good morning, Diane.


KURTZ: So the Oscars are on ABC tonight. You're out there in red carpet land. Everybody wants to know who's going to win. But how did this become such a spectacular, such a big cultural event in America?

SAWYER: Well, you know, I think when you were talking earlier about the fact that celebrity in some ways is the hearth around which we all view ourselves and our country in a lot of ways these days, as that evolved through the years, so did this. As the -- as -- what is it? It's anthropology of celebrity. That's what we're looking at -- the clothes, the hair, what kind of speech, who cries, who do they thank. And it's all become our -- our kind of yearly take on something about ourselves.

KURTZ: Right. My staff is insisting I ask you this substantive question -- who are you wearing?


SAWYER: I'm wearing something that I've had for a long time. Believe me, I am not the red carpet glamour girl they're looking for out here.

KURTZ: All right.

Now, on Tuesday, you're going to conduct the first television interview with Bob Woodruff, the ABC anchor who, as everyone knows, was wounded in Iraq just over a year ago, made a remarkable recovery. This is going to be a special about his fight back on Tuesday night.

What do you most want to know about his long and difficult recovery?

SAWYER: Well, you know, it's so wonderful to see someone thinking about thinking, as he does. It's wonderful to see someone telling you, giving real lessons from -- from the instant in which the life you thought you were planning becomes another life. At least for a year and a few days. And his whole family takes part in this, too.

But he has also, in the special, been spending a lot of time, most of the time, on the other wounded and the others with traumatic brain injury, and trying to examine what we're doing for and with them. And the fact that since the Vietnam War the numbers have shifted on the nature of the primary injuries that they're experiencing when they're coming home. And yet, in so many ways, our support has not shifted.

We're still -- we're still geared up to support injuries from another war. And what he is doing is so, so brave and so strong on by behalf of everybody else out there, too.

KURTZ: Right. Certainly wounded journalists tend to get more attention than the average wounded soldier. It's good to throw the spotlight on that which members of the Army and armed forces go through every day.

Now, a couple of weeks ago, as I mentioned at the top, you had an interview. You went to Tehran, you interviewed Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I want to play a little bit of that for our viewers and ask you a question.

Let's roll it.



SAWYER: What did you think when you saw the hanging of Saddam Hussein? He was your enemy. Did you feel sympathy?

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): What about you? Did you have any kind of sympathy?

SAWYER: I'm a journalist.

AHMADINEJAD: But you've come here in disguise of a politician, I guess.

SAWYER: No. I am a journalist. Solely a journalist. Excuse me.


KURTZ: What did you think when he said that you had come in the guise of a politician?

SAWYER: Oh, I thought it was just a form of -- he's sort of smiling when he says it. It's a combination of, "I don't believe you have real independent journalism in your country," and "I'm just sort of going to see what happens if I throw this at you."

It was just a little bit of, you know, throwing a verbal grenade in the middle of the interview, too. You know, at the end of the interview, he turns to me and says, I think -- just as a factual statement -- he turns to me and says "I don't think" -- "I really don't think women should be asking combative questions. I think you shouldn't be asking about war. I think you should ask about love and family."

And I think he simply meant that, too. KURTZ: Now, you -- rather than asking about love and family, you asked him about Iran's nuclear program. You asked him about U.S. charges of Iranian weapons being used by Iraqi insurgents. He basically ducked most of those questions.

Was that frustrating for you?

SAWYER: It's extremely frustrating, because you don't have a lot of time and you're -- and what I was trying to do, of course, in some ways was simply get him to repeat what he had said before. And he was also not going to repeat it.

So one of the big messages of the interview was, I believe -- and you can attribute it to whatever we read about what the supreme leader and ayatollah are doing with him -- but he would not repeat his statements about wiping Israel off the face of the earth, he would not repeat his statement about 3,000 centrifuges that they want to build underground in Iran. And even though we now know they're on their way to building more, apparently, he would not stake out that incendiary territory anymore. And I thought that was a real message that, whether or not he's in charge, somebody has said to him, stop it.

KURTZ: Right.

Now, as I mentioned, you've been to Iran, you've been to Syria. This is not your typical morning show fare. But in the last couple of weeks, "Good Morning America," like all the morning shows, certainly like the cable networks, have covered Anna Nicole Smith. We talked about this in our last segment.

Do you feel that "GMA" perhaps has done a little too much on that story?

SAWYER: Well, you know, and I'm not just -- this isn't copping out. I was away for quite a bit of the coverage, so I didn't experience it in the overall context.

Since I have been back, I don't think that we have. I think that we've had a real sense of proportion.

And we've led with Dick Cheney and interviews that we've had with him. And we've done the news and moved on.

But I do think there's something that happens to all of us as viewers in that we tend to blame the individual for the collective. And the fact that it's on in some place everywhere at all times does make it feel like, you know, simply a universe gone mad, when individually I think there are a lot of shows getting the sense of proportion right.

KURTZ: Proportion is the key -- is the key question for all journalists.

Diane Sawyer, thanks so much for getting up early in L.A. to join us by phone.

SAWYER: Yes. I'm trying to -- as I said, I'm trying to wake up out here. I hope I didn't -- I hope I fooled you.

KURTZ: Have fun at the Oscars.

SAWYER: OK. Thanks, Howie. Bye.

KURTZ: Coming up, hiccup hysteria at the morning shows.

And later today, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, join CNN's John Roberts for "THIS WEEK AT WAR."

Here's a preview.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The violence, again, is always rising and falling. And the insurgency do have a choice in what happens.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The Iraq Study Group didn't say a surge wouldn't work. It says the U.S. doesn't have enough troops to do it effectively.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The support of the British people for the war effort is simply waning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was Iraq that brought al Qaeda back to life.

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The military is much too small for the task at hand.



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


KURTZ (voice over): Jennifer Mee (ph), a Florida teenager, might seem an unlikely get for the morning shows. Then she started hiccuping and couldn't stop for four weeks. The "Today" show booked her, but "Good Morning America" would not give up.

In fact, reports the "St. Petersburg Times," "GMA" bookers called Jennifer 57 times and slipped notes under her hotel door in an effort to steal her away. But "Today" wound up with the scoop.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First it's kind of funny. It's not funny, is it, anymore?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not no more. It's not. Not at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are you coping?


KURTZ: The morning shows focusing on the problems of ordinary people with hiccups.

"The Washington Post," led by Pulitzer Prize winner Dana Priest, spent four months investigating the squalid, cockroach-infested conditions and shoddy care at the Army's Walter Reed Medical Center, but wait until you hear what happened when Priest told military officials about the story six days before the paper planned to publish.

The Army's P.R. office staged a preemptive strike, holding a briefing room for reporters from the "L.A. Times," "USA Today," FOX News, the AP, and other organizations, challenging an article that had not even been published yet. An Army spokesman told me this is merely "an effort to get the facts out from our perspective."

But the next time a reporter has an exclusive story, do you think he or she is going to give the Army six days to respond, or call 10 minutes before a deadline?

Ahead in the second half hour of RELIABLE SOURCES, the British start pulling out of Iraq and the White House says that's good news? A look at the coverage of the war.

First, a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.


KURTZ: Welcome back.

It's a fascinating challenge for journalists -- America's most steadfast partner in the Iraq war begins to pull out, and the Bush administration insists the British decision is not a setback, not at all, for what used to be called the coalition.

Here's what senior U.S. officials told the media after British news organizations broke the story of Tony Blair's decision.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: The British have done what is really the plan for the country as a whole.

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I look at it, and what I see is an affirmation of the fact that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well.


KURTZ: But some American journalists were openly skeptical.


KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Bob, the Bush administration is characterizing the British drawdown as a sign of success.

Is anyone buying that?

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Well, if that's the claim, it's going to be a very hard sell to a country and a public that is already turned against this war, and especially a hard sell with the Congress.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is very tough at this point to see is it as anything but a blow for the White House.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: How does this White House actually spin that the British retreat is anything other than bad news? I mean, they can't even believe that spin, can they?


KURTZ: Joining us now to cut through the spin, Ed Henry, CNN's White House correspondent; Justin Webb, chief radio correspondent for the BBC; and Martha Raddatz, White House correspondent for ABC News and author of the upcoming book "The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family." A gripping account of combat in Iraq.

Martha Raddatz, away from the cameras, did administration officials try to sell you on the idea that the British withdrawal was not a disappointment?

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: They tried. I don't think it worked very well.

I guess I kind of think, well, what else are they going to say? But you have to say it sometime -- look, this is a disappointment. They can spin it any way they want, but this one didn't work.

People have been there, people have seen it. We have a surge going on. We have 21,500 troops, at the minimum, going in, in the next couple of months. Having the British pull out may not be a problem now, drawing down their troops, but eventually it could be if something happens in the Basra area.

Does that mean U.S. troops then have to fill in? And we don't have the troops to fill in.

KURTZ: But Ed Henry, it's more than a military story. There are only 7,000 British troops remaining in Iraq. It's a political story.

And yet, on Air Force One, White House spokesman Tony Snow was asked whether this was a negative sign. And he said, no, it indicates there's been some progress in Basra, the southern town where the British were -- what did you make of that?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Glaring contradiction. I mean, on one hand, Tony Snow, as well as the vice president, as you saw in the ABC interview, are basically saying this is success. But meanwhile, when the Democrats say, let's pull U.S. troops out, as the vice president again charged this week, that's helping al Qaeda. That's helping the terrorists. Nancy Pelosi obviously objected to that. Democrats said you're questioning, you know, our patriotism and what now. So you have that back and forth.

And let's also not forget, you know, that it is a contradiction it seems in the message from the White House, but also, while even a lesser number of troops, you also had Denmark and Lithuania this week after the British saying this, said, we're going to be pulling out as well. So the coalition of the willing is obviously starting to wilt.

KURTZ: Justin Webb, the British media, parts of which have kind of labeled Tony Blair as Bush's poodle, how did they report the story? Did they accept what the prime minister was saying at face value, or did they suggest that there was more to it than that?

JUSTIN WEBB, BBC: I think the point is that what the prime minister was saying was not what Dick Cheney was saying. This is what really gives the light to what the White House was coming out (ph) to.

The prime minister was kind up front about it. He says Basra is not the place we wanted to be. And yet we're still taking these troops out.

So the line from the British government actually wasn't -- they didn't have the chutzpah, if you like, to say it's a success, as Dick Cheney is, we're getting out. What they said, it's not the place we wanted to be, but we don't think there's anything much more we can do. And...

KURTZ: But the media also cast this as something that Tony Blair wanted to do before he leaves office in a few short months.

WEBB: Very much so. And, you know, it's not so much about what Blair wants to do. It's not Blair's legacy, it's Brown's inheritance.

We have the possibility, almost certainty in the next few months, and possibly in a couple of months, we are going to have a new prime minister. Now, in Britain, the party is the important thing, not the prime minister. So we're going to have a new prime minister and no election. But the Labour Party, their party, desperately needs to be out of Iraq. And that is what this is being suggested, is that the driving force behind this in Britain.

RADDATZ: Howie, let's go back to the credibility of the administration on this. We've spent years listening to the administration say things are going better than they're going.

To me, it was fairly unbelievable that they would try that again. And I think that's really what surprised me most, that they would -- that Vice President Cheney in the ABC interview would come forward once again and say very similar things to what he's been saying for years, many of them which have been debunked.

KURTZ: I will play that in a moment, but here's my question -- the limitations of journalism -- you're not a commentator, you're not a columnist -- how far can you go in saying, look, folks, this is hard to believe what the White House is saying?

RADDATZ: Not as far as you can go.


RADDATZ: You can sit there and call it a lie. We're not going to call it that.

But we -- I mean, I think the press has a right at this point, certainly more than ever before, to be skeptical about some of the statements coming out of the White House. Certainly we have to be careful. But there is an analysis to this, and we have some credibility looking at what the administration says and going back and saying other things that they've said.

HENRY: And the president's getting more isolated on the world stage. As you point out, Tony Blair leaving soon in a few months. Also, John Howard, the Australian prime minister who was being visited by Vice President Cheney, he's down in the polls, he's up for reelection.

If he were to go down, the president is going to be increasingly...


KURTZ: Let me come back to the media's handling. You said on this network, Ed Henry, this is a blow to the White House no matter how they try to play it. Now, some people would say, well, you're acting as if the White House is not telling the truth. .

How do you feel comfortable making that statement?

HENRY: It's just you have to -- it's almost like facts on the ground in Iraq, facts on the ground at the White House.

You're a reporter. Sure, you're not commenting, you're not commentating or passing opinions. That's a fact.

I mean, for so long Tony Blair has been the president's most steadfast ally. For him to start pulling out British troops at a time when the U.S. is sending more troops is a problem.

WEBB: And, you know, people without axes to grind -- you looked at Wolf Blitzer on the day it happened. He had -- I think it was Senator Kyl on, straight-talking supporter of the war. Blitzer says to Kyl, look, is this really good news for the White House? Kyl says, no, it's not.

KURTZ: So you look for other voices.

WEBB: You're looking for the voices who are -- who are supporters of the war but who are not politically so involved with it that they need to spin a line. And there were those voices.

KURTZ: Let me pull back a little bit, Justin Webb, and ask you, at least until recently, what are the differences -- what have been the differences between the way that the British media and American media have covered this war in Iraq?

WEBB: The British media has decided that it was a disaster, and the British media decided that pretty much amongst itself some time ago. And the British public decided it some time ago. And a lot of the coverage is have extremely negative, even when there are serious people saying there are reasons to be optimistic, there are reasons to be hopeful, there are reasons to give this another chance.

The view in Britain has been for some time now that this was a terrible disaster. And I'll give you an example of that, which wasn't much covered here -- in fact, wasn't much covered in Britain either.

But at the same time Tony Blair made this announcement about British troops going, the British government has also announced there's going to be an inquiry, a full-scale inquiry into why Britain became involved in this escapade in the first place. And that gives you an idea of the kind of seriousness, the kind of way in which Britain regards the whole thing. It is not regarded as a success.

KURTZ: Martha Raddatz, you made reference to an interview that Vice President Cheney gave your ABC colleague, Jonathan Karl.

Let's take a look at part of that exchange.


JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: Hasn't our strategy been failing? Isn't that why the president's had to come out with a new strategy?

CHENEY: Well, a failed strategy. Let's see, we didn't fail when we got rid of Saddam, we didn't fail when we held elections, we didn't fail when we got a constitution written. Those are all success stories.

KARL: But didn't we fail when 3,000 American soldiers are killed?

CHENEY: That's been -- you wish there was never a single -- you wish there was never a casualty, Jonathan.


KURTZ: Now, Rush Limbaugh was very critical of Jonathan Karl for coming back and saying, didn't we fail when 3,000 American soldiers were killed? Saying, look, it's war, people die. Casualties are part of the process.

Your take.

RADDATZ: That question is a difficult one to look at and say anything about, the troop loss. I have a difficult time. I probably would have a difficult time asking that question, Jonathan certainly had a right to ask that question.

KURTZ: But what he was trying to do...


KURTZ: ... was to press the vice president on his somewhat rosy view of progress in Iraq.

HENRY: Exactly. And that he should be doing, because Dick Cheney is saying the same thing again and again.

He's saying something completely opposite than Ed Henry and I watched the president say several months ago, that mistakes were made, that they needed a new strategy. I think that should be pressed again and again.

For Dick Cheney also in that interview to say, I have a friend who drove up from -- through Basra to Baghdad, or something, I mean, that is an extraordinary statement -- this anecdotal evidence which they always accuse us of pulling out.

WEBB: And you're asking me the difference between the British coverage and the American coverage.

KURTZ: Yes. How about Cheney?

WEBB: Typical of that question, that question from a British correspondent would not have been, how about the troop deaths? It would have been, how about the deaths in Iraq? How many people have died in Iraq?

It's given much more coverage in Britain. And, of course, we don't have numbers, but they run into the many tens of thousands, potentially, of Iraqis who have died since the invasion. And that is something that I think is concentrated on far more by British correspondents than U.S.

HENRY: Another good point about the fact of the credibility question for the White House is it is made more pronounced by the fact that you do have the president trying to say more and more and deal with the reality on the ground that mistakes have been made. But the vice president keeps going out and saying, no, there's a lot of success. And there seems to be a really mixed message.

KURTZ: Well, here's my two cents.

You know, journalists are openly skeptical of this war now. As some would say, that's a bit too late.

They did a good job here of not just swallowing the White House line on this British pullout. There are limits to straight reporting. You can't just come on and say, boy, these people are lying, it's absolutely ludicrous. But what you can do, you can do, is to present the countervailing facts, to present the context, and let the viewers and readers make up their own minds.

Justin Web, Martha Raddatz, Ed Henry, thanks very much for joining us this morning. Still to come, Sirius and XM want to team up. Is satellite radio thriving because commercial stations have driven listeners away?

That's next.


KURTZ: Howard Stern and Oprah Winfrey could wind up working for the same company if federal regulators allow the nation's two satellite radio companies to merge. Sirius, which employs Howard, and XM, which has Oprah, said this week they want to join forces. And it's not hard to understand why. They have lost a combined $6 billion in a few short years.

Joining us now in Springfield, Massachusetts, Michael Harrison, editor and publisher of "Talkers" magazine. And here in Washington, Marc Fisher, columnist for "The Washington Post" and author of "Something in the Air: Radio, Rock and the Revolution That Shaped a Generation."

Marc Fisher, in trying to figure out why commercial radio is losing a lot of listeners to satellite, I'm reminded that you once sat in on a focus group for a local music station trying to figure out what songs they should play.

Explain what happened.

MARC FISHER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, you know, this is where they take a few dozen people, bring them into a shopping center, sit them down and play them six seconds each of hundreds of pop tunes and get them to respond very quickly with a quick emotional reaction. And that's how the playlist for radio stations, big commercial radio stations, are made these days.

And what it does is it creates a sameness, a predictability across the whole country where one music station sounds like another. And that's what's happened to commercial radio. It's why there was an opening in the market for satellite radio to come along.

KURTZ: Michael Harrison, no wonder it sounds like I'm listening to the same '50s songs all the time. But why did these two companies, which have between them 13 million subscribers, and are signing up people from Howard to Bob Dylan to Martha Stewart, to major league sports, why do they suddenly want to merge?

MICHAEL HARRISON, "TALKERS" MAGAZINE: I guess they know their financial situation is more desperate than they're letting on, or they wouldn't be merging. Obviously, they have a problem.

They've got great programming. It's a great idea. And they certainly have put the idea of satellite radio into the lexicon. It's a household word now.

The problem is, they're spending too much money to do it. So now they have to fix that end of the equation. FISHER: They've spent $7 billion to get 14 million customers. Those are very expensive customers. You compare that with what Apple did for almost nothing. They've sold 90 million iPods.

KURTZ: But would you say at this point that satellite radio, because it has drawn 13 million people -- and after all, you know, we're all used to thinking radio should be free, and these people are paying 13 bucks a month to subscribe -- would you say it's a success or a failure because of all the red ink?

FISHER: It's a creative success. Some of the programming is terrific. It's really satisfied people who felt that commercial broadcast radio was too boring, too predictable. But it has not been a business success in any large sort of way.

The interesting thing that's gooding to happen now is the FCC has to decide whether there's something unique about satellite radio as a technology, or whether they're just one more content provider, like CNN or "The Washington Post" or Disney, that is just putting out interesting, creative product and competing against all the other media.

KURTZ: In other words, if it's just company A versus company B, it could be anti-competitive to have them all be in one company. But if they're competing against iPods and video downloads and audio downloads, and all that, it's a different situation.

Michael Harrison, what about satellite radio as a place for talk? For example, this show right now is being simulcast on Sirius and XM because they both take a live feed -- live feed from CNN. Now, I know that a lot of talk shows are replayed on satellite, but the biggest hosts, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, they're still on AM radio.

HARRISON: They are. But many of them are going to satellite. And some of them already are.

But again, it's great -- it's great programming. It's just not the last stop on the track. And I think that wifi and Internet looms on the horizon as the real end to all of this diversity, because I think that's where it all will wind up.

And what's going to happen is, all the money they spent on creating this satellite system will have gone, you know, into the red round disposable unit. The problem is, they're just going to be content providers. Everybody is a production company. Ultimately, the Internet is going to win out and hurt all of these other forms of media, making them seem old-fashioned.

KURTZ: It sounds like you're not buying any satellite radio stock.

Mark Fisher, is the appeal in satellite radio kind of the free- wheeling nature where you're don't just have these niche music channels, but you have a gay channel, you have an Elvis channel -- there's a "Playboy" channel, Martha Stewart channel, and Howard Stern can say whatever the blank he wants?

FISHER: Sure. It's -- the analogy is to television what happened when cable came along and suddenly there were dozens and dozens of choices. That's very appealing to someone who likes a certain genre of music that you can't really hear on broadcast radio. So...

KURTZ: And cable news struggled in the early years.

FISHER: Well, absolutely. And satellite radio -- but it's different because radio -- people already have a lot more choices than you had in the old days of three TV networks.

So -- and also, broadcast radio has a new thing called HD radio, or digital radio, where each station will have a second or third frequency on it where you'll be able to hear a wider variety of music. So there are lots of competitors for satellite radio coming along.

We're just a few years away from Internet -- wireless Internet in the car. When that happens, the justification for satellite radio is really quite slim.

KURTZ: And when that happens, there will probably a lot more car accidents.

Michael Harrison, what about the local flavor of radio, that you had programs that were aimed to local audiences with local homegrown guys or women? Is that now unimportant?

HARRISON: No, certainly not. Local is very important. And local will always be a major part of broadcasting. And there's no reason why the Internet and iPods and all of these other forms of technology can't provide local service to not only their communities, but to give everybody in the world a window on the microscopic specifics of each locality, which is very exciting when you think about it.

KURTZ: It does seem to me that a lot of the local shows I used to listen to have now been wiped out by syndicated shows. And so...

HARRISON: That's a temporary situation.

KURTZ: All right. Well, we're going to leave it there.

Michael Harrison, Mark Fisher, thanks very much for taking us into orbit on this story.

Up next, laughing at liberals. Fox's foray into conservative comedy.


KURTZ: Let's face it, liberals have dominated the humor world for too long. The Hollywood left-wingers, the brie and Chablis set, the hate America first crowd have been imposing their godless socialism brand of comedy on the rest of us. And it's time for that to change.


KURTZ (voice over): Jon Stewart -- have you noticed how much he relishes bashing Bush?

Al Franken is now running for the Senate as a Democrat.

Larry David? His wife Laurie is an environmental activist, for crying out loud.

David Letterman doesn't claim any political affiliation, but have you seen the way he goes after Bill O'Reilly?

(on camera): But now finally comes salvation for comedy-starved conservatives. "The Half Hour News Hour" debuted on FOX News last weekend, and it seems like a foxy and fantasy of the world as it might look if the liberal media weren't in charge. The program's idea of a great president of the United States?

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: As president, I hereby promise you, the American people, four years or more of commander in chief excellence.

KURTZ (voice over): And the vice president, whose voice is like fingernails on a blackboard for pathetic liberals? Ann Coulter, who warned people they'd better watch the show.

ANN COULTER: And if you don't, we'll invade your countries, kill your leaders, and convert you to Christianity.


KURTZ: I love it when she repeats those words that prompted "National Review" to can her column.

But the best thing about "The Half Hour News Hour" is the way the anchors go after America's enemies who have been protect for far too long by the limousine liberals who run the big newspapers and networks. People like Hillary Clinton.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dispelling reports that she would staff her White House with long-team cronies and political appointees, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton vowed that if she becomes president, she will surround herself with a diverse, multiethnic, multigenerational group of angry lesbians.


KURTZ: Now, that's funny. And did you notice the sly dig at gays as well?

The program didn't let Barack Obama off the hook like so much of the media for admitting past drug use as a young man. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a related story, Senator Obama has just been endorsed for president by former Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry.


KURTZ: Get it? Barry was busted for smoking crack.

And the subversive organization that claims to fight for civil liberties was called to account.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today vicious hate groups can march any time they want to, anywhere they please in these United States of America. Who did that? I did that. I'm the ACLU.


KURTZ: Hilarious. And what a great laugh track.

So take that, Comedy Central and "Saturday Night Live." The left's monopoly on the comedic industrial complex has finally been broken. Fair and balanced humor the way only FOX can do it.


Thank you. Thank you very much.

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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