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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Are Journalists Covering Debates Like Theater Critics?; Wolfowitz Forced Out as President of World Bank
Aired May 20, 2007 - 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): Sound bite city. The media hail Rudy Giuliani for delivering a 9/11 applause line at a Republican debate.
Are journalists covering this presidential debate like theater critics? And were the FOX News moderators fair and balanced?
Brought down at the bank. Paul Wolfowitz forced out over a promotion and fat raise for his girlfriend. Did the press turn the World Bank dispute into a soap opera because of his role in pushing the Iraq war?
Shock jock shocker. Opie and Anthony suspended for a month over jokes about sexually assaulting Condoleezza Rice and Laura Bush.
Are radio hosts feeling the heat after Don Imus' downfall?
Plus, why is the military cracking down on soldiers, blogs, and YouTube?
KURTZ: For political junkies, which means journalists, candidates, their staffs and a few ordinary Americans, this has been a frenetic week.
Rudy smacked down a congressman almost no one had heard of before. Bill made a video about Hillary. Hillary made a video making fun of her singing. Newt said on ABC he might run. And two major magazines heap praise on Al and seem to be trying to entice him into the race.
But we begin by turning our critical lens on the Republican presidential debate on FOX News. The most replayed sound bite by far was of Giuliani responding to Texas' congressman Ron Paul's declaration that we, the U.S., brought on the 9/11 attacks by bombing Iraq for a decade.
RUDY GIULIANI (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's really an extraordinary statement. That's an extraordinary statement. As someone who lived through the attack of September 11th, that we lived through the attack because we were attacking Iraq, I don't think I've ever heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th.
WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What he had to do, Heidi, was get beyond the abortion issue, and he did, thanks to Ron Paul, the libertarian candidate who gave him this opportunity to talk about 9/11.
BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: The people around him at least felt that he had seized a good opportunity and had taken it. And for some people, that was the moment of the night.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: Rudy, he owns 9/11, and he just proved it.
KURTZ: Joining us to talk about coverage of the debate and some other political issues, David Frum, columnist for "National Review Online," and a former speechwriter for President Bush; and Ryan Lizza, senior editor at "The New Republic" and a correspondent for "GQ" magazine; Gloria Borger, national political correspondent for CBS News and a contributing editor for "U.S. News & World Report".
Gloria, Giuliani gets off a good line against the extremely obscure Ron Paul in a ridiculously early debate.
Are we possibly making too much of this?
GLORIA BORGER, CBS NEWS: Well, it was fun. You know, you have so pick your enemies in these kinds of debates.
You've got, what, 10 fellows up there? You've got to distinguish yourself. So you swatted a flea, which is exactly what Rudy Giuliani did. His campaign is going to be about her persona. It's going to be about his leadership style, because...
KURTZ: So what he did was important?
BORGER: That -- what he did for his campaign was really important, because he didn't really want to talk about abortion.
KURTZ: Right. And that's interesting, because, David Frum, the first Republican debate, the media declared Giuliani the loser because he had given this sort of tortured explanation on abortion. Now he's the winner because he has this good one line.
We're pretty easy.
DAVID FRUM, "NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE": Well, it isn't that he got the good one line. It's that, yes, he swatted a flea. But the point was, there are two other serious rivals, McCain and Romney, on that platform, and he elbowed both of them aside to grab the flea swatter.
And what the show of leadership is, who is the one who seizes the moment and dominates the attention of the camera and the audience? And in the first debate, Giuliani drew attention to himself in a bad way. Here he drew attention to himself in a positive way and left the others grumbling that they'd like 30 seconds, too.
KURTZ: But Ryan Lizza, not that many people see these debates. So what gets replayed on the news and what gets talked about on shows like this can be even more important.
RYAN LIZZA, SR. EDITOR, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": Right, and that can be a big deal. But this is -- we're hyperventilating over, you know...
KURTZ: Nobody agrees with me.
LIZZA: ... a good line in a debate.
KURTZ: We're hyperventilating.
LIZZA: The bottom line is that Rudy Giuliani, the fundamental problem, the structural problem with Rudy Giuliani's campaign doesn't change because he got off a good line attacking Ron Paul. The abortion issue is one that's not going to go away just because he got to, you know, brag about his role at 9/11.
The other thing is, just on the merits, I mean, anyone that's familiar with the debate over Iraq and what happened on 9/11 has surely heard once before that -- the arguments that our role in the Middle East led to the 9/11 attacks. Whether you agree with it or not, you're surely familiar with that.
KURTZ: This is not about the merits. This is about who gets to...
BORGER: This is about trying out for Broadway, OK? And you're all standing up there and this is your call. And we journalists are watching this.
And you're surprised we're hyperventilating? We don't have anything else to do right now. So we are watching all of these and we're giving them reviews.
KURTZ: On the other side of that camera, in that off Broadway tryout, were the journalists from FOX News -- Brit Hume, Chris Wallace, Wendell Goler.
Let's take a look at some of their questions.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: A recent poll found that 77 percent of Republicans disapprove of the idea of setting a timetable for withdrawal.
Are you running for the nomination of the wrong party?
WENDELL GOLER, FOX NEWS: Your critics called you "Flip-Flop Mitt" for, among other things, your decision to take the "no new taxes" pledge this year after refusing to do so in 2002.
Tell me why your decision to take the pledge shouldn't be seen as a blatant appeal to the party base, sir?
WALLACE: You're pro-choice, you're pro-gay rights, you're pro- gun control, you supported Mario Cuomo for governor over a Republican.
Are those the stands of a conservative?
GOLER: You have said that you personally hate abortion but support a woman's right to choose. Governor Huckabee says that's like saying, I hate slavery, but people can go ahead and practice it.
Tell me why he's wrong.
KURTZ: Let's face it, a lot of people expected FOX to go easy on Republicans.
Did that happen?
FRUM: I think it was a triumphant night for FOX, and I say this as someone who's often had doubts about the way they cover politics. But they asked a very -- the important thing they did was not that they were tough -- anyone can be tough -- they were precise.
One of the problems with the first debate was that the 60-second format felt too short for an answer. But that was because...
KURTZ: That was the debate on MSNBC.
FRUM: That's right. When you ask diffuse, rambling, look -- "I'm the journalist, I'm the star, look at me" questions...
KURTZ: Who would you be referring to here?
FRUM: Other questioners -- then 60 seconds is too short. But if you say, here is an answer, yes, no? Sixty seconds is plenty of time.
I thought the FOX questioners did a masterful job.
KURTZ: For those who don't know, Chris Matthews moderated the first Republican debate on MSNBC.
A little difference in the style?
LIZZA: Yes. Look, there is the good FOX and there's the bad FOX. FOX has a reputation for being intellectually dishonest and a little bit propagandistic for the Republican Party. And with certain commentators, that's true.
If you had Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly doing this debate, it would be totally different. But they also have a good team of political reporters who are junkies and ask good questions.
BORGER: Well, I think the key to being a good questioner, a good journalist in this kind of program is you have to have well-researched questions. They knew their facts and they threw them out there. KURTZ: So should the Democrats debate on FOX? They're basically boycotting FOX.
BORGER: I do not see why the Democrats should not debate on FOX News.
KURTZ: All right.
Al Gore getting a lot of coverage. Here's "TIME" magazine, if we can put it up on the screen. Cover story. Let me read a little bit from that.
"He dedicated himself to a larger cause, doing everything in his power to sound the alarm about the climate crisis, and that decision helped transform the way Americans think about global warming and carried Gore to a new state of grace."
"The New York Times" magazine also has a big piece today on Gore which they say he attained prophetic status. He's a prophet.
The media didn't used to like Al Gore that much. Now they're basically begging him to get into the 2008 race.
What's going on?
FRUM: Well, there is a kind of Lucy with the football aspect to this, which is, give us an opportunity to turn savagely against you. But I think many Democrats must feel as they watch this that they are missing somebody important in the race when they miss the last vice president of their party.
A huge name recognition. He's got an issue that excites the left but isn't Iraq. And so doesn't maybe raise some of the national security questions about the Democratic strengths that the other candidates who appeal to the left could raise.
KURTZ: But he says he's not running.
LIZZA: Well, he left -- in "The New York Times" magazine piece, he left the door open. In fact, I think he widened it a little bit. He said -- he did say it's not impossible.
KURTZ: But why is it we're a year and a half before the election -- are we so tired of the existing candidates that journalists are already panting against those who might get into the race?
LIZZA: Well, not running is the new running, right? Because people get so sick of the candidates, that you wait on the sidelines and eventually you'll have your moment in the sun.
BORGER: But don't forget we have this early primary system right now. And so, if you are going to get in, you ought to be really thinking about it by the fall.
And I think, you know, the question with Al Gore is, if you look at credentials, if you look at resume, if you look at somebody, as you said, who has got an issue that he raised to the forefront, Al Gore is there.
KURTZ: Does the press want Al Gore to run?
BORGER: Of course. Of course.
KURTZ: This is sort of like cheerleading.
BORGER: Just like the press wants Fred Thompson to run, Newt Gingrich to run. I mean, they want everyone.
KURTZ: And all these guys...
FRUM: The press is doing a public service, but this is the first race since 1928 in which there is not a president or a vice president seeking the job. And so this is a great moment to open up the American political system. And in a funny way, it's a moment to have debates that did not happen. In 1992, when the Cold War ended and when Americans' institutions of the past 50 years, they had to question them, that didn't happen in the '90s. It could happen now.
KURTZ: I don't think any more people could fit on that stage and get in one camera shot.
Now, I mentioned at the top Bill Clinton making a video for his wife. Let's take a brief look at that, if we have it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are a lot of things about Hillary you may not know that occurred in her life before she ever became a United States senator.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, guess who was on the cover of the new edition of "Newsweek"? The former president of the United States. "The Bill Factor". There it is.
"The New York Times" reports last week, Gloria Borger, that the Clinton strategists are saying that Bill might have his own campaign plan and his own press corps following him around during the Hillary candidacy.
Would you sign up to ride on that plane?
BORGER: Sure. I think more people would sign up on that one than on Hillary's. They have a problem though in that campaign.
I was with them in -- at the march in Selma, and they had to keep them apart, because he so overshadows her when he's with her. He's the rock star.
So, while she wants to remind people that -- of his presidency and what the economy was doing during his presidency, et cetera, she cannot just be a functionary of Bill Clinton. She is the candidate.
KURTZ: Too much focus on the potential first spouse?
LIZZA: Yes. Look, there's a lot of hand-wringing over Bill's role, and I think partly it's a media phenomenon, because people in the media have a much more complicated...
KURTZ: You think? Cover of "Newsweek"?
LIZZA: Much more complicated views of Bill than the general public does, and definitely more complicated views of Bill than Democratic primary voters do. So I think it's a no-brainer for Hillary. Use Bill as much as possible. Democratic primary voters love him.
FRUM: No, it is a brainer.
LIZZA: For the general maybe.
FRUM: The first woman candidate for the presidency of the United States needs to have a very simple story about her relationship to the man in her life. And when we look at women who have...
BORGER: No woman has a simple story.
FRUM: Sorry. Margaret Thatcher had a simple story. He's retired, he's playing golf, he has no influence in my government. Angela Merkel had a simple story -- I've never married.
KURTZ: But deal with the media fascination here. Is it...
FRUM: Because the tabloid element of the Clinton story is...
KURTZ: Because of what happened before?
FRUM: Yes. And because -- and because -- because journalists are much more suspicious of what the Clinton marriage is all about than maybe the general public is.
BORGER: Well, but remember, when he ran, he said, you know, buy one, get one free. Well, the question is, for the Democratic Primary voters, buy one, get one free is fabulous. In the general election, I don't think so.
KURTZ: I think they have retired that slogan.
When we come back, Paul Wolfowitz forced out at the World Bank. Is all that media attention really just about the girlfriend?
KURTZ: Paul Wolfowitz forced out at the World Bank this week. The former Pentagon official got into an ethics flap over his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, arranging a promotion and a $60,000 raise for her. He said to avoid a conflict of interest.
Intense media coverage of this, David Frum. Was it about this earth-shattering issue of the relationship, or was it about Iraq?
FRUM: Well, I think this is one of the amazing media angles, is this is probably the first story in history where "The Financial Times" played the role of "National Enquirer". They were the recipient of all of the most poisonous leaks from the World Bank staff. This was their crusade.
They got negative story after negative story. And it all ran in "The Financial Times," a paper whose directive often to journalists is, think of the most boring headline you can write, then make it more boring than that.
KURTZ: As this dragged on, Gloria Borger, it almost seemed like the media were demanding Wolfowitz' resignation. What, he promoted his girlfriend and he's still there?
BORGER: Oh my god. Well, and, yes, and this was a political story, obviously, and we were covering it in a way like it was a political story.
KURTZ: In part because the question was how strongly would the Bush administration defend the person they put in that job.
BORGER: Defend him, because Wolfowitz is one of the original architects of the Iraq war. So that was the undercurrent.
The administration, well, does it defend Gonzales? Does it defend Wolfowitz? They have so many people to defend right now. And what we're looking at is parsing their statements. And in the end, of course, it was OK with them that Wolfowitz decided to leave.
KURTZ: Did the media help turn Paul Wolfowitz into kind of a symbol of Bush administration ethics, even though this thing -- the girlfriend, you know, I'm not minimizing it, but it was not Watergate.
LIZZA: Right. No, that's right. This became a Bush administration story.
The truth is that most political reporters don't know the name of the World Bank president. But when it's a famous and controversial Bush administration official at the World Bank, it becomes a big Bush story.
And look, the reason that this became a scandal was because Paul Wolfowitz was playing by a different set of rules. He was playing by the rules of the Bush administration, where a little bit of cronyism is OK. You get out of the Bush administration and into an institution like the World Bank, and...
FRUM: Where a lot of cronyism...
LIZZA: Not at that level, though.
KURTZ: Is that an undercovered aspect of this?
FRUM: That is a hugely undercovered aspect. I mean, that -- and that is where I think the media was a little bit in the tank for the World Bank critics.
And Ryan says, it may have been just ignorance. But there are a lot of World Bank officials who have their spouses working directly underneath them. One of whom, this Chinese -- his wife got big promotions. So -- but...
KURTZ: You're saying he was held to a different standard.
FRUM: There was one newspaper -- there was one media institution in America, "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page, that would defend him. There was "The Financial Times" on the front page attacking him. They were always a day ahead.
BORGER: Well, why were they defending him? Were they defending him on the -- on the issue, or were they defending him because of his role on the war?
LIZZA: They were not defending him because he was a great World Bank president. "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page doesn't really -- I mean, to the extent...
FRUM: "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page is where they cover the World Bank more than any other newspaper in the United States, I'm sure.
LIZZA: They were defending him because his legacy is wrapped up in the legacy of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq.
KURTZ: Let me jump in, because Gloria mentioned Alberto Gonzales. We seem to be constantly on a Gonzales death watch as well.
KURTZ: You know, we have the whole scandal over the fired U.S. attorneys, which just seemed to get worse and worse in the sense that more information would come out they hadn't released. And then the story this week about Gonzales, when he worked at the White House back in 2004, going to the hospital, where then attorney general John Ashcroft was gravely ill, and trying to get him to sign a piece of paper authorizing, or at least declaring legal the secret Bush administration domestic eavesdropping story.
Do you think that that is something that deserves to have been elevated into the media stratosphere here? And does it put even more pressure on the attorney general?
LIZZA: Oh, yes. I mean, it's the most important story of the week. I mean, who knew that John Ashcroft would -- his legacy would be redeemed as the civil libertarian of the Bush administration?
KURTZ: And it's kind of like out of a Hollywood movie.
BORGER: You can't make this stuff up, Howie. I mean, there they are, the guy is suffering from pancreatitis, and he's -- could be close to death. And they run over there, the White House chief of staff, the White House counsel, to try to get him to do something.
He gets up and points to James Comey in the room and says, I'm not the attorney general. He is. Right?
You can't make this up. Then they go back to the White House and have a very late night meeting. And it's...
FRUM: It does show a vulnerability of the media, which is that this story is hugely dramatic, but it is completely unclear to me that Gonzales in this instance did anything wrong. I mean, you have -- you have -- in this instance. You have -- because you have a very important domestic security decision, you've got an acting attorney general who makes a decision that you conscientiously think is wrong, and you go try to persuade somebody -- this story could have been...
KURTZ: In the hospital after he's already surrendered the powers of attorney general?
FRUM: This story could be reported in a very different way of a heroic attorney general. That -- the thing that I find baffling about all of this is...
KURTZ: Just briefly.
FRUM: ... that Gonzales has a decent way out, which is he said things to Congress that were not true. And he could have said, I meant to tell the truth, but I didn't. And the rule in our system is, if you mislead Congress, you have to resign. And then he would have a clean exit and he could kill the story. And he's not taking it.
KURTZ: It's like with -- it's like with Wolfowitz. The media still can't believe Gonzales is still there, but he's got a constituency of one, George W. Bush.
Ryan Lizzy, Gloria Borger, David Frum, thanks very much for joining us this morning.
Up next, our "Media Minute". A BBC reporter loses it during a story on Scientology, and the red-faced cable anchor who thought she was quoting the White House Web site.
KURTZ: Time now for the latest in the news business in our "Media Minute".
When we think of media coverage in Iraq, we tend to think of American reporters risking their lives to get the story. But most Western news organizations rely heavily on Iraqi journalists and cameramen to go places the American and British can't safely go. And we got a brutal reminder this week that these unsung Iraqi reporters are taking, as ABC's Charlie Gibson reported.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIBSON: In the more than four years of war in Iraq, more than 3,400 American families now have gotten the dreaded knock on the door, learning that a family member had been killed. Today, we got a knock on ours.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Gibson went on to give the names and show the pictures of these Iraqi journalists, something we are not doing because the families of those killed have been receiving threats, and CNN is seen internationally.
Some say journalists ought to show more passion. Well, BBC correspondent John Sweeney showed plenty of that this week. He totally lost it on camera.
KURTZ (voice over): Sweeney was preparing a documentary on Scientology, whose public champions are Tom Cruise and John Travolta, and said a top official from the church had been goading him all week. When the official, Tommy Davis, accused Sweeney of conducting a soft interview with a Scientology critic, the BBC man erupted.
JOHN SWEENEY, BBC: No, listen to me! You were not there at the beginning of that interview! You were not there!
KURTZ: Scientology has posted the rant on YouTube, and Sweeney has apologized, saying is he embarrassed by his behavior. But, he says, "I have been shouted at, spied on, had my hotel invaded at midnight, denounced as a bigot by star Scientologists, and been chased around the streets of Los Angeles by sinister strangers."
KURTZ: Now, talk about the perils of live television. Shortly after the Reverend Jerry Falwell's death on Tuesday, MSBNC anchor Contessa Brewer began reading some information from what she thought was the White House Web site.
CONTESSA BREWER, MSNBC: One of my producers, Chris, just pulled up a page from WhiteHouse.org where you could -- they say Dr. Falwell has earned his role as the de facto executive director of domestic and global policy for the White House.
How much influence did he have on George W. Bush?
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Well, I don't know about that. KURTZ (voice over): What? It turned out to be a satirical Web site that described Falwell as a huckster and worse. And Brewer soon acknowledged her blunder.
BREWER: Yes. And I just wanted to clarify. When I said WhiteHouse.org, that's what I meant. This is not the official White House Web site. That's WhiteHouse.gov.
KURTZ: Hey, don't believe everything you read online, or at least double check the address.
Coming up on the section half of RELIABLE SOURCES, more shock jocks run into trouble with tasteless jokes. Are radio executives running scared in the wake of Don Imus?
And the military under fire for restricting blogging by soldiers and access to popular Web sites.
Stay with us.
KURTZ: Welcome back.
When CBS and NBC dumped Don Imus last month, the word went forth, radio hosts who traffic in questionable humor had better be careful. CBS Radio later fired Jeff Vandergrift and Dan Lay after the hosts called a Chinese restaurant and made racist and sexist jokes in a mocking Asian accent.
Then came Opie and Anthony, who played along with a guest who joked about having forced sex with the secretary of state and the first lady.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just imagine the horror in Condoleezza Rice's face...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When she realizes what's going on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... as you were just like holding her down and (EXPLETIVE DELETED) her.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KURTZ: Opie and Anthony apologized, and XM Satellite Radio put out a mild statement of regret. But as the criticism mounted, XM hit the pair with a 30-day suspension.
CBS, which carries a cleaner version of their show, did nothing on the technical grounds that the offensive bit had been on XM.
Joining us now to talk about this, in New York, Michael Harrison, editor of "Talkers" magazine; Brooke Gladstone, host and managing editor of National Public Radio's "On the Media"; and in Seattle, radio host Michael Medved, host of "The Michael Medved Show" on Salem Radio Network.
Michael Harrison, that Opie and Anthony bit was beyond tasteless. So, is a 30-day suspension adequate punishment? Why shouldn't XM fire them?
MICHAEL HARRISON, "TALKERS": They shouldn't be fired because they're hired to do that, and there is nothing illegal about rape porn. It's one step above child porn, which is illegal. That's rape porn. It's a very low level type of entertainment, but it is legal.
KURTZ: There's nothing illegal about it? That's the standard?
HARRISON: It's not a standard, but we have a standard that goes from the highest (INAUDIBLE) in broadcasting, to the Internet, full of pornography. XM is a basic subscription service, and what came out of that is that everyone knows now that XM provides its audience with the option to have rape porn. And there's an audience for it.
That's really the story here, is that Wall Street-traded companies are entering the world of pornography to get in on that lucrative market. But it's not illegal. Opie and Anthony should not be fired or suspended, because it diverts the real issue that it's the corporation that provided it. They were just the agents of the corporation that did their job.
KURTZ: All right.
Michael Medved, I understand on satellite radio you pay a monthly fee, so you are choosing to listen to it. But if talking about sexually assaulting the secretary of state and first lady doesn't warrant a suspension, does anything?
MICHAEL MEDVED, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, probably not on satellite radio. I mean, it's one of the things.
We have a problem, those of us who go on the air every day, which is, where is the line? Now, I am not saying I would ever consider on my show doing a bit like they did, but there are people out there right now who want to discipline Rush Limbaugh because he has a parody song about Barack Obama that is called -- and this is his song -- it's called "Barack, the Magic Negro".
And the problem is there are no clear lines as to what is tasteless in what medium. And the one thing that has been very clear, as I listen occasionally to the Howard Stern show, which is on the competing satellite radio service, and it has incredibly outrageous stuff all the time.
So, all of a sudden I think Opie and Anthony were probably surprised that all of a sudden now there are going to be standards on satellite radio that have never been there. I think what the industry needs to do is to try to lay out some sort of clear standard so people on air can understand what's expected of us. KURTZ: Right. Well, I don't think the Howard Stern stuff is as mean-spirited. It certainly can be very raunchy.
But Brooke Gladstone, XM, as I mentioned, initially put out a very mild statement of regret about what Opie and Anthony did. A few days later, a big suspension.
What happened in between?
BROOKE GLADSTONE, NPR: Well, for one thing, Opie and Anthony's clean show on CBS lost some of its advertisers, and that probably has something to do with it. And I think the generally outcry.
I think the same thing happened with Don Imus. And I think it's really not a question of what's legal or what isn't.
I think that our First Amendment says that the market has to decide. And in this case, what you have are advertisers, many of them that pulled out of Don Imus. He also risked losing some of the high- profile guests that gave his show credibility.
In the case of Opie and Anthony, there is some Don Imus spillover, but I think you have to go back to the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction with Janet Jackson. You probably have to go back to that post-9/11 comment that Bill Maher made on "Politically Incorrect".
GLADSTONE: All of these things have contributed to this atmosphere. But again, it's partly fear of your bosses, it's partly fear of Congress and the FCC, and then it's partly fear of your advertisers. Some of that fear I'm OK with, some of that fear I'm not so OK with.
KURTZ: It sure is inconsistent, as Michael said. You know, XM says that after Opie and Anthony went back on the air and talked about the dumb rules they had to operate under, they -- the XM executives began to question the seriousness of their apology.
Michael Harrison, you don't think anything should have happened to Opie and Anthony because this is what XM hires people like this to do.
KURTZ: But the fact that XM is trying to merge with Sirius, the home of Howard Stern, and needs federal approval for that merger, do you think that may have prompted the suspensions...
HARRISON: Oh, clearly, without question. And they are making Opie and Anthony the scapegoats, as if Opie and Anthony operate within a vacuum and just do whatever they want and XM was victimized by it. And they all play that game. The hosts are the ones that become the scapegoats. It's like "Mission Impossible". Go out and do the impossible mission, and if you get caught, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of the mission. And that's what's happening with these talented people who are the ones taking the brunt of it, whether it's Imus or Opie and Anthony, or Rush Limbaugh.
But what's really happening is special interest groups are trying to intimidate advertisers to take their money out of talk radio in general, whether it's satellite, Internet, or terrestrial, and that's the underlying cause of all of this. They are trying to create a moral equivalency between rape porn and political satire. And that's a dangerous, slippery slope. And that's the real story.
KURTZ: I agree that there should be a line there.
And go ahead, Michael Medved.
MEDVED: Well, I think that's exactly right. And the problem with all of this is that, again, listening to Howard Stern, he does a bit called "Miss Black Howard Stern". There is nakedly racist material on the Howard Stern show, and actually he's proud of it.
And, I mean, they have a song about the private parts of Robin Quivers, who is one of the guest hosts, or one of the co-hosts. And all of this material is part of what makes the show popular.
The difficulty with all of this is that we're all subject to an activist taking -- and this is what happened to Imus. They took not the most offensive part of the Imus show in its history, but just one of many, many components that clearly went over some lines of tastefulness.
KURTZ: Michael Medved, has any of your -- have any of your listeners ever complained about you to the FCC?
MEDVED: Yes. There's one listener who has complained about 70 times because I was critical of very public people who had children out of wedlock, and we did a segment called "Celebrity Bastard Baby".
And this was -- now, thank god the FCC hasn't taken action against me. But when you live in a climate when somebody -- one person can be offended and then make a cause out of it, and you don't know where it's coming at you or what's expected, this is very, very difficult. And it's paralyzing for the industry, and it's paralyzing even potentially for political free speech when there are politicians who are talking about imposing fairness doctrines and cutting off political discussion. That's very chilling.
KURTZ: Brooke Gladstone, what about this point that there should be some demarcation between raunchy, offensive, racist or sexist humor that just goes over the line and political satire, which can be pretty sharp-edged as well?
GLADSTONE: I'm not sure that I see right now a threat to political satire directly. I mean, you see a lot of that on "The Daily Show," and it's celebrated. And in fact, as far as the raunchy stuff goes, I think, again, there is a commercial imperative there, and there's also fear of FCC fines. I'm concerned about the soaring FCC fines.
I was interested in Michael Medved's point about why Don Imus got caught on this political outrage and not on so many others. And I think that what we're overlooking here is the power of the Internet, particularly, I think, the liberal Web site Media Matters that watches these things and puts them out there. They bounce around in cyberspace for a while, they gain a huge amount of power, and so they are capable now where all of the people who are watching, all the audience that are watching and making their opinions known on the Internet, are having a much greater voice now in what manages to survive.
KURTZ: Michael Harrison, you used the phrase "intimidation," that people are trying to intimidate advertisers. Now, Imus, by the way, through his lawyers, is trying to get back on the air either at CBS or elsewhere. But what you would call intimidation others might say is just people expressing their distaste or their revulsion...
HARRISON: Right, they are. But they are taking something that's in a narrow cast situation and, as Brooke pointed out, amplifying it over and over and over on the Internet, bringing it to a wider audience who are outraged by something that they didn't watch, nor was geared to them originally, which is going to take away diversity.
Everything is now going to -- we're going to go back to the "I love Lucy" days, where they have to have separate beds in the bedroom because the whole country is watching it, when, in fact, these are specialized channels, specialized stations. We're in a modern 2007, 21st century era, and this Internet amplification is turning everything into mass appeal by special interests that are purposefully doing that. And we have to keep our eye on that.
KURTZ: Well, personally, I vote against to the return to separate beds in a married couple's bedroom.
Michael Medved, I've got about a half a minute.
Do you have any idea where the standards are now, or is it sort of hit or miss? I mean, you've still got jocks on the air like Mancow in Chicago calling -- referring to callers as a brain dead fetus. Nothing happens unless somebody complains.
MEDVED: OK. And here's the problem, Howie, is that when you look at that (inaudible) Steinberg article that you're alluding to about Mancow...
KURTZ: In "The New York Times".
MEDVED: ... in "The New York Times," that article specified that Mancow went over the line when he said Islam was a dangerous religion and Islamic killers were the prime terrorists in the world. Now, that's an arguable point. That's political speech. The difficulty is that it seems to me the industry really should get together, and people doing radio and doing television, for that matter, in all of its ramifications should try to determine where we as an industry can draw a line so at least there's some expectations.
KURTZ: Got to go. All right. A debate that's only going to get louder.
Michael Harrison, Michael Medved, Brooke Gladstone, thanks for joining us.
Up next, access denied. The military puts the kabosh on the likes of MySpace and YouTube, and soldiers aren't happy. That's next.
But first, here's John King with a look at what's coming up on "LATE EDITION".
KURTZ: Some American soldiers have started their own blogs, but the Army said this month that they have to check with their commanders before making any postings to make sure no sensitive information is revealed.
This week, the Pentagon started blocking computer access for troops in combat to such popular Web sites as MySpace and YouTube.
What's behind this cyber warfare?
Joining us now in Los Angeles, Kevin Sites, who travels the world with a video camera for "Hot Zone" at Yahoo.com. And here in the studio, Washington blogger La Shawn Barber.
Kevin Sites, the military putting restrictions on these soldiers' blogs. Do you think that there's more here than simply this desire to prevent sensitive information from leaking out?
KEVIN SITES, "HOT ZONE": Well, Howard, in a world where the Pentagon and the administration just can't stop making mistakes, this is another one to add to the list. I think it's just really the effort to create an information vacuum on the war in Iraq. I mean, it's like a friendly fire incident. They can't stop shooting their own troops. And the problem here...
KURTZ: Why would they -- why wouldn't they want soldiers to express themselves?
SITES: Well, I can't understand it either. In some ways, the soldiers are their best sources for this kind of information, talking about what's going on in their daily lives. And to a greater degree, really engaging the American public about the war in Iraq. And this is a big problem for us right now.
We don't really know what's going on in a lot of ways. And these soldiers are a great connection to what's happening there. KURTZ: La Shawn Barber, could...
SITES: And to prevent them from that kind of access is just wrong.
KURTZ: Could this be an effort to clamp down on some dissident soldiers who might be critical of the Iraq War effort?
LA SHAWN, BARBER, BLOGGER: It could be that. First of all, I am a blogger, I have a personal blog, I blog for businesses, and I'm a blog consultant. So, I understand the power and the excitement and the importance of the new medium. But, I have to defer to the Defense Department on this one. If they believe that bloggers are posting something that's critical or sensitive or something that the enemy can use, then I think they're well within their authority to clamp down.
KURTZ: Well, they certainly have the authority, but you're not skeptical of the rationale?
BARBER: I am. But we have to remember we are at war, we're fighting a cunning enemy who's monitoring online communications. And we have to be careful.
KURTZ: Kevin Sites, this other move by -- go ahead. I'm sorry.
SITES: I just want to say that I've embedded with the military at least 10 or 12 different times, and as a reporter, we look at the operational security guidelines. These soldiers know them much better than us, and I think that they follow them. They have a reason to follow them.
I think this is just an effort to really suppress these voices. Of course they're going to talk about some of the dissatisfaction with the war, talk about some of the hardships they experience. But the military needs to look at this as really showing a much greater and fuller view of what's happening there, not necessarily a critical view. And I think that's the problem.
I mean, this is -- the timing on this is very bad. Not only are they, you know, blocking military bloggers, but also this access. And at the same time, the Iraqi government is now preventing reporters from shooting the aftermath of bombings.
I think this is a really concerted effort to just put a lid on what's happening there.
KURTZ: Yes. Iraqi government officials announcing this week that for two hours after every bombing incident, no reporters -- or, excuse me, cameramen or photographers can be in the area to shoot pictures. They are defending this on security grounds, but a lot of people think it's an effort to clamp down on bad news.
Now, La Shawn Barber, what about this other instance that has gotten a lot of attention, cutting off access on military computer networks for combat troops to MySpace and YouTube and other video sites? These are very popular social networking and video sites. I'm thinking, you can risk your life in the Middle East, but you can't watch videos or look at your girlfriend's MySpace page?
BARBER: Well, the way I understand it, it's a resource issue. And secondarily, it's a security issue. Again, the guys will have access to these sites on non-military computers.
KURTZ: Right, but...
BARBER: The military is concerned about bloggers and users clogging up the network. And I think that is also a legitimate concern. And some of the mill bloggers I have contacted agree with that. They don't agree with the clamp down on military blogging, but they do agree with restricting certain sites.
KURTZ: Kevin Sites, this can't be great for morale, though.
SITES: Right. A lot of these soldiers don't have access to anything but military computers. And the bandwidth issue, as far as the Pentagon expressing the specifics of that, they haven't been able to. They haven't been able to say how these are hurting the bandwidth issues. They just said that it is in just kind of a blanket statement. So I tend to disagree there.
KURTZ: Do you think, Kevin Sites, that this is a kind of a situation like in offices, where perhaps they don't want soldiers, in their view, wasting time looking at videos or talking on MySpace?
SITES: Well, if they want to do that, you know, certainly there are surf controls that they can put on it. And I think like anybody at work, a lot of people spend more time on the computer probably than they should. But in this situation, it's a very important voice in terms of getting this story out, in terms of engaging the American public about what's going on in Iraq, and the war in Iraq. And to cut off this voice, I think, you know, at a time when we need more voices coming from Iraq, rather than less, it's going to be a very dangerous situation.
KURTZ: You disagree with that?
BARBER: Actually, I do agree with him. The Defense Department hasn't said exactly how much bandwidth is being used and how the network is being clogged. I think more to the point, they don't want people looking at this information or uploading videos on the military network.
Again, it's a resource issue, and a lot of businesses block access to these sites also. So you have to -- you have to balance security. You have to balance resources and the need to express yourself and share stories about the war.
KURTZ: Well, my concern is that you can throw a security blanket over anything. And it seems to me that being able to hear directly from soldiers on the blogs or even on social network pages is a great thing for us. And we should have this debate.
Kevin Sites in Los Angeles, La Shawn Barber here, thanks very much for joining us. Still to come, 18 presidential candidates are cluttering up these debates. Why don't the cable networks just dump some of them? That's next.
And later today, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, join CNN's Tom Foreman for "THIS WEEK AT WAR".
KURTZ: Ten candidates for the Republican presidential nomination on the South Carolina stage this week. Eight Democrats at the previous debate. Most of them don't have a snowball's chance of becoming president.
So, why do the cable networks that sponsor these things allow them to clutter up the stage? Sometimes it almost looks like this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": And finally, from the Black Vampire Party, the Reverend Hershel P. Chocula.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Good evening.
KURTZ (voice over): Take Democrat Mike Gravel, an Alaska senator a quarter century ago. At the MSNBC debate, Gravel played the role of angry curmudgeon.
MIKE GRAVEL (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I've got to tell you, after standing up with them, some of these people frighten me. They frighten me.
KURTZ: Soon Gravel was appearing in Dana Milbank's "Washington Post" column and landing a coveted spot on "The Colbert Report".
STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Why are they giving this crackpot air time? Let's find out.
Joining me now...
Let's get you up to 1.5 percent, OK?
GRAVEL: If you do that, you get the Lincoln bedroom for two nights.
KURTZ: At this week's FOX News debate, it was Ron Paul, a libertarian congressman from Texas who grabbed the spotlight with his unorthodox theory about what caused 9/11.
REP. RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They attack us because we've been over there. We've been bombing Iraq for 10 years.
KURTZ: When Rudy Giuliani attacked him for that, suddenly Paul was no longer obscure. He had been upgraded to political asterisk.
The next day he was on "THE SITUATION ROOM". (END VIDEOTAPE)
KURTZ: So, why don't the cable networks just say no to these distant also-rans? FOX said it invited anyone polling at least one percent in South Carolina. MSBNC says it had no minimum threshold. CNN, which is hosting Democratic and Republican debates in New Hampshire early next month, says a candidate must have measurable public support, but wont' disclose the specifics.
Why not set a higher standard? Say, five percent in the polls?
These news organizations are allowing ego-driven fringe candidates to muck up debates among those with an actual shot at the White House. It should be like baseball. If you don't make the cut, you get sent to the sidelines until you raise your game.
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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