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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Is Iowa Straw Poll Meaningless?; Does Imus Deserve Another Shot?
Aired August 12, 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: Desperate in Des Moines. Reporters flock to Iowa for a meaningless straw poll. Or is it?
Open secret. Reporters find Rudy Giuliani's teenage daughter flirting with another candidate on her Facebook page. Is no place off-limits?
An Imus come back. Does the controversial morning man deserve another shot?
Baghdad battle, "The New Republic" stands by a private who wrote about atrocious behavior by soldiers in Iraq. But the army says he was making it up.
Plus, why the media won't give Barry Bonds his due.
Millions of Americans anxiously, feverishly awaiting the results of yesterday's Iowa straw poll. One of the grandest, some would say, dumbest traditions in presidential politics.
For the junkies, let's go to the numbers. Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, wins with 32 percent of the vote. Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor, 18 percent. Senator Sam Brownback, 15 percent. Congressman Tom Tancredo, 14 percent and Congressman Ron Paul at nine percent.
Let's go straight to Bill De Moines who has been covering this in Iowa. He joins us from Des Moines. Bill, with Giuliani out, with McCain out, with Fred Thompson never getting in, Mitt Romney spent a lot of money and won 4500 votes, that is not even a good college basketball crowd. So why should we care?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the turnout was strikingly low. It is part of the story that hasn't gotten widely reported. Only 14,000 people participated compared to 23,000 eight years ago. The last time they had a competitive straw poll here in Iowa. So those low turnout, Mitt Romney, you know, was running against the candidate I call expected. The question was did he do better than expected? About as well as expected? Worse than expected? And I think the consensus he is did a little bit better than expected. He got about a third of the vote in a 11 candidate field. And the reason why that was his main competitor is none of the big names was running.
KURTZ: If you and a few dozens other reporters weren't out there bringing this us in newspapers and on television, would this be a big story at all? I mean it's such a small number of people voting in one town in Iowa.
SCHNEIDER: Well, Iowa, of course, is always a story because it is the first in the nation and remains that way. It is also a test of organizational ability which is important in the Iowa caucuses. Because this is a case -- a contest where you've got to bring people out to vote. It's not an election. It's a meeting. And organization counts for a great deal here. So as a test of organizational strength, Romney passed it very well. It is kind of a preview.
It also serves one other purpose. It starts to thin the herd. You have got 11 candidates. You can't keep up this thing with 11 candidates in the race. So some of them are going to begin dropping out, that always happens after the Iowa straw poll. The process is starting probably within the next week.
KURTZ: Journalists, of course, would love a smaller field, easier to focus on.
KURTZ: You've been out there the last couple days. Just briefly, you go to the fairs where they have corn dogs and fried Twinkies. Is this fun to cover?
SCHNEIDER: It's interesting. It's a little hot. Then I said let's keep thinking about Des Moines in December when we'll be back here to cover the caucuses. This could be treated as a relief. It is fun. It's like a carnival. It's real pure Americana. The people bring their kids. They bring their pets. They have a good time. By the way, they go in and vote. And they take it fairly seriously.
One of the problems, is you know, there is a lot of demonstrations, a lot of people here. But you wonder are all the people voters? Do they all live in Iowa? In a lot of cases, they're not.
KURTZ: Bill Schneider sweating it out in Des Moines. Thanks for joining us this morning.
KURTZ: And we're joined now to talk more about campaign coverage by Bill Press, host of "The Bill Press Show" on Sirius Satellite Radio. From Boston, Linda Douglass editor at "The National Journal." and from San Francisco, Debra Saunders, columnist for the "San Francisco Chronicle."
So, Linda Douglass, all these people vote in the straw poll in Ames. It is always hyped every four years, this Republican ritual. Mitt Romney and a bunch of guys in single digits. Why is this a story at all?
LINDA DOUGLASS, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": First of all, reporters cannot help themselves. They always dismiss the straw poll. They always point out people spend lots of money to basically buy votes. As Bill Schneider pointed out, very few people even turned out for this one. But reporters get impatient to know who is going to win. That's why they always pay attention to the straw poll.
And now the emerging story is not that Mitt Romney won. Of course he was going to win. It's that Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, came in second with 18 percent of the vote. He's been a media darling all along. Reporters like his resume, he's a governor, he's an evangelical. He's a straight talking a la McCain of 2000. This breathes life into what reporters hope is going to be a story about Mike Huckabee.
KURTZ: Debra Saunders, Huckabee finishes in second with 18 percent. It is only a couple thousand votes. Let me throw the question you to, are the media addicted to the rituals even though we're talking about a small number of people in a nonbinding poll?
DEBRA SAUNDERS, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": Yes, we are addicted.
KURTZ: OK. Care to elaborate?
SAUNDERS: Seeing it, I suppose, is supposed to make it end but it doesn't does it?
I'd rather be writing about Iowa than about Caroline Giuliani's Facebook. This is an important thing and it will winnow out. I think Tommy Thompson may get out. Maybe Tom Tancredo. And Iowa does at least show us, can the candidates when they focus on something and say they're going to win, can they do it? Mitt Romney said he would win and did Mike Huckabee wanted to come in second. He came in second. It shows us that they have some organizational strength.
And I think we're covering too much of this race too soon. But this is part of it. And this actually has real votes. Even if you have to pay to make them.
KURTZ: It certainly has started early.
Bill Press, you're a former state Democratic Party chairman. Explain why this is a scam in terms of the amount of amount of money you can spend to, what I would call, buy votes?
BILL PRESS, SIRIUS SATELLITE RADIO: First of all, I think it is a total scam. I disagree with my friend Bill Schneider. I don't this shows this organizational strength at all. You have to pay $35 to vote in this thing. It's a fund-raiser for the Iowa Republican Party. It's a total farce. "The Washington Post" put it on page one today. "The New York Times" buried it on page 21. I think "The New York Times" got it right. I'd like to point out ...
KURTZ: Hold on. It's not just the $35 fee. The campaign pays the bus people in.
PRESS: Bus 'em, feed 'em.
KURTZ: They spend the money on free barbecue. PRESS: And by the way, I admit, I covered two of these straw polls. You go to the tents, you get all the free food. Here's a couple numbers for you. Mitt Romney spent $1 million. He got 4,576 votes. He spent $218 per vote. Listen, I would vote for Mitt Romney for $218 and I'm a Democrat. That's crazy.
KURTZ: Bill Press is easy.
Now, Linda Douglass, Debra mentioned this. We had the odd speck spectacle this week of Caroline Giuliani, 17 years old, joining a group that is supporting Barack Obama on Facebook. This was reported by "Slate Magazine." Everybody picked it up.
Should this have been reported at all?
DOUGLASS: Look, children are always fair game in a campaign. Number one, if you have underage children, that is they're not quite 21, the media likes to take a look at the children to see what it says about the candidates' parenting skills. There's a lot of interest in the relationship that Rudy Giuliani has with his children, the daughter -- the daughter and son of his ex-wife who are estranged from their father, so has been reported by his son. There is a lot of interest in that because it tells you something about Giuliani as a person.
When you have older children, then you know those kids are often such as, for example, Karenna Gore giving advice to her parents, that's legitimate too. If you find that Caroline Giuliani is supporting Obama online, that's a story.
KURTZ: OK. Now I have a Facebook account. I've been trying to explain this culture to the rest of the world. Let me just explain. Debra Saunders, I'll ask you a question on the other side.
When you do anything on Facebook, when you join a group, when you discuss a movie, when you say you've broken up with your boyfriend, it automatically goes out to all your Facebook friends, the people you have designated as you pals, as a news bulletin. So Caroline Giuliani must have known if she joined this group that it would get out. What do you think?
SAUNDERS: I think she had to have known it would get out. She's a kid. She's 17 years old. I know we want to say that children reflect the parents. But the greatest parents in the world are going to have kids who go through their rebellious periods. So it's a story. But I don't think it's a big story. I wouldn't attach anything to this any more than I would attach what Al Gore's son did to Al Gore in terms of his ability to govern.
KURTZ: Of course some people will say well the media are invading the privacy of this teenager.
PRESS: You know, I think you have to make a distinction. I think if people are out of the limelight and not involved in the campaign then you leave them alone. But when you have Judi Nathan and Rudy Giuliani says I'm going to have her at my Cabinet meetings and a Jeri Thompson, who apparently is the biggest force in the Fred Thompson campaign and then when you have a daughter of a candidate who is supporting another candidate of the other party, I think they make themselves a story and I think they are fair game.
KURTZ: And so you think -- but without the backdrop of Giuliani's messy divorce from Donna Hanover, wife number two and the difficulties he's been having with his kids, then we wouldn't really care. That is really the backdrop that makes this is a story.
PRESS: Yes. But I think, again, endorsing a candidate of the opposite party I think does make that a story. She interjected herself in this.
Look, I have got a MySpace page. You've got a Facebook page. When you put it out there, you're not keeping secrets. You want people to know what you're thinking and what you're doing.
KURTZ: What is on your MySpace page?
SAUNDERS: And ...
PRESS: Well, check it out.
KURTZ: Go ahead, Debra ...
DOUGLASS: Just to jump in here. The family values question. who is Rudy Giuliani in the way that he lives his life in terms of applying family values to his own life? That is going to be an issue in Giuliani's campaign. Because he has liberal social issues on his resume compared to all the other Republican candidates. So everyone is searching for some kind of way to define what Giuliani really is as a person. And since the family has -- since the kids have acknowledged that they're estranged from their father, it is a legitimate story.
KURTZ: All right. Go ahead, Debra.
SAUNDERS: Actually, the son says much adieu has been made about nothing. He isn't estranged from his father.
KURTZ: Well, but he gave an interview to the "New York Times" back in March in which he said they had barely spoken for a long period of time. That the problem was Rudy's new wife Judith. So he did go public in that sense.
PRESS: He also said he would not campaign for his father, the son said that. So I mean that makes that a legitimate story, absolutely.
KURTZ: Let me move on here because I want ...
SAUNDERS: And he has since said that he thinks his father would be a great president and he supports his dad.
KURTZ: All right. SAUNDERS: I mean, Bill, I think you make a good point. If the candidates trot out the kids, then the kids can be part of the story. I'm not sure that Caroline Giuliani was trotted out.
PRESS: Same thing, Romney's sons. He has five sons who are all campaigning for him much the question comes up, why aren't they in Iraq? That's a legitimate question if they're campaigning for their father instead of wearing the uniform.
SAUNDERS: And speaking of Romney, the winner of the Iowa straw poll, he seems to get asked a certain type of question a lot. He responded to this to George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "Good Morning America" this week. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Frankly, the other guys don't get asked about those questions every time they go on the air. But there seems to be a interest constantly in my faith. And that's fine on the part of the American people but I think that media has more interest than the people do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Linda Douglass, is Mitt Romney correct that media are harping on the fact that he is a Mormon and that he gets asked about this pretty regularly in a way that possibly could be unfair?
DOUGLASS: Well, I think it's a very interesting question. Because you're absolutely right that the media are, if you want to use the word, "harping" on the fact that he is a Mormon. On the other hand, a measurable percentage of people who have been polled said they cannot vote for a Mormon. They will not vote for a Mormon, a larger percentage than say they wouldn't vote for a woman or wouldn't vote for an African-American.
And Christian conservatives, a very important part of the intraspace of a Republican Party in a primary race, certainly, a lot of those Christian conservative people will have concerns and questions about the Mormon faith, the theology of Mormonism. And there is a lot of concern among Romney supporters that he get out there and address this issue frontally, make a speech the way that John Kennedy did and try to put the issue into some kind of context where it doesn't keep coming up at reporters' questions.
KURTZ: Debra, Romney says it's the media that keep bringing it up, not ordinary voters that he comes into contact with.
SAUNDERS: Well, maybe ordinary voters he comes into contact with don't want to say it to him. I think -- I think he looks really sick of the question. But there are a lot of people who aren't -- don't understand Mormonism. And they have issues with it. So I think in a way he ought to welcome being asked about it so that he can defuse the issue for people just as John Kennedy defused questions about his Catholicism decades ago. PRESS: I have to say, I it this media is making too much of an issue. I support Romney on. This he's not running as a Mormon. He's running as an American. And I think it's second, his religion secondary. Unless he makes an issue, they shouldn't be pushing on it.
But I must admit when I read that 96 members of Romney's family were out helping him at the Iowa straw poll, I did wonder how many of them were multiple wives.
KURTZ: Oh, come on. I agree with you that it's an issue. But I think it is too much of a constant refrain on the part of journalists.
I want to go to the question of debates. It seems like there is one every 48 hours. Let's look at two questions in recent debates. First, retired steel worker at Chicago's Soldier Field. This is a debate on MSNBC sponsored by the AFL-CIO. It was a very emotional moment. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED CLIP: Every day of my life I sit at the kitchen table across from the woman who devoted 36 years of her life to my family and I can't afford to pay for her health care. What's wrong with America and what will do you to change it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: A couple days later, Melissa Etheridge at a debate with Democratic candidates he could sponsored by Logo, which is a gay themed network owned and operated by MTV, she said that she had been very excited when Hillary's husband was elected president. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELISSA ETHERIDGE, SINGER/ACTIVIST: We were very, very hopeful. And in the years that followed our hearts were broken. We were thrown under the bus. We were pushed aside. All those great promises that were made to us were broken.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Linda Douglass, my question is with those kinds of personal, first person emotional inquiries, do we really need journalists at these debates? Aren't the questions sort of better than the kind of questions that reporters ask?
DOUGLASS: Well, there's been such an interesting contrast between the Democratic debates and the Republican debates in a couple of ways. Yes, it's true that at the Democratic debates, the YouTube debate and certainly the AFL-CIO debate, certainly the gay and lesbian activist debate, that you're really seeing voters who are important constituencies inside the Democratic Party ask the kinds of questions that they're particularly interested in. Teachers were able to ask questions at a teachers' debate. There have been a lot of specific constituency questions for the Democrats which is causing the Democrats to address those specific constituencies. The Republicans on the other hand have not been asked questions by voters. But they are being asked questions by hard-nosed journalists such as George Stephanopoulos which cover the range of issues.
And I actually think that we're seeing a more realistic display of Republican positions caught off guard not expecting the questions by a journalist than we sometimes are at the Democratic debates.
KURTZ: We'll see whether the Republicans agree to CNN's invitation for a YouTube debate. Democrats got questions from a snowman and all those interesting folks.
When become back, did President Bush stretch the truth in his news conference this week? And if so, what can journalists do about it?
KURTZ: President Bush met reporters before heading off to Crawford for vacation the other day.
And I was really struck by his answer to this question from NPR's David Green.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREEN, NPR CORRESPONDENT: I'm wondering if you could give the American people some clear examples of how you've held people accountable during your presidency.
GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: Lewis Libby was held accountable. He was declared guilty by a jury. He paid -- he paid a high price for it. Al Gonzales, implicit in your questions is that Al Gonzales did something wrong. I haven't seen Congress say he's done anything wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Same question to each of you. You're writing a straight news story about this, not a column, not a commentary. What you would say about those two assertions about Libby and Gonzales? Deborah Saunders?
SAUNDERS: Well, for Libby, a lot of Republicans wanted bush to pardon him before the trial. So there is an argument that he went through a trial. He was found guilty. He paid a fine.
As for Gonzales, he didn't do something wrong? I think I would follow it up with the information that he misled Congress, he misled the American people as to why he got rid of those U.S. attorneys. I think it's so difficult to know what questions to ask at press conferences. We know that Bush is not going to be honest and say I'm keeping Alberto Gonzales because the minute I let him go, you're going to go after someone else. As long as he's swinging, that's good for me.
KURTZ: I want to stick to the question of how you would handle it in a news story. Let me go to Linda Douglass.
DOUGLASS: I think what was interesting is how quickly he answered the question. He quickly answered -- he didn't expect the question. And he quickly answered that Libby was held accountable and he quickly answered that Alberto Gonzales did nothing wrong and therefore should not be held accountable. I think Bush actually means that, President Bush actually means ...
KURTZ: And you're writing the story. Do you put any contrary information about what he had to say about Libby and Gonzales?
DOUGLASS: Certainly you would say that critics -- the Democratic critics in Congress have an array of complaints against Alberto Gonzales and critics out there in the country have an array of complaints against Libby and point out that he really didn't pay much of a price in the judicial system.
But I also think it would be important in the story to point out that the president means this.
KURTZ: Bill Press?
PRESS: Here's what I would do. Number one, I would repeat exactly what the president said.
KURTZ: Of course.
PRESS: Of course. Right, we report that. And secondly, I think it is very fair and important for a reporter to point out the president didn't really answer the question. The question is what did do you to hold anybody accountable? He did nothing to hold Scooter Libby accountable. And number two on Alberto Gonzales. It is true that the Congress has at least suspected Gonzales of doing something wrong which is lying to them under oath.
Not proven yet. But the idea that Congress found that he had nothing wrong is just simply not true. And if you don't point that out, you're not reporting the story.
KURTZ: By the way, I checked all the leading newspapers that covered the news conference. Not everybody mentioned this but those that did just reported what Bush said. Didn't provide any contrary information at all and that's where I think that's where journalists have to not get on a soapbox but say well, he said this but Congress has in fact, at least many members of have accused the attorney general of doing something wrong.
Speaking of Alberto Gonzales. I noticed that just before we came on the air, he has made a surprise visit to Iraq. Unusual mission for an attorney general. "Newsweek" got an exclusive interview with Gonzales and the interview is preceded by this sentence.
"U.S. press officers insisted that the interview focus solely on Iraq." Linda Douglass, would you have accepted that deal?
DOUGLASS: Absolutely not. You know, if you accept a deal like that, you begin your interview by saying why is it that we can only talk about Iraq? Mr. Attorney General, I've been constrained by your people to only ask you about Iraq, why can't we ask you about anything else? It would be only under conditions like that that any reporter should really accept an interview. Have to disclose that they are prohibiting you from asking about all of the questions that swirl around him as attorney general.
KURTZ: Well, "Newsweek" did disclose that. But I was still surprised they accepted an interview on those terms.
Linda Douglass, you got the last word. Debra Saunders, Bill Press, Linda Douglass ...
PRESS: Good seeing you, Howie, thank you.
KURTZ: Thank you for joining us this morning.
Up next, a cable commentator's rant is blamed for a stock market plunge. Diane Sawyer reenacts a bit of history and the press give the French president a lesson in American culture all next in our "Media Minute."
KURTZ: Time for the latest in the news business in our "Media Minute." Everyone knows that CNBC's Jim Cramer is an excitable guy, loud and a little bit crazy. But he outdid himself when he started demanding that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke loosen interest rates to jump-start the economy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM CRAMER, CNBC: He has no idea ...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cramer ...
CRAMER: I talked to the heads of almost every single one of these firms in the last 72 hours and he has no idea what it's like out there. None! And Bill Poole has no idea what it's like out there. My people have been in this game for 25 years! And they are losing their jobs and these firms are going to go out of business and he's nuts! They're nuts! They know nothing!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now the Dow Jones did plunge 281 points that day. Prompting "Today's" Matt Lauer to ask Cramer whether he had gone too far. But no rant by a commentator can cause that kind of damage in the stock market which continues to be battered by a shaky housing industry and tight credit. Cramer was just being Cramer. Now we've all seen the famous photo many times. A sailor impulsively kissing a woman in Times Square upon hearing the news that World War II was over. Well after a forensic expert concluded the mystery soldier was Glen McDuffy, now 80 years old, Diane Sawyer did more than just interview him on "Good Morning America."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: How often have you used that line?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Diane Sawyer getting a piece of the action.
The new French president thought he'd make a statement about relations with the U.S. by taking a vacation in New Hampshire. But Nicolas Sarkozy also learned something about American culture.
While boating in his bathing suit, he angrily confronted two photographers snapping pictures of him. At one point even jumping on to their boat. He started talking very agitatedly in French, said a photog for the Sepa Agency (ph). The other worked for AP. No pictures, an aide said. In this country, monsieur, we don't treat heads of state like royalty.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Don Imus angling for a comeback. The Army unloads on "The New Republic's" Baghdad diarist and how Fox news viewers view the world differently from everyone else.
KURTZ: "The New Republic" says it has corroborated the work of its Baghdad diarist but the Army calls the soldier a liar. That's coming up, but first, here is T.J. Holmes at the CNN Center in Atlanta with a look at the hour's top stories. T.J.?
KURTZ: Thanks, T.J. Up next, Don Imus may be close to getting his microphone back. Does he deserve another shot?
KURTZ: It was like a spring thunderstorm, the wave of outrage that swept Don Imus off the air. The controversial morning man was kicked off CBS Radio and MSNBC after his odious racial remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team despite his repeated apologies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON IMUS, FORMER RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Why would I think that it's OK to go on the radio last Wednesday and make fun of these kids who just played for the national championship? Well, I can't -- I can't answer that. I'm sorry I did that. I'm embarrassed that I did that. I did a bad thing. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But now that passions have cooled, the I-Man is planning a comeback and three major radio companies are interested, even CBS Radio is considering taking Imus back. But does he deserve a second chance?
Joining us to talk about this and other media issues, Clarence Page, columnist for the "Chicago Tribune," Jim Geraghty, contributing editor at "National Review," and from New York, Brooke Gladstone, host of National Public Radio's "On the Media."
Clarence Page, a few years back you famously asked Don Imus to take a pledge, a pledge against using insulting racial humor. He took the pledge. You never got invited back on the show.
CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Right.
KURTZ: He got into trouble again. In your view, does he now deserve another shot?
PAGE: I don't mind him coming back. I feel as Reverend Al Sharpton said, the goal here is not to remove from him his ability to make a living. It's just to make a point about what's proper and what's not proper to be saying on the public airwaves. I think for now he's gotten his lesson. And deserves to have a shot at going back on the air again. That's just my personal opinion. Other people can differ.
KURTZ: Well, see if somebody does. Jim Geraghty, if you were running CBS whose radio stations are losing a lot of money since Imus got the boot, you would put him back on the air?
JIM GERAGHTY, "NATIONAL REVIEW": I can't say that I would be terribly enthusiastic to do that. I actually genuinely think this was a good chance to take some sort of young bright funny talk show host who didn't use racial humor, who didn't cross the line as often as Don Imus did and give them a shot. Sooner or later somebody would have been able to make up that audience. I really don't think there is anything magic about Don Imus' ability to call Gwen Ifill the cleaning lady, one of his numerous statements over the years that just shocked and appalled so many people.
So look, Don Imus has been in the radio game for how many decades? This is a good opportunity to give a chance for somebody who can be funny, who can be interesting, who can entertain people. But not cross the line the way that Imus did so often.
KURTZ: Brooke Gladstone, what if Imus were to come back with a different kind of show, for example, if he had a black co-host? If he toned down the insult humor? Would that make him more acceptable or would it take away the very thing that people secretly like about him?
BROOKE GLADSTONE, NPR: Well, you have to let Imus be Imus if you want him to rake in the kind of money that he's been raking in all of this time. I mean ultimately he was punted because they were following the money and he was losing advertisers. And he was losing advertisers partly because his elite intellectual friends in Washington and New York circles were beginning to feel embarrassed by their association with him.
If that time has passed and if you want to start making money again, you have to let Imus be Imus again. But that doesn't mean he can't be more careful when it comes to racial jokes, as he put it.
KURTZ: Well, here's my two cents. I was a periodic guest on the program. And, you know, he became well identified with some of these insults that sometimes went too far as even he recognized.
But he also did a lot of good substantive interviews with politicians and journalists. And I don't think that he deserves a life sentence professionally speaking to stay off the radio. We'll see whether or not another company is willing to take a chance on him.
I want to turn now to "The New Republic" which has been under fire for some weeks now over a guy who was originally just called "the Baghdad Diarist," a soldier in Iraq who we now know his name is Scott Thomas Beauchamp. He is married to a reporter for "The New Republic."
He came under fire for what he wrote about life on an Army base in Iraq. Let me read you one of the things in one of his pieces. This was about a woman who he said often ate at the mess hall in Iraq. "'I love chicks that have been intimate with IEDs. It really turns me on. Melted skin, missing limbs, plastic noses.'
"'You're a crazy man!' my friend said, doubling over with laughter.
"The disfigured woman slammed her cup down and ran out of the chow hall, her half-finished tray of food nearly falling to the ground."
Now Beauchamp now says that didn't happen in Iraq, it happened in Kuwait. But the Army conducted an investigation of this. Here is the Army's statement of these columns by Scott Thomas Beauchamp.
"An investigation has been completed and the allegations made by PVT Beauchamp were found to be false. His platoon and company were interviewed and no one could substantiate the claims."
KURTZ: Clarence Page, did "The New Republic" take an unacceptable risk here in publishing pieces by this guy about incidents that were far away and difficult to verify?
PAGE: Well, as you know, "The New Republic" editor has said that they have checked out the reporters' story and that aside from that placing himself in Baghdad when he was actually in Kuwait during the time the alleged episode with that woman, they say that his story checks out and they have other military sources that corroborate.
I'm sure, as you know, after going through the Stephen Glass controversy which became a Hollywood movie a few years back, "The New Republic" would be extra careful, I would think. I would just say, Howard, as an Army veteran myself, I found the story to be both credible and incredible I had. I mean I know how war brutalizes people, can make really good American kids become more brutal in their sensibilities ...
KURTZ: But these are almost too perfect anecdotes ...
PAGE: But at the same time, the one about the woman didn't ring true to me because I can't recall anybody turning on a fellow American that way, you know? I mean it was just odd to me in that sense.
KURTZ: Beauchamp also wrote about one soldier who supposedly ran over stray dogs for kicks with his Bradley fighting vehicle and also talked about a discovery of Iraqi skulls, of children's skulls that were played with and was those kinds of incidents that really sparked a lot of outrage.
Let me just read a statement by "The New Republic" editor Franklin Foer.
He says, "We've talked to military personnel directly involved in the events that Scott Thomas Beauchamp described and they corroborated his account."
"New Republic" declined to make anyone available for this program.
Jim Geraghty, conservative bloggers led by some at "The Weekly Standard" have led the assault on these claims. I think it's fair to say they feel vindicated by this Army report?
GERAGHTY: Well, I think this -- there has always been this kind of strange sense that this didn't fit what we thought of our men and women in uniform. I think one of the things that probably brings even more to light is something a blogger named Confederate Yankee went back and checked back some of these things. "The New Republic said it had talked to those who designed the Bradley fighting vehicle to see if the description sounded accurate.
And there are a lot of people -- the "New Republic" said, yes, we talked to them. This completely checks out.
Confederate Yankee found out who they spoke to at the manufacturer. They said they never showed me Beauchamp's account, they never gave me any specifics. They just asked me, was it maneuverable. Very generic questions.
What he showed in Beauchamp's account, he said, you know, I can't say with absolute certainty that this didn't happen. But this doesn't sound right. Apparently the positioning of the driver on the left side and the description of it hitting the right side.
KURTZ: Let me move to Brooke Gladstone because part of the problem here is that Army won't release its report or any details on its investigation saying that these claims were false. Beauchamp is incommunicado because the Army has taken away his cell phone and his laptop and e-mail privileges. Could the Army be covering its backside here?
GLADSTONE: It's entirely unclear. I think it is rather odd they didn't release the report. You have Frank Foer saying he has corroboration. You have the Army saying it isn't true. You have a lot of other people, including us, sitting here saying this doesn't feel right. That doesn't feel right. But fundamentally, we know that the Army has been brutalized in Iraq, probably in all wars. There have been plenty of on the record stories with soldiers names attached about the murder of civilians and about the terrorizing of civilians. It has happened in this war and all wars. This is not to condemn the people who are fighting there who are trying as hard as they can under incredibly difficult conditions.
But are we really arguing about journalistic practice or are we arguing about the way the war is being fought and the way it's being depicted in the media? I think we're conflating all of those issues.
KURTZ: I don't think there's any question that these incidents could be true. The question is whether they are true, whether they were embellished a lot and from this distance, it's very hard to say.
Again, "The New Republic" said it's corroborated these incidents with other members of the unit, and the Army says it's interviewed its people, no way. Completely false.
I want to turn now to an interesting Pew Research poll of attitudes towards the media that was released just the other day. And had some interesting findings as far as the way people who watch Fox News regularly view the rest of the media. Let's put up the first chart here.
The question was, do you have a favorable opinion of network TV news? Democrats, 84 percent favorable, Republicans 56 percent favorable. Next one, favorable opinion of national newspapers, again we see the partisan split. Democrats 79 percent favorable, Republicans only 41 percent of the national newspapers.
Go on to the next chart. Who has an unfavorable view of network news? If you look at all Republicans, 44 percent unfavorable. Republicans who watch Fox News as their primary source of information, 56 percent.
Same question for national newspapers. Unfavorable view. All Republicans, 58 percent, Republicans who watch Fox News, 71 percent.
Jim Geraghty, does all the media bashing on Fox convince its viewers that news organizations are basically populated by liberal Bush haters?
GERAGHTY: I don't know whether can you call this a Fox News effect or whether I would call this the Dan Rather effect. We had that very high profile case in which Dan Rather's, you know, was caught citing memo that allegedly were created in 1972 and just happened to look just like Microsoft Word in 2004. I seem to remember a reporter at the "Washington Post" raising some very useful questions about this. KURTZ: I did.
GERAGHTY: Once you're caught red-handed citing something as fact, it looks very shaky. It's very sketchy.
KURTZ: OK. So you're saying there is plenty reason to distrust the network news, for example. But why the split, then, between Republicans who don't like network news and Republicans who watch fox who don't like network news even in a larger numbers?
GERAGHTY: I think the more offended you are by an incident like Dan Rather, the more you say to hell with them. I'm not going pay attention to them. I'm going to look for an alternative source and Fox News is there to fill in the gap. And plenty of Fox News hosts have no problems making fun of the network news for their failings.
KURTZ: Let me put up another chart. Favorable opinion of Fox News Channel, CNN viewers said 79 percent favorable. Favorable opinion of CNN, Fox News viewers, 55 percent.
So Clarence, is it possible that Fox is influencing its viewers on what they think of the media or do they already distrust the media and that's why they gravitate towards Fox?
PAGE: Obviously CNN viewers are more broadminded and more enlightened I say here on CNN. But in fact, Howard, I find this whole poll to be remarkably unsurprising surprising. I've known Roger Ailes for years who really launched Fox News with the marketing idea that we are the alternative to all that, as you've mentioned the Dan Rather news that you're going to find every place else. We're the only fair and balanced folks. And obviously that's having an effect for them.
KURTZ: Let me give Brooke Gladstone the last 20 seconds on this.
GLADSTONE: Right. There is a media phenomenon called incestuous amplification where if you only talk to the people who already agree with you, if you only gather in communities who share your entire point of view, then the more extreme positions get noisier and noisier. Fox, is you know, has often been said ...
KURTZ: All right.
GLADSTONE: Are we done?
KURTZ: Got to wrap it up. The (inaudible) of television.
Thanks to our incestuous panel and a reminder, if you missed an edition of "Reliable Sources," you can download our video podcast available on iTunes or at cnn.com/podcast.
After the break, former Time Inc. editor in chief Norm Pearlstine on why he gave into a special prosecutor demanding a reporter's secret sources.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: If there's one principle that journalists hold sacred beyond the right to a big expense account, it is that you don't betray confidential sources.
But when Norman Pearlstine was editor in chief of Time, Inc. he gave up reporters' notes and e-mails sparking outrage even among some members of his staff.
Pearlstine has written a book about the experience called "Off the Record, the Press, Government, and the War Over Anonymous Sources."
We brought you the first part of the interview last week. Now here is the sequel.
KURTZ: Whether you were editor of Time, Inc., one of the major challenges you had to deal with was the CIA leak investigation.
NORMAN PEARLSTINE, FORMER TIME, INC. EDITOR IN CHIEF: Absolutely.
KURTZ: One of your reporters at the time, "Time Magazine's" Matthew Cooper, was subpoenaed. He didn't want to talk about his confidential conversations with Karl Rove. You had to make a call. The case went to the Supreme Court. The court declined to hear it. And you decided at that point that Time, Inc. had to cooperate. Why?
PEARLSTINE: That's correct. Well, there were a number of reasons. But I would say primarily that I had concluded that Rove was in fact not a confidential source. Secondly, Time, Inc. as well as Matt Cooper were held in contempt. And part of the reason for that was that e-mails were sent by Matt to his editors that a couple of dozen people had access to. And as we've learned these days, the in e-mail may as well stand for evidence.
KURTZ: You say you concluded that Karl Rove was not a confidential source to your reporter. But certainly Matt Cooper didn't feel that way. In fact, he was willing to risk going to jail until a last minute deal involving a waiver allowed him to testify. So how do you overrule the journalist who feels that he made a sacred promise to a source?
PEARLSTINE: First of all, I think that confidentiality is a contractual relationship that both the journalist and the editor or the publisher has to agree to. What Matt's relationship with Karl Rove was was by common agreement deep background which meant the information couldn't be used in any way that would be attributed to Rove. I think the difference between that anonymous relationship and a confidential relationship is significant.
KURTZ: The judge in the case fined Time, Inc $1,000 a day. It could have even gone higher.
PEARLSTINE: Could have gone much higher. KURTZ: The company was a defendant. It wasn't just Cooper himself. Was that a factor in your thinking about settling?
PEARLSTINE: Oh, no. I think the economics of it are the kinds of things that frankly investors in media companies come to expect. You have libel cases. You have cases where you get fined. And that's just the cost of doing business if you're going to be a responsible news organization.
I did feel a corporate responsibility to the employees of Time, Inc., that we weren't going to subject dozens of people to subpoenas and put people who had no real stake in this game on the line. That was important to me.
KURTZ: As you write in your book, you were widely denounced in the business. Steve Lovelady, a former executive editor of the "Philadelphia Enquirer," said that you hung your staff out to dry. Joe Klein, your own columnist at "Time Magazine," said that Cooper had, in effect, signed a blood oath that no matter how scurrilous or how trivial the information, he was not going to reveal. That must not have been pleasant to have journalists, including some in your own company, ripping you like that.
PEARLSTINE: Well, I think a number of them were very well intentioned. As I say in the book, this is the most difficult decision I've ever had to make in close to 40 years in journalism. So I have to assume that certain people are going to disagree with me. And I started out frankly in the same position where many of them were when they read that I was turning over the notes. My initial assumption was that Matt would go to jail and that we would pay whatever fines were necessary. What I found was that the traditions of journalism, if you will, were not as they had been presented. And that, in this particular case, Karl Rove hardly qualified as a whistleblower deserving of that kind of confidential protection.
KURTZ: As it turned out, the only person convicted in the case, former Dick Cheney aide, Scooter Libby, had his two and a half-year sentence commuted by President Bush.
PEARLSTINE: That's absolutely right. And it's a shock to me.
KURTZ: One other point -- we have about a half a minute. When you were at the "Wall Street Journal," when you were at Time, Inc., you tried to put a ban on the use of unattributed quotes. You cite this great example involving "People Magazine" and the story on Britney Spears and Kevin Federline. You said it had 15 unidentified friends or sources. How successful were you with this ban?
PEARLSTINE: Well, I made some progress, but the use and misuse of anonymous sources is very well ingrained in our journalist culture. It's certainly endemic in Washington, but it's also true in Hollywood, Wall Street and in sports.
KURTZ: Didn't you ever use any in your days as a reporter?
PEARLSTINE: Absolutely. KURTZ: But you've changed your mind on this point?
PEARLSTINE: Yes, without doubt.
KURTZ: All right, Norm Pearlstine, editor of "Off the Record," thanks very much for joining us.
PEARLSTINE: Thank you.
KURTZ: Still to come, Barry Bonds breaks the record. But the media won't cut him a break. We'll take a swing at that next.
KURTZ: We all knew it was coming. Just a matter of time. So when Barry Bonds hit number 756 this week, we in the media business brought you the news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Bascik deals. And Bonds hits one hard! Hits it deep. It is out of here! Seven-fifty-six!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: There was little sense of excitement in the news reports. More of a feeling of here we go again. Time to debate yet again whether San Francisco Giants slugger deserve this record. Time to talk yet again about Bonds' alleged use of steroids. Time for the same old argument.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK DEFORD, SPORTS COLUMNIST: I think there is always going to be a dark cloud over Barry Bonds' head. And this record.
BOB COSTAS, NBC SPORTS: He never remotely approached what he did through what should have been the prime of his career, never remotely approached what he did in his late 30s and early 40s which was part of the steroid era amidst overwhelming evidence that he himself used performance enhancing drugs. It's that simple.
TIM WENDEL, "USA TODAY SPORTS WEEKLY": I think in a way unfortunately Barry Bonds has kind of become the scapegoat for what has become the steroids era.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: It was far different when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's all time homer record back in 1974. That was a national event. Or when Cal Ripken surpassed Lou Gehrig for the most consecutive games played. Or when Mark McGwire dueled Sammy Sosa nine years ago on his way to 70 home runs in a season. Back before both men were convincingly accused of steroid use. Instead, here's Bonds with reporters on what should have been the greatest day of his life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARRY BONDS, SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: This record is not tainted at all. At all. Period. You guys can say whatever you want.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Do lots of journalists have a chip on their shoulders when it comes to Bonds? No question about it. That's because he's usually arrogant, sullen and difficult to deal with. I mean just the other week he called HBO's Bob Costas a midget. He doesn't like reporters and the feeling is mutual.
But if there were more public affection for Barry Bonds, the media coverage would reflect that. Because he's never come clean about his alleged drug use, the man is a walking asterisk. That's why his shot over the wall the other night left me with nothing more than an empty feeling.
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. LATE EDITION begins right now.
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