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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

YouTube Debate; Rudy Accuses Politico.com of a Hit Job

Aired December 2, 2007 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): YouTube, take two. Did video questions provide more heat than light at the Republican debate? And should CNN have known that the retired general who pressed the candidates on gay rights was linked to Hillary Clinton's campaign?

Rudy's rant. He accuses "The Politico" of a hit job for reporting questions about security expenses regarding his one-time marital mistress, Judy Nathan. Then why didn't his campaign answer the questions?

Rumors. False rumors, that is, about Barack Obama being a Muslim become a front-page story. Why?

Plus, Washington tragedy. The murder of a Redskins star with a checkered past sparks a debate about how the media portray the lives and sometimes the deaths of black athletes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: In the YouTube age, journalists are ceding some of their authority, or bowing to digital reality, by letting ordinary folks into the political process. CNN took a second crack at it this week using citizen videos in a Republican presidential debate modeled on the Democrats' YouTube encounter last July. Viewers got to see all kinds of questions from substantive to strange, by all kinds of folks and two cartoon characters.

This approach produced plenty of fireworks, some of which exploded at CNN's doorstep. The strongest criticism involved this question from a retired military man named Keith Kerr.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. KEITH KERR, U.S. ARMY (RET.): I'm a retired brigadier general with 43 years of service and I'm an openly-gay man. I want to know why you think that American men and women in uniform are not professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Kerr was also in the studio audience at St. Petersburg, Florida, and criticized the candidates' answers to his question. But it turns out that Kerr is on a gay and lesbian steering committee for none other than Hillary Clinton. And when conservative commentator and CNN contributor Bill Bennett pointed that out after the debate, moderator Anderson Cooper had this to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360": Apparently there was a press release from six months ago, Hillary Clinton's office saying that he had been named to some steering committee. Certainly, had we had that information, we would have acknowledged that in using his question if we had used it at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now here in Washington, David Bohrman, CNN senior vice president and executive producer of the debate; Jim Geraghty, contributing editor for "National Review"; and in Boston, Linda Douglass, contributing editor for "National Journal" and a senior fellow at the Brademas Center at New York University.

David Bohrman, you said you didn't know -- that no one at CNN knew that General Kerr was on these Hillary Clinton advisory boards. Shouldn't you have tried harder to find out by using an online Google search?

DAVID BOHRMAN, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, we did a Google search. I mean, we went through 5,000 questions and narrowed it down and narrowed it down. And there were an awful lot of gay in the military questions.

The one from the general was striking, but the first thing we said once we saw this question was, is this guy for real? Let's check him out.

We did a Google search. And, you know, if you Google him today you'll find all the Hillary Clinton references.

Back then what we discovered is he's for real. He was a real brigadier general. He had -- he had a real career, and he was now active in gay and lesbian issues.

We also then took the next step of going to the FEC records, the Federal Elections Commission, to see if he had contributed money to a campaign. That's where people trip up and that's where they usually show their partisanship. He had contributed no money to a political campaign, and so -- and that's where we stopped.

KURTZ: But you had the Google people bring Keith Kerr to St. Petersburg.

BOHRMAN: Not exactly. The Google -- the YouTube people -- and they insist on a difference between Google and YouTube. The YouTube people had invited some number of people to this debate, as they had the other debate.

They also -- nobody at YouTube or Google knew that we were going to use the general's question. I did -- I did two or three days before the debate say, you know, here are about a dozen people who have interesting questions. I don't know whether or not they will be in the debate. There was some pressure from -- not pressure. There was a desire by YouTube to have a moment where someone in the crowd who had asked a question actually was in the crowd at the debate.

KURTZ: But since you knew it was a possibility...

BOHRMAN: Yes.

KURTZ: ... you never asked him, no one asked him...

BOHRMAN: No, he did not know his question was going to be used.

KURTZ: Right. But in the vetting process, no one ever asked him, "Are you affiliated with any presidential candidate?"

BOHRMAN: Right. But here's why we stopped. Here's why we stopped making sure that he was a real general and making sure that he hadn't contributed to a campaign. His question was great. All right?

You have a group of Republican candidates that have some difference of opinion on this topic. You have a true war hero in John McCain. You have Mitt Romney, who's on record as saying, I live for the day when gays and lesbians can serve openly, and a question coming from a general was extremely powerful, regardless...

KURTZ: All right. I will give you that.

BOHRMAN: ... regardless of where he is from.

KURTZ: Let me get Jim Geraghty in.

Do you think CNN fell down on the job here?

JIM GERAGHTY, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Yes. And I get no joy in telling you this, but it's one of those things where the blogger who figured this out found the affiliation with Hillary Clinton within the amount -- I got that message during the debate.

BOHRMAN: So did Anderson. And, in fact, he mentioned it on the air.

GERAGHTY: Well, but Bill Bennett told you that.

BOHRMAN: That's right.

GERAGHTY: And thank God somebody e-mailed Bill Bennett. And if I were CNN, I'd be on my knees and thanking God for sending you Bill Bennett.

BOHRMAN: I thank Bill Bennett as well.

GERAGHTY: OK, good, because it did not take a great deal of time between that guy Kerr first showing up on the screen, somebody saying, hmm, that's an interesting question, I wonder if this guy has some affiliation, Googling and finding that out.

KURTZ: Let me get to Linda Douglass. There were questions raised by two other people who asked questions at this Republican debate, Linda Douglass, a woman who asked an abortion question, the next day she put up a YouTube video wearing a John Edwards '08 T-shirt. And a man who asked a question about gays was on Barack Obama's a Web site, calling Obama an inspiring leader.

So do you think that CNN got a black eye from all of this?

LINDA DOUGLASS, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": Well, and I certainly saw all of the Michelle Malkin -- the conservative blog unearth those affiliations. I think one of the questions we have to ask here as we begin to open up the debates to citizens who are able to submit questions on videotape is, how are they vetted anyway?

Certainly journalists who are on panels asking candidates questions go through a vetting process -- are you an experienced journalist, have you covered these issues, do you know what you're talking about? We don't want to ask those questions of citizens, but I think it may be the case that from now on, we want to ask every single person whose question is put on national television to a presidential candidate and the presidential candidate is required to answer that question, are you affiliated with a campaign, do you openly support someone? And cause some sort of answer to be made.

BOHRMAN: You know, look, I'd love to agree, but I don't. The question -- take a look at the debate. I watched it last night. It was replayed.

It was a great debate. It was an extraordinary debate in that it focused on issues to help Republican voters make a choice between these candidates.

It doesn't really matter that Journey (ph) -- if that was her name -- had an affiliation. She had a really good question. And these candidates dealt with it really exceedingly well.

One should not expect in YouTube when you -- people have lives, they have beliefs, but they post questions to engage the candidates. Candidates meet all sorts of people, and there should not be the complete bio of everyone who asks a question.

KURTZ: I've got to move on, but was this incident involving General Kerr, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, was it a mistake?

BOHRMAN: It was -- I wish I would have known. It would have gone into our decision making, and our antenna are sharp enough to where I think I would have said, you know what? With the Hillary Clinton connection there's going to be a blow-back. Let's use the gay linguist from Guantanamo who was dismissed, or the IED demolitions expert who also had a really good question.

But I think the process was good. The debate was the most interesting debate of them all.

KURTZ: And on that point, let's look at some of the other questions that were asked of the Republican candidates and we'll talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question to you is, what is your opinion of gun control? And don't worry, you can answer however you like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you grant your vice president as much power and influence as I've had? And remember before you answer, I'm watching you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe every word of this book? And I mean specifically this book that I'm holding in my hand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Linda Douglass, what did you make of the range of questions selected by CNN?

DOUGLASS: Well, look, I don't want to make the argument that journalists always ask the best questions. Citizens always ask the best questions. They -- this all began in 1992 at the town hall with Clinton and Bush and Perot. And many of these questions that came out of this debate the other night, the YouTube/CNN debate, were very good questions.

But I think that, first of all, causing the Republican candidates to sit there and listen to a song that was sung about them that was mocking them, I think that felt a little bit humiliating. And I think the notion that there is a guy waving a loaded weapon and a guy waving the bible into the camera is just plain weird. And I'm not sure that those kinds of moments necessarily add to the public's knowledge about what kind of a president any of these candidates are going to be.

KURTZ: Jim Geraghty, "The Weekly Standard" described the questioners as a threatening parade of gun fetishes, flat worlders, Mars explorers, confederate flag lovers, and zombie-eyed bible wavers.

GERAGHTY: Appalling. And America -- could you find anybody who asked a similar question regarding the bible or religious beliefs that didn't look like they were auditioning to lead the Branch Davidians? Was there anybody who didn't look like a maniac who asked a similar vein of question?

BOHRMAN: YouTube is interesting. The Web is interesting. And guess what? The American public is pretty broad and diverse.

These were -- this was a debate that from the beginning we knew and accepted would be completely examined. I mean, talk about transparency, all 5,000 questions are up. People can go and make all of their own decisions about the questions.

KURTZ: But you didn't use a single question on healthcare, for example.

BOHRMAN: Well, the question that we had teed up on healthcare, which I think we used but maybe we dropped it at the last minute, was to Mitt Romney, and it's -- and it went to the heart of, you want to mandate healthcare, how is that conservative? Because remember, this was not a Democratic versus liberal debate -- a Democrat versus Republican debate.

In the last time this group of gentlemen got together and debated, I think it was on FOX, you heard Hillary Clinton's name 25 or 30 times. OK? It was a cross-party debate. This time it was only two or three times.

These are actually issues that, where these folks disagree...

KURTZ: Right.

BOHRMAN: ... and that Republican voters need to use to judge whom to support in that process.

KURTZ: And a classic example of that is immigration. And, in fact, the opening moments of the debate got pretty heated between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani responding to this question from Ernie from Brooklyn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Under your administration, as well as others, New York City was operated as a sanctuary city, aiding and abetting illegal aliens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The reality is that New York City was not a sanctuary city.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What the mayor said -- and I quote almost verbatim -- which is if you happen to be in this country in an undocumented status -- and that means you're here illegally, then we welcome you here.

GIULIANI: There was even a sanctuary mansion. At his own home, illegal immigrants were being employed.

ROMNEY: If you hear someone with a funny accent, are you as a homeowner supposed to go out there and say, "I want to see your papers"?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Linda Douglass, Anderson Cooper let that exchange go on for about eight minutes, asked follow-up questions. Did that illuminate the issue of immigration? DOUGLASS: Well, I actually think it did. First of all, it was a legitimate question from a citizen, and the candidates could not avoid answering that question. That's one of the good things about citizen questions.

And by letting them go on and get so personal -- that is, Romney and Giuliani with each other -- first of all, we saw a lot about their relationship. We saw the kind of arguments, personal attacks, that they're going to use against each other.

Yes, there were many other issues that the public should have heard about and didn't hear about in the course of that debate. That's often the case. But I actually think that we learned a lot about both candidates and their positions on immigration and how they're going to use that issue in the campaign.

KURTZ: OK.

CNN did a fact check afterwards, which I thought was good. And a couple of newspapers did about with who said what to whom between Romney and Giuliani. But most of the news outlets reported it as just a slugfest.

What do you think about that?

GERAGHTY: Any time you have any crosstalk in which both candidates were talking over each other, in which you had both Rudy and Romney having that pretty lengthy and pretty heated during that discussion, it makes both of them look pretty bad. So basically, it was very much a winning exchange for Fred Thompson.

KURTZ: But journalistically, was it good decision to let it go on like that?

GERAGHTY: We're looking for some drama in these debates, so I have no huge objection to that, no. You know, we're waiting for that pivotal moment where one candidate says to the other, "How dare you?" Or some sort of great moment that illuminates the distinction between the two.

KURTZ: All right. Well, it was certainly different than a debate in which journalists get to ask all the questions. And I don't think this format is going away any time soon.

David Bohrman, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

When we come back, a man takes hostages inside Hillary Clinton's campaign headquarters. Why did some journalists immediately start blabbing about the political impact? And how did the wrong guy end up getting blamed?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: When a disturbed man seized five hostages Friday at a Hillary Clinton campaign office in Rochester, New Hampshire, some of the media were trafficking in misinformation. The man arrested by police was Leeland Eisenberg. But while the crisis was still unfolding, FOX's Carl Cameron went on the air and named the wrong suspect.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARL CAMERON, FOX NEWS: We've been told by eyewitness that the suspect in the hostage taking is a man by the name of Troy Stanley. We know this from an eyewitness by the name of Cody Bennett (ph) who spoke with us a few moments ago, who is friends with Troy Stanley's son.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Linda Douglass, of course it was not Troy Stanley. Is it irresponsible to be naming a suspect based on a friend of the guy's son while people's lives are still in jeopardy?

DOUGLASS: Well, it's always hard to second-guess somebody who is doing a live shot in the middle of a breaking story like that. On the other hand, when you're going to release a name, it is generally the policy of most networks to make sure that you have got a second source, that you've verified it through law enforcement authorities and so forth. I'm not sure that that was done in this case.

KURTZ: And Jim Geraghty, others picked it up, including The Huffington Post. And this guy, Troy Stanley, who had nothing to do with this incident, ends up being, at least briefly, falsely accused of a crime.

GERAGHTY: I'm just glad it wasn't some guy named Jim Geraghty and having some guy -- you know, how would you like to be Troy Stanley that day, people calling you, "Say, are you holding hostages right now?"

It's one of those things as a journalist you want -- you know, you want to be the first with the story. When you hear something like that, you appear to have an eyewitness, the urge to get it out and tell it to the world has got to be overwhelming. But, you know, it's a breaking story. I guess we should have -- you know, have a certain degree of sympathy when things are breaking and changing rapidly.

KURTZ: Sure.

GERAGHTY: Maybe the information is not right. And take things with a grain of salt.

KURTZ: And Cameron did attribute where he had gotten the information from. Unfortunately, the information turned out to be wrong.

Now, after it was over, Hillary Clinton spoke to reporters in New Hampshire after a tense day. Let's listen to what she had to say and then we'll talk about some of the media fallout.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It, you know, affected me not only because these were my staff members and volunteers, but as a mother, it was just a horrible sense of, you know, just bewilderment, confusion, outrage, frustration, anger. I mean, everything at the same time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Let's put up on the screen an Associated Press story filed after the incident in which the reporter says, "A regal-looking Hillary Clinton strolled out of her Washington home, the picture of calm in the face of crisis. The image, broadcast just as the network news began, conveyed the message that a thousand town hall meetings and campaign commercials strive for -- namely, that the Democratic presidential contender can face disorder in a most orderly manner."

Linda Douglass, there were other reports like that. Reuters talking about how Hillary was impressive in the cool way she handled this. Politico, "The scene was one of a woman in charge."

I don't know, is there anything that bothers you about the political handicapping so soon after this awful incident?

DOUGLASS: Well, there is just no way to avoid that. We're much too close to people casting votes in this very-closely contested race. Everything she did and said was going to be looked at through the political lens, and there was simply no way she could avoid that unless she stayed away from the cameras. Luckily for her she did handle it with dignity, and that was an opportunity for people to see how she is going to behave in a crisis situation. And I just don't think there was any avoiding it.

GERAGHTY: I have a hard time believing anybody's going to vote one way or another in New Hampshire based on her reaction to this crisis. Did anyone really expect her to fall to pieces, to be turning to a crying, screaming, panic attack? You know, she's -- you know, this is a woman who was senator on 9/11 and -- so I have no gripe about it, but I can't understand what's so surprising about the way she handled this.

KURTZ: On that point, Jim, blogger Ann Althouse -- if we could put this up on the screen -- writes, "Did she do anything other than canceling her appearances -- which she had to do to show decent sensitivity -- she made a lot of ineffectual phone calls. Afterwards, she used the occasion to make a show of her emotions."

I don't know. So now, Linda Douglass, we're getting into kind of reading her mind as to why she reacted the way she did.

DOUGLASS: And again, I would imagine that anyone who had -- who saw young people being held hostage all day long, especially if they work for you, man or woman, is going to see it as a parent. So it just shows you that reporters cannot sometimes look at these candidates as people. And I think that's what happened here.

KURTZ: Right, exactly. Sometimes -- sometimes, once in a while, there should be things that are just divorced from politics, but I guess that's inevitable.

A little bit of breaking news this morning on the presidential campaign. "The Manchester Union Leader," the most influential newspaper in New Hampshire, has endorsed John McCain. McCain, of course, won the primary eight years ago. We'll see whether he gets a boost for his struggling candidacy from that conservative newspaper.

Jim Geraghty, Linda Douglass, thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, Katie Couric strikes out on her chance to host a presidential debate. A CNBC anchor apologizes for making a monkey out of the president. And Don Imus now just hours away from a comeback.

Our "Media Minute" straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: The presidential race was shaken for a time...

KURTZ (voice over): Katie Couric's chance to moderate a presidential debate evaporated this week when the Democrats cancelled CBS' planned face-off in Los Angeles. The reason -- CBS news writers are threatening to strike, and the candidates had vowed not to cross a picket line. The party pulled the plug instead.

And tomorrow is comeback day for Don Imus. Back on the radio in New York, and on a small cable outfit called RFD, seven months after being fired for his racial slur against the Rutgers women's basketball team. The first show is part of a fund-raiser for his New Mexico ranch that offers a respite to young cancer patients.

We'll be watching whether critics object to the tone of the new "Imus in the Morning."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: And CNBC's Erin Burnett is known for her funny and freewheeling approach to analyzing Wall Street, but once in a while her mouth outruns her brain. As happened this week when she was talking about video of three world leaders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIN BURNETT, CNBC: There he is. I mean, who could have a man crush on that man? I'm not talking about the monkey either. I'm talking about the other one.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: Yes, exactly.

A monkey? Who's the monkey? What's she talking about? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Monkey in the middle. All right.

SCARBOROUGH: I don't know what's she talking about, Willie?

You know, I think she's filled with jetlag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. That's my president. I don't know who she's talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Burnett later apologized for calling the president of the United States a monkey, admitting she had said something stupid.

And on that point I couldn't agree more.

Ahead in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Rudy hits the roof over a report about police overtime related to his affair with Judith Nathan. Does he have a case?

Barack Obama still not a Muslim. How did that rumor become front-page news?

Plus, ESPN's Mike Wilbon on covering the murder of football star Sean Taylor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: The presidential race was shaken for a time...

KURTZ (voice over): Katie Couric's chance to moderate a presidential debate evaporated this week when the Democrats cancelled CBS' planned face-off in Los Angeles. The reason -- CBS news writers are threatening to strike, and the candidates had vowed not to cross a picket line. The party pulled the plug instead.

And tomorrow is comeback day for Don Imus. Back on the radio in New York, and on a small cable outfit called RFD, seven months after being fired for his racial slur against the Rutgers women's basketball team. The first show is part of a fund-raiser for his New Mexico ranch that offers a respite to young cancer patients.

We'll be watching whether critics object to the tone of the new "Imus in the Morning."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: And CNBC's Erin Burnett is known for her funny and freewheeling approach to analyzing Wall Street, but once in a while her mouth outruns her brain. As happened this week when she was talking about video of three world leaders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIN BURNETT, CNBC: There he is. I mean, who could have a man crush on that man? I'm not talking about the monkey either. I'm talking about the other one.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: Yes, exactly.

A monkey? Who's the monkey? What's she talking about?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Monkey in the middle. All right.

SCARBOROUGH: I don't know what's she talking about, Willie?

You know, I think she's filled with jetlag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. That's my president. I don't know who she's talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Burnett later apologized for calling the president of the United States a monkey, admitting she had said something stupid.

And on that point I couldn't agree more.

Ahead in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Rudy hits the roof over a report about police overtime related to his affair with Judith Nathan. Does he have a case?

Barack Obama still not a Muslim. How did that rumor become front-page news?

Plus, ESPN's Mike Wilbon uncovering the murder of football star Sean Taylor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: When you come right down to it, Rudy Giuliani is running on one thing -- his record as mayor of New York. This week the Web site Politico revealed a small, hidden part of that record that some police security costs for his honor were charged to obscure city agencies like the Loft Board, and that the overtime included visits to the Hamptons to visit Judith Nathan, who was then his mistress and is now his third wife.

CNN's Anderson Cooper asked about the charges at that night's presidential debate, and Giuliani defended his handling of it. New York tabloids jumped on what one called his tryst fund, and in an interview with Katie Couric, Rudy cried foul.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This story is five years old. It came out two hours before a debate. It is a typical political hit job with only half the story told. Not that second part told, that every single penny was reimbursed, that all of this was public, all of this was discoverable.

It was not done in a way that nobody could see it. But it was a typical -- this particular case, it was sort of a debate day dirty trick.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about Giuliani's latest slam against the media and some other campaign controversies, in New York, Keli Goff, an author, blogger and former Democratic strategist. And here in Washington, Blanquita Cullum, radio talk show host and a governor on the president's Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Keli Goff, is it a political hit job when a newspaper obtains city records showing police over time being charged to places like the Loft Board, and when it happens, when the mayor happens to be carrying on an extra marital affair?

KELI GOFF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, the short answer to your question is yes, it's a political hit job. But the longer answer is that doesn't make it inaccurate or unfair.

You know, I think what's interesting about this is for those of us who were living in New York when this all was going on back in 2000, I mean, this was the best soap opera on television. It gave "Young and the Restless" a run for its money.

And I think that what's interesting about it is that all of the New York journalists, New York newspapers, had a field day with this story long ago. You know, the problem for Giuliani is that, you know, he's running for national office, and so now it's become a national story.

KURTZ: But why do you -- why do you -- let me break in here. Why do you use the phrase "hit job," because that suggests it was a deliberate, unfair attempt to make the mayor look bad?

GOFF: I somewhat disagree with that, Howard. You know, I would say that in politics, a hit job is something that, you know, a juicy story. And it's going -- it might perhaps negatively affect one candidate, but that doesn't make it, again, less accurate or unfair.

KURTZ: Right.

GOFF: And so...

KURTZ: Blanquita -- let me turn to Blanquita Cullum.

John Harris, the editor of Politico, told that me this story was not timed for the day of the debate, that in fact the campaign, the Giuliani campaign was given two days to respond and chose not to comment.

BLANQUITA CULLUM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, that sounds good, but it still is a political hit job. I mean, I think she's right, I think Keli is right, it is a political hit job. But there is going to be a lot of political hit jobs. I mean, that's the nature of the campaign trail.

KURTZ: But "hit job" implies that it was unfair. Why was the story unfair?

CULLUM: Well, I think -- I don't know that I agree that I think that it's because it was unfair. I think the timing might have been unfair.

The timing is where the hit job was unfair, but -- let me just finish. I think there is going to be a lot more coming out from all sides towards all candidates. And the question I have is, you know, first of all, you've seen Hillary and you've seen Rudy and you know they have so much out there that's going to be like a Steven Spielberg movie, that it's going to be like "Poltergeist," you're building campaigns on the graveyard. But the problem is they can slough it off.

The other candidates may not be able to. And I think we've had a burnout factor on some of this stuff.

KURTZ: Giuliani's spokeswoman made the point to me, Keli Goff, that this was packaged by the Politico in a salacious way, that the mayor is entitled to 24-hour police protection. There have been threats against his life. So they would argue, what's the difference if he's going to the movies or visiting his girlfriend?

GOFF: Well, Howard, can I just clarify something, though? You know, to say that it's a political hit job, I don't necessarily think it was a political hit job by Politico. I think it was probably a really well-crafted hit job, possibly by one of his opponents.

KURTZ: Let me break in here, because John Harris, the editor of Politico, told me that no other rival GOP campaign had anything to do with this, and, in fact, the story was based on city documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act that were requested last June. So I don't think it's fair to suggest that someone else was feeding this to the newspaper.

GOFF: Well, I'm actually not even -- you know, there's also been speculation that perhaps this didn't come from a candidate who is currently in the race. So you can sort of do with that information what you will, if you know what I mean. But...

CULLUM: I'm kind of glad she said it and not me, because actually, that should have been my point. But the fact of the matter is...

KURTZ: But this is speculation. We don't know.

Here's something we do know. On Friday, "The New York Times" ran a front-page piece accusing Giuliani of making a series of exaggerated and untrue statements about his record as mayor.

He keeps talking about the liberal media. Is that a smart tactic when you run for president?

CULLUM: Yes, it sure is. Oh, absolutely. Of course it's a perfect...

KURTZ: Why?

CULLUM: Because I think that the majority of the base, the conservative base, do believe that there is a real strong presence and liberal point of view and liberal media, and to be able to say -- and remember, you've got to be able to make your case to the base. You know, you and I can talk, but if I'm running for office, I have got to speak to you if I'm talking to my base, and the base comes out, rain or shine, no matter what, and the base is going to be the most important turnout at this vote no matter -- no matter what.

KURTZ: Let's turn now -- go ahead, Keli.

GOFF: Howard, can I just say really quickly, though, I want to clarify my position here. I do agree this was a political hit job, but he handed them the gun. So I really don't, you know, see where he's going to...

CULLUM: Well...

GOFF: Oh, absolutely.

CULLUM: But look...

(CROSSTALK)

CULLUM: If we're talking about handing out guns, then everybody that's running for office is going to look like they're working for, you know, some militia, because the fact of the matter, Hillary's got enough stuff that's ammunition out there.

KURTZ: All right. Hold on. I got...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: I got to break in here. You two can take this outside. Hopefully without guns.

Now, "The Washington Post" taking some heat this week for a front-page story. The headline, if we can put it up, "Foes Use Obama's Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him."

The story said that the Democratic candidate has had to address assertions that he is a Muslim and attended a madrassa as a child. Obama aides sharply disputed the initial story suggesting that he was a Muslim.

Keli Goff, is it news to try to explore and investigate the source of these rumors?

GOFF: Sure. On the front pages though, I don't know that that was necessarily necessary. And I think that what some critics take issue with in this particular piece is the fact that someone gave credence, the lead and headline seemed to somewhat validate some of these rumors.

For instance, CNN did a story on this, you know, back in January. And the headline was really simple -- it said "CNN Debunks False Rumors about Obama Attending Madrassa." And that's not exactly what this headline does. It gives some sort of validity by putting it on the front page and exploring it as a legitimate criticism.

KURTZ: Right. And just to elaborate, CNN interviewed the top official at the school that was alleged to have been a madrassa. This is when he was in elementary school, when Obama was in elementary school. And he denied that it had ever been anything other than public school.

CULLUM: But Howard, what it raises -- OK, you can have all kinds of issues coming out. It raises, where is the "yuck" factor? Where is the perception that we really question issues?

For example, how much will we tolerate whether they had mistresses, whether they had, you know, law firms, all of that kind of scandal. Where is the real bias? Is the real bias that we are concerned truly about a candidate if they reportedly, allegedly, have a Muslim background? And the question is, how is that going to affect the turnout of the vote?

KURTZ: All right. "Washington Post" editors say this was actually intended to knock down the rumors.

Peter Baker, a reporter defending the piece by his colleague, Perry Bacon, said, "Somehow a story intended to debunk the false claims trace their origin and explore the challenge they present in the campaign in trying to quash them spawned a furious eruption among liberal bloggers accusing The Post of spreading the rumors."

Let me move on now to Oprah Winfrey. I was up in New Hampshire this week and this got a lot of attention, Oprah at a campaign for Obama. Let's roll some of the tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JULIE CHEN, CBS NEWS: Oprah is so accessible. She's on the air every day. I mean, that's -- like who doesn't love Oprah?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She actually is somebody who has the ability to move mountains and change minds.

DAN ABRAMS, MSNBC: Realistically, Clinton is a far more formidable force than Oprah. Yes, she's enormously successful and influential, and I know this is heresy. But I don't know that she will actually lead people to pull the lever for Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Keli Goff, we've got about half a minute. Why was it such big news that an African-American talk show host in Chicago would stump for an African-American candidate from Chicago?

GOFF: Because Oprah's not a celebrity. She's a brand. I mean, it's nice that people like Barbra Streisand or Ben Affleck, you know, want to share their political thoughts. But at the end of the day, people are paying them to be entertainers and to entertain them.

People look to Oprah not to entertain them, but to give her guidance on everything from what to wear, what to read, and possibly who to vote for. She's in a league of her own.

KURTZ: A huge story.

CULLUM: However, the problem is -- I mean, I agree with you on that, Keli, but the problem is, if they start trying to tie in things like this perception of where his religion lies, where his loyalty lies, does that backfire on Oprah? I have a tendency to think that she can bring in a percentage of the base that will not normally vote, but it's going to be iffy. It could backfire on her.

KURTZ: Well, Barbra Streisand endorsing Hillary Clinton, that didn't seem to be anywhere nearly as big a story.

Keli Goff, Blanquita Cullum, thanks very much for batting these issues around with us this morning.

Up next, a pro-football star murdered in his home. But were Sean Taylor's past scrapes with the law fair game for journalistic speculation?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Sean Taylor was a football star with a troubled past. The 24-year-old member of the Washington Redskins had gotten into scrapes with the law and with his team, and then this week came the tragic news.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: The Washington Redskins safety died this morning one day after he was shot in his south Florida home, apparently by an intruder.

CHARLIE GIBSON, ABC NEWS: Violence is a fixture on the football field. Now it's become a problem off it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Police on Friday arrested four men, men who knew that Taylor lived there, in what they said was a burglary gone bad. The initial news of Taylor's murder sparked a fierce racially-charged debate about the way that he and the crime were portrayed. I spoke earlier with two of the country's top sportswriters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: And joining me now, Gregory Lee, senior assistant sports editor for "The Boston Globe." And here in Washington, Michael Wilbon, host of ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" and columnist for "The Washington Post."

Mike Wilbon, you write that you are angry about Sean Taylor's murder, but not surprised. Why?

MICHAEL WILBON, CO-HOST, "PARDON THE INTERRUPTION," COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Not surprised because he had been involved, Howie, a couple of years ago in some gunplay. And I hate to use that word, but wound up pleading down from a felony charge to a misdemeanor charge of assault and battery, and had been involved in this particular incident.

So when you hear this, with his involvement having not been that long ago, I don't see how people could say they are so shocked. It is a not like he had avoided this kind of thing. Angry because another young, talented person has been lost to violence in urban America.

KURTZ: But why put those doubts into print based on no concrete evidence immediately after Taylor's death?

WILBON: Why say I'm not surprised? Should I lie and say I was surprised about it, shocked? No, I understand that people are upset, Howie. I mean, I have gotten a ton of e-mail, and letters and phone calls. But that is not what reporters and columnists do. I mean, I'm not in the business, necessarily, of handholding.

I mean, sometimes that is necessary, but I think that is a large part of the conversation in Washington, D.C., how surprised or not people were.

KURTZ: Greg Lee, you were concerned, upset about some of the coverage. You wrote a letter to members of the National Association of Black Journalists raising some issues. Explain.

GREGORY LEE, SENIOR ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Well, one of the issues I had was when the story first broke out, you know, Howie, with the 24-hour news cycle, all of the information came out. When it first -- a lot of people in the world don't really know who Sean Taylor was in terms of his background.

So the first thing you noticed and saw were, you know, the charges he had in the past with the issues he had with his gun. And then when you saw the images on TV, the images that they showed of him at first was of him spitting on a football player or when he hit a punter on a punt in the Pro Bowl that was kind of cheap shot.

And it showed him like he was a vilified person when in actuality he was murdered in his own home. So showing him in a vilified state early on, I thought that was not responsible.

KURTZ: But you would say that is part of the story. Not only did he plead no contest to that assault and battery charge, but later some thugs shot 15 bullets into his SUV. So this is a really a classic question of what is fair game, what is an appropriate part of the story when a tragedy takes place? WILBON: Well, Gregory raises a good point about how soon. And I didn't write for a day. I mean, my editor at The Washington Post said, you know what, let's wait. Let's see how this plays out, and let's just not jump to any conclusions.

I wasn't trying to jump to conclusions. My point is this conversation, 360-degree conversation, has to be had. To assess Sean Taylor as a man and his situation, now murdered, and put it only in a football context is -- it is almost dishonest. I mean, it is a disservice to him. It is a disservice to the larger conversation that has to go on, particularly, particularly, Howie, in Washington, D.C.

KURTZ: Greg?

LEE: Yes. I agree with Mike's assessment. Yet when the story first came out, a lot of things were a rush to judgment. It is kind of sort of like the Duke case when everything -- all the information kept coming out and coming out and all of the information was being put out without being processed.

And Mike made a good point that, you know, he took the time, you know, one day, to assess the entire scope of Sean Taylor. You need to tell the entire story. But when it first broke out, they just made it seem like, you know, he was in his -- to me, he was in his home, he was murdered. I didn't equate his past issues at that time with -- you know, with him being murdered in his home.

It wasn't like he was in a club setting or he was out doing things that may have, could have, you know, equaled one plus one if he was out and he had his past and maybe. But he was at his home.

KURTZ: You are right that this was no 4:00 in the morning nightclub shooting. But, Greg, you said -- you were quoted as saying that you were concerned, the coverage of Sean Taylor's death, about stereotypical images of African-Americans as if they were rap videos and that sort of thing.

But how is it a stereotype when journalists are writing about specific incidents involving this specific football player?

LEE: Well, when some people -- you know, my thing is I look at context and if you had experiences. I always say some sports columnist, you know, doesn't have really the experience or lens (ph) in terms of, you know, young black men culture, black men growing in the way Sean Taylor grew up or, you know, with hip-hop culture or that.

So most sports columnists or their expertise or covering sports and knowing the issues within a sport, because they have expertise, but I think some columnists -- and the thing that I'm concerned about too is when people, you know, on sports talk radio talk, that is the thing that bothers me most when is when it's sports talk radio. They listen to columnists and get -- form their opinions based on what they say. And some things in terms of like the images of black males and equating it to hip-hop thugism and stuff of that sort, yes, I really don't think they really have a real fair scope about it. I think, you know...

KURTZ: Is that a fair point?

WILBON: Well, it's a fair point, and it's often, often accurate. I have, you know, jumped on these issues all of the time, and particularly sports talk radio, where things are just raging out of control.

But I think that it is important to have the 360-degree conversation, no matter how uncomfortable it is, Howie. And I know it is uncomfortable. It is painful. It is particularly painful in Washington and Miami where Sean Taylor, and not just where he played, where he lived.

But we only have these discussions when people -- sadly, when people die, when there are tragic events that force us to confront certain issues. Otherwise we don't do it.

KURTZ: You noted in your column, Mike Wilbon, that Sean Taylor had been trying to get his life together, leave his violent past behind. Why do you think there has been this reaction? Why are all of these people e-mailing you? Why do you think there is so much anger about this?

WILBON: Because they don't want to have the conversation. And it is interesting, I mean, one of Sean's dear friends, Antrel Rolle of the Arizona Cardinals, who played at the University of Miami, they grew up, their fathers both longtime law enforcement agents together, he came out and said this.

He said, Sean is scared to go home to Miami. And he didn't believe he was -- you know, and he has no evidence. All -- what he does know is Sean's own feeling. And he talked about and other former teammates have talked about Sean's willingness to change his life.

Well, change from what? And we know what he was changing from. And he had made that effort. By every reasonable account, he had made that effort, but it doesn't mean that everybody was going to let him make it without their own agendas coming into play.

KURTZ: Would the coverage, Greg Lee, of this murder have been different if the circumstances were the same, guy killed in his home, minding his own business, but if Sean Taylor were white?

LEE: It would probably be a little bit different, but I think at the same time when we look at the situation, Mike made the point that it took a tragedy for -- to bring up these issues. I mean, CNN did a show "Black Male in Crisis."

Well, when I was in high school, I was on a panel in 1992 about the black male crisis in New Orleans. So it is really not a new issue. It is a shame that the media had to use this tragedy to bring up the subject that is an everyday struggle in the black community in terms of the black males and the problems associated with.

So with this, you know, if this were a white male -- if this happened to a white male, I don't know.

KURTZ: Mike Wilbon, got about half a minute. If the police ultimately conclude that this was what they initially suspected, a burglary gone bad, would you have any second thoughts about what you wrote in your column, raising the question of Taylor's checkered past?

WILBON: No, and it was so brief. No. It is not his past that I'm looking at, it is also the break from his past, people unwilling to let him live this new life. And what happens to other kids? I mean, there are kids all over the place, as Greg points out, who have nothing to do with athletics.

This is not a sports story. What about them if they try to make a break or they say, you know what, I want to leave this behind? And people often won't let them. No, that conversation needs to go on.

And we -- of course, Howie, we don't know, there is not enough evidence yet to know whether it was a burglary, whether it was connected in any way to anyone who might have been involved with Sean. That has to play out.

KURTZ: The story certainly has a lot of resonance beyond the world of pro football. Mike Wilbon, Gregory Lee, thanks very much for joining us.

WILBON: Thanks, Howie.

LEE: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: And the Redskins will hold a moment of silence and a tribute for Sean Taylor at today's game.

Still to come, Al Gore back at the White House with George W. Bush. A tale of changing media fortunes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: When Al Gore returned to the White House this week, it got me thinking -- thinking about how media coverage can amount to blurry snapshots. And thinking about how history can make past coverage seem awfully superficial.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ (voice over): When Gore was vice president, he drew positive media reviews for debating Ross Perot about NAFTA and leading efforts to reinvent government, but he was ridiculed as robotic when he got into trouble for fund-raising at a Buddhist temple and kept repeated this phrase...

AL GORE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no controlling legal authority...

KURTZ: And the 2000 campaign sometimes seemed more about Gore's personality than his position.

George Bush took his share of media knocks in that campaign, when, for instance, he couldn't tell a TV reporter who the leader of Pakistan was.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: General -- I can't name the general.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

BUSH: General.

KURTZ: But no matter, since foreign policy was on the back burner in those days.

After the 36-day recount, Bush gained the trappings of the Oval Office. And journalists credited him with a strong response to 9/11, winning the war in Afghanistan, and wearing a cool flight suit on "Mission Accomplished" day.

The media mocked Gore for gaining weight, growing a beard and delivering shrill speeches.

GORE: Condoleezza Rice ought to resign immediately!

Donald Rumsfeld ought to resign immediately!

KURTZ: These days, Bush's presidency is defined more by the unpopular war in Iraq, the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, and his record-low poll numbers.

Gore, once derided by the president's father as "Ozone Man," made the film "An Inconvenient Truth," which won an Oscar. And then he won the Nobel Prize for his work on global warming.

And so it was that Bush hosted Gore in the office he came so close to attaining. There was also a private meeting about which the former vice president said little.

GORE: He was very gracious in setting up the meeting, and it was a very good and substantive conversation. That's all I want to say about it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Sometimes, despite what F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, there are second acts in American life. Sometimes high-flying politicians come crashing to earth, and those who are scorned by the media have the last laugh, all of which is cause for a little humility among journalists whose fleeting judgments are often overtaken by events.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Join us against next Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, another critical look at the media.

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