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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Media's Coverage of Pennsylvania Primary; 'New York Times' Reveals DOD Media Program
Aired April 27, 2008 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Pyrrhic victory. Hillary Clinton wins Pennsylvania and the pundits immediately brand her a loser anyway. Barack Obama loses Pennsylvania, and the commentators accuse him of failing to close the deal.
Message? We're the media, and a primary election means what we say it means. Got that?
Columnist and language maven William Safire joins our discussion.
Marching orders. A retired colonel and former Pentagon spokesman respond to charges that military analysts have been towing the administration's line on Iraq.
Plus, switching sides. Is Tony Snow the right choice for CNN?
KURTZ: The media made it clear in the weeks before the Pennsylvania primary that Hillary Clinton would have to score a double-digit victory to remain a viable candidate. But when she won the state by nearly 10 points this week, the journalistic verdict was nothing's changed, she's still a loser, and why doesn't she just get out?
So much for winning three big states in a row. Why do we all go crazy covering this contest for seven weeks, only to say in the end it didn't matter? One anchor, in fact, declared Pennsylvania meaningless even before the polls closed on Tuesday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: This contest is essentially over. In the effort of the media to try to keep this game going, we've created the delusion that somehow this race is still open.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: As election night unfolded, the hosts and pundits sounded like bookies setting their point spread for the big game.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN: What is a big victory? Ten points?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Hillary Clinton wins by six or more points, about, that's impressive.
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC: Eight to 10 raises real questions on Barack...
DAVID GERGEN, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: For a blowout victory, it has to be more than 10 points.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything in the 10 to 15 zone, you know, means she won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: That doesn't mean Barack Obama was exactly basking in praise. He may be the overwhelming favorite, in the media's estimation, but he couldn't -- well, how many times have we heard this phase...
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC: Number one, Obama can't close the deal.
FRED BARNES, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: He spent all that money, he still -- he still couldn't close the deal.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CBS NEWS: In primary after primary he has not been able to close the deal.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He cannot close this deal because of the working class, primarily.
DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC: The AP's Ron Fournier lists the five key reasons why Obama can't close the deal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So have we reached a point where the media spin is more important than the voting results?
Joining us now, William Safire, a Pulitzer Prize-winning "New York Times" columnist and author of the new book "Safire's Political Dictionary"; Jonathan Capeheart, editorial board member of "The Washington Post"; and CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin.
Bill Safire, how did it come to pass that journalists get to decide what's a big victory, what's a minor victory, what's a meaningless victory?
WILLIAM SAFIRE, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": We don't, but we try to fact as if we do. And the fact is there's a pendulum swing every now and then in the narrative. Sometimes it's a little ahead of the polls, and you see different campaigns going on.
Campaign one, gee, wow, Barack Obama is terrific, this new face. And then suddenly the balloon was punctured on "Saturday Night Live," where suddenly the phrase was "In the tank," to be in the tank for Obama.
KURTZ: And you believe that that spurred the question -- the press into a more aggressive posture toward Barack Obama?
SAFIRE: Absolutely. All of a sudden, guilt hit all the members of the media. And they went after him.
And then came Pennsylvania, and you saw the media narrative change again from Hillary Clinton. The sniper fire misrememberer suddenly became, hey, there's a scrappy young lady out there. And Bill Clinton, who was, you know, excoriated as dropping racist remarks and being mean and all that, now is being resuscitated as, boy, he's out there raising money and doing good things for his bride.
KURTZ: We'll come back to Bill Clinton in a moment.
But Jonathan Capeheart, are the pundits now piling on Obama as a guy who can't close this cliched deal?
JONATHAN CAPEHEART, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think the situation here is he's ahead in the delegates and he's ahead in the popular vote. But for some reason he can't win the big states. And I think that's what's helping to drive that narrative of he can't close the deal, which I'm guilty of using, having used that phrase.
KURTZ: All right. We have a confession right here.
Jessica Yellin, all the media geniuses said Hillary Clinton had to win Pennsylvania by double digits. So she does it, she wins by nearly 10 points, and they're still riding her rough.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'd say, first of all, She didn't actually win by 10 points. She won by 9.3 or 9.4, right?
YELLIN: But we have this huge debate about the 10 points, the double digits. We are all, I think, picking up on Hillary Clinton's narrative, in fact. I think we're giving her a lot of momentum.
And this "close the deal" phrase is something I used to hear from Clinton folks months and months ago. And...
KURTZ: We're giving her a lot of momentum? She won, Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania on her own.
YELLIN: And this argument that the big states is the key is a Hillary Clinton argument. And so we've picked up on that argument as the media.
In a primary, it's different. They're facing off. In a general election, there's an argument he could win those big states, arguably.
KURTZ: All right.
SAFIRE: Well, wait a minute. She just used "double digits." Ten years ago who knew from double digits, right?
KURTZ: You won or you lost.
SAFIRE: Right. And Leonard Silk of "The New York Times" started talking about double-digit inflation, and that suddenly introduced that word, and here we are using it today.
KURTZ: Choose your words carefully with this man here.
All right. You mentioned former President Clinton. He gave a radio interview in Pennsylvania this week in which he talked about this racial issue or racial language. And then an NBC reporter questioned him about it and he didn't take too kindly to that.
Let's watch both of those.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that they played the race card on me. And we now know from memos from the campaign and everything that they planned to do it all along.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: No, no, no, no. That's not what I said. You always follow me around and play these little games, and I'm not going to play your games today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, the White House -- the Clinton White House once said that President Clinton wanted to punch you in the nose after you called Hillary Clinton a congenital liar. This was in a 1996 column. So you are the perfect person for me to ask. Does it seem to you that Bill Clinton, in his role as spouse and campaign surrogate, keeps blaming the press for controversies that he himself creates?
SAFIRE: Well, I should say that Mark Russell, the humorist, got me out of that "congenital liar" trap by saying that what I had said really was that she was a congenial lawyer.
SAFIRE: Don't believe that.
Where Clinton -- where Bill Clinton is today is in that pendulum swing. He's been excoriated now for months, and now people are saying, hey, there's got to be another story here. And Obama is ahead and it looks like he's going to win, and so we've got to give the underdog a help.
And who is the most interesting part of the underdog? And that is what is the role of Bill Clinton in this campaign. And so -- and he loves it. He eats it up.
KURTZ: Eats it up, except he often seems to be scolding reporters for focusing on what he sees as distractions and controversies, even though in this case they were asking him about a radio interview that he himself had given just the day before.
CAPEHEART: Right. You know, the interesting thing about that interview or that finger wag that he did with the NBC reporter, what you didn't show was he said, you know, I'm here about doing -- talking about real issues and how we're going to change the country, which took me back to impeachment.
During impeachment, he was the one who was trying to say, look, I'm just doing the work of the American people. And now in this case it's, I'm just trying to help my wife become elected president so we can do x, y, and z.
KURTZ: You know, Jessica Yellin, reporters had the temerity to ask questions of Barack Obama this week while he was trying to eat breakfast at a diner in Scranton. Let's take a brief look at that, and I want to ask you a question on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, did you hear about Jimmy Carter's trip?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why is it that, like, I can't just eat my waffle?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So Obama just wants to eat his waffle, but the reason that he's getting these questions is that he...
SAFIRE: Because he's waffling.
KURTZ: But the traveling press corps is frustrated because he doesn't very often hold these media availabilities to answer their questions.
YELLIN: That is true, that they feel that he's not that available. But, you know, he has held a number of media availabilities this week. And it's always a complaint by the press.
I have to point out, the RNC, the Republicans, have picked up on this waffle line, and they are just blasting the press with e-mails about how Obama would rather talk about eat waffles than talk about some of the issues. So some of the dangers of doing small-town diners on the campaign trail.
Now, I want to turn to the new issue of "Newsweek." It is just out, if we can put up the cover.
It has -- it's a question about whether Barack Obama is an elitist. So on the left side you see the arugula he once talked about on the campaign trail, versus a beer. And in that article, it says that Obama, in the opinion of the "Newsweek" writer, seems a little strange, exotic. "To some his manner is haughty. He is a bit of an egghead."
Now, this came -- this whole theme, which I think is the emerging media narrative, came up this morning on an interview with "Fox News Sunday," Chris Wallace asking the Illinois senator about that.
Let's take a look at the exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Observers, and some liberal observers, say that part of your problem is that you come off as a former law professor who talks about transforming politics when the lunch bucket crowd really wants to know what you're going to do for them.
OBAMA: It's not like I've been winning in states that only have either black voters or Chablis-drinking, you know, limousine liberals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, you talked about how the coverage of Obama, say, in February, when he was winning all those states, I mean, the guy practically walked on water, he was described as inspirational, and all of that. And now you have got "Newsweek" and "Fox News' and everybody else saying, how come he can't connect with working class voters?
So how did this narrative change?
SAFIRE: Well, the idea was at first by a lot of people in the media, was to connect him with John F. Kennedy reborn, the renaissance of the Kennedy...
KURTZ: Especially after he got the Ted Kennedy endorsement and...
SAFIRE: And he's young and he's attractive and articulate, and he gets along very well with reporters. But now you're getting a lot more, hey, he's more like Adlai Stevenson, who was a two-time loser, remember, and Stevenson tried to make much of a hole in his shoe, remember? Saying, see, I have a hole in my shoe. So now Obama went out and ludicrously tried bowling, and that's now the new gutter politics.
KURTZ: Now he's talking about, well, he grew up eating pot roast and Jell-OBAMA: , and he buys five suits at a time and patches them up. I mean, clearly, he sees this as a problem. But, you know, he's the same guy. How come we all -- many of us in the media have suddenly decided that he is out of touch, to use that overworked phrase?
CAPEHEART: Because I think it's because of the results that we've seen, the gulf between who is supporting him and who is supporting his opponent. And coming out of Pennsylvania, and initially I guess coming out of Ohio, we saw this gulf growing between Senator Obama and working class whites, who for some reason take a look at him and would prefer to vote for her over him. And, you know, the arugula line, not being able to bowl, and a few other things that don't come to mind at the moment sort of fueled this idea that he's not like -- he's not one of us. He's not like us.
YELLIN: But I think that that's something interesting in all of this. And I wonder if there isn't an undercurrent of race, and his name is so different.
"He's not like us" says a lot about more than just class issues. And I wonder if that's not being fed in different ways, especially some of the Republican ads that we're seeing, that he's different from us in ways that might make us uncomfortable.
KURTZ: But what changed? And aren't there a lot of elitists in the media...
SAFIRE: Oh, there's a key word, elitist. Elitist.
I remember Richard Nixon -- I was a speechwriter for him -- said to us in 1970 when sending out Spiro Agnew on the campaign trail, he said "Crack the elitists," and that's what that campaign was all about. The silent majority was rising up against the eastern establishment elitists.
KURTZ: And George Wallace in '68 campaigned against the eggheads. Eggheads in the establishment. So that's not a label you want. And I wonder if it's a label that the media are perhaps a little too glibly and a little too unfairly affixing to Barack Obama.
Let me get a break here. When
we come back, Bill Moyers goes one-on-one with Jeremiah Wright. Did the PBS commentator give the reverend an easy ride? And should the media be replaying his inflammatory sermons yet again?
KURTZ: The media furor over Barack Obama's pastor finally seemed to have faded. This is, until Friday, when PBS aired an interview with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and there was fresh video for the endless loop that is television news.
On "Bill Moyers Journal," the liberal commentator sat down with the reverend, and it wasn't exactly an interrogation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL MOYERS, PBS: What did you think when you began to see those very brief sound bites circulating as they did? REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: I thought it was unfair. I felt it was unjust. I felt it was untrue. I felt that those who were doing that were doing it for some very devious reasons.
MOYERS: What is your notion of why so many Americans seem not to want to hear the Full Monty? And they don't want to seem to acknowledge that a nation capable of greatness is also capable of cruelty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Bill Safire, it was a very intelligent discussion about theology and black liberation theory, but in one hour Bill Moyers didn't manage to ask Reverend Wright about the lie, really, that the government manufactured the AIDS virus to kill black people.
What did you make of that whole interview?
SAFIRE: Well, it wasn't really an interview. It was a loving conversation. And Bill Moyers is a liberal, was from the word go, and he was doing his best to make the most for Jeremiah Wright.
Now, however, 40 minutes into that hour-long love feast, there was not a snippet, not a sound bite, but a nice minute and a half, two-minute take of his diatribe about America. And suddenly, for the first time you had any context how he was tearing down the country and saying right after 9/11 that we brought it on ourselves, we deserved it.
KURTZ: You set up my next question, because Reverend Wright has been complaining, and Obama himself this morning said that the sound bite simplified and caricatured Reverend Wright, that the snippets, the sound bites don't do justice to his message. So Bill Moyers played a whole thing having to do with the sermon right after 9/11, the next Sunday, about America's chickens coming home to roost.
And he talked about -- Wright talked about how America took this country by terror from the Indians, how we enslaved Africans, how we bombed Iraq and Sudan and Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We were, of course, in a death struggle with Japan. And supported state terrorism against Palestinians.
And after all of that, here is what Bill Moyers asked.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOYERS: When people saw the sound bites from it this year, they thought you were blaming America. Did you somehow fail to communicate?
WRIGHT: The persons who have heard the entire sermon understand the communication perfectly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Did you somehow fail to communicate?
CAPEHEART: No, I didn't. No.
I've gotten lots of e-mails from viewers and readers saying if you would only look at what he said in context, you'd really understand. And they would send me the video links. So I would watch. And I thought, he better hope that the rest of this doesn't come out.
You cannot say America was built on terror. And he also says terrorism. It's just not -- in a presidential context, anyone running for president of the United States cannot be associated with someone like that.
And unfortunately, you know, Mr. Safire brings up he do show more of the -- more of the sound bite, but it doesn't help Reverend Wright's argument. And it's unfortunate Bill Moyers didn't push him harder.
KURTZ: And Jeremiah Wright, when he complained about the way in which the media have covered him, he talked about the corporate-owned media. That would be you as a cog in the Time Warner machine.
KURTZ: And he seems to have the feeling there was an agenda here and the press has deliberately tried to make him seem like some crazy radical. But are we reporting his words?
YELLIN: We are reporting his words. I'm sure if you're in his position it feels unfair because there's such small snippets. We do run that one "God damn America" over and over again. But the problem is, is that this is language that matters to people not just because it's inflammatory, but because so little is known as Barack Obama and who he is as a private person.
People are curious, who does he go to for advice? Who does he seek counsel from? And if this is who he's seeking counsel from, it gives them a little bit of information they think. So the media feels that it's responsible if it does report this, though he feels it's out of context.
KURTZ: Reverend Wright also took a little swipe at the "learned 'New York Times' journalist" -- that would be columnist Maureen Dowd -- who called him a whackadoodle.
Is that a major insult?
SAFIRE: That woke me up. That was a great word that Maureen Dowd found probably on the Internet.
Immediately, I did a little etymological research, and whackadoodle, perhaps rooted in whackamole, not rooted in, but similar to, which was a big thing about the surge three or four years ago. The earliest one I could find right away was a reference to Rodney Dangerfield in "Rolling Stone" in 2004, where they said he was whackadoodle, his voice. And here, you've got to remember that nobody ever went broke zapping the media. Look, this program, people are fascinated by it and riveted to it because...
KURTZ: That's why we do so well.
KURTZ: And so it's a great target.
Let me just get Jonathan Capeheart in, in our remaining seconds.
That new "Newsweek" poll I referred to said that 41 percent -- I think these are registered voters -- have a less favorable opinion of Barack Obama because of Jeremiah Wright.
So, is this -- has the Moyers' interview -- and also, Wright is going to be at the National Press Club tomorrow. Is this -- are the media now justified in keeping this alive as a major controversy?
CAPEHEART: Oh, certainly. Now because of what you say. He gave the Moyers interview, he's speaking to the NAACP today, he's going to the National Press Club tomorrow, where he's also going to take questions from people in the media who aren't going to be as sympathetic as Bill Moyers.
KURTZ: Maybe a little bit harder edge to some of that interrogation.
Jessica Yellin and Jonathan Capeheart, thanks for joining us this morning.
After the break, from the Nixon White House to "The New York Times" opinion page, Bill Safire has seen combat from both sides, and now he's literally written the dictionary on political talk. He'll translate for us in a moment.
KURTZ: William Safire has long been known as the language maven of "The New York Times" magazine. He rejoins us now to talk about his newest book, the modestly named, "Safire's Political Dictionary."
Bill, you famously conjured up the phrase "nattering nabobs of negativism" as a speech writer for Spiro Agnew.
Was your opinion of the press that low?
SAFIRE: Well, first of all, it's nabobs.
KURTZ: Excuse me.
SAFIRE: All right. And it wasn't about the press.
I had written a speech out in San Diego about the profits of gloom and doom, an Eisenhower phrase, and knocking defeatism. And so I came up with the alliterative phrase "nattering nabobs of negativism."
The -- what fascinated the press that was going along with the midterm campaign that Agnew was running was his use of alliteration. And so Pat Buchanan came up with pusillanimous pussy footers, and I did this natterring nabobs. And then we also -- I also submitted the hopeless, hysterical, hypochondriacs of history, which Agnew used, but then we stopped using immediately after the 4H clubs protested.
KURTZ: All right.
Let's go through some of the words in your dictionary and you give me a quick definition.
SAFIRE: That was I think Daniel Borsten. It came out of his pseudoevent. And it is an event put on for the media, not for any explanation of what really is happening.
KURTZ: I used to read that all the time in the '70s and '80s. And now you don't hear it so much because everyone assumes that everything is a media event.
All right. Chattering classes. And do they matter?
SAFIRE: That's a Britishism. And we imported that from London. And it's the elitists. It's the people who -- the talking heads, as you see on your own program. And people listen to them and lay back and don't have to think for themselves.
KURTZ: You mention elitism. What's that political phrase mean?
SAFIRE: That's the establishment, but with a cultural overtone of arugula and white wine and Chablis and brie. And a general sense that these people in the elite are out of touch with us. The "power elite" was a phrase coined by C. Wright Mills in the '40s.
KURTZ: This one is usually used by the press as kind of a compliment, particularly when applied to somebody like John McCain -- maverick.
SAFIRE: Oh, boy. And that's got a great history in Americanism.
Maverick was the name of a congressman who -- actually, before that it was the name of a Texas rancher who used to not brand his cattle because he said he didn't want to hurt them. But the other cattle ranchers said that's because every time a cow migrates over to his territory, he can keep them and doesn't brand them.
KURTZ: But in the current environment?
SAFIRE: Well, currently, maverick is somebody who goes against the grain and is hard to control.
KURTZ: Rabbi -- and I don't mean the Jewish kind.
SAFIRE: It's like -- that preceded guru, which is a Hindi expression. And it means somebody who is your confidante and your closest adviser.
KURTZ: And somebody who...
SAFIRE: Who watches over you.
KURTZ: Right, right.
And we'll throw one more at you -- pundit.
SAFIRE: That's, again, from the Hindi. It means learned man, and that was brought by "TIME" magazine's founder, Britton Hadden. And he -- at Yale there was a group called The Pundits, and he was one of them, and he injected that word into the American discourse.
KURTZ: Coming into a little bit of disrepute lately, hasn't it? The pundits, what do they know?
SAFIRE: Right, exactly. Well, that's part of the zap of the media. And nobody ever, you know, went -- broke zapping the media.
KURTZ: And it remains as popular a tactic for politicians as it was when you worked in the Nixon White House.
SAFIRE: But remember, "press" used to be a wonderful word. The press. Because we have in the Constitution freedom of the press.
SAFIRE: Not the freedom of the media. The media has a connotation of manipulation.
KURTZ: Big corporation -- but of course now it includes everything from ink-stained retches to bloggers.
I've got about half a minute.
You gave up your "New York Times" column after three decades. It was such precious real estate. Do you miss having the opportunity to tell the world what you think about everything?
SAFIRE: Oh, every now and then I get up and I write a column in my head. But then I lie down and cool off and I watch programs like this and I'm OK.
KURTZ: In other words, you have moved on?
SAFIRE: Yes, to the language. And that's a fascinating new world.
KURTZ: So it's a whole new area of exploration for you.
SAFIRE: Well, language maven, and maven, of course, is a Yiddish word for connoisseur.
KURTZ: Well, you've kept us all on our toes this morning with your command of language.
Bill Safire, thanks very much for coming by. I hope you'll come back sometime.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, a retired colonel and a former Pentagon spokesman take on that "New York Times" account about TV's military analysts being cogs in the administration spin machine. That's in our "Talk Back" segment.
Plus, Tony Snow back in the punditry game on CNN.
KURTZ: The question is simple. Can you believe the military analysts you see on the air, or are they carrying water for the Pentagon? That debate has reverberated in the days since "The New York Times" revealed an elaborate Defense Department program aimed at using retired officers to carry the Bush administration's message on television and question the financial ties between some analysts and military contractors. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro has demanded answers in a letter to network executives.
Now, most of the analysts tended to support the Pentagon even as the Iraq conflict turned bloodier and more intractable. Here is CNN's Don Shepperd in 2006.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJ. GEN. DONALD SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: In my opinion we're following the right strategy, which is get the Iraqi security forces up to speed and let them fight the war as we slowly withdraw.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Shepperd told me this week that while he consulted with Pentagon officials, he has always been independent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHEPPERD: I feel no pressure whatsoever to do anything other than prevent my honest opinions about what's going on. I certainly did not feel compelled to carry any message to anybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: In our "Talk Back" segment this morning, a chance to hear the other side. I spoke earlier with Lawrence Di Rita, the former Pentagon spokesman under Secretary Don Rumsfeld, and retired Colonel Ken Allard, a former military analyst for NBC and author of the book "Warheads: Cable News and the Fog of War."
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ: Ken Allard, you were one of the analysts who got high- level briefings at the Pentagon after the Iraq war. Looking back, do you feel that you got candid assessments on how the war was going?
KEN ALLARD, FMR. MILITARY ANALYST: Not as candid as I would have liked them. It very much reflected the Pentagon point of view, but I expected that. So I took that with a grain of salt as it was intended.
KURTZ: You told "The New York Times" that you got hosed. What do you mean by that?
ALLARD: Well, I really felt that we got an interesting series of pitches. In some ways, almost nonstop, because when you walked into Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon, when you sat around his conference table, you got a lot of briefings. Very high level -- PowerPoint-rich environments. We got an awful lot of that stuff which later turned out to be on sober reflection not to be always the truth.
KURTZ: So do you feel that you were used? Did you use any of that information that you now believe was not entirely accurate?
ALLARD: I took every bit of that information, evaluated that against my own sense of what was going on and my other sources. Made up my mind about what was going on, conveyed that judgment on the air.
KURTZ: Larry Di Rita, were you, the Pentagon, Don Rumsfeld, trying to get a positive message out through these TV analysts, these retired military men, who appeared to the viewer at home to be Independent?
LAWRENCE DI RITA, FMR. PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: Positive, no. I think our objective was a balance, a richer set of understandings. There was a general sense, and I think the public often -- it showed up in polls -- that they weren't getting the breadth of the story.
KURTZ: You weren't telling them how badly the war was going.
DI RITA: Listen, we tried to be very candid. And when they came in, they saw very senior military officers. Nobody tells a senior military officer how to talk to other military officers. Most of them are retired.
And we'd have the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, we had the director of operations. These were not guys that were going to come in and we'd hand them a bunch of political talking points.
They told it like it was. They tried to be very unvarnished. But they certainly provided aspects of the story that was not being reported upon.
KURTZ: But hold on. You told "The New York Times" that you were trying to counter the increasingly negative view of the war provided by journalists.
DI RITA: Correct. KURTZ: How do you counter a negative view of the war with a positive view of the war?
DI RITA: No, with complete information. And then let people make their own judgments. And that's what we were certainly trying to do.
I think there was a generally negative intonation to most of the media coverage after about late 2003. I think the public was receiving mostly sort of what's going wrong with Iraq. We wanted to just provide some additional information of what was going right.
KURTZ: Isn't there a consensus now there were a lot of things going wrong in Iraq in 2004, 2005, 2006? When the Pentagon and Don Rumsfeld were blaming the media for being excessively negative, things were not going well with that war.
DI RITA: Well, but there were a lot of things going right, too. There were several elections that took place, there was a government being stood up, there were people stepping forward to sign up for the Iraqi security forces. And that was not being widely reported upon as, you know, the explosions every day. And so we were trying to provide some of that content.
KURTZ: You went to Iraq, Colonel, in 2005, a trip arranged by the Pentagon. Did you feel you were on that trip getting an unvarnished view of the war? Did it influence your commentary in a more positive light?
ALLARD: The commentary I gave NBC later on was limited to a total of three hits the weekend I came back. That was it. It was very, very tough for us to even get on TV with what we had to say, good or bad.
KURTZ: Why was that? Let's stop you right there.
ALLARD: Simply because they went south on the war. And basically, their coverage reflected the fact people were getting bored with it.
KURTZ: This is as early as 2005?
ALLARD: Look back at the election of 2004, what was not discussed. Things like manpower, things like, was the war a good idea? Should we continue to fight? If so, for how long?
Things which we're talking about now were not even talked about back then. We couldn't even get on -- we couldn't get on, on a bet (ph).
KURTZ: And wasn't the content of what you were saying, it was a lack of interest -- which we're seeing today. I mean, every survey shows the amount of time devoted to this war has gone way down.
ALLARD: Every single analyst felt the same thing, whether they worked for NBC, CNN or Fox. We simply were not getting on to talk about our story, good or bad.
DI RITA: Let me answer that just a little bit, too. During that same period we were also encouraging news organizations to keep reporters in theater...
DI RITA: ... and certainly embedded, so that they'd get a lot broader perspective than what they were getting -- for the most, receiving briefings in Baghdad. So it wasn't just analysts and third parties. We were also trying to get news organizations to do the same thing.
KURTZ: What these internal documents show is that this was a fairly sophisticated program.
DI RITA: Thank you.
KURTZ: You sent over talking points, you tracked the appearances of analysts on different news channels and networks. Fox's analyst John Garrett told me he always spoke his mind. But there was an email that he sent to the Pentagon where he said, please let me know if you have any specific points you want covered or that you would prefer to downplay.
It sounds like you were kind of manipulating these folks.
DI RITA: No. Certainly what we were trying to do -- my colleague here is nodding vigorously -- we wanted to present aspects of this coverage that was not being presented elsewhere, and this was a group of people who were naturally more likely to understand some of these aspects -- the military operations that were taking place, the kinds of things that were occurring on the ground.
It wasn't so much our interest in these people that mattered, it was the news organizations' interest. They were hired by news organizations, and that made them interesting to us by definition.
ALLARD: And to be fair, the Pentagon did not group the war heads. The war heads were created by the networks, not the Pentagon.
Now, that said, did they have their point of view? Yes, they did. Did we have among the war heads guys who were true believers? Yes, we did.
But we also had Barry McCaffrey, Wes Clark, a number of us, including myself, who said, you know what, Mr. Rumsfeld, the troop situation here is bad. We're light on the ground and that's going to hurt us. And over time we were proven right. Over time...
KURTZ: How early did you say that? When you look up to the run- up of the Iraq war, do you wish you had been more skeptical? ALLARD: I would remind you of how Vice President Cheney himself talked as the invasion was proceeding. He said, well, we have military officers embedded in TV studios. That was directly meant as a slam at all of us. So don't, you know...
KURTZ: He thought -- the vice president thought you were on the team. Did you ever feel like you were on the team?
ALLARD: I felt I was representing NBC News and myself. That was it. I was not paid to represent the administration. I was paid to say what I thought, not what they thought.
KURTZ: All right.
Part of the controversy stemming from this particular article has to do with military analysts, former military officers, who also either worked for defense contractors or were seeking military contracts themselves, thereby commenting on the very institutions that they also hoped to get some funding from.
Were you involved in that field?
ALLARD: Never once, ever. I'm poor but honest. Let's put it that way.
And none of the guys apparently who were in the room with me ever thought to offer me a job. If they had, I probably wouldn't have taken it. But they didn't.
KURTZ: Do you think it was a conflict of interest of some of your fellow former officers to be in that kind of a...
ALLARD: I absolutely do, because the reason why you're there is to offer the public, for whatever the reason you have, however good you are, whatever your opinion matters, is an honest opinion. You offer that without any hope of remuneration, without any hope of reward. That's basically -- the reward you're getting is what CNN, Fox or NBC News pays you to be there. That's it.
KURTZ: Fox analyst Tim Eads was quoting as saying that when he talked about the war or terrorism on television, he held his tongue for fear that "... some four-star could call up and say, 'Kill that contract.'" He was involved in military contracts.
Was that an unspoken threat?
DI RITA: I don't think so. I also don't think it's at all fair to most of these analysts, several of whom are retired three and four- star officers. These are people who were, in many cases, confirmed by the United States Senate, appointed by the president, who certainly understand where the lines are when it comes to individual ethics.
And I think to broadly characterize this as a class of people who were trying to do this out of self-interest is enormously unfair to people who were -- believed in what they were doing. And, you know, we often brought in former secretaries of state for the secretary and other leaders to talk with, former secretaries of defense, important, retired diplomats and general officers on other bases.
We didn't check what boards they sat on. We brought them in because they were important, influential people who deserved sort of some additional information.
KURTZ: I talked to retired Colonel Bill Cowan, who was a Fox military analyst. He said that three years ago, after he criticized the war effort on "The O'Reilly Factor," he was booted off the group, was never invited to another briefing, never got another telephone call, never got another e-mail.
So it sounds like access was provided to those who weren't too critical.
DI RITA: I don't know anything. I heard -- I saw that in the story. I've heard other assertions to that effect. It was certainly not the intent.
Let me tell you something, every day people came into that building to tell us that what we were doing was all wrong. And it's not -- I mean, from a -- we had lots of these groups.
We brought educators. And we brought clergy. And we brought -- I can't even remember the breadth of groups that came in.
Some were very supportive, some were extremely hostile to what we were doing. But it was still seen as important to provide the information.
So, for people to say, well, I came out and I said something wrong and they cut me off, I don't have any evidence of that. I would challenge the -- his own recollections on it.
DI RITA: But, I mean, if he wants to believe that, that's his...
KURTZ: ... Cowan told me he recalled it quite vividly.
Colonel Allard, I've got a few seconds left.
Last year you quit NBC and MSNBC...
ALLARD: That's right.
KURTZ: ... after a 10-year relationship. You indicated you thought they were moving to the left.
ALLARD: I thought they really had moved very surely to the left. And I also thought that when they had the chance to clarify the fact that they were not moving to the left, they didn't do so.
KURTZ: How did that affect your role as an analyst?
ALLARD: Well, number one, I was not getting on. And again, that had been a longstanding trend. And I simply saw the handwriting on the wall and said, you know what? They're going one way, I'm going the other.
Guys, thank you very much. God bless you. I wish you well.
KURTZ: All right.
Colonel Allard, Larry Di Rita, thanks very much for joining us.
DI RITA: Thank you.
ALLARD: Thank you.
KURTZ: And late Friday, the time you put out news when you want to bury it, the Pentagon announced that it is suspending the program of briefing military TV analysts while officials conduct an internal review.
Up next, Rupert Murdoch getting his way at "The Wall Street Journal" big time. "TIME" magazine and "The New Republic" square off over the best way to portray Hillary and Barack. And a Fox business commentator learns that sex sells. In this case, for $4.99.
Our "Media Minute" straight ahead.
KURTZ: Well, time now for the latest in the news business in our "Media Minute."
KURTZ (voice over): It took just four months for Rupert Murdoch to force a change at the top of "The Wall Street Journal." Marcus Brauchli resigned as the paper's top editor telling this week, telling his staff he had come to believe that the new owners should have a person of their own choosing to run the place. That was the message he got after a meeting with Murdoch's top executives.
Brauchli could not have been fired under an agreement between Murdoch and the previous owners of patient company Dow Jones. But an independent committee reviewed the matter and decided not to intervene.
KURTZ: One thing is clear. Agreement or no agreement, when you pay $5 billion for a newspaper company, you tend to get your way.
"TIME" magazine has a striking cover this week, "There Can Only Be One, half devoted to Hillary and half to Barack. That prompted "The New Republic" to say that "TIME" had copied its recent cover -- "We Have to Chose One" -- that morphed the faces of Clinton and Obama together. Not so fast, said "TIME" editor Rick Stengel, saying the inspiration came from a promotion between the magazine and the NBA. But the first to run that play was "Newsweek," which did the morphing thing between George Bush and Al Gore during the endless 2000 recount.
And maybe "Newsweek" got it from somewhere else, all of which goes to show there are very few original ideas in journalism.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome back, everyone.
KURTZ (voice over): The new Fox Business Network already had a reputation as a sexy place. Just look at its billboards. But John Layfield gives that a whole new meaning.
The investment banker and Fox financial commentator also has a sideline selling a love potion. Technically, a sexual endurance drink for $4.99.
"Think of it as liquid Viagra," Layfield tells "The New York Times," adding, "Show me an 18-year-old guy who doesn't want to be a sexual tyrannosaurus."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is all you need for the time of your life.
KURTZ: Scientists say the potion is bogus, but at the least, Layfield, who used to be a professional wrestler, by the way, could draw more attention to the 6-month-old Fox Business Channel, which at the moment is refusing to release its Nielsen ratings.
And we want to offer our best wishes to Jim Lehrer, who underwent a successful heart valve operation this week and is expected back on "The NewsHour" in a few weeks.
Still to come, from the White House podium to cable commentator, was hiring Tony Snow a good idea for CNN?
KURTZ: The last time Tony Snow was regularly on television, you may recall, he was doing daily battle with the press on behalf of President Bush.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Just getting organized.
KURTZ (voice over): Day after day at the White House, Snow was often seen mixing it up with the likes of NBC's David Gregory.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: Can this report be seen as anything other than a rejection of this president's handling of the war? SNOW: You need to understand that trying to frame it in a partisan way is actually at odds with what the group itself says it wanted to do.
GREGORY: Are you suggesting that I'm trying to frame this in a partisan way?
GREGORY: You are?
KURTZ: Now Snow is heading back to the airwaves as a commentator for CNN. That might surprise some people. After all, Snow spent most of his TV career at Fox News, mainly as the host of "Fox News Sunday." And for Bill O'Reilly, at least, the idea of Snow defecting to CNN was unthinkable.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: But you can't go over to CNN. I mean, that's the devil over there. You can't -- you know, you're a religious guy. You can't go into the pagan throne over there.
KURTZ: But will Snow be shilling for the Republicans? Is there any difference between CNN hiring the former White House press secretary and Fox tapping Karl Rove?
It all depends on how Snow is used. Fox usually puts Rove on by himself, sometimes followed by a liberal guest and sometimes not. Here he is last Sunday.
KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS ANALYST: If you take a look at all the -- either the individual state polls or the Gallup tracking poll, the last month or five weeks have been good for Senator McCain.
KURTZ: And sometimes these TV gigs can be part of a political merry-go-round. Nicole Wallace went from the Bush White House to CBS News commentator, and this week to the McCain campaign.
CNN has a tradition dating back to "CROSSFIRE" of pairing Democratic and Republican analysts. And such high-profile CNN commentators as James Carville and Paul Begala worked for President Clinton. So, Snow could be a valuable contributor if he's balanced by advocates by the other side, as he was this week on "LARRY KING LIVE" with former Clinton White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers.
SNOW: But I do think that it's going to be critical for Senator Clinton at least to say to the voters, look, I'm better than this guy. I'm more experienced than this guy.
DEE DEE MYERS, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, absolutely.
KURTZ: The real question is whether Snow, who occasionally criticized Bush before joining the White House staff, will return to his roots as an independent conservative and whether he'll stop accusing journalists of pushing political agendas now that he's one of us. Sort of.
Finally, last night was President Bush's final appearance at the White House Correspondents Dinner, and he passed up the opportunity to mock his media antagonists. The guy who really took some pops at the press was comedian Craig Ferguson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRAIG FERGUSON, COMEDIAN: My name is Craig Ferguson. I host a late night television program for the mighty CBS Corporation.
FERGUSON: Yes. I'm their middle of the night guy, and I'm kind of basically all they could afford after they finished paying Katie Couric.
"The New York Times" unfortunately did not buy a table. They felt -- I just want to make sure I get this right -- they felt that this event undercuts the credibility of the press.
It's funny. You see, I thought that Jayson Blair and Judy Miller took care of that.
FERGUSON: Fox News, of course -- now, to be fair, Fox News has my favorite, the gorgeous and smoldering Bill O'Reilly. Man, that is sexy.
Bill O'Reilly, who is locked in that feud with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. The two of them are at it every night, that terrible feud. Everybody thinks they hate each other.
You know what I see there? Sexual tension. That's what I see.
That's a romantic comedy waiting to happen. "You're the worst person in the world." "You're a liberal yuppie scum." "Are you as turned on as I am?" You bet I am, mister."
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love the band, and so I'm going to say farewell to you by doing something I've always wanted to do.
KURTZ: The president living out a boyhood dream.
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.