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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING

State of the Union: Reliable Sources

Aired February 8, 2009 - 10:00   ET

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


HOWARD KURTZ, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Then I'll put aside my rooting for the Yankees. Look, the media issue here is that these were anonymous sources telling Sports Illustrated about these confidential tests conducted by the union in 2003 at a time when baseball wasn't even imposing penalties for steroid use, but nobody will care about that.

Why? Because A-Rod is not just a big baseball superstar. He's a huge celebrity who hangs out with the likes of Madonna.

And I think there's a lot of resentment towards him, certainly in the press, maybe in the public, for that $275 million contract. He, when asked by "Sports Illustrated" reporters, said that, well, you'll have to talk about the union about that.

In the past, with an interview with Katie Couric, he has denied using steroids. So he has now become, I think, will become, the face of baseball's steroids problem.

JOHN KING, HOST: And you make a great point. It's not just the questions about baseball and whether it's dealt with the steroids problem, it does raise interesting questions about our business and when and how we should use these anonymous sources. They're big here in Washington, but now, of course, we can see again they are big all over the place.

So with that note, take it away, Howie.

KURTZ: All right. Thanks very much, John.

Ahead, we'll check in with Katie Couric on her exclusive interview with the US Airways pilot who made that miracle landing in the Hudson River and her tenure as the CBS anchor.

But first, President Obama wanted the biggest megaphone he could fine, and that meant calling in the network anchors. He would deliver his economic message to Charlie Gibson, to Katie Couric, to Brian Williams, to Anderson Cooper, to Chris Wallace. But then the Tom Daschle nomination, which the press had assured us was a virtual certainty, blew up, and the storyline changed. The anchors confronted the new president about how he could name as his health secretary a guy who had to repay $140,000 in back taxes for use of a chauffeured limo, no less.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: There's more of a problem than just Daschle, and you're the one in your inaugural speech who talked about an era of responsibility.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: "The Philadelphia Inquirer" today, "Surely President Obama can find qualified people to serve in his cabinet who aren't hustling to write overdue checks to the IRS."

You lost two nominees, two appointments today. Did that make you angry, I imagine? COURIC: So, what happens, it gives people the impression that you talked the talk during the campaign, but now you're in office and you're not walking the walk.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: In less than two weeks, you have signed waivers to allow the hiring of lobbyists to be deputy secretary at the Pentagon, deputy secretary at HHS, and chief of staff at the Treasury. Is that a clean break?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: Do you feel you've lost some of that moral high ground which you set for yourself on day one?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Obama had an answer to those questions, and it's not one we usually hear from presidents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I think I made a mistake.

I screwed up.

I take responsibility for this mistake.

I think I've messed up.

GIBSON: Mr. President, has this been an embarrassing day for the administration?

OBAMA: Oh, I think it has.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So how has the president handled the media during this difficult week, and what does the Daschle debacle tell us about Washington journalism?

Joining us now, Amy Holmes, a CNN political contributor, and Ceci Connolly, national correspondent for "The Washington Post."

Ceci, were the anchors, as we just saw there, pretty aggressive toward Obama on this fiasco, or did they kind of let him skate?

CECI CONNOLLY, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think that they were aggressive, and certainly had several questions on it. But to give them credit, the full interviews then turned to the economic stimulus package, which is what the president wanted to talk about. I think there was the appropriate level of questioning given that not only did you have Tom Daschle pulling out, but that you also had Tim Geithner having to repay back taxes, you had Nancy Killefer withdrawing her nomination. So it was not just one, but several.

KURTZ: Absolutely.

Amy Holmes, Brian Williams asked if the president was angry. I thought that was an odd choice of words. Didn't Obama appoint Obama and these other people with tax problems?

AMY HOLMES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, exactly. And that this was Obama's responsibility, not that he was an outside observer having some emotional reaction to this. And I think it's important to note that this tough questioning, it came after Daschle withdrew his nomination.

The night -- that Friday night that it was breaking, the journalists were saying, oh, Daschle, he'll skate right on by, he'll skate through this, it's not a big deal. I was even on a show where a journalist was defending the person who gave Daschle the car as being someone he knew and a really good guy. If anything, I think that we saw a lot of conventional wisdom mongering among the press. They have a long relationship with Daschle, so it was that inside the beltway sort of clubbishness, I think, where the press didn't really blow this issue up.

KURTZ: I want to come back to that question, but first I want to bring in Clarence Page. He, of course, a columnist for "The Chicago Tribune," joining our panel as well.

And Clarence, did Obama -- we played some tape there of Obama saying, "I messed up," "I screwed up," "It was my fault." Did he preempt an escalating series of stories about what a mess this was by saying right at the outset, "I screwed up"?

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, the stories are still going on and we're still talking about it on Sunday morning, but at least Obama did not run and hide. He took responsibility for it.

This is the first time he's made such a bold statement like that since he referred to his own relationship with Tony Rezko back in Chicago as a "bonehead move." That didn't preempt all talk about his association with Rezko. There was nothing illegal in it, but nevertheless, you know, people still talked about it.

KURTZ: Right.

I want to come back to your point, Amy, about the way in which the press portrayed this nomination right up until the point when the plug was pulled. "The Washington Post" said it almost certainly confirmed Tom Daschle. "The Chicago Tribune" "The nomination seems to be in little jeopardy of losing." And on the airwaves, well, we just happen to have some videotape about what people were saying during the time when Tom Daschle was still the HHS nominee. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRETT BAIER, FOX NEWS: Is this a major problem for Tom Daschle?

MORT KONDRACKE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think so in the end.

NINA EASTON, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: The Senate club is going to take -- as Mort indicated, is going to take care of its own. CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Daschle will be confirmed.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Will he get through?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, I think he's likely to get confirmed.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I do think he's going to be confirmed. The general view in Washington has always been extremely positive toward Tom Daschle.

GIBSON: Any thought that he might take himself out of the running?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Not on today's facts, Charlie. I don't think so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Ceci, didn't most journalists blow it, pure and simple?

CONNOLLY: Well, I'm sure you didn't have a sound bite of me predicting that he was going to skate through. I certainly don't think we did. I think our coverage was pretty aggressive.

Many of us were asking questions even before this story broke. We had requested his tax returns, we had requested the questionnaire that he filled out for the Senate Finance Committee. Sometimes you can't always get the answers as quickly as you like.

KURTZ: How much pushback did you get from administration officials when you were on the phone asking these questions about, how long did Daschle know about this, and why didn't he come clean sooner, and so forth?

CONNOLLY: Quite a bit. One of the most difficult things in reporting of that story -- and I pressed hard from the minute we got the first inklings -- was a timeline, and it was like pulling teeth trying to get them to acknowledge that in June 2008, Tom Daschle first discussed this with his accountant, and it was not until January 2nd that he paid most of the back taxes and January 4th that he told the White House. That timeline they did not want to give up because it was so damning.

KURTZ: So they were less than fully cooperative.

Clarence Page, did journalists simply pay too much attention to the inside-the-beltway game, what Democratic Senate leaders were saying, and not to how this was playing in the country?

PAGE: To say journalists pay attention to the inside-the-beltway game is like saying fish paid attention to water. I mean, it's a culture. It's more than a game.

Everybody just presumed Daschle was going to slide on through. So what if he's got this -- so what if he's a lobbyist?

We cannot forget that President Obama campaigned against lobbyists, as if being a lobbyist itself is a sin. It is not, but what you reap you must sow, and now he -- part of this whole new wave now that people expect is that he will go after people like Tom Daschle, who have been very useful to the way Washington works. I think this is a lesson for everybody in some ways about how you educate the public in the culture of Washington versus the way the culture in Washington to live day by day.

KURTZ: But you know, the so-called liberal press did not exactly go easy on Daschle. I mean, these stories about his tax problems were on page one of "The New York Times" "The Washington Post" right away. Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of "The Nation," called on Daschle to withdraw. "The New York Times" editorial page called on Daschle to withdraw. And he withdrew that very day, telling Andrea Mitchell that he had seen that Times editorial.

So the idea that those of us in the business would become Obama cheerleaders seems to me to be wrong.

HOLMES: Well, I wouldn't say that it was pure Obama cheerleading -- you know, you make a good point -- but that it would take the editorial page. I mean, we're talking about the news pages in terms of investigating and giving this information, and I don't think that they were fresh eyes.

These eyes have been on Daschle for a very long time. Most American voters -- most Americans vote watching the news don't have this familiar acquaintanceship with the former senator. And I would make another point in terms of Obama's reaction to all of this on that string of evening anchor shows that you showed. That, yes, he handled the press well by saying, you know, "I messed up," I bungled this, but where was the follow-up question, what did you bungle, nominating Daschle, not asking for Daschle to withdraw his name sooner? What part of this are you actually taking part of this for?

And you know what? It seems that the press has already moved on.

KURTZ: Ceci Connolly, what about Daschle cashing in after being the Senate Democratic leader? This is a guy who made $5 million in two years from corporations and a law firm, which was basically influence peddling without technically being registered as a lobbyist.

Was that part of the media narrative that helped sink him, in addition to the specific back-tax problem?

CONNOLLY: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I even spoke to friends and supporters of his who said that they were flabbergasted when they saw that he had earned $5 million in just the last two years. But again, you know, I have to defend the press here a little bit.

He did not file his ethics form with the Office of Government Ethics until January 21st. And to get those documents, we have to file a written request and send someone to go in person when that document is ready, so it's not easy. One other point, Daschle was already acting as if he was HHS secretary.

KURTZ: Right.

CONNOLLY: Back on Christmas week, I went to Indiana with him, where he held a town hall style meeting in a fire station. He was already moving forward.

KURTZ: Right. It was almost like he was in the job.

CONNOLLY: And it's the Senate's job to confirm these guys.

KURTZ: That is true, as we've been reminded.

Let me give you my two cents on this. I think the press, while aggressive toward Daschle on the facts, just botched the story because, first of all, too many journalists all but predicted that he would be confirmed, just like we predicted that Hillary Clinton would lose the New Hampshire primary. Too many journalists were numb to how outrageous this all seemed, a nominee not paying back taxes, and blind, I think, to the cashing in culture of Washington, that we've all perhaps become to inured to if you live here long enough, that everyone does it.

This was the culture that Obama promised to change. And so it seems to me that the press was a little bit out of touch on this story.

Now, the stimulus package, you could say similar things, Amy Holmes, because the press was basically saying this was going to pass easily, that no Republicans voted for it in the House. I think journalists were slow to see how unpopular at least parts of this bill were.

Would you agree with that?

HOLMES: I would agree with that. I would also say that the stimulus package was over 700 pages, so journalists had to, you know, run pretty quick to be able to read all of the fine print that was in there.

But something -- even just last night, watching the media discussion about this, that, oh, this is politics as usual in Washington. Again, that predictive kind of smarty pants sort of attitude oftentimes that journalists bring to it. This is not usual to pass a $1 trillion bill in a week.

KURTZ: Clarence, the pork and other special interest stuff that is in that legislation may be a small fraction of the overall spending, but that is what's been getting the media attention and maybe, therefore, was a mistake. PAGE: Well, that was part of the Republican strategy, to put the focus on the so-called pork. And by the way, what is pork? It is money that goes to somebody else's district. Everybody knows that.

I mean, as Obama finally said when he was accused of having a spending bill and not a jobs bill, he said of course it's a spending bill, spending is stimulus. And yes, that's the narrative that the Democrats should have said up in the beginning, but the Republicans kept hammering away, with the help of conservative talk radio, I might add, at the idea that this is a pork bill. Pork, pork, pork.

And that became this central debating point rather than Keynesianism, which is putting money into the economy the way Franklin Roosevelt did and getting the economy moving. They should have called it a jobs bill, they should have called it a put America to work bill, something like that.

KURTZ: Right. Well, it does show you how important framing the debate is.

The Republicans control nothing in Washington, but they did manage to take control of the debate. And the media, I think, belatedly woke up to the fact that the terms of this debate had changed.

Amy Holmes, Ceci Connolly, Clarence Page, thanks for stopping by this morning.

When we come back, move over daytime soaps. The real afternoon drama is Robert Gibbs versus the White House press corps, carried live on cable. Who's got the upper hand? We'll ask former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers.

And later, Katie Couric, the "CBS Evening News" anchor, joins us to talk about tonight's exclusive interview with America's newest hero, the pilot Chesley Sullenberger.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It's become the latest drama on afternoon cable, Robert Gibbs sparring with the press. As White House press secretary, his job is to doggedly defend the president, right up to the point where the president changes his approach and the old talking points have to be thrown out.

For a look at how he's doing, I spoke earlier with someone who stood at that podium on Bill Clinton's behalf, Dee Dee Myers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Dee Dee Myers, welcome.

MYERS: Thank you, Howie. It's good to be here. KURTZ: Robert Gibbs spent days defending the Tom Daschle nomination until, suddenly, the former senator pulls out.

Let's take a look at what Gibbs said the day before and the day of the withdrawal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the Senate will lay a serious but corrected mistake against that three-decade career in public service.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why the about-face from here on Tom Daschle?

GIBBS: I think they both recognize that you can't set an example of responsibility but accept a different standard on who serves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Isn't it embarrassing to have to do a 180 like that?

MYERS: Yes. You know, it's a little bit awkward, but it comes with the territory.

You're 100 percent behind a nominee until you're not, and that's always a delicate game. I don't think on -- you know, on the first clip we saw, that Robert Gibbs or anyone else really thought that Daschle would go down in this process.

KURTZ: Clearly.

MYERS: They were still fighting for him. Sometimes you see it coming and you still have to go out there and give 100 percent support, even though you know this thing is in deeper trouble and may not make it, because the minute you hedge, it's over

KURTZ: But then he doesn't come out and say, OK, I was wrong yesterday when I said this tax issue was a minor mistake, he just recites the new marching orders.

MYERS: Yes. You know, I mean...

KURTZ: I Mean, did you ever -- in that position -- were you ever in that position?

MYERS: Yes. There were definitely times where things changed so quickly, and rather than making the entire day about how you had to go back and apologize and, you know, eat your words, you just move forward, and sometimes that's a better strategy. I mean, I think, you know, he's only been in this job for two weeks, and I think he's done a terrific job. He has not once become the story by making a mistake, and I think...

KURTZ: But as you say, it's early.

MYERS: Yes, it's early, but, you know, you usually you make those mistakes in the very, very beginning.

KURTZ: But as someone who took the slings and arrows from reporters for two years under Bill Clinton, does a spokesman's credibility suffer when you keep minimizing something that everybody knows is a big political problem?

MYERS: Right. You know, you can and you have to be careful. I think you get one or two of those over the course of a few months, or even a few years, because everyone understands how the process work.

This is one where they fought for the guy and it didn't work out. And he went down and he went down fast.

I think the thing that protects Robert Gibbs in particular is everybody in that room and everybody watching from around this town knows that he has direct access to President Obama. He is in the inner, inner circle. He has his e-mail address, he has walk-in access to the Oval Office. Knowing that, reporters are going to treat him differently, particularly about issues like this, than they would if they thought -- if they were not sure whether he was in the inner circle, where they weren't sure if he had the access that he needs.

KURTZ: He's not just a talking head, he is, in fact, a close adviser.

MYERS: He's not a talking head.

KURTZ: But I have watched him bob and weave in these opening weeks.

MYERS: Right.

KURTZ: And he is pretty adept at this.

MYERS: Right.

KURTZ: And he's also very adept at not answering questions he doesn't want to answer.

Let's take a look at some historical research provided courtesy of "The Daily Show."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIBBS: Senator Daschle decided to remove his name from consideration and remove his nomination. He did not want to be a distraction.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, Commissioner Kerik is the one who made the decision to withdraw his name. And he indicated that he did not want to be a distraction. GIBBS: I don't want to go into hypotheticals about what may or may not happen.

DANA PERINO, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's a hypothetical question that I would be able to answer here. MCCLELLAN: We're not going to play into some hypothetical situation.

GIBBS: I'm not going to spend a lot of time up here today looking through the rearview mirror...

ARI FLEISCHER, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is looking forward, not backward.

GIBBS: ... or playing Monday morning quarterback on all this.

MCCLELLAN: I'm not going to try to play too much Monday morning quarterback.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: This is not a hypothetical question.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: Is there a playbook that you hand down from one press secretary to the next with all these ways of dodging a question?

MYERS: Sure. Sure. I mean, I think, you know, anybody who comes into the job talks to and looks at the performance of previous press secretaries. You would be foolish not to do that and to try to learn.

One of the things you learn before -- by the way, you don't start your first press secretary job on the podium at the White House. You've been through a number of campaigns and probably government jobs before you get there. And one of the things you learn is you never answer a hypothetical question. There's nothing the press would love you to do more than to answer a hypothetical question, and when it turns out to be completely specious from the beginning, they come back and beat the heck out of you for having said whatever it was you were going to say.

So you learn those kinds of things.

KURTZ: Is the job often to avoid making news? I mean, you're standing up there for 30 or 40 minutes, reporters are trying all kinds of tricks and techniques to try to get to you commit to something, to set a goal, to set a number, and often press secretaries don't want to do that.

MYERS: I would say if the briefing has a goal, it's to provide information without making news. You want to -- you know, you saw Robert Gibbs. This week he'll talk about the president's schedule. He'll talk about -- you know, sort of give some background on how decisions were made.

But he never tries to move the ball forward. And one of the things he does, and I think quite effectively, is he slows the game down. You know, he's a southerner. He talks slowly. He puts in a lot of parenthetical phrases. He slows things down in an effort not to get caught in the rat-a-tat-tat that can take over a briefing.

KURTZ: On Monday night, President Obama will hold his first news conference, a primetime news conference. MYERS: Right.

KURTZ: That was a big fixture under Ronald Reagan. George Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton had trouble getting the networks to carry primetime news conferences.

MYERS: Right.

KURTZ: Smart move by a new president who's fighting for an economic package?

MYERS: I think it is, yes. And we'll see what happens with the stimulus by Monday night. Who knows where it will be, but...

KURTZ: But won't the reporters want to show up for that primetime audience and pin the president down and be aggressive?

MYERS: Yes, they will. And it will be an opportunity for President Obama live, in front of the entire nation, or whatever portion is watching, to show that he can parry. They will thrust and he'll parry.

And he's been pretty good at that. He hasn't done a lot of this at this level, at the White House, with the whole world watching. And so we'll see how that goes. But it's an opportunity for the president to go out there, show he's not afraid, and to make his points about why his economic package needs to move forward.

KURTZ: A lot of people will be watching because...

MYERS: Yes, they will.

KURTZ: ... their favorite shows...

MYERS: And you and I will be among them, right.

KURTZ: ... will be delayed.

MYERS: Right.

KURTZ: Dee Dee Myers, thanks for joining us.

MYERS: Yes. You bet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: And coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, landing the pilot. We'll check in with Katie Couric about getting the first sit-down with Captain Sully and whether she's finally being accepted as an evening news anchor.

Plus, candid camera. A cell phone snapshot lands Olympian Michael Phelps in hot water. Was publishing that picture fair game or really foul play? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I'm John King and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are some stories breaking this Sunday morning.

Vice President Joe Biden is wrapping up his first overseas trip at this hour. He laid out the Obama administration's new foreign policy vision at a security conference in Germany this weekend. A top Russian official calls the vice president's stance on major nuclear issues and relations with Russia "very positive."

Supporters of the president's economic stimulus bill will start airing radio ads as early as today. The spots made by a liberal interest group will thank key Republican senators who are backing the plan. A Senate vote expected Tuesday.

And a Republican mayor from a conservative town throwing his support behind President Obama and the stimulus bill. Find out why he thinks this plan is so critical for the country.

That and much, much more ahead on "State of the Union."

But first we go back to our friend Howie Kurtz and "Reliable Sources."

Howie, let's show a few headlines here as you discuss how we're doing, how the media is doing in this stimulus debate.

This is a big paper, the "Sunday Los Angeles Times." "Now the only option for states is pain," talking about all the state budget cuts in the tough economy and how many governors are hoping for some help from Washington.

Smaller newspapers, too. This, "the Decatur Daily," down in the state of Alabama. "Dueling Stimulus Plan." It talks about the debate here in Washington.

And Howie, one more thing. I know you have a special guest. You're about to talk to a good friend of mine, Katie Couric.

Look at this. That is a young Katie Couric many, many years ago in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, feeding grapes to a former press Associated Press correspondent named John King.

Now, we were just having fun. No scandals for you out there in blog land. Just having a little fun. Katie saying thank you to me before she headed back to the states doing her duty and my duty covering the first Persian Gulf War, when we both were, shall we say, Howie, a little bit younger.

KURTZ: Now, are you putting that picture out there, John, because you didn't want anybody to blackmail you and put it on a blog and have some nefarious interpretation of just what was going on there?

KING: I have had this picture in my office forever, because Katie was quite fun to help cover that first Gulf War with, not a fun story with. But she came by to say thank you and she was heading home.

But I've had this picture for a very, very long time. I need to get her a copy. No blackmail. Just two hardworking reporters having our -- those were days when you slept about two minutes a night, and that was -- we were taken away, maybe, from our two minutes of sleep to have a laugh.

It was just a funny moment, and I thought I'd share it before you have a conversation with Katie.

KURTZ: I can tell from that shot how hard you both are working.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: Well, just for the record, Katie Couric has never fed me grapes, but she has talked to me over the years, and she's going to talk to us in just a second.

Thanks, John.

When a US Airways pilot made that miraculous safe landing in the Hudson River, you might have expected that he'd hold a news conference or negotiate a book deal or make the rounds of the TV talk circuit. But Chesley Sullenberger didn't do any of that, didn't attempt to capitalize on the amazing feat that saved 155 lives.

Journalists, of course, have been in hot pursuit, and now the pilot finally breaking his silence with Katie Couric. The CBS anchor sat down with him for a 60-minute interview that airs at 7:00 Eastern tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAPT. CHESLEY SULLENBERGER, US AIRWAYS PILOT: It was the worst, sickening, pit of your stomach, falling through the floor feeling I've ever felt in my life. I knew immediately it was very bad.

COURIC: Did you think, how are we going to get ourselves out of this?

SULLENBERGER: No. My initial reaction was one of disbelief.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And Katie Couric joins me now by phone from New York.

And Katie, we appreciate you calling in. You were so anxious to be on the program that you called in early. We had to call you back.

COURIC: Well, I didn't want to be late, Howie. I got nervous, because I've been on the receiving end of late calls, so I didn't want to do that to you.

KURTZ: Yes. COURIC: But it's nice to talk to you.

KURTZ: Same here.

When you sat down with Sully, he seems like such a self-effacing guy. Was he reluctant to take a lot of credit for what he had done?

COURIC: Yes, very much so. You know, he is -- I mean, I think you look up "self-effacing" in the dictionary, and it has a picture of Sully Sullenberger. He is extremely humble, extraordinarily modest, and he is very quick to point out that there were five crew members on that plane that day.

COURIC: And in fact, when I asked him about the label of "hero," he said he thought the first responders were the heroes because they were at the ready in about four minutes, all surrounding that plane as it floated in a very surreal fashion on the Hudson River. And he said if they hadn't been there as quickly as they were, it would have been complete disaster. I said, "Yes, but you're the one that landed the plane, and the plane was intact." And, of course, that was an extremely part of the story. But he is extremely understated and humble about the whole thing.

KURTZ: And you were careful to include the entire crew, so the program is not just about Sullenberger.

COURIC: No. Well, you know, his co-pilot played an important role as well, Jeff Skiles. He had just trained, by the way, Howie, to fly the Airbus 320. And I think that was actually fortuitous, because he was very familiar with sort of the procedures, so as Sully Sullenberger took over the controls -- because it was Jeff's turn. They alternate who flies the plane at any given time when they are on a four-day trip like this. And when he said, "My aircraft," Jeff Skiles said, "Your aircraft," and then proceeded to help kind of go down the checklist for an emergency landing of this kind.

And by the way, the flight attendants are fascinating, too, because it's almost as if there were two situations or two separate accidents on that plane. In the back of the plane, it was a much more violent landing. The water was coming through and into the plane.

KURTZ: Right.

COURIC: And at one point, the flight attendant in the back thought it was over for her. So I think you'll really be interested in the sort of dual accounts inside that cabin.

KURTZ: Right, everybody having a different perspective on those horrendous moments.

COURIC: Right.

KURTZ: Was it difficult to get Sully to talk about the emotions he felt during those pressure-packed moments?

COURIC: Yes. You know, I mean, I think he is the consummate professional.

He's been an Air Force fighter pilot, he's been flying commercially for 30 years. And I think, you know, he didn't allow himself -- quite frankly, he didn't have the time to indulge himself into any feelings of panic.

I think what he said in that clip you ran, and the fact that it was first a feeling of feeling incredulous that this was happening. After that he realized, you know, he had a lot to do.

He had to figure out where they were going to land, you know, knowing that LaGuardia and Teterboro eventually would not be possibilities, and then prepare for a landing, a water landing, which is extremely difficult to do. So, you know, he did -- I think he wasn't all that emotional during the process.

In fact, at one point I said, "Did you pray at any moment?" And he said, "There were a lot of people in the cabin doing that for me. I had to fly the airplane."

KURTZ: Right. You know, even in normal circumstances, I guess, to be a successful pilot, you have to be able to tune out just about every distraction and focus on the job at hand.

COURIC: Yes. He said it took enormous concentration and focus to kind of remove those feelings of fear, and obviously he did what he needed to do to get the job done.

KURTZ: Right. Right.

Now your former partner, Matt Lauer, had announced that "The Today Show" was going to do the first interview with Sully. I don't want to use the word "steal," but how did you lure Sully over to do the interview with you in "60 Minutes?"

COURIC: Well, you know, in fairness, I think they might have jumped the gun a bit, because this whole interview -- really, I think maybe Matt was told by one person, but it was really a lot of people involved in the decision-making process, including the entire crew, Sully and his family, the Airline Pilots Association, the flight attendants. There were a couple of people helping them out from a PR perspective.

And so we did it like anybody else does these things. We talked to them, we told them we thought that "60 Minutes" was a good venue for them, it was more controlled. And we thought we could craft and produce a really excellent piece. And, you know, I think ultimately they all got together and they made that decision, and that's what happened.

KURTZ: Earlier in the show, Katie, we played clips of interviews with the network anchors that President Obama did. You were at the White House this week, talked to the president.

Did he seem ready to just admit that he had screwed up on the Daschle nomination? In other words, that it didn't take much prodding on your part?

COURIC: Oh, yes. I mean, I think that the administration definitely decided before we even, you know, arrived in Washington that this was going to be a mea culpa moment.

I don't think -- when they arranged for these interviews to take place, I think it was designed to really focus on the stimulus package. But then Tom Daschle withdrew at about noon, I believe.

KURTZ: Right.

COURIC: And the woman from OMB, the deputy director who is going to be head of performance review, she pulled out because of tax issues. And so I think they realized that the focal point of the interviews had changed pretty radically from when they had invited us down to the Oval Office. So, yes, he was very, very quick to say that.

The one question I wish I had followed up with -- you know, sometimes you think about these a half an hour later...

KURTZ: Of course.

COURIC: ... is, when you say, "I'm sorry, I screwed up, I made a mistake," was it a mistake that you actually chose Tom Daschle knowing he had tax issues and you underestimated the impact it would have, or was it a mistake that he hadn't about as thoroughly vetted as he might have been?

KURTZ: Right. What is the nature of the mistake.

COURIC: So I still think that's a bit of a question mark.

KURTZ: I think that's something we need to explore further.

You've been getting some pretty good press lately for your work on the "CBS Evening News." You're still in third place, but the ratings have ticked up a little bit.

After two and a half years in the anchor chair, why do you think it's taken so long?

COURIC: Well, I think by many people's standards, that wouldn't be taking so long at all. I think these things move glacially, actually, and viewer habits are pretty firmly entrenched.

KURTZ: Right.

COURIC: You know, I know it's been taking you a while for you to get a big audience on CNN.

KURTZ: It's taken a little while.

(LAUGHTER)

COURIC: So I just think it's one of those things that I think, first of all, people had to get used to me in the job. You know, a face that had not been familiar to CBS viewers. And then I also think that, you know, I had to get used to the job, and we had to sort of find the right balance of me getting out in the field and doing interviews, which is what I really enjoy doing, and reporting. And I just think it took a while to sort of be operating on all four cylinders.

But Rick Kaplan is doing a fantastic job. I think the show has been really high quality. I was really proud of the show from the get-go...

KURTZ: Right.

COURIC: ... but I think these things just take time. And that's OK. And, you know, I don't really look at the ratings. I look at the quality of the work. And I really think our newscast is as good or better than any of our competitors, and I'm really proud of the work that all of the correspondents and producers do on a nightly basis.

KURTZ: Right.

Some of the early criticism, you know, turned kind of personal, and is a woman really right for evening news anchor? And I just wonder whether that was a painful period for you at all?

COURIC: I mean, you know, listen, it's not a lot of fun being pummeled in the press. But on the other hand, I've always had enough confidence in my abilities and my work to know that sometimes there are larger issues at work here about the role of women in society and, you know, sort of -- I didn't really take it that personally. I think that there are a lot of unhappy, sort of insecure, vitriolic people out there, and I always sort of feel bad for them, that this is how they spend their time.

KURTZ: Right.

We're going to put up some pictures of you over the years, and I'm going to ask you whether the you think at all a factor in your recent success could be this new hairstyle.

COURIC: I don't know. You know, you should ask Charlie Gibson about how he's changed his part a little bit, or how Brian looks more tan on the air. I really don't know, Howie.

KURTZ: While we have you, we're seeing you on "The Today Show." Oh, that's an interesting one. You'll have to see a tape of this.

COURIC: I was pregnant. I actually am watching these.

KURTZ: OK. You've got the TV on.

COURIC: Yes. I kind of like the John King shot of me feeding him grapes the best.

KURTZ: Yes. Do you have an explanation for that before we go? COURIC: I don't really remember, but I do remember being over there with John. And he's a great reporter, and I'm so happy for his success.

KURTZ: Well, it was so nice of you to treat him royally the way you did.

Katie Couric, thanks so much for calling in.

COURIC: OK, Howie. Good to talk to you. Bye.

KURTZ: Nice to talk to you this morning.

And up next, taking a hit. A British tabloid runs an embarrassing photo of Michael Phelps and a bong, and now swimming officials have suspended him. Is it fair to sink an Olympic hero based on a cell phone snapshot?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: The headline more or less writes itself. Was Michael Phelps just smoking dope, or is he a dope, or both? The British tabloid "News of the World" created a worldwide buzz by obtaining a photo of the Olympic medal winner taking a hit on a bong, a photo that was then sold to "Star" magazine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT LAUER, NBC: Let's start though with the fallout from that photo of Michael Phelps.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN: Michael Phelps has taken a big PR hit for his now-infamous bong photo. But who says the super swimmer's reputation is going to pot?

A.J. HAMMER, CNN HEADLINE NEWS: Michael's marijuana mess. Michael Phelps has literally gone to pot. And the big question tonight is, will he literally pay for it, big time?

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ, CBS NEWS: Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is now paying a hefty price for that photo of him smoking a marijuana pipe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: This was no one-day story, and Phelps apologized.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATE AMARA, WBAL-TV: What do you want to say today to your supporters, to your detractors, and to all the kids who jumped in the pool here today and around the world because they want to be like you?

MICHAEL PHELPS, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: You know, the biggest thing is, you know, I clearly made some bad judgments and mistakes in my life. And, you know, I can -- I think the best thing is, you know, learn from your mistakes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: U.S. swimming officials have now suspended Phelps for three months, but we're going to dive into this question: Is it unsporting for newspapers and tabloids to be publishing this kind of picture, undoubtedly taken with someone's cell phone? I spoke earlier with Christine Brennan, sports correspondent for "USA Today," and Will Leitch, contributing editor at "New York Magazine" and author of "God Save the Fan," now out in paperback.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Christine Brennan, should we feel slightly sorry for Michael Phelps, or should he have expected that people are always going to be snapping pictures no matter what he's doing?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, "USA TODAY": I think slightly sorry, sure. He's a human being, he's 23 years old. He was America's hero just a few months ago.

KURTZ: Was? You used the past tense.

BRENNAN: Yes, I did, because the reality is, of course, he made the choice. He and his management group, Howie, made the choice to go for the money and to basically, you know, make himself, put himself on a pedestal as America's pitchman to kids, whether it's the box of Rice Krispies Treats or Corn Flakes, or whatever it may be.

KURTZ: And once do you that you've got a media image to uphold.

BRENNAN: Exactly.

KURTZ: But let's look at how this story developed.

Will Leitch, "News of the World" quotes an unnamed source at this party back in November as saying, "He looked just as natural with a bong in his hands as he does swimming in the pool. He was the gold medal winner of bong hits."

Now, isn't that funny that quote is so perfect? Was this a sleazy thing for a British tabloid to do?

WILL LEITCH, FOUNDER, DEADSPIN.COM: Well, I mean, certainly it's out of character for a British tabloid. But, you know, it's funny. It is -- you know, when you have something like that, when he first kind of came on the scene and became kind of this mix between, like, the handsome vampire from "Twilight" and like G.I. Joe, like, during the Olympics, I think it was kind of destined that something like this was going to happen.

I think Ms. Brennan's right. Like, once they kind of made the decision to make him all things for all people, inevitably he was going to have to be knocked back down to a human being. And it's a shame, because when you think about Mark Spitz, Mark Spitz has had all kinds of issues going on in his life, too, but he's from a different time. And that never -- and this comes on the heels so quickly of that, that I think this is probably going to end up being on Phelps' almost personal record, if you will, and I think that's kind of a shame.

KURTZ: Yes. Well, it's easier to be a bad boy in the era before cell phone cameras. Would you have published this? If this didn't exist and somebody brought you this picture, and you were convinced the picture was authentic, would you have put it in "USA Today?"

BRENNAN: That's a good question. I think because he's a public figure and because, Howie, he has set himself up as the nation's role model, I think it becomes news, yes.

KURTZ: Have we in the news business played along with him being the nation's role model? In other words, do we merchandise the Phelps' image? Do we use him as much as any of these corporate sponsors?

BRENNAN: I would like to think that those of us on the print side especially did not. You know, we're covering the story.

KURTZ: What about "Sports Illustrated?" They put him on the cover with those eight gold medals against his naked torso?

BRENNAN: OK. Maybe I need to make my universe smaller to the side that's not involved in business with the International...

KURTZ: With TV.

BRENNAN: I think -- well, NBC wanted to make it. You're watching in August. I of course was over there, I didn't see it, but it must have been like a movie, right? Day after day and Michael and his mom and his sisters.

And by the way, I like the Phelps family very, very much. They are good people. And I've known them for years.

But the reality is, I think those of us who are not in business dealings with the International Olympic Committee, and we were not banking on Phelps, and we were not using Phelps -- I feel good about writing, for example, Howie, that he's not a complex man, that he was just taking a few classes at Michigan. He's not a Michigan graduate, he's a high school graduate, which is fine. But I think he was built up to be a bit larger than life by those who also had a stake in his success because it was also going to be their economic success

KURTZ: Well, I think I would include all of the media in that building up, because that's what we do. And he was a feel-good story, an American who's winning all these medals.

Well, the guy got high at a party. Yes, I know it's against the law, but so in the past have the current president of the United States, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Al Gore. They all admitted trying pot.

Is the press holding Phelps here to a ridiculous standard?

LEITCH: I think what they are doing is they are holding the image of Phelps up to that standard. I think if Phelps would have actually have said even before -- it was almost an image management thing. If he had just said before the Olympics, OK, in the past, I smoked a little bit of pot, it would have been this thing that kind of went away.

But the fact that it was built up so much, I think that it was -- as I said, it was kind of inevitable that it would come to this point. And it's a shame, too, because, you know, I mean, the notion that -- like, if he wasn't -- if you didn't see him, like, drinking a bottle of whisky while getting in a car. I mean, this was something that happens in so many different circumstances, in so many different ways. I think it kind of speaks to our kind of notions of substances and their abuses and our perceptions of them, than necessarily thinks (ph) about Phelps.

BRENNAN: But Howie, of course, there was the DUI back in 2004, as you know as well. So there has been an offense before, and as you said, probably worse than smoking pot in a college party.

KURTZ: Right. But he wasn't using steroids and he wasn't using something that would help him win his swimming matches. If anything, pot probably didn't help.

In the old days, it seems to me, Christine Brennan, that professional photographers would cut athletes some slack. You wouldn't necessarily see pictures like this published. But nowadays, anybody can take a picture, and maybe somebody at that party didn't like him. Maybe it was his ex-girlfriend, and somebody can post it online.

BRENNAN: But Michael needs to be smarter than that though. He is, of course, from that generation. He's 23, so he is text savvy. And he knows he probably has a cell phone or two or three that have cameras as well. So I think that's part of it.

And one point I think, historically, since we were talking about the past, there was an athlete who once was as big or almost as big as Phelps, who did walk away from endorsements, who said he wanted his life back. Of course that was Eric Heiden, who won five gold medals in speed skating at the 1980 Lake Placid winter Olympic games. He disappeared. He said no to endorsements.

Michael Phelps -- I know it sounds strange in our world today, but Michael Phelps could have done that. He could have said, I don't want to do any of this, I want my life back, I want to go to parties. And he already had, because of deals before the Beijing games, Howie, he already had enough money to probably live on for the rest of his life.

KURTZ: Once you get on that media pedestal, you're obviously fair game to be knocked off.

Now, Will Leitch, your former blog, sports blog called "Deadspin," has had 174,000 page views for a picture of a backup quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals holding a funnel for a young woman who is chugging beer. So is there just a whole insatiable market for these kinds of embarrassing images?

LEITCH: Well, you know, realize that, you know, I think it was five, six years ago, like, "Newsday" ran a big picture of a Mets reliever, a relatively non-well known reliever, with a bong. And in the newspaper.

So I think that like -- I think it's not just a matter of -- I've talked in the past, and almost a little bit tongue in cheek, about the idea that there's a humanization idea. But yes, speaking of the idea to Ms. Brennan's point, like, you know, when you have -- when you have that kind of idea of he -- not only -- I think he was almost a void in a lot of ways. I think because he didn't have a strong personality like an Eric Heiden, and he was willing to just kind of say, OK, I am whatever you want me to be, I think that's kind of what the major problem here was, is that he didn't have that strong personality, so he was kind of just led around a little bit.

KURTZ: He was.

LEITCH: And I think this is the type of thing that's going to happen.

KURTZ: He was apparently especially vulnerable to this. And, of course, it will be always be part of the image we now associate with Michael Phelps.

Will Leitch, Christine Brennan, thanks very much for joining us.

BRENNAN: Thank you.

LEITCH: Thank you.

KURTZ: And a programming note. We've been getting e-mails on this. If you want to record RELIABLE SOURCES on a TiVo or DVR, in most cable systems you can now set it to "STATE OF THE UNION," 10:00 a.m. Eastern now, or "State of the Union-Reliable." And that way you can watch us any time.

After the break, blast from the past. A YouTube clip reminds us how strange and surreal the idea of online news once seemed. This is really priceless. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Back in the early days of computers, I used to go on the road with a clunky Radio Shack laptop. And to file a story, you had to put the phone into these rubber couplets and twist them tight, dial a number, and basically pray. The Internet was a far-off fantasy.

I thought of this the other day after seeing a YouTube clip, a 1981 report on San Francisco station KRON, that was about the future.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) (UNKNOWN): Imagine, if you will, sitting down to your morning coffee, turning on your home computer to read the day's newspaper. Well, it's not as farfetched as it may seem.

(UNKNOWN): When the telephone connection between these two terminals is made, the newest form of electronic journalists light up Mr. Halloran's (ph) television with just about everything "The Examiner" prints in its regular edition. That is, with the exception of pictures, ads and comics.

KURTZ (voice-over): Yes, small problem. It was just text on a flickering screen. No wonder it didn't catch on right away. But the San Francisco papers knew they were on to something.

DAVID COLE, "SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER": This is an experiment. We're trying to figure out what it's going to mean to us as editors and reporters, and what it means to the home user. And we're not in it to make money.

KURTZ: Almost three decades later, even with lots of pictures and video, newspapers are still having trouble making money online.

(UNKNOWN): This is only the first step in newspapers by computer. Engineers now predict the day will come when we get all our newspapers and magazines by home computer.

(UNKNOWN): Well, it takes over two hours to receive the entire text of the newspaper over the phone. And with an hourly use charge of $5, the new telepaper won't be much competition for the 20-cent street edition.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Two hours? Now when it takes five seconds for a page to load, we all get impatient and start clicking the mouse.

You know, TV stories about the shimmering world of the future are notoriously unreliable, but that one really nailed it. If only I had caught on and bought stock in Microsoft.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Rod Blagojevich on the air this week, even after he's been kicked out of office.

But we are short on time. I want to bring my partner John King back in.

And John, as we both have noted, President Obama doing the primetime news conference tomorrow night. There's starting to be some chatter about whether this guy, three weeks in office, is on TV so much that maybe he's risking overexposure.

KING: It's an interesting question and it's a debate every new administration faces. How often do you use your best weapon, your best communicator, the president of the United States? But clearly, Howie, they think they need to put him out there to get things back on track in the economic debate, and many Democrats privately have been begging the White House, get him out of Washington.

He'll do that on Monday. This is the Elkhart newspaper, the Sunday newspaper. "We're ready for our close-up, Mr. President." Even before that primetime news conference, he's going to go to a county in northern Indiana where the unemployment rate, Howie, is at 15 percent.

So it is a debate we'll keep watching on RELIABLE SOURCES and throughout STATE OF THE UNION, but this president is going to be very busy and very visible this week.

KURTZ: It certainly makes sense to get the president out of Washington and show him interacting with real people who would be helped, presumably, by the legislation he's pushing.

Thanks, John.

KING: Thank you, Howie. We'll see you next Sunday. Have a great day ahead.

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