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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Media Unfair to Sanford?; Coverage of Michael Jackson's Death

Aired June 28, 2009 - 10:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Time now though to do at this hour, every week, to turn things over to Howard Kurtz and his "Reliable Sources." And Howie, as I do so, both "Time" and "Newsweek" cover stories on of course the major drama that played out for middle week and continues through the weekend, the death of Michael Jackson at age 50.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN ANCHOR: John, that "Time" is a special issue. And look, this is a huge story. This is one of the most famous people on the planet, his music touched so many people and his appalling behavior at times also shocked a lot of people, but I think we're in the fourth day now. Everyone still seems to be churning out stories about Michael Jackson, trying to keep this story alive, I think for ratings and circulation. We'll talk about that later this hour and we'll talk to you in a little bit, John.

KING: Look forward to it, Howie, thanks.

KURTZ: We have seen this scenario play out again and again, the chasing politician apologizing to his family for his sexual misbehavior, but the saga of Mark Sanford was different, right down to the way that South Carolina's biggest newspaper exposed him.

First, of course, it was the governor's disappearance that led to rather light-hearted coverage. Even his staff assistant, he was just taking a few days off to go hiking. But still his wife didn't know where he was, his lieutenant governor didn't know where he was, and then a reporter for the state newspaper discovered him getting off an international flight, and the media's pursuit of Mark Sanford took a downright bizarre turn.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS HOST: He's been gone since last Thursday. His wife didn't know where, not a trace, no security, no nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was simply out for a long walk.

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS HOST: He gets beat up and wants to take a couple days off, his wife knows about it, yet the media is spinning this like something was wrong, he's irresponsible.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: We now know where the governor of South Carolina was and what he was doing, and he wasn't hiking the Appalachian Trail.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Governor Sanford spent the last few days in Buenos Aires.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: He made a dramatic reemergence today when a reporter found him disembarking a plane from Argentina.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Sanford took questions at a raw, rambling and very strange news conference in which he apologized again and again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I developed a relationship with a -- what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina. I hurt you all. I hurt my wife. I hurt my boys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you separated from the first lady?

SANFORD: Well, I don't know how you want to define that. I mean, I'm here and she's there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did your wife and family know about the affair before the trip to Argentina?

SANFORD: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For how long?

SANFORD: We've been working through this thing for about the last five months.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And them came the e-mails that the state newspaper obtained between Sanford and his Latin lover, Maria.

So, did the press expose a lying philanderer, or invade a governor's privacy?

Joining us now, Nico Pitney, national editor of "The Huffington Post"; Amanda Carpenter, reporter for "The Washington Times" who writes the "Hot Button" column; and Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post," who writes the "Washington Sketch" column.

Dana Milbank, what was it about Sanford's news conference, mere snippets we just showed there, that took an already strange story and just launched it into the media stratosphere?

DANA MILBANK, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": You know, I think already the notion of hiking the Appalachian Trail is going to have a new sort of cult meaning in our culture. But it became an instant classic, because the traditional thing you do when you get caught in these situations, you make the perfunctory apology. If you can talk your wife into it, she stands there looking pained next to you.

This was something completely different, completely unscripted and, some might say, unhinged. And I think it was oddly compelling in that way, but...

KURTZ: I like that "some might say."

Amanda Carpenter, as Mark Sanford poured out his emotions there, do you have the sense that most journalists have any compassion for this guy, who's in obvious pain, or is it just, yes, all right, great story?

AMANDA CARPENTER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": Well, I think the lead-up to the story was really important, because it started out "The governor is missing." And then people would go on Twitter and talk about, where on earth could he be? And then the strange story about the Appalachian Trail came out.

So by the time it got to the press conference, it was already a little bit laughable in some respect. And so -- and then the strange tempo of that press conference didn't do him any favors either. He kind of came out and said, if you've wonder where I've been, and then said, I've got to tell you something, and then it just went on and on. And so...

KURTZ: Well, he spent the first five minutes apologizing before he told us what he was apologizing for.

Nico Pitney, some pundits say, well, you know, he really damaged himself by rambling on and on, but then we complain when politicians like Eliot Spitzer come out, read a few carefully scripted lines and don't take any questions.

NICO PITNEY, "HUFFINGTON POST": Yes. No, I think it was fair.

I mean, I think the wildcard in this was really his wife, who, from the very beginning, when she said, I don't know where he is and I don't care, I mean, if she had made an excuse, would the press have latched on to it as much as they did? And now, being completely open, talking to the AP, giving a blow by blow, she, I think, has helped make it, by kind of being willing to speak out about it, has made it a different kind of story.

KURTZ: Jenny Sanford said, among other things to the AP, that her husband kept asking for permission to go back to Brazil to visit Maria Belen Chapur, who was a TV reporter -- I guess everybody's now seen the footage of her from several years ago, being on camera -- we can throw that up there -- there we go.

I want to talk about the e-mails. "The New York Times" reporting yesterday that the very romantic e-mails about her tan lines and her lips and her beauty between the governor and Maria were actually leaked to the state newspaper by one of her -- by her previous Argentine boyfriend.

And so Wolf Blitzer had a reporter, John O'Connor, on from the state newspaper, and he asked the question of why, since these e-mails arrived at the newspaper anonymously back in December, why nobody asked the governor about it?

Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN BUFFETT, CHAIRMAN, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY: If you would have confronted the governor's office with this information, you know, you could have changed history right then.

JOHN O'CONNOR, "THE STATE": And that's a possibility. He could have told us that they were not true. And if we didn't have the proof to say otherwise, what would we do then?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Dana, was that a mistake for the newspaper -- you get these e-mails. I mean, who knows whether they're authentic or not -- not to question the governor, hey, is this real or is this fake?

MILBANK: I don't think so. I mean, I think the state newspaper acquitted themselves very well. I mean, they dominated the story from the very beginning, so you get all kinds of wacky e-mails all the time in this business, and I think, given the absence of something else to raise this question...

KURTZ: Any corroborating evidence.

MILBANK: Right. I mean, I've got lots of e-mails purported to be from you in here, Howie, and I'm just not going to ask you about those.

KURTZ: Let's be careful about those.

Amanda Carpenter, when "The State" finally published the e-mails, Sanford had already, as we saw, acknowledged rather painfully this affair. So was that piling on? Did we need to read what he and Maria were -- you know, the intimate conversations between them?

CARPENTER: I would say putting all the e-mails in their full form was probably a little bit much. I mean, in the press coverage, they described them as graphic, explicit. I didn't see anything like that in there. They're clearly intimate, and I think you could have gotten that feeling across by doing a few selections, and that would have been a more tactful way of doing it.

KURTZ: So was it just to kind of exploit the situation? Yes, there was nothing X-rated about it, but it was just so intimate, you kind of felt like you were, you know...

CARPENTER: You felt like you were invading his privacy as you're reading it. It was just so intimate. And yes, it was uncomfortable. KURTZ: Dana talked about "The State" reporters really cracking the story. When Sanford's office was putting out the Appalachian Trail scenario, reporter Gina Smith got -- based on a trip -- drove four hours to the Atlanta airport and waited for a flight from Rio de Janeiro and found Sanford getting off the flight and interviewed him.

Is that good reporting? PITNEY: I mean, it's very tenacious. I guess you could call it that.

I mean, I think also, you know, it has to be mentioned that there are other issues that Sanford is involved with that are very important. For example, the state has almost 12 percent unemployment. He's out there denying the stimulus package that would bring jobs and unemployment...

(CROSSTALK)

PITNEY: True. I mean, there are issues beyond this affair that are quite important, and the state is going to be just (ph) important.

KURTZ: Why is it that none of those issues have gotten the 12 seconds worth of coverage this past week?

PITNEY: I think we all know the answer to that.

KURTZ: You know, as this thing exploded, and as Jenny Sanford gave interviews, and as we learned more about the girlfriend and all of that, I would read these pieces, and the pundits, they're always sort of locked into the handicap. They would say, "This could dampen his prospects for the 2012 presidential race."

Do you think?

MILBANK: Well, it seems pretty obvious, although I must say that, you know, given the way John Ensign sort of knocked himself out the week before, he's probably the happiest guy in the world this week. But I think that when you look back at this, if he survives and remains there as governor, people are going to say, you know what? The guy, whatever he did, however horrible it was, what he did, he was a human being up there. And I actually think even though he broke all the PR rules, maybe people in the end are going to say, "Actually, I kind of feel bad for the guy."

KURTZ: I think it was impossible not to have some sympathy for him as he poured out his heart, even though...

MILBANK: Right. We didn't invade his privacy, he invaded his privacy.

KURTZ: Well, even -- when he said, I'm going to tell you more detail than you really want to know, and he did.

But when we talk about Republicans like Mark Sanford, or Senator John Ensign, or Senator David Vitter, getting embroiled in these sex scandals, does it seem to you, Amanda, that the press does an additional thrashing of them for being family values conservative Republicans, and therefore accuses them of hypocrisy in a way that they might not if they were on the Democratic side?

CARPENTER: Sure. That always becomes part of the story when this happens to a Republican. And you know what? It is fair game. I think it's similar to Tim Geithner not paying his taxes. I mean, if you're going to take a stand on something -- and Sanford, family values -- it's important that you respect your wife and the vows of marriage. So, I think that should be part of the story. That said, you shouldn't go easy on someone like John Edwards or be afraid to report the stories just because he may not stand up for those values as adamantly as someone else.

KURTZ: Well, I don't think that Bill Clinton or Eliot Spitzer or Jim McGreevey or John Edwards got any lack of coverage when those Democrats got into trouble in sex scandals. But there has...

PITNEY: And in fact, I mean, Eliot Spitzer -- Democrats were out very quickly saying basically if he doesn't resign, we're going to force him out. Republicans in South Carolina...

KURTZ: And it was "The New York Times" who broke the story about Governor Spitzer and the agency that provided those call girls.

PITNEY: Yes. Oh, yes. And I think it's -- the double standard actually isn't as strong as one might suggest. Democrats are held to account on this quite severely, I think.

CARPENTER: I disagree with that. I mean, when the John Edwards story came out, I mean, there was a blanket "Do not talk about this." And maybe that was in part because it was broken by a tabloid, but when it did start to come out, I think people were very hesitant to talk about it and what his political future might be.

KURTZ: Well, people were hesitant to talk about it because we didn't have any proof other than "The National Enquirer." Wasn't that the issue?

MILBANK: But also in this case, Sanford himself brought up the issue. In his list of 8,000 apologies, he was particularly apologizing to religious conservatives because it would be demoralizing for them. So he raised the issue of why it's particularly damaging when a guy who takes this position gets into trouble (ph).

KURTZ: He apologized to just about everybody.

All right. Let me get a break.

When we get come back, one of our panelists made news by asking the president a question at this week's news conference. And how did Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer do with that health care town meeting at the White House? And later, the king rules the airwaves. The sudden loss of Michael Jackson puts everything -- I mean everything -- else on the backburner. Are the media striking the right tone for the death of a troubled music legend?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: A presidential news conference usually proceeds from the AP reporter, to the network correspondents, to the major newspaper writers. But President Obama set off plenty of chatter at this week's presser by giving the second question to a "Huffington Post" blogger. It wasn't just the selection of Nico Pitney -- Obama has called on "The Huffington Post" before -- but the way the president seemed to invite a particular question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Nico, I know that you and across the Internet we've been seeing a lo of reports coming directly out of Iran. I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet.

Do you have a question?

PITNEY: Yes, I did. But I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian.

"Under which conditions would you accept the election of Ahmadinejad..."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: All right.

Nico Pitney, you said the White House notified you that you would probably get a question at the news conference. Everyone assumes what we just saw was orchestrated.

PITNEY: No. From beginning to end, there was no planning involved. I was the one who posted that I was going to be soliciting -- that I was soliciting questions from Iranians. I chose the question.

The reason President Obama made that comment is because he was trying to make a point that he was taking a question from an Iranian. And it's interesting that Dana, of all people, wrote this column very negatively. I mean, this is a person, Dana, who, when he had a chance to ask Obama a question, he approached him in the hall during the campaign and asked him not one, but multiple questions about how he looked in a bathing suit.

I mean, that to me is pathetic, and I would -- you couldn't stage manage me into that, Dana.

MILBANK: Well, Nico has some -- evidently, some very interesting things to do.

What I have never done in my life, Howie, is worked in collusion with an administration, whether it's this one or another one. I believe that whether it's Nico Pitney, with "The Huffington Post," or whether it's Carl Cameron, with Fox News, the White House should not be calling somebody the night before saying, we are going to call on you if you ask a question on a particular subject asked in a certain way.

PITNEY: But I was... MILBANK: Nico, the night before, sent out an e-mail to his colleagues -- "Some big news. The White House called earlier this evening and asked if I could ask a question of President Obama at his press conference tomorrow on behalf of an Iranian. I'm about to post a solicitation to the blog Facebook, Twitter, et cetera. It seems fairly like that this will happen, but as they told me, this is not 100 percent."

PITNEY: This is exactly as I described it. I posted an initial solicitation.

MILBANK: At the request of the White House.

PITNEY: No.

MILBANK: No, it says right here in your e-mail that that's what you did.

PITNEY: No, it doesn't. In fact, it's exactly what I wrote...

MILBANK: "I'm about to post a solicitation to the blog Facebook, Twitter," after hearing from the White House.

PITNEY: Facebook, Twitter, exactly. So, my solicitation was merely over e-mail.

When I found out that the White House was going to potentially take this question, I went to a Farsi language social network site, to Twitter using a Farsi message, to Facebook. I tried to -- if I was going to have that opportunity, I was going to canvass as many Iranians as possible.

MILBANK: That's fine.

PITNEY: So it is -- and, you know, for -- this is someone -- Dana's column...

KURTZ: Do you think there's some jealousy involved by maybe the establishment in the fact that you got that very prominent second question?

PITNEY: Oh, I mean, I think it's jealousy. I think it's hypocrisy.

You know, Dana wrote a column, as his colleague at "The Washington Post," Greg Sargent, pointed out, hailing the "Mission Accomplished" banner moment in May, 2003, the day after.

MILBANK: What?

PITNEY: I mean, it's...

MILBANK: Look, there's plenty of fiction here, but I brought some other -- shall we go through the record here, Nico?

PITNEY: Go through what record? MILBANK: Your Web site was complaining about I was not holding the Bush White House to account. I'd like to say that here's a full list of documentation of me holding the Bush White House to account.

PITNEY: Well, I'm not sure where...

MILBANK: Your colleagues at "The Huffington Post."

Let's pose -- can we just pose one question, Nico? If the White House called up Fox News and said, "Major Garrett, we will call on you tomorrow if you ask a question about health care, and you ask it in a certain way?" Would you say that's OK?

PITNEY: They didn't say in a certain way. See, this is dishonest. And it's been dishonesty and errors from the beginning.

Your initial piece on this posted an hour after the press conference, had two errors, which you acknowledged to me an e-mail. You said you had corrected them. It took seven hours.

MILBANK: Is that right, Nico?

PITNEY: And the signal is you are very quick to malign and very slow to correct.

MILBANK: Look, Howie, I can't deal with fiction on this show. I mean...

KURTZ: All right. I'm going to -- you two are going to have to take this outside, because I want to get Amanda Carpenter in.

Does any of this smell like collusion to you?

CARPENTER: Well, I can tell you from -- I hear a number of claims from the right side of the issue on this, and they say that Nico is a person who worked on Democratic campaigns, then went on to go work for the Center for American Progress, where he ran a very partisan blog called "Thing Progress," and then was asked by the White House to ask those questions. So he's not -- I mean, the question was fair.

KURTZ: Well, I don't think he's not denying that you have left of center views.

PITNEY: No. I mean, I think the question is the quality of the question.

CARPENTER: But the concern from the right side of things is...

PITNEY: Jeff Gannon asked softballs. I asked a legitimate question.

CARPENTER: I'm not saying you did anything wrong, but I think the administration calling you beforehand, thinking that you are probably going to ask something sympathetic, escorting you to the front of the press room, to then ask a question in a place where everyone should get a fair crack at the president, is unfair.

PITNEY: I mean, the question, again...

KURTZ: It was a legitimate question. Let's make that clear.

PITNEY: It was a legitimate question. Sure.

(CROSSTALK)

PITNEY: It was be a strange conspiracy, considering Obama dodged the question.

KURTZ: Well, there's no guarantee you get an answer.

I've got to move on. I want to talk about ABC's health care event at the White House.

We had Diane Sawyer calling into this program last week and ridiculing the notion, the criticism from Sean Hannity and some other conservatives, this would be an infomercial.

Let's take a look at a couple of the questions that she and Charlie Gibson asked President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: Why get the government involved in something that is being done already in the private sector and, with the right initiative and impetus, could be done in the private sector without government involvement?

CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: If you add 46 million people to the insurance rolls, you can't get an appointment now, Mr. President. How are you going to get an appointment then, when there's 46 more million people competing for that doctor's time?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Amanda Carpenter, was it a mistake for conservative pundits and Republican Party officials, I should add, to blast this thing as an infomercial before a single minute aired, before we got to see what kind of questions were being posed both by the anchors and by the selected audience?

CARPENTER: Yes. I don't think it was. I mean, it was kind of a catchy name, people wanted to brand it ahead of time, and I think there was some partisan reasons for doing that. And you have to expect that going into something like this.

But they gave him more than an hour. They ran into their other coverage. He was -- as expected, gave very long answers, was not challenged. There were some good questions, but I don't think he was challenged nearly enough, particularly on end of life care issues.

KURTZ: There was a couple of times when he was challenged, but that's a fair point. He gave very long answers. CARPENTER: And there was no opposing viewpoints present there from another partisan...

KURTZ: Well, in the studio audience was the president of the AMA, the head of Aetna, somebody who had been a health care official in the Bush 41 administration.

But in retrospect, should they have had a Republican Party official as well to diffuse this criticism?

PITNEY: I think they could have, but I would say the questions that they asked, they asked some critical questions, but the fact that Amanda appreciated the questions, I think it's a signal that they asked the questions from a conservative viewpoint. They didn't ask, for example -- they didn't press him on the public option, which is something that's being debated among progressives and is a contentious issue there.

KURTZ: That got pushed back to the "Nightline" portion.

Dana Milbank, your take? Was it a solid 90 minutes on health care or should it have been tougher?

MILBANK: Well, it's not even a matter of tougher. I think it shouldn't have occurred in the first place. And I know Nico would like to make this about ideology. I don't think anybody should be colluding with the White House.

I don't think Diane Sawyer should be broadcasting from the south lawn. I think Charlie Gibson should be broadcasting from the Blue Room. I think when people see the White House, they should see the White House here, and the should see a free...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: So your objection is to the venue? If they had done this in Kansas City or Orlando, that would be all right? There have been other town hall meetings with networks.

(CROSSTALK)

MILBANK: Conceivably, I think that he did it earlier with NBC News as well. And I think the White House is trying to exploited media, and ultimately bringing them in bed with him. Ultimately, it's not good for the White House and it's not good for the media, because when people, say, in Iran tune in and say, now, wait a second, is that a real question or has that been arranged in advance?

KURTZ: All right. We've already -- we've discussed that. We're now down. And thanks very much, Dana Milbank, Nico Pitney, Amanda Carpenter.

PITNEY: Thank you.

KURTZ: Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, the two Michaels. The media go wall to wall covering the death of Michael Jackson, but can you cover the passing of the "King of Pop" without talking about "Wacko Jacko?"

Plus, taking a bite out of Apple. Why did it take a secret liver transplant for the CEO to produce some skeptical coverage of America's coolest tech company?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I'm John King and this is STATE OF THE UNION.

Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning.

The president of Honduras has reportedly been arrested. Local media say Jose Manuel Zelaya was taken into custody this morning and transported aboard a military plane to an unknown destination. The arrest comes on the same day Zelaya had vowed to follow through with a referendum the Supreme Court had ruled illegal. The referendum would have allowed possibly Zelaya to run for another term.

Despite an uptick in violence (AUDIO GAP) already to take over when U.S. combat troops pull out of Baghdad and other cities on Tuesday. Speaking on STATE OF THE UNION, General Ray Odierno says his's seen constant improvement in both the security situation and governance in Iraq.

Iran's supreme leader has issued a call for national unity. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged both sides in the bitter election dispute to calm down. His appeal was broadcast today on Iranian TV.

Britain, though, is criticizing the arrest of British Embassy employees in Tehran. Iranian media says those workers were detained for their role in post-election protests.

Time now to go back to Howie Kurtz and his RELIABLE SOURCES.

Hey, Howie.

KURTZ: Hey, John.

You know, you led off this morning with General Odierno talking about the U.S. pullout from major Iraqi cities, which is supposed to be completed by Tuesday. And as you know, a series of bombings this week left more than 200 dead, and yet the coverage this week on cable and, to some extent, on the broadcast networks, Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Mark Sanford.

Are our priorities a little screwed up?

KING: Well, well of those things you just mentioned are legitimate news stories, but sometimes Iraq has become, I believe, the forgotten war. And we won't forget it here for obvious reasons. There are still, as the general said, 131,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, some key deadlines coming up. The question is, will they be home on time? So it does get overshadowed, I would argue, too much. It's a very important story, and we'll keep covering it.

KURTZ: I would agree with you, overshadowed too much. Thanks very much, John.

From the moment I heard that Michael Jackson had suffered cardiac arrest, I knew the media world would explode, and particularly after the gossip site TMZ reported late Thursday that Jackson had died, followed by the "LA Times," an hour later, that's exactly what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ (voice-over): It wasn't just the wall-to-wall cable coverage. "NBC Nightly News" devoted more than half its broadcast to the pop star's death and that of Farrah Fawcett.

And look, Jackson was one of the most famous and controversial people in the world. And public interest in his unexpected passing was nothing short of views (ph).

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Michael Jackson had an extraordinary career and a troubled life marked by incredible highs and terrible lows.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: A child prodigy, he lived through illness, a sex scandal, and massive money troubles.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: He's enormously talented, Bret, but there's also such a freak show associated with him.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN: His life was so fascinating, so controversial and, frankly, bizarre, that we often forget how amazing a performer he was and how incredible the music is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: His monster music career gave way to years of personal problems -- plastic surgery, child abuse allegations, ,and just plain weirdness. The question for me was which Michael Jackson news organizations would choose to remember in their coverage?

Joining us now in Los Angeles, Carlos Diaz, correspondent for the entertainment news show "Extra." In Tampa, Eric Deggans, television and media critic for "The St. Petersburg Times." And in New York, Diane Dimond, investigative journalist and author of the book, "Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case."

Carlos, you did relatively little on "Extra" about what I would call the dark side of Michael Jackson. Is there a tendency in the media to airbrush the unpleasant parts of the picture when someone dies?

CARLOS DIAZ, CORRESPONDENT "EXTRA": I think that, you know, we try to cover everything we can on "Extra," but we looked at in Hollywood what people in Hollywood were saying about Michael Jackson, and that was the story. People in Hollywood -- we were interviewing Jamie Foxx the second the news came down that Michael Jackson had passed away. The first thing that the Oscar Award winner said to us was, "Let's not remember Michael Jackson the circus sideshow, let's remember him for his talent." And that's been echoed throughout Hollywood.

KURTZ: And Eric Deggans, I know some people are saying let's focus on the musical legacy and not on his well-documented history of weirdness, but we're journalists, and it seems to me that we should not minimize or even whitewash the -- some of the strange and disturbing stuff that went on in Jackson's life.

ERIC DEGGANS, MEDIA CRITIC, "ST. PETERSBURG TIMES": Yes, without a doubt, because that's the story. He was our generation's Elvis, and part of Elvis' legacy as well was sort of a tortured personal story that went along with great, creative achievement. And if you don't tell the part of the story that's a little tough to talk about, you don't tell the whole story.

KURTZ: And Diane Dimond, it was the Martin Bashir documentary some years back that led to the trial on child molestation allegations that you covered in 2005. You wrote a book about it. In that documentary, Jackson was seen holding hands with the boy who later became his accuser, and defended sleeping with young boys in bed, saying nothing sexual had gone on.

Let's take a look at what Michael Jackson told Diane Sawyer after that acquittal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAWYER: Did you ever, as this young boy said you did, did you ever sexually engage, fondle, have sexual contact with this child or any other child?

MICHAEL JACKSON, SINGER: Never, ever. I could never harm a child or anyone. It's not in my heart, it's not who I am. And I'm not even interested in that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Diane, did the coverage of that trial change Jackson's image forever?

DIANE DIMOND, FMR. REPORTER, COURT TV: Yes, I think it did. But I think your timing might be off on that interview with Diane Sawyer. I think that was after the 1993 case.

KURTZ: I see.

DIMOND: And I think that is what started to change the perception of Michael Jackson a bit.

I remember when I first got the assignment to cover him. I'm a crime reporter. I don't cover celebrities. And when crime and Michael Jackson and child abuse were all put in one sentence for me, it was like, what?

It didn't even scan until 1993. 2003, I think, changed it irreparably.

KURTZ: And you're right on the timing. That interview we just showed was from 1995. It as when he was first -- after he was first accused, and I guess that led to a civil settlement with the family.

DIMOND: And Lisa Marie was sitting by his side. He just married Lisa Marie. I remember it now.

KURTZ: Right. And then the issue came back after the 2005 trial.

Carlos Diaz, this was a guy who had it all, who grew up before our eyes, who was immensely talented. And then came the plastic surgery, the skin lightening, that scene that I've seen so many times where he's dangling the baby over the balcony. And the media, of course, were drawn to these stories.

DIAZ: Well, and it's ironic, because, you know, the stories now are that, at first, Michael Jackson put out these weird stories of sleeping in hyperbolic chambers, owning the bones of the Elephant Man. You know, Michael puts these things out because he wants to be seen as unusual, but then he kind of becomes a victim of his own circumstance, because he becomes unusual. And with the lightening of the skin, he says he has vitiligo. He says that he had only two plastic surgery procedures when it looks like he had 20.

So it's unusual that, at first, he would put things out like this, but then spend the rest of his life defending rumors from the tabloids and from other media reports.

KURTZ: So why would he do that? Was it some kind of PR strategy on his part to appear larger than life?

DIAZ: You know, that was the way it was.

DIMOND: That's how (ph) it was.

DIAZ: Yes. Remember in the '80s, when we had Prince and Madonna and Michael all trying to kind of combat their weirdness at the same time? That was really the way it was early in the '80s and late '80s, where stars were not just known for the music they put out, it was that -- because we didn't have TMZ, and we didn't have 24-hour coverage of entertainment news, so they could kind of like shape their own image and give questions that only they could answer.

DIMOND: And you know, Howie, Michael Jackson had the master of that, the late Bob Jones. He said to me one time, after he was out of the employ of Michael Jackson, he said, you know, the theory was, why stick with just one day of coverage? Because you media people, you'll lap it up. So we put other the hyperbolic chamber picture and let it sit there for a few days and fester, and everybody picks it up. Then we issue a denial. Bingo -- I've got five days worth of coverage because you guys will do that.

KURTZ: It's interesting that it was so calculated. Eric Deggans, television, of course, showing clips of him as a boy in the Jackson 5 days. And talking to just ordinary people, it's striking to me how many folks of a certain generation were touched by Michael Jackson's music.

Have the media in this -- all of the excess of coverage that's coming out now -- have they underestimated his importance in part as a racial trailblazer who was making music videos just when this was becoming popular in the '80s and a lot of the stars were white?

DEGGANS: Oh, yes. I mean, you know, one of the interesting things about Michael Jackson is -- I mean, that's why we're talking about him. There's so many branches to this story.

This is a man who had a hit in literally every decade that he was a performer -- the '60s, the '70s, the '80s, the '90s, even to the turn of the new century. And the interesting thing about his emergence in the '80s, for example, was that he was one of the biggest artists after the disco boom to reunite white and black audiences, because the backlash against disco kind of, you know, separated white and black audience into punk and disco. And all of a sudden, he comes along and he forces MTV to start featuring black artists, and also brings these disparate audiences together.

I was a pop music artist myself in the late '80s, and I can tell you, I was playing clubs in Kentucky and Tennessee, and places that normally no black person could go without a bodyguard. But they loved us because they had been conditioned by Michael, and later Janet, to accept black artists.

KURTZ: If we have a couple extra minutes, we'll ask you to sing, Eric.

DEGGANS: You don't want that. I'm a drummer.

KURTZ: Let me turn to Diane Dimond.

Oh, you're a drummer. OK.

Is this now going to be the new Anna Nicole Smith case, where the media are going to spend days and weeks and months, who knows, reporting on the cause of death, the drugs, who gets custody of the three kids, what happens to the money? Is this just not going to go away?

DIMOND: Yes, yes, and yes.

You know what? Look, let's talk about the media, what part of the media.

Newspapers, cable, that's their bread and butter, what's happening right now. So that's why you're seeing so much on cable.

KURTZ: Let me just jump in. Let's put up some of those headlines. OK, as you're talking, we're putting up some of the front pages to show this has been a big print story as well. DIMOND: Right. Exactly.

I got a call from "Maclean's" magazine, the Canadian magazine, that said help, quick, can we excerpt parts of your book? Because we're going to do our whole issue -- we've thrown it out and we're going to do the whole issue on Michael Jackson.

So it depends on, what media are you talking about? I'm sorry, I'm a longtime trained journalist, worked right there in Washington, D.C., at the White House and Capitol Hill. And when the evening newscast is 99 percent Michael Jackson, now, I have trouble with that.

Their reason for being is to tell me what's happening in the world, all over the world, capsulize it for me, not just give me one story. So there I have a problem.

KURTZ: Go ahead, Carl.

DIAZ: There are two big differences in the Anna Nicole Smith case and Michael Jackson. I covered Anna Nicole from beginning to end, and I can cite these two big differences. With Anna Nicole, she died, and then you had a trial, like, 48 hours later. I mean, you know, because the big thing is, where are we going to bury her body? People forget that, that Anna Nicole Smith passed away, and then the big question was, where are we going to bury the body?

KURTZ: OK, but let's stick with Jackson. Let's stick with Jackson.

DIAZ: So with Michael Jackson, there is not going to be a trial. I mean, there's not...

DIMOND: There's going to be a funeral. A big funeral.

DIAZ: There will be a big funeral, but Anna Nicole Smith got the legs, excuse the pun -- the legs of that story happened when the trial hit and you had the sideshow, the judge crying and the whole thing.

KURTZ: OK. Let me just throw some numbers at you here for cable ratings on Thursday night, when we learned of the death. CNN up 937 percent at one point; Fox up 243 percent; MSNBC up 330 percent.

And the way that unfolded, Eric Deggans, is that the gossip site TMZ.com, which is part of Time Warner, confirmed an hour before everyone else that Jackson had died. CNN was still citing sources that said he had been in a coma. The "LA Times" had first reported that he had been in a coma. We now know he was dead when he got to the hospital.

Let's look at Harvey Levin, the head of TMZ, talking about the way that coverage unfolded.

OK. I thought we had that clip. But what Levin said is that the "LA Times" has not corrected the mistake, and that everybody was afraid to credit TMZ because it's seen as just a gossip site. The truth is, TMZ got it right. And the question is, do we treat it with enough respect?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, TMZ is a site -- they have broken a lot of big stories. They broke Mel Gibson's profanity-laden drunk driving arrest, they broke Michael Richards' use of the N-word. But they have also gotten some things wrong. I believe they reported that Snoop Dogg's wife was dead when she wasn't. So you've got to be careful about these stories.

They got this one right. When they tell us how they got it right, then maybe we can put a little more trust in their reporting.

KURTZ: Well, TMZ does sometimes...

(CROSSTALK)

DEGGANS: One of the things we don't know, for example, is do they pay sources? Which is also...

KURTZ: Well, no. Actually, we do know that they do pay sources. (CROSSTALK)

DEGGANS: But did they pay sources in this case? And can I also say...

KURTZ: I've got to go to Carl. I only have half a minute here.

Diane mentioned the network newscasts, which led Thursday night, Friday night, of course, with Michael Jackson. Back in 1977, CBS led with another story, the Panama Canal instead of Elvis' death. And it just seems like everybody is on this Jackson bandwagon.

DIAZ: It's because people are talking about it. I mean, you know...

KURTZ: Is that the standard? Is that the media standard, whatever people talk about becomes the most important story?

DIAZ: Yes. It is now.

I mean, I'm not a 40-year veteran of TV journalism, but I can tell you that you cater to what everyone is talking about. That seems to be the new standard. And everyone on Thursday, everyone was talking about Michael Jackson's death. Farrah Fawcett died five hours earlier, and it's as if she never even existed. So that's the thing.

KURTZ: Right. All right. Well, the question is...

DIAZ: But you're right, it's...

KURTZ: We've got to go. The question is whether we'll all be talking about this a week, two weeks from now. And if so...

(CROSSTALK)

DIAZ: Yes, we will. Yes, we will.

KURTZ: All right.

Eric Deggans, Carlos Diaz, Diane Dimond, thanks for joining us.

DIMOND: You bet.

KURTZ: Up next, questioning cool. It's one of the world's hippest companies and the most secretive. Is the press turning on Apple after Steve Jobs tried to hide his liver transplant?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Apple is the coolest company on the planet; right? The press is constantly gushing over the iPod, the iPhone, and all the other i Products. But Apple may also be the most secretive company on the planet.

And the media coverage finally turned skeptical this past week after "The Wall Street Journal" reported that Steve Jobs had secretly undergone a liver transplant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERICA HILL, CNN: The Methodist hospital where doctors gave Steve Jobs a liver transplant denying the Apple CEO received any special treatment.

JEFF GLOR, CBS NEWS: He is the man behind iPods, the iPhone, and Apple Computer. Steve Jobs, perhaps the most discussed and most mysterious leader in the business world today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That news ends months of speculation over his health.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Remember, this is a company that wouldn't talk about Jobs' health problems, right up to the point when he took a six-month leave of absence that is just now ending. And despite mounting press questions, Apple still has little to say about just what is ailing its chief executive.

Joining us now to talk about the company's coverage, Kara Swisher, co-executive editor of allthingsdigital.com, part of the Dow Jones Company. And in New York, Steven Levy, senior writer for "Wired "magazine.

Kara Swisher, you're out in San Francisco, I should have mentioned. Steve Jobs considers his health a private matter. Now, even though "The Wall Street Journal," which is part of your company, broke the story, do you generally agree that CEOs should be able to keep these matters out of the press?

KARA SWISHER, CO-EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ALLTHINGSDIGITAL.COM: Some of them. It depends on how much information it should have. In this situation, it's really an interesting situation, because I don't think they knew exactly what was going on with him. And I think a lot of these operations happened rather quickly, because his illness has sort of developed. So, I'm not sure -- I mean, he's definitely been secretive, Apple has been secretive, it's been a problem for the press.

The questions is, did they reveal enough or did they hold back too much? And if so what should they have done?

Did they know enough at the time that he was having these operations to be able to talk intelligently about it. So, you know, did they know when the liver transplant was going to happen? Did they know where it would lead to?

So that's the question. Do they continually drip out information? Is that also good? Probably not.

KURTZ: But that's certainly my impression, Steve Levy. I mean, Jobs is not just the CEO, he's a personification of Apple. And he originally said he had a hormone imbalance and he didn't explain why he was taking a six-month leave, and clearly tried to keep the transplant secret.

Why doesn't the press give him a harder time?

STEVEN LEVY, SR. WRITER, "WIRED": Well, the press has given him a pretty hard time. And I'll tell you, this envelope of secrecy over the past few months has bred its own rumor mill. And in the blogosphere, people aren't shy about spreading rumors. We've heard all sorts of things over the past few months, and some of them -- actually, one place did speculate about a liver transplant, I think.

KURTZ: Should Apple bear responsibility for the fact that there is this thriving rumor marketplace about Jobs and the company because so little hard information is available?

LEVY: Well, to a certain degree, but Kara really made a great point when she said, how would you actually get this out? Could you imagine if Apple announced Steve Jobs is going to have a liver transplant tomorrow?

What would happen to the stock? And then how responsible would they be to give every single update? Oh, the operation went fine. Oh, he seems to be getting better. Oh, today his blood pressure is down.

The stock would go crazy, and the people would just circulate around the hospital looking for every shard of information. So, I think it was good for stockholders that they didn't really know what was going on when Steve took this leave there.

KURTZ: Well, If I'm a stockholder, Kara, and I'm making a decision based on the health of the CEO, in part, I feel like material information is being withheld from me. SWISHER: Well, the question is, what is material? I mean, it was clear from last year, from those photographs, he was a very sick man. And he took time off.

So it's not like people didn't -- that it wasn't built into the stock that this was a man who had undergone a form of pancreatic cancer, that was somewhat curable, that he still wasn't doing well, that he had some sort of relapse that wasn't clear what he had, and then he took time off. And so, one could argue -- Apple could argue that he was in a period of taking time off.

I think the issue is they probably should release something now, that he had this liver transplant. You know, he's not an obituary, we're not doing these large "The meaning of Steve Jobs" pieces this week. He's doing well.

KURTZ: No, we're doing all the Michael Jackson pieces this week.

SWISHER: Exactly. The man's doing well.

KURTZ: Let me ask you this, because it was last summer that "New York Times" columnist Joe Nocera did a piece about Jobs' health, before we knew a hell of a lot. And Jobs called him a "slime bucket" in the telephone conversation, and said he would only talk off the record.

What kind of media relationship is that?

SWISHER: Well, you know, Apple is a really different company. I mean, it's not like this is different from what it's been before. I mean, they keep a secret over if they're going to have a certain kind of clicker on the side of an iPod. I mean, that's like a major state secret at Apple.

So this is in keeping. And if you go down to the health issues, they really don't let any information out. They don't let how the box looks out. So they've been very controlling about all their press throughout their history. So, this is not different or anything else.

KURTZ: Right.

SWISHER: I think he's just incredibly secretive. And if he's incredibly secretive about products, do you think he's going to be forthcoming about his own personal life? Not at all.

KURTZ: Right.

Steve Levy, you've interviewed Steve Jobs.

SWISHER: Yes, many times.

KURTZ: And Steve as well.

You did a cover story for "Newsweek" in 2004. Does he have a way of charming journalists or has he called you names, too?

LEVY: Both, really. I've had a long relationship with him. And I think overall, a good one. And he can be very forceful.

You know, obviously, you serve your readers, and you maintain the best relationship you can with a company like Apple. One thing that's going for him is their products are so good. It's very easy to serve your readers by telling them about the products and keep a good relationship when the products are consistently good.

KURTZ: Right. And consistently successful.

I've got half a minute, Kara. It is hard for me not to conclude that the press is softer on its coverage on Apple than it would be on Microsoft, for example.

SWISHER: Here's the thing. Apple did very well while he was away.

I mean, I think the problem is we put him up as this iconic figure, and then Apple did just fine when he was away. They did even better. The stock is doing even better.

I mean, the idea that there's not a company behind this man, I always say he's not Willy Wonka and the Apple execs aren't Oompa Loompas. I mean, these are very talented executives

KURTZ: Right. Well, you know, we in the media tend to personalize these...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: We've got to go.

SWISHER: Absolutely. Thanks a lot.

KURTZ: Kara Swisher, Steven Levy, thanks very much for joining us.

LEVY: Thanks.

KURTZ: After the break, second fiddles. Losing Ed McMahon this week reminds us how some TV folks have made an art of standing just outside the spotlight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED MCMAHON, TV PERSONALITY: You're responsible for what you do...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: He was the ultimate second banana. While Michael Jackson was a much bigger star and Farrah Fawcett, with that poster, was a teenage heartthrob, Ed McMahon grabbed his share of reflected glory for one reason -- he made Johnny Carson look even funnier. And his passing got me thinking. It takes a special talent and a modest-sized ego to be a good number two.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCMAHON: Here's Johnny!

KURTZ (voice-over): Ed was the ultimate straight man. His job was to set up Johnny, whether during the monologue or a "Carnac the Magnificent" routine.

MCMAHON: I hold in my hand the last envelope.

KURTZ: If a Carson joke fell flat, McMahon gave him a chance to recover. And sometimes they just adlibbed.

MCMAHON: Now, doesn't your dog deserve Alpo?

KURTZ: The formula was set. It's a role that Paul Shaffer performs for David Letterman, that Andy Richter does for Conan O'Brien, that Robin Quivers fills for Howard Stern. But it's not limited to entertainment.

"Morning Joe" wouldn't be the same without Mika Brzezinski to serve as his sparring partner and sometimes punching bag. Regis Philbin had Kathie Lee Gifford and now Kelly Ripa. It's a job Reg understands, having done it once for Joey Bishop's late-night show. Alan Colmes was billed as a co-host, but he really played the liberal for Sean Hannity, whose fierce conservatism dominated that program even before Fox gave Hannity solo billing this year.

MCMAHON: Carnac the Magnificent.

KURTZ: A good sidekick understands the host knows when to jump in and when to hold back. You don't want to shine too brightly when there's only one star. But a terrific sidekick interjects a separate element of personality or humor that's becoming more than a mere appendage.

The reason there will never be another McMahon is this: Carson dominated late-night television for decades before cable, before the Internet, Netflix and Facebook. Most people got three or four channels. Everyone watched Johnny, and that means they watched Ed as well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: On his own, Ed McMahon probably couldn't have become a TV star. But like a point guard who gets the ball to the big scorer, had an underrated skill on one of the most successful television franchises of all time.

Well done, Ed. Hi-oh!

Still to come, the perfect storm, how a frenetic week of news finally got us to stop talking about television's most dysfunctional family.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It was only this past Monday when the media world seemed agog over the news that, oh my God, Jon & Kate are getting divorced. How a self-obsessed reality show couple becomes a journalist fixation is beyond me, but now it seems especially trivial.

We've had the violent protests in Iran; more bombings in Iraq; the Mark Sanford meltdown; the fatal Washington subway crash; the deaths of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Reality -- that is, actual reality, not the scripted entertainment version -- has a way of intruding on the news business, whether it's entertaining or not.

And John King, as I turn things back over to you this Sunday morning, I enjoy these entertaining stories as much as anyone, but hard news shouldn't take a back seat, should it?

KING: Especially not here at CNN, Howie. Hard news is our bloodline.

My daughter thinks the kids in Jon & Kate are cute, but I don't think she'll be watching anymore.

KURTZ: Well, they are undeniably cute. And I guess you do have to program for the whole family.

Thanks very much, John.

KING: Howie, you have a great Sunday.

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