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Reliable Sources

Aired January 10, 2010 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, CNN ANCHOR: And we will get to those topics, but President Obama had plenty to say this week about airline security and intelligence screw- ups and the government's failure in the reigning cliche of the moment to connect the dots and stop terrorists from boarding planes. But a president who often speaks in perfect paragraphs and six-point lists also served up a line that the White House had to know would become the day's sound bite, a line he borrowed from Harry Truman.


OBAMA: For, ultimately, the buck stops with me. As president, I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people. And when the system fails, it is my responsibility.

DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: On "World News," the buck stops here. The president takes responsibility for intelligence failures Christmas Day.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: The president said, "The buck stops with me." It's about accountability.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: Tonight, President Obama says we failed. He says he's responsible, the buck stops with him.


KURTZ: Obama also tried to change the story line after that Christmas Day plot that almost brought down a Northwest Airlines plane, calling for citizenship over partisanship. For the pundits, though, that plea fell on deaf ears.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: There was absolutely nothing new in his presentation today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And today, he grudgingly offered, "The buck stops here," although there are no consequences of that. It doesn't demean anything, he says, and then he moves on.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: The president of the United States will have a far easier time correcting the flaws in our counterterrorism efforts than he will have correcting the flaws in the souls of the American politicians who continue to exploit those flaws for their own insidious reasons.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about how the media are covering the president's latest attack on terrorism, Amanda Carpenter who writes the "Hot Button" column for "The Washington Times"; Anne Kornblut, White House correspondent for "The Washington Post," and author of "Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What it Will Take for a Woman to Win"; and Margaret Carlson, chief political columnist for Bloomberg News.

Anne Kornblut, did the White House get what it wanted in that there was so much media focus on "The buck stops here"?

KORNBLUT: Well, they got more of what they wanted than they had the previous week. I was on the trip to Hawaii with him when he went into or stayed in seclusion for a couple of days.

KURTZ: Except for playing golf.

KORNBLUT: Well, except for playing some golf. They kept us away, the pictures away from that. But they got more what they wanted then, which is him in the spotlight, a short sound bite that everyone can repeat, and a sense that he's actually taking charge.

Now, the question of whether it's actually going to lead to any consequences for someone, we're going to be debating that for weeks, months. But for the short term, I think they did get what they wanted this week.

KURTZ: Amanda Carpenter, was the press seduced by a scripted sound bite?

CARPENTER: In a way, I think so. I mean, if you look at the walkup to this, General James Jones told "USA Today," you will be shocked by what's coming out in this report. So that kind of whetted the appetite to really focus on this report.

Then the next day, the White House gave background statements to the press saying he's not going to tolerate finger-pointing, this is a screw-up . I mean, very strong, biting language. And so, when the president finally came out and said, "The buck stops with me," everyone went with the headline, "The President is Angry," and that's exactly what they wanted.

KURTZ: I like -- go ahead.

CARLSON: Well, the anger quotient is always a big issue. This president is never going to say, "I'm going to get you dead or alive," and the public likes some of that. So, after that first press conference, his aides on background had to come out and do an anger boost, say we're really, really angry.

KURTZ: Well, I'm going to play some of that. But first, let me ask you, there is this evolving narrative in the press that Obama is too cool, he's too detached. Maureen Dowd calls him Spock. Is that a fair way to evaluate a presidential performance? CARLSON: Well, it's a fair analysis of who he is. That's his personality. Whether it's unsuited to the presidency is another question.

It seems like we've had -- we have two extremes. President Bush was not cool and had a cowboy dialogue, and now we have a very intellectual president who is unemotional. The public sometimes wants a president to express some of their feelings. He's never going to do it.

KURTZ: Especially when somebody tries to blow up a plane.

So, here is what the White House did -- we'll watch some of these television reports -- on the day of Obama's remarks about what went on, supposedly, allegedly, behind closed doors.

Let's roll that.


CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: The president went behind closed doors to deliver a stern message to his national security and intelligence teams. He said, "This was a screw-up," and it "could have been disastrous."

CHIP REID, CBS NEWS: At one point he said, "This was a screw-up that could have been a disastrous. We dodged a bullet, but just barely."

JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS: Well, according to a White House official, the president told his national security team this afternoon, "This was a screw-up that could have been disastrous. We dodged a bullet, but just barely."


KURTZ: Is that what we might call an authorized leak?

KORNBLUT: Perhaps. I can plead ignorance here because I was out all this past week. So I was not fed any of the quotes from the White House myself.

But, look, they have learned that Obama speaks in very long sentences when he's speaking naturally. Often in the meetings, when you hear what he has said -- and I have talked to advisers who keep notes of what he says in these meetings -- you know, he talks at length. He doesn't always talk in very short sound bites. But miraculously, in this meeting, he did behind closed doors.

KURTZ: Miraculously?

CARPENTER: But they all had it written on a sheet of paper that they're reading before the television cameras.

KURTZ: And journalists love to find out what went on behind the scenes, and the secret meeting behind closed doors. And so, I think this feeds that, because everybody went with those words.

CARPENTER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, this is the perfect thing. The White House says you want the statements on background, what the president told hi advisers? Of course they're going to run with it, and that's exactly what they did.

KURTZ: Does every White House do that? Has that happened with you?

CARLSON: Well, yes. I mean, they're always fixing what the president said on background. But this president needs an anger surge, not just a surge in Afghanistan, and so there is an effort to always provide the emotion that didn't come across on the part of his aides.

KURTZ: So you're saying that he needs an anger surge, but that this is an orchestrated appearance and perception of an anger surge.

KORNBLUT: But it doesn't have to mean he didn't actually feel it. This just may be the way Barack Obama emotes and expresses himself.

I mean, they're not, on background, trying to explain to us that he's actually intelligent or making a decision. I mean, that was -- in contrast to the last White House, often what they were trying to prove to us on background was that President Bush was reading books. So there's a very big difference in sort of what they're trying to demonstrate. So what they're trying to tell us is, yes, he can be crazy and out of control with his emotions, saying, "The buck stops here" or "This is a screw-up."

CARLSON: And by the way, he probably was angry, but he's not an expressive person. He's just a steady personality.

KURTZ: So if the thermostat goes up from 68 to 69, then we all get to say he's angry.

I talked on this program last week about whether all the Sunday shows and, indeed, all television programs should do more fact- checking of what guests say when politicians come and sit in those seats and make claims, some of which don't always bear that much relation to reality.

I want to play some sound. Senator Jim DeMint, the Republican from South Carolina, went on the "CBS Early Show," MSNBC's "Morning Joe," and he talked with Gloria Borger here on STATE OF THE UNION, making a charge about President Obama and the effort against terrorism.

Let me play that, and you're going to see this from Rachel Maddow's MSNBC program and how she took it on, on a factual basis.


SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: A lot of us have been concerned over the last year that the president did seem to downplay the threat of terror. He doesn't use the word anymore.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN: Senator DeMint, how has he downplayed the risk of terror?

DEMINT: Well, it begins with not even being willing to use the word.

OBAMA: ... terror and extremism that threatens the world's stability...

Extremists sowing terror in pockets of the world...

... suffering in civil wars that breed instability and terror...

... new acts of terror.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: When Jim DeMint says that Barack Obama never uses the word "terror," he's lying. It should probably be pointed out when that happens.


KURTZ: Now, Rachel Maddow is a liberal and she's going after a Republican senator, but does television need do more of that, somebody says the president never uses the word "terror" and you can play the clips and show then, in fact, he did?

KORNBLUT: Well, the way he pronounced it, maybe he was saying tara, T-A-R-A. Yes, sure, but I think in a live interview it's difficult sometimes for people to -- obviously, if you're interviewing someone live, you don't have the video ready, able to prove it. That may be television's job later. Maybe it's our job in the print business to go back and say, look, they said this, it wasn't true, which is what you do all the time.

KURTZ: Well, in fact, "The St. Petersburg Times" has a politifact page where they have a truth-o-meter. "The Washington Post," during the campaign, handed out Pinocchios for false statements.

But I agree. I've been in a situation where people have made charges in an interview, and I don't have the facts to challenge them at that moment. I'm talking about coming back later and doing that.

Now, another person who said something he probably wishes he could take back is the former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani. He had this to say on Friday on ABC's "Good Morning America."


RUDY GIULIANI (R), FMR. NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: One of the right things he did was treat this as a war on terror. We had no domestic attacks under Bush. We've had one under Obama.


KURTZ: And there was, of course, the matter of 9/11.

Now, the mayor, former mayor, apologized for that misstatement, actually, in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, here on CNN. And Stephanopoulos blogged his apology, saying, "I should have pressed him on the misstatement. It was my mistake, my responsibility."

That's one that everyone jumped on. But where do you come down on this question of fact-checking?

CARPENTER: I think the media is largely self-correcting, but I like the idea of having maybe a producer go through and go through the transcript and make sure everything was on the up and up, and maybe posting something, as Jay Rosen suggested, if it wasn't.

That said...

KURTZ: Jay Rosen is an NYU journalism professor who put forth this idea, yes.

CARPENTER: Exactly. He proposed this idea.

But I have seen some fact checks that I do not think are not checking facts. The number one example that stands out in my mind is The Associate Press did a fact-check of Sarah Palin's book, and one of the things was saying that in the book she writes, "I am driven by principle rather than ambition." So they said she was wrong because the book proves she's ambitious. That's not a fact-check, in my mind, so I'm very worried that the fact checks become partisan and they don't rely on black and white facts.

KURTZ: And speaking of partisan fact checks, Margaret Carlson, when Rudy made that misstatement -- and it's not just 9/11. I mean, there was the shoe bomber and there were the anthrax attacks, which all happened under the Bush administration -- MSNBC was all over it.

KURTZ: And on Friday, when I watched some of the Fox opinion shows, O'Reilly, Hannity, no mention whatsoever. It seems like each side goes after the party or the ideology that they don't like.

CARLSON: Well, there's an alternate reality depending what you're watching.

Who is against fact-checking? You know, it's like motherhood and apple pie. However, in the moment, cable relies on people just spouting off.

You know, Senator DeMint is known for that. He gets an awful lot of air time. Giuliani, not so much anymore. He's much more measured.

You know, we know what he meant. He meant since 9/11. He was still wrong because of Richard Reid and some other things, but Republicans tend not to count 9/11 against Bush. That's, like, not on his watch because, oh, we didn't know about that before, so...

KURTZ: But why -- OK. So cable, and even live network news, you live in the moment. But how about the next day, the day after that? Why not do it online? Anybody opposed to that?

CARPENTER: No. Of course not. If you have the resources to do it.


CARPENTER: I mean, if you have the people -- you know, the producers who are willing to do it and hire extra staff, but, again, I mean, there's a number of blogs on each side of the political who go through these shows line by line and can influence...

KURTZ: Exactly. And I'm saying why leave it entirely to the blogs? Why don't television producers and correspondents do it themselves?

Amanda Carpenter, Margaret Carlson, Anne Kornblut, thanks very much for stopping by.

Coming up on RELIABLE SOURCES, we'll talk about Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, and that incredibly messy NBC soap opera.

But first, call for conversion. Brit Hume says Tiger Woods needs to find Jesus, but should the Fox News commentator be using his network to promote his religion? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It's no secret that Brit Hume is a conservative, or to those who have closely followed his career, a Christian. But if there's one story that I didn't expect to involve religion, as opposed to celebrity, sports, appalling judgment, and an unseemly parade of scantily-clad mistresses, it was the Tiger Woods saga. That changed, of course, when the longtime anchor used the platform of "Fox News Sunday" to offer the world's top golfer some words of advice.


BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: He's said to be a Buddhist. I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So, my message to Tiger would be, Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world."

KURTZ (voice-over): That set off something of a furor. But on "The O'Reilly Factor," Hume did not back down.

HUME: And my sense about Tiger is that he needs something that Christianity especially provides and gives and offers, and that is redemption and forgiveness. And I was really meaning to say in those comments yesterday more about Christianity than I was about anything else.


KURTZ: So, was this fair game for a commentator? And is a cable news show the place to urge someone to embrace Christianity?

Joining us now in Tampa, Eric Deggans, television and media critic for "The St. Petersburg Times." And here in Washington, David Brody, White House correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network.

David Brody, should a journalist be offering a public figure advice about which religion to take up?

DAVID BRODY, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: Well, you know, Howie, I've got to tell you, there's nothing wrong with what he said. I mean, this is analysis. I mean, it really is.

Some will call it proselytizing, others won't, but, you know, so what? I mean, the bottom line is, when has there ever been a cap on cable 24/7 analysis? And that's exactly what he was doing here, Howie.

KURTZ: Eric Deggans, I take David Brody's point, but should Brit Hume have used the platform of Fox News Channel to urge Tiger to become a Christian?

ERIC DEGGANS, MEDIA CRITIC, "ST. PETERSBURG TIMES": Well, I think it's problematic for a couple of reasons. Number one, we don't really know whether or not Tiger Woods is a Buddhist. There have been some reports that have indicated that he might be, but we don't necessarily know what his religion was.

Secondly, I had a problem with the way he compared one religion to another and suggested that his religion was superior. I think that's the thing that has disturbed a lot people. And frankly, that's something that I think people would like a sense that a news outlet, even a news -- somebody doing news analysis, would be a little more even-handed in than that and would respect other people's religions.

Certainly, you know, he's allowed to say that. You know, as a news analyst, I guess you can provide any opinion you like. But I don't think it makes him look very good and I don't think it makes Fox News Channel look very good.

BRODY: Well, and let's be clear here. I mean, this wasn't a full-fledged altar call here. I mean, Howie, at the end of the day, what he did here was offer, what, 30 seconds, 40 seconds or so of advice? I mean, it's not the biggest deal in the world.

KURTZ: Can you understand why some people who are not Christian might be offended by what he said?

BRODY: Absolutely. I mean, look, I can understand that.

At the same time, he is -- as in "he," Jesus, is the God of creation. If he's the God of creation, he can make the rules. And he does make the rules.

And so the bottom line is that's what Brit was pretty much saying. And as to the whole -- I think people are getting lots in the whole Buddhism. I mean, he wasn't trying to dis Buddhism at all. I mean, he was just simply trying to proclaim some good news to Tiger Woods.

And look, at the end of the day, that's exactly what it is.

DEGGANS: Well, I would say that I think you're stretching things a bit to say that Hume wasn't dissing Buddhism. He very clearly said that he felt in this situation, Christianity would be superior to Buddhism...

BRODY: Well, he didn't use the word "superior."

DEGGANS: ... in helping Tiger Woods find redemption. And I think that's problematic.

BRODY: That's one issue.

DEGGANS: And the other thing I'll say is that I think people are concerned that Fox News has a habit of echoing these kinds of viewpoints across its airwaves. We saw already that Brit Hume went on to O'Reilly's show and amplified his views. He didn't pull back from them.


KURTZ: Eric, let me get a question here. Eric let me get a question here.

Brit Hume was a longtime anchor, he was part of the original Fox News Channel team. He is now an analyst.

Is it really fair to blame Fox News when he comes on -- I don't think anybody told him to say it -- and he spoke from his heart and said this is what I think Tiger Woods should do?

DEGGANS: Well, again, what I'm saying is we have instances where this has been echoed across their airwaves. He went on another show and made the same comments in a friendly space, and we've seen them take -- talk about this war on Christmas that has been heavily criticized as well, this sense that Christianity has a special place in the hearts of many of the pundits in Fox News that other religions don't. And I just think people should be careful about that because there are a lot of people who have other religions and other takes on religion that might want to enjoy Fox News as well.

KURTZ: All right.

BRODY: Eric, no doubt about it. At the same time, let's face it, if Brit Hume had said Tiger Woods really needs to think about embracing Joseph Smith and the Mormonism religion, or Buddha, for that matter, would we really be talking about it? Now, we're talking about it because there's something about the words "Jesus Christ," as Brit Hume says, are the who most explosive words...

KURTZ: And I want to play that comment. But first I want to mention something that some of the viewers may not know.

Hume told me in an interview a couple years ago that he had been a falling Christian and that the suicide of his son Sandy, who was also a journalist, more than a decade ago was what helped him to find God, and that Christ became more important in his life after that horrible tragedy.

Now, in the follow-up interview with Bill O'Reilly, Hume did make a point that you are alluding to. Let's play it for the viewers and I'll come back on the other side.


HUME: The Bible even speaks of it, that, you know, you speak the name "Jesus Christ" -- and I don't mean to make a pun here, but all hell breaks loose. And it has always been thus.


KURTZ: The reaction to Brit Hume's comments was not an unfair piling on because he invoked Jesus Christ, was it?

BRODY: Well, what he was doing, simply, was just stating a very simple fact, Howie. I mean, it is a fact that every time the words "Jesus Christ" are mentioned, you know, it becomes offensive to someone.

But you know what? The gospel, the way Brit Hume understands, the way I understand it, it is offensive to people because it requires people to make a choice and it confronts people with something that maybe a Tom Shales in "The Washington Post," and others -- I mention Tom Shales because he wrote about it, not to single him out -- they may have a problem with that.

KURTZ: Eric Deggans, I've got a half a minute for your final thoughts.

DEGGANS: What I would say is that I don't think we would see presidential candidates talking so openly about their religion, we wouldn't see politicians talking so much about their religion if it was a hot-button issue that would garner all of this hate. The fact of the matter is that Christianity has a very special place in the hearts of a lot of people in America, and it's a great way to get on the good side of a lot of people in this country. But I think other people are very wary about that and want to be careful about how people bring this issue forth.

I think, again, ask a Muslim what it's like to live in America post 9/11, ask a Buddhist what it's like to try and get one of your holy days off work, and people will tell you the kind of things they have to face as well.

BRODY: Hold on for a second. Yes, but just remember a lot of people in the heartland today are saying, way to go, Brit. Way to go, Brit.

KURTZ: All right. We have got to go.

David Brody, Eric Deggans, thanks for airing this difficult issue with us this morning.

Coming up in the second of RELIABLE SOURCES, damage control, the Leno dilemma. Jay tanked at 10:00, but is a move back to late night the right answer? And where does that leave Conan and the television business?

We'll talk about the multimillion-dollar mess at NBC next.

And later, Gilbert has got a gun. The press breaks the story of an NBA star who brings guns into the locker room and he jokes about it on Twitter. Did the media coverage cause the suspension of Gilbert Arenas?


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

The bank bonus season begins this week, and one of President Obama's top economic advisers says the American public has every right to be offended by the big paydays. Appearing on STATE OF THE UNION earlier today, Christina Romer says pending bank bonuses are, in her words, ridiculous, in light of the government's extraordinary actions to rescue the financial system.

President Obama says he accepts Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's apology for making a racially insensitive comment about him during the presidential campaign. A new book quotes Reid as saying Obama could win the Democratic nomination in part because of his "light skin" and because he had "no Negro dialect."

People across much of the nation struggling to stay warm in bone- chilling cold weather. The deep freeze stretches from the Midwest al the way to Florida. Farmers there are scrambling to save their crops. People across the country are being warned to protect themselves against hypothermia. Forecasters, though, say a warm-up is coming in just a few days.

Those are your top stories here on "State of the Union."

KURTZ: A not so funny thing happened to Jay Leno on his way to revolutionizing primetime television. He turned out to be a huge flop at 10:00, and Conan O'Brien, who took over "The Tonight Show," is getting creamed at 11:30. So the NBC brass are trying to fix the mess they created, all but deciding to move Jay back to 11:30 and push back Conan's show maybe to midnight and hope he doesn't fault the network.

It's a tangled tale with all kinds of implications for the television business, but most of all for the two highly-paid comedians who joked about their difficulties with the network.


JAY LENO, "THE JAY LENO SHOW": See, it's always been my experience NBC only cancels you when you're in first place, so we're apparently fine. CONAN O'BRIEN, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": There's a lot of speculation out there. And I just wanted to go over just some of the rumors that have been flying around.

NBC is going to throw me and Jay in a pit with sharpened sticks. The one who crawls out alive gets to leave NBC. And that's -- yes. Trust me, that is an appealing proposition.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the Jay and Conan soap opera, and what it means for the industry and viewers, in Los Angeles, Sharon Waxman, founder and editor-in-chief of And here in Washington David Zurawik, television and media critic for "The Baltimore Sun," who writes the blog "Z on TV."

Now, I'm on record, David, as calling this the biggest bonehead move since new Coke.

Why has jay been such a flop at 10:00?

DAVID ZURAWIK, TELEVISION AND MEDIA CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": I think you and I were doing this back in May, when they announced, that we were writing these stories. You know, part of it is the way they presented it.

Everyone knew they were trying to cut costs. So it went in as, this is a cheap program. Why would you watch a cheap program, Howie? NBC was stupid enough to admit what it was doing. It was really using a cable TV model instead of a network model, and saying we can save so much money on production costs by doing this, that even if it doesn't win the hour, and even if it's not as good as those dramas on CBS, we'll still make money.

KURTZ: And that's what happened. It didn't make money and -- well, they say it made a little money.

But, Sharon Waxman, Conan has also been something of a ratings disaster at 11:30, losing nearly half of the Leno audience when he was at "The Tonight Show," and finishing behind CBS's David Letterman and ABC's "Nightline."

So, is this plan to push Conan back darker and deeper into the night a bit humiliating for him?

SHARON WAXMAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THEWRAP.COM: A bit? I mean, I really think the only thing worse than NBC's being in fourth place is the mess that it's made of being in fourth place.

I mean, it's really not going to move -- there's no prospect now. There's no plan, there's no strategy. They just appear to be a network that's completely flailing.

At least -- I mean, I'm going to disagree with David here. At least when they made the move, the decision to move Leno to 10:00, it felt, at least to me, like a bold move that was either going to succeed or it was going to fail. But it was at least out-of-the-box thinking that allowed them to say, OK, we want to change the rules, we want to change the paradigm, because broadcast television is changing.

This isn't the same thing as the late night wars that went on when it was between Jay Leno and David Letterman, more than a decade ago. Television has changed. They were trying to recognize that.

ZURAWIK: Sharon, all you had to do though was talk to the affiliate station managers back in May, when they announced this. Yes, maybe this is where television is going, but the network model isn't dead yet, and they knew that this was going to hurt their 11:00s and all -- you know, in Baltimore, it cut the ratings in half, Howie.

KURTZ: So is this a setback for those who said that this is where television is going? Remember everyone said if this succeeded, the other networks with follow with, as you call it, discounted or cheap programming.

ZURAWIK: Yes, absolutely, it's a setback. And it doesn't mean television isn't moving in that direction, but it's like the network newscasts. You know, everybody said they're dinosaurs, get rid of them. Well, they're still making a lot of money.

For a while, this model is going to hold, and you can't throw the affiliates under the bus yet. The network model is not dead.

KURTZ: Sharon, is it significant -- let me just steer you in a slightly different direction. Is it significant this story was broken by the L.A. Web site TMZ?

WAXMAN: Well, I think TMZ definitely had their hand in it. It started with a really small Web site nobody had heard of, and so it clearly was leaked by an affiliate.

Then, TMZ, which got it wrong, which said jay Leno was being canceled -- then TMZ said Jay Leno was moving back to 11:30 and Conan was out, which was also wrong in that the decision had already been made. But enough of that was right that TMZ definitely gets credit for breaking a big piece of the story.

And then a lot of us -- yes. And then a lot of us were able to confirm it later that there was a plan to actually move Leno to 11:30 and then have him be on for a half an hour, and then have Conan go on at 12:00. But nobody bothered to tell Conan about that plan, apparently, so he had to learn about it from the Web, which is a fabulous way to manage your talent. And then...

KURTZ: Right. I'm wondering...

WAXMAN: Now Conan doesn't know what he wants to do.

KURTZ: Yes. And I'm wondering whether he will in fact stay at NBC. I mean, he waited five years. They announced this thing five years ago, to get "The Tonight Show." And then after a few months, it sounds like they could still call it "The Tonight Show," but we all know what's going on. (CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: But Sharon, the writers and producers who do the scripted dramas, the CSIs of the world, in Hollywood, are they popping champagne corks? Because NBC is going to need five new shows at 10:00.

WAXMAN: Yes, absolutely. And they are going to have to name them in a few hours.

I mean, NBC's chief of entertainment, Jeff Gastman (ph), is meeting the -- you know, it's their semiannual grouping of the Television Critics Association. That is going to be high drama when he faces down these people who he's been -- he and Jeff Zucker have been telling with great, you know, aplomb that this is a two-year experiment and they're absolutely committed. Up until, like, last Wednesday, they were committed to this for two years.

So, yes, they're going to have to come up with five scripted shows, and the John Wells of the world and the show runners of the great dramas on TV, like the makers of "Southland," for example, which was canceled off of NBC's schedule, for example, are going to be very happy because they'll have some work.

KURTZ: Their phones may be ringing.

A quick question, then I've got to move on.

Will Jay Leno be able to win back much of his old audience at 11:30, or is he kind of tarnished now?

ZURAWIK: I think Jay Leno is the one who is hurt by this. I really do. I think he did so poorly here, Howie. You put him back at 11:30 -- it's the same thing.

KURTZ: I disagree. I think most of his fans will come back.

ZURAWIK: Look, they have to move him out of prime time, Howie, but there's no guarantee that this train wreck of his show fails, this show fails, this show fails, that it's going to work out if he goes back. And he's really taking a hit.

And I'll tell you, by Friday morning, the affiliate managers were saying Conan is our future, we have to protect Conan. They weren't saying anything about Jay, and Jay tried to play the Fox card, and Fox didn't bite on that.

KURTZ: He told the Fox joke.

All right. Let me turn it another story that I never thought -- I didn't realize -- I frankly was just oblivious to the fact that one of the sexiest figures in Washington is a guy named Peter Orszag. This is how "The Today Show" covered the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MEREDITH VIEIRA, NBC NEWS: The White House budget director is making headlines, but it has nothing to do with government spending. His personal life is now front and center in the public eye.

NORAH O'DONNELL, NBC NEWS (voice-over): The 41-year-old Orszag fathered a child out of wedlock with shipping heiress Claire Milonus. This comes just one week after the announcement that Orszag was getting engaged to ABC's Bianna Golodryga.


KURTZ: Sharon Waxman, the president's budget director has a love child. Is that a story?

WAXMAN: You know, I kind of think in this day and age, how are you going to avoid that? That's kind of, we've got to find something nasty about this Obama administration. They all seem such goody two shoes, these guys. So, finally, we have something that's a little bit more interesting than health care.

No, I'm just teasing. But, yes, I think this kind of thing is going to be on the table. Even though we are kind of tired of hearing morality tales about our politicians, we always seem to fall right back into line as soon as a little tip comes out.

ZURAWIK: It absolutely matters as a story. The personal lives of these people, Howie, especially in this time, when we're worried about where the budget is going, when people are out of work -- you know, I'd like to read a story about the man managing the budget spending long hours trying to straighten it out, not having a messy personal life. That matters, and this is a messy personal life.

KURTZ: So he has good time management skills.

Now, some at the White House and at ABC think that NBC played up the story -- I don't necessarily agree with this -- to stick it to ABC since he's now engaged to Bianna Golodryga.

ZURAWIK: You know what? Office of Management and Budget's spokesman last week was complaining about "The New York Post' writing about this story and saying it was partisan and it's political, and of course they're conservative. That's what they do whenever they want to deflect away from the actual story.

I don't care what "The Today Show" did. This story had to be reported. It matters to people out there in America, what the people in Washington are doing.

KURTZ: All right. I want you to take a firm stand next time.

I've got a few seconds left for each of you.

ABC in talks with -- preliminary discussions with Ted Koppel about possibly coming back to host the Sunday morning show "This Week," succeeding Stephanopoulos.

Sharon Waxman, good idea, bad idea?

WAXMAN: I think it's all -- to me, it's all just more evidence about how confused the networks are about what to do and where their future is. I mean, they want Ted Koppel, they don't want Ted Koppel. And also, I also think it speaks to the lack of candidates, the sort of dearth of credible young people rising in the news ranks. And I think that -- you know, it's something I've written about before, but bringing Ted Koppel back doesn't feel like a step forward even though...


ZURAWIK: I agree with Sharon for once on this one about the confusion, of them not knowing, do they want to move into the next generation, do they want to go back to what they know is true? I respect Ted tremendously and I'd be happy to see him there. Let me say that. But...

KURTZ: One of the greatest interviewers in the television business.

David Zurawik, Sharon Waxman, thanks for joining us.

After the break, packing heat. A Washington Wizards star makes guns appear in an NBA locking room, and the wise-cracking player doesn't seem to get while the media opened fire.

Plus, topless Tiger. "Vanity Fair" examines the fall of the world's top golfer. We'll tee it up with the author, Buzz Bissinger.


KURTZ: Let me show you a picture.

Come on. Let's put it up on the screen.

That's basketball star Gilbert Arenas on the sidelines, pretending to shoot his teammates. I discovered the other day the NBA was so embarrassed by this photo, that it deleted the shot from Getty Images archive before bowing to pressure from news organizations and restoring it.

The reason? Arenas is under investigation for allegedly bringing several guns into the Washington Wizards' locker room and displaying them. Yet, amazingly, kept on joking about that monumentally stupid move.


GILBERT ARENAS, NBA PLAYER: I'm a goofball. You know, that's what I am. So even during like this, you know, I'm going to make fun of it.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN: Well, the NBA has just announced it is suspending Gilbert Arenas of the Washington Wizards.

JUJU CHANG, ABC NEWS: Well, more details are emerging this morning surrounding the suspension of NBA star Gilbert Arenas and what led up to him bringing guns into his team's locker room.

SCHULTZ: And the Washington Wizards may need to change their name back to the Bullets.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the media's role in pursuing the gun story, and the new "Vanity Fair" cover story on Tiger Woods, in Philadelphia, Buzz Bissinger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, contributing editor for "Vanity Fair," and the man who wrote this month's cover story about Tiger Woods. And here in Washington, Mike Wise, sports columnist for "The Washington Post," who arrived just seconds ago. You have a front page story today, Mike, on Arenas getting by with his charm, but CBS SportsLine broke the gun story. "The New York Post" was the one that reported that he had brandished it in a confrontation with a teammate.

So, were "Washington Post "sportswriters maybe too charmed by Gilbert Arenas?

WISE: I think everybody that comes into contact with Gilbert Arenas found his angelic smile, found his personality exuberant, boyishly exuberant.

KURTZ: And cut him more slack as a result?

WISE: I think, yes. I mean, I don't want to say we enabled him, Howard, but I will say this -- that we look at practical jokes unlike people are looking at them today.

KURTZ: Buzz Bissinger, as I mentioned, Arenas kept cracking jokes about this gun incident on his Twitter page. He talked about the media likening him to John Wayne.

Did the continuing coverage of these antics really leave NBA commissioner David Stern with very little choice but to suspend him?

BISSINGER: Oh, I mean, I think so. I mean, I think the tipping point was that picture.

The picture was horrendous. As Mike Wise has reported, it's very hard to know what happened with this gun incident.

I mean, you know, was it in joke, was it in jest? How involved was the teammate, Crittenden?

But the specter of these guys making fun of it on top of Arenas making fun of it on Twitter was horrendous, and I don't think Stern had any choice but to suspend him. I think he did the right thing. KURTZ: Antawn Jamison, another member of the Washington Wizards, apologized to the fans the other day for that little byplay we're seeing there, that photo right there.

Even on the day, Mike Wise, that he was suspended indefinitely, which was a day when most athletes would be closeted behind lawyers and public relations people, Arenas spoke to you. He said it was a tough decision, he had to accept it. And this was after you wrote a column accusing him of hiding behind "I'm just a goofball" defense.

WISE: Yes. There's something about Gilbert. He can't help himself. And if anybody today says that somehow this is a malicious guy with hate in his heart, and he doesn't get it, well, he doesn't get the bubble that he lives in sometimes, but he's not a malicious guy.

KURTZ: What do you think, Buzz, about sportswriters putting these stars like Gilbert Arenas in a bubble and kind of -- you know, since they're good copy, they help us sell newspapers and magazines, and they help the TV ratings maybe going a little bit easy on them because we don't want to spoil the story line?

BISSINGER: Well, I mean, it's always a problem. I mean, in this day and age, it's very hard, as Mike knows, to get access to any pro player. They either want something or they don't want to deal with the media.

So when you get a guy who is accessible, who is friendly, who is funny, who is charming, I think you are going to cut him some slack. I mean, there's a real tragedy to Gilbert Arenas.

He could have been a great ambassador for the game. The specter of those pictures is a problem because it just accentuates the image that many fans have, and it may be right or wrong, that these guys really don't care, that they only really play in the last two minutes.

And it also raises the enormous problem, as Mike knows much better than me, of gambling. I mean, this all started with gambling, which they apparently do all the time. And if they lose -- you know, 1,000 bucks to them is nothing, but they get pissed off and they play, or don't play, depending on how they did the plane ride that day.

KURTZ: Let me get Mike in, because I want to...


WISE: Well, I was going to say, Buzz is right. In a separate incident, I think people make light of this gambling on team planes, which teams are now banning because -- the card games on planes. But secondly, I was going to say that the weird irony of this all is Gilbert Arenas was a pioneer in the whole social media thing before a lot of us were, and people embraced that part of him. And now we're saying...

KURTZ: He shut down his Twitter page.

WISE: Yes. We shut down his Twitter page and this is a guy we don't want to hear from anymore.

KURTZ: All right. Well, I'd still like to hear from him.

WISE: Yes. I do, too.

KURTZ: Let me turn now to the "Vanity Fair" cover story.

Buzz, you were talking about access to athletes. You say that Tiger Woods may have been unknowable to the writers who covered him because he was so cautious, in control, but they didn't tell us he was unknowable. They kind of conveyed the image of a heroic family man.

BISSINGER: Well, you know, they did convey that image, and I think part and parcel was, look, we want to believe in sports heroes. I'm not sure why. I don't think they've ever been role models. I frankly think the person who had the most to do with it, frankly, was a writer, Grantland Rice, who wrote these very florid, epic Greek tragedy pieces.

WISE: It's always a sportswriter's fault.

BISSINGER: Right. Well, you know, it's no one's fault.

It's our fault as the public. We look for heroes, and this guy fit the bill. He seemed affable, friendly, decent, ultimately a good family man, a good father, and, most of all a great, great competitor.

What I object to when I think why people feel betrayed is this image was very, very calculated. It was very cultivated, as we now know, to make money. I mean, he became a billion-dollar athlete for a reason. He personified honesty and integrity, and it made him a ton of money, and it was a false image.

KURTZ: Right.

Mike Wise, you wrote a remarkable column about the Tiger Woods' situation. I want to put some of it on the screen and read it.

WISE: Sure.

KURTZ: You came out and said, "I am Tiger Woods. It brought up..."

WISE: Well, I can't golf like him, Howie.

KURTZ: OK. Well, we'll read that. We'll grant you that.

"It brought up old, awful feelings of shame, guilt and humiliation. If the world were to know the details of my sad, pathetic electronic communication with other women at one time in my life, the horrific embarrassment would not just send me into seclusion, it would send me off the ledge."

Why did you choose to expose yourself in that painful column?

WISE: I hadn't written anything about Tiger for two, three weeks. There was nothing I could say in the national conversation. And I had a conversation about it with a friend, and he said, look, a lot of people out there have been on that side of the fence. Maybe not to the degree of having their paramours interviewed in Vegas hotel rooms, but to the point of we've been there in several respects.

And not saying that it's right, not saying it's wrong, but at some point I felt like this was beyond people saying this is a bad guy and a bad husband that got married too young. That to me was a copout. And there's something deeper, and there's a huge void, emotionally and otherwise, that the richest, most popular athlete in the world had. And if he can have it, all of us can have it.

KURTZ: And you identify with that to some extent.

WISE: Yes, I did.

KURTZ: All right. Buzz Bissinger, this piece in "Vanity Fair," it's a good piece, but it's not your usual, deeply reported narrative. Some people are saying, well, you know, "Vanity Fair" just wanted some prose to go along with those beefcake photos shot by Annie Liebovitz.

BISSINGER: Well, I mean, I think the problem was, you're right, it's not my typical piece. I mean, I obviously like to do a lot more reporting.

The problem was I couldn't get access to any of the sources who would really matter at that point. Obviously Tiger, obviously Mark Steinberg, obviously a lot of people who were on the inner circle. So, a decision was made to go with the pictures, to have some written prose, and to do a personal essay, and I was chosen because I have written a lot about sports in the past, whether it's shooting stars, whether LeBron James or "Friday Night Lights," or "Three Nights in August."

I have to disagree with Mike. I mean, I think what Tiger did goes far beyond e-mail communications.

He was a bad husband. Why did he get married? He may have fundamentally loved his wife, but he wasn't a cuckold once or twice or three or four...

WISE: He was a bad husband, but he was a flawed person, Buzz. He was a flawed person.

BISSINGER: I don't care if he was...

WISE: And if you don't have any empathy for the guy, then maybe you need to take your own inventory a little.

BISSINGER: I don't have empathy for the guy, Mike...

WISE: All right.

BISSINGER: ... because he used his position and his image to make a billion dollars. WISE: Oh, OK. All right. Thank you.


KURTZ: Just when it's getting good, I have to ask you guys to continue this off the screen.

WISE: All right.

KURTZ: Thanks very much.

WISE: Thanks, Buzz.

KURTZ: Buzz Bissinger, Mike Wise.

And up next here, celebrity shocker. An author attaches a mind- boggling money to Warren Beatty's sexual exploits and has bloggers trying to do the math.


KURTZ: Take a mega movie star, an obscure biographer, an eye- popping statistic and a clueless lawyer, toss in a little sex -- excuse me, a lot of sex -- and what have you got? My guess is a big best- seller.


KURTZ (voice-over): The star is Warren Beatty, who has always been known as a ladies' man. The author is Peter Biskind, who conducted some interviews with the Hollywood heartthrob a few decades ago.

The sensational claim in the book's star, that Beatty has slept with 12,775 women, give or take, a figure that does not include daytime quickies, drive-bys, casual gropings, stolen kisses and so on. The list is said to include the likes of Diane Keaton, Natalie Wood, Julie Christie and Madonna.

Now, if you were Beatty and wanted to steer people away from this book, here's what you wouldn't do. You wouldn't have your attorney, Bert Fields, tell "The Huffington Post" that, "Mr. Biskind's tedious and boring book on Mr. Beatty was not authorized by Mr. Beatty and should not be published as an authorized biography. It contains many false assertions and purportedly quotes Mr. Beatty as saying things he never said."


KURTZ: Wait a minute. It's too boring? It was not authorized?

That means it must have far more juicy stuff than an authorized book would. Hello, Amazon?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ (voice-over): But hold on. At columnist Lisa Tadoravich (ph) did the math. "For Beatty to have achieved these totals, he would have had to have bedded one woman every 2.06 days since birth." Even more if you assume that he wasn't doing that sort of thing until he was a teenager and has remained loyal to his wife of 17 years, Annette Bening.


KURTZ: Now, it's every author's dream to generate some buzz as his book is coming out. And Warren Beatty has certainly cooperated by distancing himself from the thing. Maybe at the age of 72, he secretly wants everyone to read about his youthful exploits.

Now, before we go, I've got to get to this.

I have a confession to make. I'm a high-tech kind of guy. Look, I've got my BlackBerry, I have learned how to text, I'm on Twitter. but I'm having a hard time keeping up with all these newfangled media gadgets.


KURTZ (voice-over): I was perfectly happy watching plain old television, but now I'm supposed to get a pair of those 3D glasses or my life won't be complete. The car companies are going to put Web screens and live TV on their dashboards. Gee, that sounds safe, just as I was figuring out how to use the GPS.

I was toying with the idea of getting an iPhone, but now I'm hearing I've got to consider the ultra cool Google phone.

And have you heard about the Apple Tablet for reading just about anything? "New York Times" columnist David Carr says it could help save newspapers and magazines by providing some revenue and that he hasn't been this excited about buying something since he was 8 years old.


KURTZ: I'm sure I'll be shivering with excitement, too, but we haven't even seen the blasted thing yet. Maybe it will be the killer app that revolutionizes newspapers, transforms video conferencing and reverses the aging process. Who knows?

But I'd kind of like to kick the tires first. Oh, and check out the price tag.

And John King, as I turn things back over to you this Sunday morning, you've got the Magic Wall. You're probably going to rush out and get many of these gadgets. Right?

KING: I think any new technology, Howie, if it helps us communicate in a relevant way and a more interesting way, is great. If you use it as a bell and a whistle, as a toy, not so great. But the Magic Wall is helpful. And if there's something out there that can help the newspaper industry, I'm all for it.

KURTZ: I wouldn't mind having some toys just for fun use at home.

All right, John. Back over to you.

KING: Howie, you take care. Have a great Sunday.