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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Tiger Woods' Comeback; Supreme Speculation
Aired April 11, 2010 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): No escape: Tiger Woods finally takes on the press and the Masters. But can any star athlete escape the scrutiny of tabloid reporters and gossip-mongers? ESPN's Chris Connelly on sports in the age of the paparazzi.
Supreme speculation: With John Paul Stevens stepping down, is the media chatter about a successor spinning out of control?
War on the Web Sharon Waxman versus Michael Wolff on whether he is stealing her content or she is using him to get attention. A no- holds-barred debate.
Plus, big brother TV, how shows like "30 Rock" and "The Office" are trying you to eat right and behave yourself. Isn't that kind of creepy?
KURTZ: It would be a major story under any circumstances. Tiger Woods, after month away from the game, just four strokes off the lead heading into today's final round of the Masters. But the coverage hasn't only been about the competition. When the world's top golfer held a news conference at Augusta this week, it was dominated, of course, by questions about the sex scandal, the tawdry parade of mistresses, though none of the assembled journalists dared to use such a word, that prompted him to leave the tour and spend weeks in rehab
There was live cable coverage and a sense of anticipation, as we see here through the lens of "The Daily Show."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is his wife there?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is this a new, humble Tiger Woods?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will his sponsors jump back on board?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did this doctor, liquid HGH, do for him?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will we get any real answers from the golfer?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one really knows what Tiger's going to say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not some sort of media creation. This is a legitimate story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, Tiger acquitted himself reasonably well in fielding questions for more than half an hour, but the tabloid tale dramatically underscored the rules for star athletes, how they've changed in our celebrity-driven media culture.
That's a subject ESPN's Chris Connelly will tackle this week on his program, "E:60".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CONNELLY, ESPN (voice-over): In Windermere, Florida, dozens of camera people swarm outside the kindergarten where Tiger Woods' wife Elin is picking up their daughter.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Elin, have you forgiven Tiger yet?
CONNELLY: In New York City, LeBron James is captured on tape by TMZ as he leaves a Jay-Z concert at Madison Square Garden.
Through the streets of West Hollywood --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, I'm coming all the way down here. Keep me informed slowly, OK?
MARK SANCHEZ, NFL QUARTERBACK: There's so much media all over the place, but you've just got to kind of watch what you're doing. Just be on good behavior at all times.
RYAN HOWARD, MLB FIRST BASEMAN: People want to know what guys are doing. You know, they want to see what they look like coming off a plane, see if they look as bad as everybody else. And we do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining me from Los Angeles to talk about the coverage of Tiger and other sports figures in this gossipy, anything goes era, is ESPN correspondent Chris Connelly.
And Chris, it's been kind of a split screen week for me. I've been watching the Masters, but I'm also reading this "Vanity Fair" article about Tiger's mistresses, very detailed and somewhat depressing. And reading some suggestive headlines in the newspapers -- here's "The Daily News" now, "That's Playing Around." And "The New York Post" goes with "Back With a Bang."
So my question is, if Tiger Woods finishes strong today, is he going to go back to getting rather glowing press coverage?
CONNELLY: Yes, I think the page turns. You know, the crisis managers say for these sort of things you admit, you apologize and you advance. And I think by virtue of him playing so well in the Masters, those questions are likely to recede to some degree, although I'm sure the "punting" headlines and the double entendre stories will continue. He's still a figure of tabloid interest, though, as long as his marital relationship remains in the crucible.
KURTZ: That's the understatement of the year, perhaps.
Now, at that news conference this week -- and we can't show it to you because CBS and the Masters have pulled the rights, which I think is ridiculous. It's not sports competition -- Woods was asked about the media coverage. And here's what he had to say. We'll put it up on the screen.
"Well, I was surprised at the mainstream media. I think it's also times have changed, as well. With 24 hour news, you're looking for any kind of news to get out there."
"I know a lot of my friends are in here," he told the reporters, "and I haven't seen them, I haven't talked to them, but I've read their articles, and of course they have been critical of me. They should, because what I have done was wrong. But then again, I know a lot of them. I know a lot of you are in here are my friends and will always be my friends."
Is that how it works? Are these professional golf writers Tiger Woods' buddies?
CONNELLY: Well, I certainly think Tiger was very surprised by the coverage he got, at least initially. You'll recall up on his Web site, as this sort of parade of mistresses began, he pled for privacy. And yet the numbers kept going up and up and up, and eventually he was backed into a position where he had to have some sort of apology. Perhaps not for his behavior, per se, but for hypocrisy in general, for having put up this image of himself as a family man, and instead engaged in the kind of behavior that we saw.
KURTZ: But I was so struck by his use of the word "friends." I mean, do you consider yourself friends of the athletes who you cover?
CONNELLY: I wouldn't say that I am. And I would think most people at ESPN would agree with me, that people whom we cover are the people that we cover. And while there may be some social interaction, we have to hold them to the same reporting standards as people that we don't know personally.
KURTZ: Now, interest in this Masters has been huge. On Thursday, when ESPN had the coverage, nearly five million people watched, making it the most viewed golf tournament in cable history.
And it's funny to me to watch the CBS announcers when CBS took it over. You know, they're not going to make any reference to the scandal. They say things like -- in that golf whisper -- "This is the first time that Tiger has played since the Australian Open." Yes. I think we know why.
Now, one of the people who got to interview Tiger after the first day of play on Wednesday was ESPN's Mike Tirico.
Let's play a little bit from that interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE TIRICO, ESPN: Well, after 20 weeks, a lot of people talked about it. How did it feel to be back out there?
TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: It felt good. It felt really good just to get out there and get into the rhythm, the round.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, I would expect that kind of interview to focus on the golf. But not one question, not one reference to the scandal that has riveted everyone's attention?
CONNELLY: I think right after he's been on the golf course and he started putting up numbers after you haven't seen him play that long, it would be time to focus on golf. And I certainly think my colleague at ESPN Tom Rinaldi did a fantastic job with the five minutes he was given with Tiger before that press conference that he later held.
I think the questions are going to start to recede. There are still some questions, though. And for the tabloid journalists, for paparazzi, there is still good money to be made with another picture of Tiger, particularly if it shows him and his wife Elin in some sort of reconciliation mode. But for now, we're interested to see what he's going to do on the golf course.
KURTZ: I'm certainly interested in that as well. And Elin, of course, staying away from the Masters this week, so we don't have that picture. And I still continue to believe that if Tiger Woods had talked to your guys at ESPN, had held a news conference months earlier, he wouldn't have dug himself into quite such a deep bunker.
So let's talk about the broader question of athletes and celebrity media. You have this piece coming up. Your producer interviewed me for that program.
How bad is it? How constant is it? How much have things changed?
CONNELLY: Well, things have definitely changed, I think. I mean, you know, not like we haven't always had some kind of paparazzi coverage of athletes -- Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, or Bo Belinsky and Mamie Van Doren back in the '60s, but it really has stepped up with guys like Beckham, David Beckham, getting covered no matter what he does worldwide, or people in high-profile relationships like the football player Reggie Bush dating Kim Kardashian, or people who get in trouble, people like Ben Roethlisberger, who has had his legal difficulties recently.
So, if you're in love, if you're out of love, or if you're in some sort of hot water, the tabloid press is taking a greater interest in you if you are a sports figure. And part of that is also driven by technology.
The tabloid access is no longer just through the newspaper or magazine you might buy at a checkout counter at a supermarket.
CONNELLY: You get this stuff on the Web. And that means in particular that male sports fans have greater access to these pictures and these kinds of stories than they have in the past.
KURTZ: Well, of course these Web sites wouldn't be popular if there wasn't an audience for it. Tmz, the gossip site, starting a sports site. That's got to make some of these athletes nervous.
Are we talking just here about the big names, the people like a Tiger or a Ben Roethlisberger, or utility infielders, or backup quarterbacks? Are they going to be getting the treatment as well.
CONNELLY: Well, the ironic thing is that success or stardom on the field is not the thing that determines whether or not you get this kind of tabloid coverage. You know, and a perfect example of this is someone like Kobe Bryant.
When he was involved with the Colorado incident a few years ago, he was very much the subject of tabloid coverage. Now he says he can go out and not get bothered much.
So, your success on the field does not necessarily determine how much scrutiny you're under. If you're dating somebody, however, who is famous, if you are Matt Kemp from the Dodgers who is dating the pop singer Rihanna, you're going to wind up having your picture taken. If you're Reggie Bush, you're going to have your picture taken, much more than he did when he was the Heisman Trophy winner and he owned Los Angeles.
So, adjusting to this new world and the new access that fans have to these kinds of picture is going to take some doing for these high- profile athletes.
KURTZ: You're really up, Chris, on who's dating who. I'm taking notes here. I didn't know about some of these relationships.
KURTZ: All right. Now here's the other side of the argument.
These athletes make millions of dollars from the sports publicity machine that builds them up into these larger-than-life figures. They can't exactly turn around and whine about it if some of the stories then become less flattering. Or can they?
CONNELLY: I don't think they can whine. I think in terms of other celebrities, they've been able to pretty much escape the kind of scrutiny that a singer has, or that an entertainer has in terms of the way their coverage has been in the past. So, yes, I think particularly given any athlete who attempts to portray a certain image and has endorsements and stuff based on that image, is going to potentially face scrutiny that might endanger that image or change that image. And because there's an audience for it, we're going to see more.
KURTZ: And we've certainly seen that with Tiger Woods and some of his corporate sponsors bailing out when he got himself into that tabloid trouble.
How are the athletes reacting in the interviews that you've done? Are they now going to be more wary of the mainstream press because of all the scrutiny they're getting from what we might call the tabloid or the gossip press?
CONNELLY: I certainly think to athletes in the way that we associate with magazine stories of 20 years ago is going to be tougher to come by. They're going to be more wary just because they're going to be under this kind of scrutiny.
But so far athletes seem relatively chilled out about this kind of scrutiny. They know that it's out there. They know that social media is out there.
They certainly are aware that any guy with a digital camera in a bar or someplace can make you -- wind up being a topic of conversation if you're doing something untoward. And they have to adjust their behavior accordingly.
KURTZ: And watch those text messages.
I've got half a minute. If Tiger Woods starts winning, whether it's today or in upcoming championship play, will all these mistresses be a footnote a year from now?
CONNELLY: They will, but his relationship with his wife will continue to be an interest to the tabloid press, because the purportedly wronged or scorned woman is a tabloid staple. And until that relationship resolves itself, he will still be in their focus as well.
KURTZ: Yes, I think there will be a split screen focus, at least for a while.
Chris Connelly, thanks very much for joining us from Los Angeles.
CONNELLY: Thank you.
KURTZ: And you can see Chris Connelly's full report on ESPN's "E:60." It's this Tuesday night at 7:00 Eastern.
When we come back, the magic list. With Justice John Paul Stevens stepping down, the media are floating lots of possible replacements for the high court. But how exactly do you get on this list?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: The cable networks all put up their breaking news logos on Friday, but it was not exactly a big surprise. John Paul Stevens had already telegraphed that he was planning to leave the Supreme Court in interviews last Sunday with "The New York Times" and "Washington Post." But the official word of his retirement opened the floodgates to all kinds of media speculation. Every news outlet trotted out its list of who President Obama might pick as a replacement based on -- based on -- well, essentially educated guesswork.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAN CRAWFORD, CBS (voice-over): Sources say the leading contenders to replace him are Elena Kagan, former dean of Harvard Law School and the current solicitor general; Diane Wood, a Chicago federal appeals court judge; and Merrick Garland.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Elena Kagan, the solicitor General, is one of the obvious short-listers.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC (voice-over): The president is also looking at federal judge Merrick Garland.
DAHLIA LITHWICK, STATE.COM: If he wants a medium fight, Elena Kagan, his solicitor general.
JEFFREY ROSEN, THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Or he could be bold by picking a former politician, Governor Napolitano, Granholm.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the coverage of this new Supreme Court vacancy, in Boston, Callie Crossley, radio host and contributor to WGBH's "Beat the Press." And here in Washington, Chris Stirewalt, columnist for "The Washington Examiner."
Callie Crossley, four hours after Stevens announced his announcement, I saw this big headline in "The Huffington Post" that said "Elena Kagan, President Obama's Solicitor General, is Rapidly Emerging as a Frontrunner to Replace Stevens."
You know, who knows? What do you make of the way journalists just throw out all these names when the president hasn't probably decide himself who he's going to pick?
CALLIE CROSSLEY, HOST, "THE CALLIE CROSSLEY SHOW": Well, speculation is mother's milk to journalists. And in this case, I think it's really more than an educated guess, because Elena Kagan was high on the list of those vetted for the last go-around. And the last go-around was just few months ago, really. So that makes some sense, to put her at the top of list.
Also she has no paper trail, per se. So if you are thinking about it from a political standpoint, and whether or not President Obama and his team want to undergo a bruising -- and it's going to be a vigorous debate no matter what, kind of debate about the next nominee -- you know, you go with somebody who probably can withstand that. So that -- actually, I think that makes a lot of sense to me, from a journalist's standpoint, about how they get it.
KURTZ: Well, but, you know, Chris Stirewalt, some of these are logical candidates, but then you see these -- they say so-and-so has been widely mentioned.
Why do they mention -- by who? How do you get on these lists?
CHRIS STIREWALT, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER": The namer of names. Once your name gets named one time, then you've been mentioned for consideration and then you can keep the ball going.
Somebody like Janet Napolitano, I think it's pretty far-fetched to think that the president would like to endure a fight over homeland security and all these other issues that are highly politically charged right now with somebody like Janet Napolitano. But you have a lot of video of her. She's available, she's out there and she's --
KURTZ: She's well known.
STIREWALT: She's well know. She's a household name. She and Jennifer Granholm from Michigan are both in that category. Usually when it gets down to it, we see the Roberts' model is the new model, which is somebody you never heard of like Chief Justice John Roberts, but who has got the impeccable credentials that can weather the storm.
KURTZ: Right. Although, certainly insiders had heard of Judge Roberts.
You know, Callie -- go ahead.
CROSSLEY: I think there's another point, too, Howie, and that is that all of the "top contenders" are all women. And I think that's pretty much where people are thinking that he has another shot of getting another woman on the bench, and that makes sense, because people are expecting Ruth Bader Ginsburg to step down sometime while he's in office.
KURTZ: Yes, although, you know, the top three, if you count up the number of media mentions, seems to be Judge Merrick Garland, ,who is definitely not a woman.
But, you know, last time, Callie, the media were basically on target, and Sonia Sotomayor was widely reported as one of the three finalists. But I can remember other times when the track record was way off. Nobody thought President Bush was going to pick Harriet Miers, and that didn't last long.
So it just seems to me there is a certain amount of built-in speculation here, which you say is the mother's milk. But I wonder whether we should be going quite so far when nobody knows.
CROSSLEY: Well, I mean, you're going to have to put somebody out there because it's just too juicy not to talk about it.
KURTZ: All right. That's your answer.
CROSSLEY: You've got to have some conversation about it. Come on. All right?
But I also think it's practical to think about, who does he want to put in that seat, in that hot seat, for the summer months leading up to the November elections? I mean, come on, I think that it makes sense to think about how the White House may be thinking somewhat politically about who they select.
KURTZ: Oh, we have to look at the political angles, who's likely to get Senate confirmation.
Should the press, Chris Stirewalt, point out the hypocrisy involved in Republicans complaining about an overly-ideological nominee and Democrats defending the president's right to choose when we had the exact opposite during the Bush years?
STIREWALT: Well, I think the ability for people to express outrage at partisanship, I think that's over. I think in terms of a plausible claim that people can make any more, either party can make anymore about you shouldn't filibuster, or you shouldn't do this, or you shouldn't use this nuclear option, I think the electorate has accepted the fact that we live in a hyper-partisan, super-divided society.
So, for Democrats now to say the president should have his way, I think it's met with more than a chuckle than, yes, that's a good consideration. But I should point out, I think in the end Republicans will agree. I think that as long as the president doesn't pick somebody who has either personal baggage or some sort of real skeleton in the closet, I think he's going to get his way. And I think this is going to go through.
KURTZ: Well, having 59 Democratic senators does help with that.
I want to ask you both about another controversy this week. In Virginia, the new Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, declaring Confederate History Month. A huge media flap ensued. It was on the front page of "The Washington Post." "The Richmond Times-Dispatch" ripped him in an editorial because it made no mention from those years of slavery.
The governor later apologizing, Callie Crossley, for leaving out slavery.
Do you think the way the media turned this into a hot-button controversy essentially forced McDonnell to apologize?
CROSSLEY: Well, I think because of some of the circumstances around it.
First of all, he went against the pattern that had been established by other Republican governors in recognizing this history of the confederacy. There had always been mention of slavery.
And anybody that brings up the history of the confederacy and doesn't make slavery the whole point of it, that's just a lie. So, of course, in my opinion, that should have been brought to the front, and brought to the front quickly.
What made it extra juicy though is when Sheila Johnson, a black woman who had been one of his very strong supporters, came out and said, are you kidding me? Essentially, that's what she said when he had to respond to that. So, for all of those interesting reasons it was a good story, absolutely.
And Chris, I didn't see most conservative commentators defending McDonnell on this.
STIREWALT: No. And, you know, it was dreadful week for Republicans on race.
You had Michael Steele accusing his own party of holding him to a different -- a higher standard because he's African-American. And at the same time, you had the model for Republicans going forward, Bob McDonnell in Virginia, a guy that a lot of Republicans are looking to -- for to be a trailblazer, making this unforced error.
But the question is, do you give McDonnell credit for making a mistake, or was he in fact revealing something about himself? I think, probably, that McDonnell just made a gaffe, a traditional gaffe. Not a Kinsley gaffe, just a regular old gaffe.
KURTZ: Well, a gaffe that he didn't have to make.
KURTZ: He, of course, did apologize fairly quickly once this heated up.
Now, Sarah Palin getting a lot of attention at the Republicans gathering in New Orleans this weekend. But how many of you know that she is thinking about starting a Sarah Palin network?
Roll the tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TINA FEY, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Do you hate "gotcha journalism?" Well, get ready for, "Hey, journalists, I got you," where I re-edit my interviews with journalists to make them look like they were the ones that were woefully unprepared.
So, Katie, what newspapers do you read? It's an easy question, Katie.
Well, better luck next time. Gotcha!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I've got a few seconds.
Is Sarah Palin, Chris, ever going to escape the shadow of Tina Fey?
STIREWALT: No, but it helps her. As a media product, Sarah Palin becomes more and more of a media commodity in her own right. Being the subject of a famous lampooning does help you. It moves the material, I think.
KURTZ: It's a certain honor in being lampooned on "Saturday Night Live."
All right. Chris Stirewalt, Callie Crossley in Boston -- she agrees -- thanks very much.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Rupert Murdoch accusing the other networks and "The New York Times" of being, yes, biased. The first cyberstandoff.
Sharon Waxman of "The Wrap" and Michael Wolff of Newser.com have been pounding each other over charges of unfairly ripping off material. They'll square off right here.
And later, NBC's hit shows are quietly encouraging you to exercise and recycle and watch your diet. Shouldn't they stick to entertaining?
KURTZ: It's a constant source of debate on the Web -- who owns all that content anyway? And this week the argument turned strikingly personal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ (voice-over): In this corner, Sharon Waxman, the former "New York Times" reporter and founder of the Hollywood site "The Wrap." In this corner, Michael Wolff, "Vanity Fair" columnist and founder of Newser.com, which condenses stories from across the Net.
Waxman found that Newser.com had rewritten one of her side stories about Beyonce with no credit and only a tiny link to her site. And then she concluded that was part of a larger pattern.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Waxman fired the first shot, accusing Wolff's site of acting like a parasite. Wolff returned fire, calling Waxman self- righteous and, maybe even worse, longwinded.
As the rhetoric escalated, we invited both of them to make their case here on RELIABLE SOURCES. And joining me now in Los Angeles, Sharon Waxman, founder and editor-in-chief of TheWrap.com.
SHARON WAXMAN, FOUNDER & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THEWRAP.COM: Good morning.
KURTZ: Good morning.
And here in Washington Michael Wolff, columnist and contributing editor to "Vanity Fair" magazine and the founder of Newser.com.
Sharon Waxman, there are lots of Web sites out there, as you know -- Huffington Post, Daily Beast, and on and on -- that pick up and condense other people's stories.
What's your beef with Michael Wolff?
WAXMAN: Absolutely. We have no problem with aggregation. We aggregate at The Wrap also. We have a problem with Newser and the way that it aggregates.
Newser is taking stories without paying for them, condensing them, giving scant linkage. They're saying they give linkage, but I found lots of cases where they didn't give credit or didn't give a link, and then they have this source grid page where they give no linkage whatsoever to en entire panoply of our content.
So we've asked something very simple -- just give us proper credit and linkage, or don't use our content. And that seems to be a problem.
KURTZ: Let me turn to Michael Wolff. If Sharon Waxman pays reporters to go out and cover news, is it unfair for you to appropriate their stories in the way that she described?
MICHAEL WOLFF, FOUNDER, NEWSER.COM: Well, a couple of points.
The first point is, bull. On every story that we have done over two and a half years, there are at least two links to the original, and most often three. And as for what we do, this is what we do. We condense stories. This is what has been done by journalists and the journalism business for its long history.
KURTZ: Before there was an Internet.
WOLFF: As I recall, last week, in the story that you did, you picked up a paragraph which actually was from me without sourcing on it. But that --
KURTZ: Wait a minute. I interviewed you for that very same story, so you were credited.
WOLFF: On other facts. But the fact, actually that that Arthur Sulzberger picture, which only came from me. But that's the point. You're allowed to do that. That's what we do.
We condense, we aggregate information. We make it possible for our readers to get as much information as possible, as quickly as possible.
KURTZ: And Sharon Waxman, Michael says it's an innovation for his site to compress your stories and other people's stories in a clever way, and put a flashy headline on it.
Do you have a problem with that?
WAXMAN: Yes. Let's not muddy the issue.
Michael, you absolutely -- in no case are there three links to our stories in all of the couple dozen that we looked at.
WOLFF: The rollover page -- the rollover page, the story page within the summary itself, one, two, three, which is more than you do.
WAXMAN: OK. Let's just talk about the facts a second. No, Michael. Let's talk about the facts.
You put a Newser byline and take a Newser credit out of the story. When The Wrap aggregates we give the byline to, say, "The Variety" or "The Hollywood Reporter." So it's very clear --
WOLFF: Sharon, you're moving -- stay with the theme. How many links are there? The rollover page, the story page, within the summary itself.
WAXMAN: I'm not -- OK. So let's --
WOLFF: Now what happens if I can prove that? What do you give me? Now, let's go. If I can prove that --
WAXMAN: That's fine.
KURTZ: Give her a chance to respond.
WAXMAN: Can I respond? Thank you.
If you can prove that this -- if you will go back and add the links to the stories that I showed you in my post, that would be the first thing. The Beyonce story still doesn't have a link to The Wrap to it.
WOLFF: Oh, the Beyonce story -- just let me add, her reporter, her writer, Dominic Patton (ph), got in touch with us about that story. He calls us frequently.
WAXMAN: Her writer? The Wrap writer.
KURTZ: He wanted to you pick it up?
WAXMAN: He did.
WOLFF: He did.
WAXMAN: He did want, it but he didn't want you to pick it up without putting a link in it. Can you put a link in that story? Will you agree?
WOLFF: I have the e-mail. I'll send you the e-mail. After the story appeared --
WAXMAN: Michael, will you put --
WOLFF: -- he was very, very pleased with this.
KURTZ: Answer her question.
WOLFF: Will I put the link in the story?
WOLFF: There are already -- Sharon, do you listen to me? -- one link, two links, three links. They're there. I mean, do you not read the site?
WAXMAN: Anyway, and our bigger problem -- yes, I did. I checked it last night again and there's not. So that's --
WOLFF: OK. This is really easy to document. It will be documented on our site later today.
WAXMAN: Thank you.
KURTZ: Let me jump in here because --
WAXMAN: And finally --
KURTZ: Go ahead, Sharon.
WAXMAN: I just want to ask you -- the source grid page that takes three links to get to any Wrap story, that's something that I brought up. And I did ask rather directly by e-mail, before we start going to a lawyer letter, but the issue is a larger one, Howie.
If everybody on the Web did -- aggregated or lifted news in the way that Newser did, while sending virtually no traffic back to the original source -- because Newser has sent us 1,600 hits since -- (CROSSTALK)
WOLFF: One thousand six hundred hits, more than she would have gotten otherwise.
WAXMAN: My dear, you're making money off of other people's content while sending no traffic. It's very simple.
WOLFF: And Sharon, you're making money off of other people's content as much as we do. This is one of the peculiar things about this, that she does the same thing that we do.
But, go on, Sharon.
KURTZ: Let me jump in here as the referee, because I've reviewed both sites, and I'm on the Web every hour, it seems. And it does seem like --
WOLFF: I would say every minute, Howie. I see those tweets coming.
KURTZ: But it does seem like your links to the original content, the people who actually paid reporters to go out and gather the information, are more subtle, and that you seem to package it more as Newser material.
WOLFF: Let me -- and we have no issue here. One of the interesting things is, I don't know why this became a legalistic battle. And we got a letter from Sharon's lawyer, and Slate called it the most wobbly and overreaching letter in legal history.
KURTZ: You got a letter saying you should cease and desist using The Wrap's content.
WOLFF: But, the most wobbly and --
KURTZ: Do you plan to cease and desist?
WOLFF: No, absolutely not.
KURTZ: You're not going to cease and you're not going to desist?
WOLFF: Absolutely not. And I invite Sharon, if she really thinks that this is an issue with merit, man up and sue us any time.
But, as to your point, we link this stuff -- we have changed this across two and a half years, lots of times. And we changed this --
WAXMAN: Michael, that's a terrific response. As a responsible journalist --
KURTZ: Let him finish. And I'll come back to you, Sharon.
WOLFF: -- in response to what our readers want. We are constantly testing this.
You know, it used to be that we had big logos from our sources on our front page. "The New York Times" got in touch with us and said, "Please, don't use our logo." Now, I responded to them, "We'll use a skull and cross bones." But --
KURTZ: All right. Let me get Sharon back in here.
KURTZ: Do you feel like your survival and the survival of sites like yours is at stake if you have got the payroll, you're paying people to do journalism, and, in your view, this stuff is being used unfairly or not with --
WOLFF: I'm certain we have a much larger payroll, by the way.
WAXMAN: I absolutely -- I don't think so. I don't know. Your CEO says you have 15 people. That's the same size staff that we have.
But regardless, Newser is a small site. There's a principle involved here. It's not just about -- gee, Michael, if you would like to respond for me, that's OK, too.
KURTZ: Sharon, you have the floor.
WAXMAN: Thank you.
As a business matter, this is a relatively small issue. But as a principle of how we gather and consume news on the Internet today, it is vastly important. And that's why we wanted to bring this issue out into the fore.
There are proper ways to aggregate and there are parasitic ways to aggregate. And it surprises me that Michael Wolff, who is a veteran journalist, who is well know, and who knows what it takes to get the news, would not want to set up a site that would give credit and allow those sources on which he relies to get some benefit out of it, that's the equation. Either you pay money or you send traffic back to the sources.
KURTZ: All right. I have to go. I have 15 seconds.
WAXMAN: Those are best practices and Newser doesn't follow them.
WOLFF: And Sharon's interest is in what's good for journalists and what's good for the media interest. My interest is in what's good for readers. The music industry became concerned with itself and died. What we have to do as people in this business is think about our readers, not ourselves. KURTZ: And I've got to think about our viewers, and we have got to move on.
I'm glad you both had a chance to make your points.
Michael Wolff, Sharon Waxman, thanks for joining us this morning.
Up next, eat your broccoli. Some of NBC's most popular shows practically lecturing us on how to live well. Is this just a ploy on how to sell advertising?
KURTZ: Television shows often send coded messages -- how to look cool, how to sweet--talk the boss, how to get a date with the woman across the hall. But sometimes, on NBC, at least, the lessons are about citizenship, health and the environment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy Earth Day, everyone. I'm Recyclopse.
Did you know that an old milk carton can be sawed in half and used as a planter?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good for you, sir. Did you know that fluorescent light bulbs last 10 times longer than regular ones?
AL GORE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes. And they only use one quarter of the power. But if we're going to solve the climate crisis, we've got to change more than the light bulbs and the windows. We've got to change the laws and the policies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Who was that actor?
"The Wall Street Journal" disclosed this week that NBC executives are deliberately embedding such lessons in their scripts. But is that a good idea?
Joining us now in Syracuse, New York, Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. And in New York, Amy Chozick, reporter for "The Wall Street Journal," who wrote the piece about NBC's approach.
And Amy Chozick, NBC executives aren't exactly hiding this. They're practically bragging about it.
What do they get out of it?
AMY CHOZICK, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": No, they're very proud of it. It's another creative way for them to sell ads at a time when viewers have an unprecedented ability to skip ads with DVRs and whatnot. They can pitch advertisers who want a green- friendly image to buy time after these programs, like with Al Gore on "30 Rock." KURTZ: Robert Thompson, it kind of feels like slick propaganda to me. Am I the only one who finds this a tad creepy?
ROBERT THOMPSON, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: I find it really creepy. And not these messages.
I mean, let's face it, recycling, going on a bike ride, eating proper food, these are relatively harmless messages, as the big push to do anti-drug messages, which the TV industry cooperated with the federal government on some years ago.
THOMPSON: But this idea that, you know, NBC Universal, these enormous corporations, which of course now not only distribute programming, but produce a lot of it, are going to now be setting a curriculum -- OK, fine. It's a little bit of recycling here and there, but what if they decide to expand that curriculum in other places? They have really got a lot of control here that I think should give people pause.
KURTZ: And I think the point that bothers me is that, it's entertainment. You are not necessarily expecting to be guided toward one kind of behavior or another.
Amy Chozick, Jeff Zucker, who runs NBC, says they don't want to hit people over the head with these messages, but how obvious are the messages? Give us a couple of other examples that have shown up on some of these programs.
CHOZICK: Sure. Well, in the hospital drama "Mercy," the nurses organize a Ride Your Bike to Work Day. On "Law & Order," the detectives investigate a Cash for Clunkers scam. So they're pretty subtle and they're very integrated into the storylines.
Executives tell producers to make these as seamless as possible, just run with it. The producers on "The Office" said that they had already been thinking about turning Dwight into a recycling superhero before they got the corporate mandate.
So, the idea is to make this as seamless as possible, and there are very few clues to viewers to expect this. I mean, as a viewer, even before I was researching the show, I thought it was just another funny episode of "The Office."
KURTZ: Right. And pick up on the professor's point on whether some of this is a little PC. For example, another NBC property, Bravo, in the reality series "Millionaire Matchmaker" -- which I never miss -- you reported that a tycoon goes into a rage when his blind date orders red meat.
CHOZICK: That's right. Well, it's interesting how they get this into reality programming. And that tycoon made his fortune off an organic clothing line.
So, yes, they even do it into reality television. And you're right, Robert's right. I mean, they have chosen some innocuous-type messages. People might argue about climate change, but no one is really going to argue about, you know, Tina Fey tossing a plastic bottle into a recycling bin. But I think it is a slippery slope, and it gets people kind of worried.
KURTZ: Yes. Well, I think people who like steak might take issue with the anti-red meat campaign.
Robert, when you watch old movies now of the Humphrey Bogart era, you see how they really glamorized smoking in a way that would be unacceptable today. So I would say this kind of entertainment, subtle or otherwise, does have an impact.
THOMPSON: Well, of course it does, and it's really not anything new. Shakespeare was putting patrons' names into his plays, Michelangelo was drawing people who were supporting him into his paintings. And let's face it --
KURTZ: You're accusing Shakespeare of selling out? This is breaking news.
THOMPSON: Shakespeare? Oh, I think lots of occasions.
But even if we go to the early days of television, you could argue that all of those "Leave it to Beaver" and "Ozzie and Harriet" and all the rest was one big advertisement for the Eisenhower-era American dream of the utopian suburbs, thanks to his interstate highway system and the GI bill, and all that kind of stuff.
What's so odd about this, that "Wall Street Journal" story had some incredible quotes by these executives. For one thing, it's NBC Universal calling it behavioral placement. This sounds like some weird, Orwellian -- I mean, behavioral placement is like a definition of propaganda. And they're the ones who have named it that.
And then all these quotes saying, yes, we want to model people's behaviors by showing other characters doing it on TV, but we don't want them to notice. We want it to be subtle.
They're coming right out and saying the creepiest kinds of things that I think all of us might be thinking. And today it's recycling. Who knows where this model could go should they decide to do it?
KURTZ: And here's another example, Amy. You reported that Pepsi's SunChips purchased a skit on "30 Rock" with Kenneth the Page. It involved a compostable chip bag. And I'm reading that and I'm saying, they purchased a skit?
CHOZICK: That's right. I mean, that's a perfect example of how NBC is grabbing those ad dollars with this green-friendly programming.
I mean, they wanted a venue to attract kind of edgy, urban consumers, the ones who might be watching "30 Rock," and they got Kenneth, the loveable page from the show, to be in a little segment that's going to run right after a green-friendly episode. So, it's not exactly Kenneth eating SunChips on the show as blatant product placement would be, but it's kind of nodding to that sentiment, telling viewers, you know, we are socially aware.
KURTZ: Right. I am crushed by Kenneth selling out.
Robert, I've got a half a minute here.
Won't some viewers resent, especially when they find out about it, they're being kind of manipulated by big brother?
THOMPSON: Well, I think not as long as it's done well. The writers at "30 Rock," the writers of "The Office" are doing this so cleverly, I think, to some degree with tongue-in-cheek, as we heard from some of those clips.
So, it's all going to be a matter of execution. We actually sometimes enjoy being led like lambs to the slaughter, where we're being led, as long as we're being amused while that leading is taking place.
KURTZ: All right.
Well, thanks so much. It's an interesting topic.
Amy Chozick, Robert Thompson, appreciate your stopping by this Sunday morning.
After the break, a check of the hour's top stories. And then setting the record straight on our segment about Apple, "Newsweek" and the iPad.
KURTZ: If you watch Fox News Channel -- and that's a part of my job -- you hear a lot of bashing of the so-called liberal media. Well, Rupert Murdoch feels the same way, as he made clear this week in an interview with The George Washington University with Marvin Kalb.
RUPERT MURDOCH, NEWS CORPORATION CEO: We have, you know, Democrats and Republicans and Libertarians, whatever.
MARVIN KALB, JOURNALIST: But the other networks have both sides as well.
MURDOCH: Well, I think they tend to be Democrats.
KALB: They tend to be Democrats?
MURDOCH: Yes. Come on. Let's be honest about it.
KALB: No. But, I mean, is that a bad thing, to be a Democrat?
MURDOCH: No, but we're not Republicans.
KALB: Oh, you're not a Republican?
KURTZ (voice-over): An audience member challenged Murdoch's claim of ideological diversity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mentioned that there are Democrats as well as Republicans on Fox News. I was wondering if you meant Democrats employed by Fox News. And if so, who would that be?
MURDOCH: I wish I could tell you a couple of names, but they are certainly there.
KURTZ: And with Murdoch's "Wall Street Journal" about to challenge The Times by starting a metro section for its New York edition, Murdoch couldn't resist a shot at the other paper.
MURDOCH: I have got great respect for The Times, except it does have very clearly an agenda. And you can see it in the way they choose their stories, what they put on page one. I think anything Mr. Obama wants.
KURTZ: Anything Mr. Obama wants? That would be news to the White House.
We also want to set the record on our discussion last week about the unveiling of Apple's iPad. Newsweek's Daniel Lyons, who also writes the "Fake Steve Jobs" blog, made a serious charge about the real Steve Jobs' company.
DANIEL LYONS, "NEWSWEEK": Their head of PR told my predecessor, Steven Levy, to pass word to the powers that be at Apple -- "Newsweek" -- that Apple wasn't happy with the idea that they were going to hire me. Yes, that happened.
KURTZ (voice-over): No, says Steven Levy. That didn't happen. The former "Newsweek" who now works for "Wired" magazine tells me Lyons' account was totally wrong. Dan Lyons has apologized for misstating what happened, but he says Levy did tell him and "Newsweek" that Apple didn't want do business with him, only this happened soon after the magazine hired Lyons two years ago, not before.
"Newsweek" deputy editor Kathy Deveny tells me that Steve Levy did say to her that after the hiring of "Fake Steve Jobs," Apple will never talk to "Newsweek" again.
There's also digital evidence. She told Lyons in an e-mail about a similar conversation that Levy had with another "Newsweek" editor. (END VIDEOTAPE)
KURTZ: But the bottom line, Steve Levy says, is that Apple never told to him tell Newsweek anything, and he was not carrying the company's water.
That's it for RELIABLE SOURCES.
Here's Candy Crowley and "STATE OF THE UNION."