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Interview With Robert Gibbs; Interview With Kitty Kelley

Aired April 18, 2010 - 11:00   ET



HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Behind the podium. From driving the administration's message to doing battle in the briefing room, Robert Gibbs is the president's point man. Why does his boss keep ripping cable chatter and Rush and Sean and Glenn?

Our conversation at the White House.

In search of Oprah. Kitty Kelley takes on the talk show queen and says much of the media is afraid to challenge her. Is the author's new and gossipy biography fair?

Second act. Conan O'Brien going from "The Tonight Show" to basic cable? Is that a smart move?

Plus, charging for tweets. Will corporate advertising ruin Twitter?


KURTZ: A major chunk of Washington journalism is filled in through the prism of the White House, which is why you see so many reporters standing right here on the north lawn. And a good bit of that coverage involves the man whose job it is to deal with the media. As anyone who's ever watched Robert Gibbs in the briefing room well knows, that can get pretty contentious.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't expect to have this package within the party about the public option?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Again, contrived almost entirely by you guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With all due respect -- and I sympathize with you trying to explain the vice president's comments, but that's not even remotely close to what he said. He was asked about if a member of his family --

GIBBS: I understand what he said, and I'm telling you what he meant to say, which was that -- .

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Gibbs is the man who speaks for President Obama, a longtime adviser who must keep up with what his boss derides as the speeded up and superficial media culture. I sat down with him in the stately Old Executive Office Building right across the alley from the White House.


KURTZ: Robert Gibbs, Welcome.

GIBBS: How are you?

KURTZ: Excellent.

What do you make of all the media speculation about who the president will pick for the Supreme Court? You've got your frontrunner, Elena Kagan. You've got your short list, your medium list.

What do you think?

GIBBS: Right. Well, look. I think there is a space between the announcement of that retirement until the introduction of the president's pick that has to be filled. And it will take up a lot of column mentions and a lot of air time between now and then.

KURTZ: You float some trial balloons here at the White House. That's been known to happen.

GIBBS: We have certainly given people a sense of the size of a perspective list. I think this president -- obviously, we have names that were not picked that were not picked that the president looked at for the opening a year ago.


GIBBS: But I've described this accurately as the president looking at a number of nominees. Not just ones that were looked at last time, but we're going to give him a lot of choices from which to make a good pick.

KURTZ: Apparently so are we.

President Obama regularly takes jabs at the news business. He seems to enjoy tweaking, especially those of us in cable news. Here he is with Matt Lauer.

GIBBS: I haven't noticed that at all.

KURTZ: Here he is with Matt Lauer.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It gets spun up partly because of the way the media covers politics these days, in 24/7 news cycle, in the cable chatter and the talk radio, and the Internet and the blogs, all of which tend to try to feed the most extreme sides of any issue.


KURTZ: Now, this amuses me, because you guys play the game. You put people out on the shows. You talk to bloggers. You have anchors and correspondents in for off-the-record lunches.

So you're a willing participant in that news cycle.

GIBBS: Well, you either have to participate in it or you're at the mercy of it. I will say I'm always amused when I turn on the television, and two people are at the same location but in boxes that make it appear as if somehow they don't just not subscribe to what the other one believes, but they're physically separated from any common viewpoint.

KURTZ: "The Hollywood Squares."

GIBBS: I think the president believes, having traveled around this country for so long now, that there's far more that unites us than divides us. That the truth is what makes really good television are not two people that are at the end of a four-or-five-minute segment going to come to an agreement, but at the end of the four-or- five-minute segment are, you know, maybe 30 seconds away from doing each other bodily harm.

KURTZ: How much cable news does the president watch?

GIBBS: Very little, and --

KURTZ: So how does he know how bad it is?

GIBBS: -- and that makes -- well, he watches -- you don't have to watch much of it to watch the World Wide Wrestling impact of how issues are bantered around.

KURTZ: He is right in some of his criticism about a lot of the chatter and debate and argument being pointless and partisan.

GIBBS: Right.

KURTZ: -- but I kind of get the impression that what really bugs him is the cable chatter that the White House doesn't like. You guys don't complain about MSNBC, whose opinion --


GIBBS: Well, I don't -- I think if you were to talk at individual hosts at MSNBC, you would know that we've been on the other end of many of those phone calls. I don't -- look, again I think it's when you take an issue that's as important as many that we're dealing with, again, and boil it down to a two-and-a-half or four-minute segment where people yell at each other. I'm not entirely sure what that does for people that watch. Maybe that's why, quite frankly, less people are watching. KURTZ: Well, that is true.

GIBBS: I would say this too. You know, I think --

KURTZ: A lot of people watching Fox though.

GIBBS: I would say that --

KURTZ: Let me ask you about Fox. The White House campaign against Fox News, did that end when Fox's Bret Baier was invited into the Oval Office, who a lot of people have called the interrupt-a-thon interview?

GIBBS: Well, I'll let Fox determine whether or not they got out of that interview what they wanted to get out of it based on the fact that -- I mean, I think the uniqueness of having an interview with the president is getting a chance to sit as close as we are and getting that insight. I mean, he could -- this was the last interview the president did before something as historic as health care passed.

KURTZ: Right.

GIBBS: I don't think historians will look back on that interview and think, boy, we really got a sense of what the president was thinking right before such a historic achievement.

KURTZ: But has the White House moved on --

GIBBS: Well, look --

KURTZ: -- from its criticism of Fox?

GIBBS: Well, look, Howard, I will say this -- that we are -- as you said, we live in a town in which you have to play the game. And we're happy to put guests on. We're happy to do interviews.

Obviously, I take questions from their correspondent each and every day in the briefing. I don't think many people have to watch Fox to understand the political slant that they have.

KURTZ: In the news coverage as well as the opinion shows?

GIBBS: Well, here's a good example. The president signed the START Treaty last week. And there was a lot of debate about whether us reducing our nuclear warheads was making this country less safe. And then the anchor disappeared, and for several seconds there was a 1960s video footage of a nuclear test and a mushroom cloud.

Now what you didn't see was -- you didn't see in any of that, where the last time we are familiar with seeing pictures of START treaties being signed, are that of Ronald Reagan, or when the president makes a pledge to end nuclear weapons on our planet --

KURTZ: Reagan did the same thing.

GIBBS: -- it mimics what -- or what Reagan. So I think in that case, you are -- and you've mentioned their increase in cable numbers. They're feeding an audience that they know wants to see and hear a certain side of that argument.

KURTZ: And speaking of detractors of this administration, Barack Obama, on several occasions, has called out by name Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity.

Doesn't he elevate their stature when he does that?

GIBBS: Well, again, their stature is largely elevated by the people that listen. Again, I think it's one of those things where if you're not -- you know, you have in all -- I think in a lot of different phases of the media people can make statements that aren't checked, right? The media, in some cases, covers the food fight, but doesn't necessarily check who started it and whether they started it for a reason that was legitimate or not.

KURTZ: So you want more fact-checking, and more accountability?

GIBBS: Well, I think you -- I think instead of covering the food fight, covering whether or not what people say is in fact right or wrong.

KURTZ: On that point I --

GIBBS: And I think --

KURTZ: On that point I agree with you.

President Obama has not held a full-scale news conference since last July. Now, I know your stock answer on this -- a full scale news conference, half an hour, 40 minutes, taking questions from the whole White House press corps.

GIBBS: Howard, what did you -- here is my question for you. What do you think he did last Tuesday afternoon at the nuclear security summit?

KURTZ: He took some questions.

GIBBS: He took some questions. How many questions?

KURTZ: You tell me.

GIBBS: He took eight questions for probably half an hour.


GIBBS: How many -- what would you consider what he did in February, when he went into the briefing room and took -- I'll help out on this one -- six or seven?

KURTZ: A mini news conference.

(LAUGHTER) KURTZ: Clearly, from the first six months of the term, where you were having a number of primetime news conferences -- and I know people said the president was overexposed then.

GIBBS: He wasn't, but --

KURTZ: You guys have -- you guys have pulled back from that particular format. You've decided it's not in your interest --

GIBBS: No, no, no.

KURTZ: -- to have that many --


GIBBS: Look, Howard, if it's not in my interest, why did I have the president -- why did I have the president take eight questions from eight different news outlets. Someone we'll say eight questions, some ways, I'm being charitable --


GIBBS: -- because if you watch any of the questions --

KURTZ: Follow-up, yes.

GIBBS: -- there's two or three at a time. So, again, the notion that -- this president has done more interviews --

KURTZ: He has.

GIBBS: -- more town hall meetings --

KURTZ: Right.

GIBBS: -- where he takes questions from everyday people. And I'll tell you this, Howard. I'm in my seventh year of working for him as a state senator, as a Senate candidate, as a U.S. senator, as a presidential candidate, now as president. There hasn't been one time in the 500 or 1,000 times in which we've done town hall meetings where I've ever known what somebody wanted to ask and when they wanted to ask it.

So, this president has taken questions through countless interviews, through answering questions directly from the media.

KURTZ: I'm not arguing that he's not accessible to media. I was just making a point about the news conferences. I appreciate your pushback.

GIBBS: But, again, I think this is a great and arbitrary Washington measure of --

KURTZ: How accessible a president is.

GIBBS: No. I think -- but it isn't, because -- I mean, I don't know if you would consider talking to Scott Wilson at "The Washington Post" to have been answering questions for --


KURTZ: I think all those interviews are important. I just think there is a hunger on the part of the press corps for more press conferences.

Let me move on and ask you about the art of the leak.


KURTZ: A couple of weeks ago, "The New York Times" had a front- page story about the president about to announce that day -- the next day -- a new policy on offshore oil drilling. It says, "Unnamed officials who agreed to preview the details on conditions that they not be identified."

That's would I would call an authorized leak. Why is it in the White House interest to give one news organizations a story before he makes the announcement?

GIBBS: Right. It's interesting.

You know, we talk about the news cycle. And if you think about it, what it used to be maybe 10 years ago or 15 years ago.

You'd say the news cycle lasted, you know, several hours -- six hours, eight hours. The news cycle now is continuous, right? Every reporter, quite honestly, is a wire reporter, because, immediately, their copy goes up on the Internet, the AP wire, cable television. So --

KURTZ: And we all blog.

GIBBS: Right. And Twitter and all that sort of thing. So --

KURTZ: So you need to get out ahead of that cycle?

GIBBS: This thing -- the news cycle starts at 5:00 a.m. in the morning. It lasts probably until 10:00 or 11:00 at night. It sleeps only a little bit before it all starts again. And on occasion we want to get ahead of what the news is going to be that day by letting folks know.

I will say this -- you know, we had a discussion with the White House correspondents earlier in the year about the use of background sources. And I offered the Correspondents Association -- I said, "Let's end background." Right? "We won't do background, you don't do background."

KURTZ: And the reaction?

GIBBS: And the specific offer was, if you've got a background source, one, you should put them on the record. And if you're not going to put them on the record, then have somebody at the White House -- KURTZ: Give an on-the-record response to what they have to say.

GIBBS: -- give them an opportunity to say that that is or is not true. And we would attach our name to it.

KURTZ: Is that because you don't like -- I mean, look, we just talked about an authorized leak. But every single day out of this building across the street, there are leaks. Senior administration officials say this, that and the other thing. A lot of times it's about internal meetings, what did Rahm say, what did Axelrod say?

GIBBS: But again --

KURTZ: You don't like those stories.

GIBBS: Well mostly because it's because of people that didn't win an argument --

KURTZ: Right.

GIBBS: -- in a policy discussion, or the president made a different decision. And then they want to find some way to litigate it in the media.

Now, I'm fine with that --

KURTZ: We have the cameras rolling. But don't you ever speak to reporters on background?

GIBBS: Absolutely. But -- and I've offered to end it. But it's got to be a two-way street.

Like I said, I'm happy to -- if somebody feels so passionately about an argument that they've just lost that they want to call somebody at "The Washington Post" up, why would they not use their name? I'd be happy to do that.

KURTZ: Because they don't want be identified.

GIBBS: But again, I --

KURTZ: But should we -- so you think journalists shouldn't accept that?

GIBBS: I think what we could all do is do better.


GIBBS: And I think we could all put what we want to say to the American people and to the news media all on the record.


KURTZ: Back live in the studio.

More of my one-on-one with Robert Gibbs in a moment, including why he says press briefings get so contentious, and his newest love affair, Twitter.


KURTZ: More now of my sit-down at the Old Executive Office Building with Robert Gibbs.


KURTZ: When you're in the briefing room and just getting hammered by reporters on whatever is the hot issue of the day --


KURTZ: -- it seems like you have about 57 ways of not answering the question. You'll tell a joke. You will give a very long answer. You'll say, "I'll get back to on that."

I sometimes get the impression that you don't like to make news at these briefings.

GIBBS: No. I think -- I will tell you, Howard, I spend a lot of time thinking -- not a lot of time. I've spent some time thinking of, I wonder what the briefings would be like if it really wasn't a cable TV show?

KURTZ: There was Mike McCurry, who let the cameras in.

GIBBS: Yes. And I think Mike would be the first one to tell you it was both the best and the worst decision that he ever made.

KURTZ: So you think the correspondents are playing to the cameras?

GIBBS: I think we all are. I'm not absolving myself from that.

KURTZ: Right.

GIBBS: But I think --

KURTZ: But sometimes there are perfectly straightforward questions not necessarily asked with a whole lot of flamboyance that you kind of dance around. And maybe you see that as your job.

GIBBS: No, I don't see that as my -- I think, again, if I give a longer answer, it's my hope to give a broader set of context to what might or might not be being asked.

KURTZ: And yet, you know that 20 seconds of that at most might get used on an evening newscast.

GIBBS: And -- but I think there are people that watch the whole briefing, or there are people that will read the transcript of the briefing. And I think -- again, I think what's important is there are so many issues that we're dealing with that are hard to boil down to 20 seconds. So --

KURTZ: Financial regulation, not a 20-second issue.

GIBBS: Financial -- exactly. And that's why, you know, one of the things that we're trying to do more of is bring folks like we did with Secretary Geithner, bring them into the briefing room to talk directly to the White House press corps about the issues that we're working on, on financial reform, what are our bottom lines? But I do wonder -- I do -- again, I wonder at times what it would be like if we turned the cameras off and we could just have a discussion.

I sometimes joke that I know when somebody thinks they have a good question, because when I walk in they've already got their make up on.

KURTZ: Well, I think the networks probably wouldn't cotton to that suggestion, but I take your point.

Before I let you go, you recently joined Twitter.


KURTZ: And I've got to tell you, at first you were kind of boring. You were kind of putting out the talking points and linking to favorable articles.

Lately, you seem like you've gotten into it. You even tweeted about an 18-mile bike ride that you took.

GIBBS: I needed some advice on how to -- on some biking. And it was -- I have to admit --

KURTZ: What do you get out of being on Twitter?

GIBBS: Well, I got on Twitter. The president -- head of states called a news conference, because I don't want to -- when the president did his mini news conference in February, you know, there's the seats along the wall that normally my deputies sit in when I'm up there. So I sat in one of these seats, and --

KURTZ: And they're all --


GIBBS: Right. Bill Burton had his laptop, and Twitter up. And to me, it was fascinating, because I'm watching the White House press corps sitting 10 or 15 feet away from me reacting to and responding to the questions that were asked and the answers that the president were giving --

KURTZ: We're getting a real-time glimpse of what's going on in their heads.

GIBBS: It was to me fascinating. And it to me was a -- I thought it was an amazing tool to know -- OK. I mean, it's my job to know what is important to reporters. And this was, to me, a great medium to do that. I also think it's a fabulous medium in which to communicate with not just the White House press corps, but tens of thousands of people that want to know what the president is doing, or a picture of who he met with. And I found it to be fascinating.

KURTZ: But, of course, instead of being in the 24-hour news cycle, you're now in the 24-second news cycle on Twitter.

GIBBS: Well, it takes an amazing amount of discipline to write out all of what you want to say in 140 characters or less. If you ever -- if you ever watch me do it, it takes me a few minutes to sort of edit even myself down. I just think it's a fascinating, fast- moving medium.

I am trying to do a little bit -- I am balancing the fact that it is a -- it's a White House -- it's an official White House account with also sharing --

KURTZ: Your own --

GIBBS: Right, some sort of interesting things.

KURTZ: You're the first White House press secretary to have to communicate in 140 characters.

GIBBS: It's a great challenge. But it's -- I tell you, it's a lot of fun.

KURTZ: Robert Gibbs, thanks very much for sitting down with us today.

GIBBS: Thank you.


KURTZ: After that interview, Gibbs tweeted that he had gone kayaking.

Now, we don't yet have a Supreme Court nominee, as Gibbs and I discussed. But the White House denounced CBS News this week for a report on one leading contender, Solicitor General Elena Kagan.

The CBS Web site reprinted a column by conservative blogger Ben Domenech saying that Kagan would be "the first openly gay justice." Administration officials, speaking on background, say Kagan isn't gay. And when CBS refused to delete the posing, adviser Anita Dunn told me the network was "posting lies" and applying old stereotypes with single women with successful careers. eventually killed the column and the network and Domenech both apologized for spreading an unsubstantiated rumor.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, outing Oprah. Kitty Kelley takes on the queen of daytime in her latest controversial celebrity biography. But is a talk show host fair game for questions about her sex life? Plus, courting Conan. The late-night funnyman moving to basic cable. Is this a giant step down for the comic who once held forth on "The Tonight Show"?


KURTZ: Oprah is a billionaire who sits atop a sizeable media empire -- syndicated talk show, production company, "O" magazine, and the forthcoming Oprah Winfrey Network. But she keeps her distance from most ordinary journalists, granting few interviews these days and using her mini platforms to shape and control her image.


OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: This has been very embarrassing to me, and I deeply regret leaving the impression that I did from the Larry King show that the truth doesn't matter, because it does.

So, I wanted to do for these girls what my father did for me, because at 14 years old, I was headed for a detention home, kicked out of my mother's house, and the detention home was filled. And so I was -- she said, "You can't stay in my house another day."

Season 25 will be the last season of "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

KURTZ (voice-over): Now a celebrity biographer is presenting a somewhat different picture of Oprah. Kitty Kelley, who has done books on Jackie O., Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan, the Bush family, and the British royals, is out this week with her 500-page take on the talk show queen.


KURTZ: And Kitty Kelley joins me now in the studio to talk about the book called "Oprah: A Biography." And it's already stirring controversy.



KURTZ: You say that lots of major TV programs have refused to have you on to talk about this book because Oprah is such a powerful figure. But you were on "The Today Show" this week.

KELLEY: Exactly. The broadcasting boycott has really been overplayed, I think, by the media.

KURTZ: You've talked about it. You said, "Barbara Walters, Larry King won't have me on."

KELLEY: Yes. Several.

KURTZ: How do you know that they're intimidated by Oprah Winfrey? KELLEY: Well, because their producers said to the publisher that they just couldn't afford to rupture their relations with Oprah. But you're right, certainly not "The Today Show," certainly not Fox News, and certainly not CNN. I've had a lot --

KURTZ: Larry King says he hasn't talked to you in five years, so he wouldn't have been involved in the decision.

KELLEY: Oh, indeed. He was asked to book this show, but he said he just couldn't do it because of Oprah.

KURTZ: Well, his producers were asked to book the show.

KELLEY: Right, exactly. When I say "they said," I mean their producers.


KURTZ: OK. I just wanted to clarify that.

I want to take up on a question that Matt Lauer asked you. You were on "The Today Show," as I mentioned.

Let's play that and we'll talk about it on the other side.


MATT LAUER, "THE TODAY SHOW": In your opinion, Kitty, when someone in this society, in this country, accepts the mantle of celebrity, to whatever degree, great celebrity, minor celebrity, do they give up the right to hold some things as personal?

KELLEY: No, I don't think so. In Oprah's case, though, she has put it out there.


KURTZ: You don't put very much, if at all, off limits in this book about Oprah.

KELLEY: No, I don't. And I -- on the question that Matt Lauer offered about privacy, legally there is no privacy. And journalistically, for celebrities, as he says, who accept the mantle of celebrity, it sounds like it comes down from God.

KURTZ: Well, she's a huge cultural figure.

KELLEY: She's a huge cultural figure.

KURTZ: But she's not -- she doesn't hold any public office. Why would you --

KELLEY: I'll tell you why. Because Oprah has such influence in this culture.

She has more influence on our lives, possibly, than the government. Think about it.

Oprah tells us -- she tells us how to live our best lives. She tells her viewers every single day who they can -- who they should vote for, politicians they should vote for, charities they should contribute to, causes they should support, what medicines to take, what surgeries to have.

KURTZ: Well, she gets her fingers in a lot of things. I don't think until Barack --

KELLEY: But those of us who really follow her and embrace her, we need an understanding of this woman.

KURTZ: OK. Fair enough. And I don't think until Barack Obama, she told us which politicians to support.

But you get into all this speculation about her sexual orientation, her relationship with Gayle King. Why go there?

KELLEY: Because when you're doing a biography, you want the total picture. And sexuality is very much a part of it.

KURTZ: But you were not able to answer that question? You raised it --

KELLEY: I didn't set out to -- there's a great deal of speculation about Oprah's sexuality because she brought it up. She issued a press release years ago when she went on Ellen DeGeneres' show to play the therapist when Ellen was going to make television history and come out as a lesbian. And Oprah got a lot of feedback from that.

She issued a press release, an official statement saying, "I am not gay, I'm not coming out of the closet, I am not a lesbian." In that time, she brought -- this is a woman who's been engaged to Stedman Graham since 1992, and will probably never marry him, at least according to what her father told me. And she travels and is seen more frequently with Gayle King. It is not a question that came from me, it is a question that is raised frequently.

KURTZ: An elephant in the room.

KELLEY: The elephant in the room.

KURTZ: Now, I know you compiled all of Oprah Winfrey's many interviews over the years, but how hard was it to report this book without her cooperation and many of those who were closest to her?

KELLEY: I interviewed about 850 people over a period of four years to write this book. And surprisingly, most of my sources are on the record. They range from Phil Donahue, Gloria Steinem, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who adored Oprah.

KURTZ: I noticed that, and I wonder if you were responding to criticism from your earlier books that you rely too heavily on unnamed sources, because you do have a lot of people on the record. KELLEY: Well, you know, I try and name every single person. I mean, when I wrote the Frank Sinatra book more than 20 years ago, I thought, I'm putting every single person on the record.

You can't do it. You simply can't do it, because people sometimes put their jobs in danger. Employees who talk to me who have worked for Oprah in the past, and a couple that work for her now, stepped forward to talk to me. They did it under real legal pressure.

These people have signed confidentiality agreements never to talk. And Oprah, she's even got her magazine, people that work and are associated with her magazine -- few magazines in this country bind their employees to confidentiality agreements.

KURTZ: You told the story in the book -- this was about 20 years ago -- that the "New Yorker" magazine wanted the novelist Erica Jong to profile Oprah. They had a friendly relationship.

And Erica Jong, on the record, says to you that she did not want anyone -- she, Oprah -- did not want anyone writing about her, especially a white woman for a white publication. And she quotes Oprah Winfrey as saying, "I don't need a honky magazine to canonize me."

What do you make of that answer?

KELLEY: Well, in the book, the context is she had gotten hammered by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison in "The New York Times" Sunday magazine. And I think she was responding to that. She has really never gotten over that interview.

And Howie, you've got to understand that for the last 25 years, Oprah has really, for the most part, had halo coverage. And so when Barbara Grizzuti Harrison came out with this piece in "The New York Times" Sunday magazine, Oprah was incensed.

KURTZ: Do you think the press has been overall -- I mean, she's a major, wealthy, self-made woman. Do you think the press overall has been too soft on her?


KURTZ: You said halo coverage.

KELLEY: She has had halo coverage.

KURTZ: Why does anybody in our society get halo coverage?

KELLEY: I wonder. I wonder, Howie.

KURTZ: Well, she -- you know, one of the things that some reviewers have said about your book is that Oprah, herself, has talked about her sexual abuse, the child she gave birth to when s he was 15 that didn't live, her weight issues and all of that. She's opened up a lot of these areas of inquiry, and so that makes it harder for a biographer, I would think, to unearth much that is new. KELLEY: Well, I don't think that's a biographer's job, really, to unearth what's new. I was very lucky that there is a lot in this book that is new, but I don't think when you set out to give the totality of somebody's life, you're necessarily looking for anything new.

I mean, when I went to interview her Aunt Katherine (ph) in Mississippi, I had no idea that Vernon Winfrey was not her biological father. But what I did know by that time is that Oprah lives a life cloaked in secrecy. And I found myself as the biographer getting sucked into the secrets.

KURTZ: Right. All right.

Kitty Kelley, good luck with the book. Thanks very much for coming in this Sunday morning.

KELLEY: Thank you, Howie.

KURTZ: Up next, the show must go on. Conan O'Brien taking his act to TBS. Is this a troubling sign for the big broadcast networks?


KURTZ: It was the pinnacle of any comedian's career, but Conan O'Brien didn't get to savor it for long. In what became something of a national spectator sport, he got into a bitingly personal feud with the man he had replaced at "The Tonight Show."


CONAN O'BRIEN, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": You can do anything you want in life. Yes. Yes. Unless Jay Leno wants to do it too.


KURTZ: You know the rest. NBC brought Leno back to "The Tonight Show" from his primetime debacle. Conan walked with a $33 million settlement. And everyone figured he would go to Fox.

But this week came the surprise announcement. Conan O'Brien had signed with TBS, the home of such reruns as "Married With Children," "Seinfeld," and "Everybody Loves Raymond."

TBS, owned by CNN's parent company, Time Warner, hadn't been on anybody's radar. Conan put it this way: "In three months, I've gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theaters, and now I'm headed to basic cable. My plan is working perfectly."

Joining us now to talk about whether this move makes sense and whether it signals a cultural shift away from the big broadcast networks, in New York, Rachel Sklar, editor-at-large at And in Kansas City, Aaron Barnhart, television critic for "The Kansas City Star."

Aaron Barnhart, at first glance, this seems like a real comedown for Conan after "The Tonight Show."

AARON BARNHART, FOUNDER, "TV BARN": Actually, I didn't follow any of the insider gossip, so I was as surprised as anybody. And yet, the minute they announced it, it sounded terrific. It just sounded like a homerun, but to get inside why it works, I think you have to understand some of the ironies here.

He gets to move to 11:00, the earliest he's ever been on in late- night, and yet he arguably is going to be doing edgier material than he did at 12:35 at NBC. He's now doing a program where he's giving up a lot of his audience because cable audiences are traditionally smaller, but it's going to be more advertiser-friendly. So it's actually going to raise his profile.

And you know what? At the end of the day, he may actually be able to grab that crown that he dreamed of all along his 17-year journey here.

KURTZ: Well, we'll see about that.

BARNHART: And that's to be the king of late night.

KURTZ: You used the phrase "raise his profile" on TBS. They're not usually used in the same sentence.

Rachel Sklar, do you see a benefit to Conan O'Brien not having to chase a mass audience like a Leno or a Letterman?

RACHEL SKLAR, EDITOR-AT -LARGE, MEDIAITE.COM: Sure. Conan can invent his own ticket here at TBS. And I think, crucially, what this deal shows is that Conan gets ownership of his show and, you know, the potential of launching other properties.

I think what this new media world has shown is you have to go to where your audience is. You can't just expect them to come to you at the vaunted appointed hour the way things always were, because there are simply more choices now and more platforms. The way Conan described how his plan was working perfectly is actually evidence of how he's operating intelligently for this new media space because he's adapting.

KURTZ: And he's big on Twitter.

So, Aaron Barnhart, does this signify -- he didn't go to Fox because they couldn't make the deal, and the affiliates like that time because they make money off it. But does this signify that for this kind of entertainer, that the broadcast networks are now old hat and that cable is the hot new destination?

BARNHART: The late-night market has changed a lot since CBS poured out all those millions of dollars to lure David Letterman over to do an 11:35 show for them. The margins are smaller.

I don't think I buy NBC's line that Conan O'Brien was actually losing money for them. I think that was some of that famous Hollywood accounting we hear from. KURTZ: But Leno's audience is now bigger. It's not as big as it once was before the debacle, but it's bigger than what Conan had been drawing.

BARNHART: Yes, but, you know, the problem now that NBC has is that Jay Leno is back, and his audience is not bigger than it was before, and it's getting older. In fact, it's aging more rapidly than it would have, I think, if he had just stayed on and not had this mess. And that's going to raise a big issue for NBC in three or four years when it comes to time to renegotiate Jay Leno's deal.

KURTZ: Go ahead.

SKLAR: NBC only thinks in terms of five years ago. So --

KURTZ: But, Rachel, there was a lot of talk on this program and elsewhere during that whole soap opera about how Leno was coming off as the bad guy because he was coming back after giving up "The Tonight Show" throne and squeezing Conan out of his 1135 timeslot.

Well, isn't Conan basically doing the same thing to TBS? George Lopez had been on at that hour and he's agreed to go an hour later to make room for Conan. I mean, it's a business.

SKLAR: Well, you know, they've all made a very big point of saying that Conan absolutely would not have "Leno'd another comedian." George Lopez called him to say that he thought it was a great idea. Everyone seems very much on board. I think, actually --


KURTZ: Don't you think that's just a PR spin?

SKLAR: It could be spin, but I really doubt it. You know, think that what Conan really gained from that whole situation that happened what seemed ages ago, but was really only a few months ago, was real authenticity. And I think that he's brought that here.

Joe Adley (ph) at "The Wrap" said something that was very intelligent. He said that, "Talent, at the end of the day, wants to go where it's loved and wanted." And, you know, Jay Leno said through this whole thing, hey, it's just a business.

Well, you know what? People of that caliber talent, they want to go where they can love their work and work with people who appreciate them.

BARNHART: And that is the big advantage that cable TV has over network. Network, at the end of the day, still, with its lower audience numbers, has to please a much bigger crowd than cable ever has to.

Look at what Conan is coming into. He's going to follow "Family Guy" and "The Office." You couldn't ask for a better audience than the lead-in that he's going to get from those two shows. If he would have been over at Fox, who knows what his lead-in would have been? KURTZ: Well, OK. But at the same time, Jon Stewart, who he'll now be competing with, he follows the lead-in of "South Park."

Let me mention one other thing that happened this week, a rather dramatic development at Fox News, where Sean Hannity was yanked back by Fox executives. He was going to do his program in Cincinnati before a live audience. We've seen him out on the road appearing with Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann before these live audiences. He's promoting a book.

But this was a Tea Party event at which the Tea Party organizers were charging as much as $100 for tickets. That was too much for Fox executives, and Hannity was flown back on his private jet, to be sure, to New York. The plans for that show were canceled.

And I think this was a good move by Fox executives. It seems to have given Hannity and some of the other hosts a really loose rein.

I am told by sources that Fox now plans to keep a tighter rein on Hannity and others. And I can't remember the last time I've seen a program actually get cancelled and the host unceremoniously ordered back to headquarters. And it was interesting thing that we wanted to share with you.

Aaron Barnhart and Rachel Sklar, thanks very much for joining us to talk about the late-night wars, which I'm sure we'll talk about more once Conan makes his debut.

Coming up, "THE SOUND OF SUNDAY." Politicians are out talking about financial reform this weekend. Candy Crowley joins us to break it down.


KURTZ: And joining us now for a look at what's been happening on the other Sunday talk shows is Candy Crowley.

And Candy, the debate over the administration's financial reform bill really heating up this week.

What have Tim Geithner, the treasury secretary, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, been saying about this question of whether there will be future bank bailouts under this legislation?

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": Well, first of all, turn the page. It's not the public option any more that they're arguing about on health care, it is this liquidation fund.

And Senator McConnell has said all week long this is a bailout. This is yet another bailout, endless bailouts. And the Democrats have been pushing back. And the president said on his Saturday radio show, you know, the Republican leader is being deceitful, so that's where we start the recent war of words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: I think he ought to talk to his own treasury secretary, who agrees with me, as well as "The Washington Post, "The Wall Street Journal," that there is a bailout fund in the bill that was reported out of the Banking Committee.

CROWLEY: But that bailout is funded by the banks themselves, is it not? It's not a taxpayer bailout.

MCCONNELL: Well, Robert Reich, who was Bill Clinton's secretary of labor, says it's a bailout fund. I mean, regardless of how the money is produced, it is a bailout fund that sort of guarantees in perpetuity that we'll be intervening once again to bail out these big firms.



TIMOTHY GEITHNER, TREASURY SECRETARY: That's absolutely not true. And as some of his members say, it was a bit over the top.

I have spent a lot of time with Republicans over the last several months, in the last few weeks, even last week, end of last week. And I believe that we are very close on this, that we agree on the vast bulk of the things necessary to end "too big to fail," protect taxpayers in the future. And that's one reason why I'm so confident.


CROWLEY: Of course, one of the things that we found with health care reform was that we heard a lot of Republicans, Democrats saying, well, we agree on a lot of things. But in the end, it's that final 10 or 20 percent that gets them.

KURTZ: And Republicans saying start over --

CROWLEY: Exactly.

KURTZ: -- as they did so many times during the health care debate.

CROWLEY: It all has an echo.

KURTZ: Let me also ask you about Florida Governor Charlie Crist. He started out with a huge lead in his race for the Senate. Now he's trailing by something like 30 points. There is chatter that he may drop out and run as an Independent.

He hasn't flatly denied that, but what's the latest this Sunday morning?

CROWLEY: The governor has just tanked. He has tanked to Marco Rubio, who is a Tea Party-backed candidate, more conservative than Crist. Crist is just getting his head handed to him in this thing, and now he has signed a bill very unpopular with Republicans in Florida.

KURTZ: He vetoed it.

CROWLEY: I'm sorry, he vetoed a bill. You're right. Very unpopular with Republicans.

Florida has started all this talk, oh, he's going to turn into an Independent. Now we're seeing two people who were on the talk shows today, Mitch McConnell and John McCain, both of whom are Crist backers in this particular race. You can now hear them sort of beginning to back off.

Take a listen.


MCCONNELL: It looks like Marco Rubio is running a very effective campaign and seems to have the lead. I'm going to be there behind the Republican nominee, whoever that is. He would lose all Republican support if he were to run as an Independent.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I hope that Charlie Crist will remain a Republican.


CROWLEY: So, Charlie Crist has got a couple of weeks to figure out his future.

KURTZ: It's a fascinating snapshot of the tensions within the Republican Party with some people who were perfectly good Republicans before but now are deemed insufficiently conservative.

CROWLEY: At least in the primary process. We'll see how this plays out. But Charlie Crist isn't the only one that's getting a challenge from the right.

KURTZ: Candy Crowley, thanks.

Still to come, making a buck. As the Library of Congress acquires every public tweet ever posted, is Twitter about to become corrupted by advertising?

Your feedback, next.


KURTZ: Twitter has become part of a bloodstream of journalism for me and countless others. It's simplicity providing an ideal way of spreading the news. But the company has always wrestled with this question: How could it make any money?


KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: It might surprise you to learn Twitter has yet to make a dime.

KURTZ (voice-over): But that's about to change. The Web site is going to slip 140 character ads onto people's pages -- these are called promoted tweets -- on subjects related to what you're writing about or searching for.

So, along with comments from Chuck Todd or Jake Tapper or Ed Henry or Stephen Colbert, you'd get a steady diet of pitches for the likes of Starbucks, Best Buy, Virgin America and Bravo.

Well, Colbert did ask co-founder Biz Stone if he had some kind of plan.

STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE COLBERT RAPPORT": Are you going to make money off of this?


COLBERT: How? How are you going --

STONE: We're going to become a strong, profitable, independent company.

KURTZ: The move comes as some media holdouts are finally joining Twitter's 105 million registered users and talking about it on the air.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: We're ready to go if you want to -- here it is. At 8:58:43, it's out. Yes, there it is.

See. I give up. I was wrong, young and foolish.

COURIC: I'm Katie Couric. Thanks for watching. Good night.

KURTZ: I asked my 24,000 followers what they think of the new advertising policy, and here are some of the responses.

Scott Easeman (ph): "I have no issue with it. Twitter is a free service. They've given us a great service. Time to give back."

Politicite (ph): "Another way to trash a good thing. It's all downhill from here."

JackStateFan (ph), "There are already a lot of self-promoting selling tweets on here already."

That's true. People like to promote themselves.

TonyFratto -- hey, he's the former Bush White House spokesman -- "Nah. I kind of like the sponsored tweets. Fun. Trying to determine what the tweet ads say about me."

(END VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ: Look, if that's the price of staying in business, I want to make sure that I can keep on tweeting and, more important, reading the tweets of lots of interesting people from all walks of life. After all, it's Twitter. At least the ads will be short.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Join us again next Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media. You can also follow us on our Facebook page and you can check me out on Twitter.

Now "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley. That begins right now.