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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Interview With Michael Hastings; Interview With Lara Logan
Aired June 27, 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: My first reaction was probably the same as yours: "He said these things to a reporter? A reporter for "Rolling Stone?" Did General Stanley McChrystal think he was off the record when he and his top aides uttered the insults that cost the commander of the Afghan war his job?
This morning, we'll talk to journalist Michael Hastings, whose article prompted the president to fire McChrystal. And CBS' Lara Logan, who has plenty of experience in war zones, joins us in examining the journalistic issues.
The Natalee Holloway saga is again all over TV. But why is it such a big story? A candid conversation with ABC's Chris Cuomo, just back from Aruba, about the media's parade of missing white women.
And in a move that has drawn plenty of criticism, CNN has signed Eliot Spitzer -- that's right, the disgraced former governor of New York -- as a primetime host. Why exactly is that a good idea? We'll ask the president of CNN, Jon Kline.
Plus, a top "National Enquirer" editor on whether the tabloids should have published a masseuse's uncorroborated four-year-old allegation against Al Gore.
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
"Rolling Stone" may have put a provocative picture of Lady Gaga on the cover this week, but that was rather mild compared to the explosive material inside: reporter Michael Hastings spending weeks with General McChrystal and his top advisers, quoting them on the record and on background as disparaging to the civilian leadership, calling President Obama unprepared and National Security Adviser James Jones a clown.
The controversy utterly dominated the media, and the president quickly confronted his runaway general.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: After an embarrassing, devastating "Rolling Stone" magazine article crippled his command, General Stan McChrystal was relieved of his duty today.
CHIP REID, CBS NEWS (voice-over): The president said that while he admired McChrystal's military career, comments in an article in "Rolling Stone" magazine simply crossed the line.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But was Michael Hastings fair to the military men who trusted him? I spoke to him earlier from Kabul.
KURTZ: Michael Hastings, welcome.
Stanley McChrystal gave you an unusual degree of access. And your reporting cost him his job. Any regrets about that?
MICHAEL HASTINGS, CONTRIBUTOR, "ROLLING STONE": I went out to try to tell the best story that I could and write what I saw, I heard and thought. And I had really no control over, you know, the aftereffects. And that really wasn't what I was focusing on. What I was focusing on was trying to write the best story that I could to bring attention to the war in Afghanistan.
I did not expect the fallout that occurred. In fact, I didn't even think that it was possible for General McChrystal to even get fired.
KURTZ: And he got fired rather quickly by President Obama.
Do you think that McChrystal and his top aides got so used to your hanging around that they let their guard down?
HASTINGS: No. I don't think that was the case, because some of the most talked-about parts of the piece happened within the first 24 hours that I was with his team.
One of the most -- I guess people have called it inflammatory passages is when I quote a top adviser saying, "Biden -- did you say 'bite me'?" That was the second morning I was with them in Paris covering an on-the-record meeting that they were having to prepare for a speech later on.
I mean, in fly-on-the-wall journalism, you're there to capture exactly those kinds of moments.
KURTZ: But when you are there --
HASTINGS: That what makes fly-on-the-wall journalism so wonderful to read.
KURTZ: When you are there that much, you don't think it's likely that McChrystal and his team assume that some of their joking, that some of their banter would be treated by you as off the record?
HASTINGS: I think you'd have to ask General McChrystal and his team what they assumed. But for me, when I go in to write a profile, and no ground rules are laid down, and I'm there to write an on-the- record profile and cover readings while in the room, then that means it's on the record.
I mean, it's not much of a mystery. If someone tells you something is off the record, I don't print it. If they don't tell me something is off the record, then it's fair game. I don't think --
KURTZ: You got some criticism --
HASTINGS: -- it's the job of a journalist to, after someone says something --
KURTZ: Right. Not to -- granted, retroactively.
You got some criticism for quoting one comment by one aide while he was getting drunk, or "hammered" is the way you put it. Any second thoughts about that?
HASTINGS: Which quote are you referring to?
KURTZ: I don't have the piece in front of me, but certainly its been widely commented upon that there was some drinking going on.
HASTINGS: Yes. There was drinking going on.
But the only quote from that scene, if I remember, were two of the top senior military officials singing a song that they called "The Afghanistan Song." So I quoted the refrain which was, "Afghanistan!" "Afghanistan!"
And then I quoted General McChrystal observing his men, and saying, "I'd die for these men, and they'd die for me." I don't see what's so controversial about those quotes.
I have to say, I've been in Kandahar and Kabul the last few days, so I haven't really kept up with, you know, what people are saying --
HASTINGS: -- about the piece.
HASTINGS: I have a general idea, but I haven't really been --
KURTZ: Did the rest of the media, in your view, protect General McChrystal? I mean, there are a lot of glowing profiles about this guy. "Newsweek" called him a "Jedi Warrior."
You come in. You're not a beat reporter. You're there to do one piece, and you gave us a very different side of the way the war is being run. HASTINGS: Oh, I'm positive that that's the case with General McChrystal. He was a subject of a series of glowing profiles. And there's -- this is actually an interesting journalistic point.
There's a reason why when General McChrystal took the job, everyone writes a glowing profile of him, because then that assures access later on. And that assures better -- if you ever write a favorable story, they'll get better access later.
And that was a game General McChrystal's team played very well, that if you get -- that if you write us a good story, we'll give you good access.
They gave unprecedented access to everybody. You know, they let -- you know, debriefings. They let you hang out with them. And they try to make you feel like you're part of the team.
But that's an illusion. You're really part of the team. You know?
And they know that and you know that. You're a journalist. You're there to tell -- you're there to tell it like it is. I'm sort of shocked --
KURTZ: So, just briefly, you're saying --
HASTINGS: -- or a bit surprised that --
KURTZ: You're saying that in your view, journalists who are going to be covering these guys regularly, covering the war, wrote puff pieces for the express purpose of being able to get more inside stuff, more access from the general and his top officials?
HASTINGS: Absolutely. And I don't think that's exclusive just to General McChrystal and the reporters covering him. And it's not -- certainly it's not all reporters. But I think that's definitely a symptom. I mean, you can go back and read the profiles, anyone can, to see what I'm talking about.
KURTZ: Well, in fact, you wrote about it.
HASTINGS: But that happens all the time in reporting.
KURTZ: Yes. And on that point, you wrote a piece for "GQ" magazine about a different kind of embedding, being embedded with the presidential campaign. And you said, "You pretend to be friendly and non-threatening. And over time you build trust, which everyone knows is an illusion. If the time comes, if your editors calls for it, you're supposed to (EXPLETIVE DELETED) them over."
Is that what you did here?
HASTINGS: No, because, actually, I didn't have to seduce them or get them to like me very much at all. The most newsworthy things in the piece they said up front, as I mentioned.
But listen, I mean, I'm pretty transparent, right? I wrote a piece where I explained what journalists do. All they had to do is read that piece, and that could have given them a better idea of what -- you know, what journalists do in general.
HASTINGS: So I feel I've been pretty transparent with my methods. And it was pretty easily accessible. But also, you know, in this particular case, really, I did not have to work very hard to get them to say the things they said.
KURTZ: I see. But let me ask you this --
KURTZ: -- talking about being transparent. Bill O'Reilly said on his Fox program this week that you're a far-left guy. And he cited I guess the same "GQ" piece where you talked about Rudy Giuliani is a maniac, and you wanted to save America from the horror of a President Giuliani. And you talked about John McCain as Captain Ahab.
So, are you on the liberal side of things, and are you -- do you have doubts about the Afghan War?
HASTINGS: I didn't know thinking Rudy Giuliani was a maniac was exclusive to the far left. But it also should be noted, I wrote two critical articles about Bill O'Reilly a number of years ago, bringing up some of his indiscretions in his past. So maybe he remembered those.
But no, look, hey, if Bill O'Reilly is calling you a far-left critic, in my book, no matter what your political persuasion is, that's probably -- that probably means you're doing a good job. And if you --
KURTZ: All right, Michael Hastings --
HASTINGS: -- read the piece closely, and look at the reaction --
KURTZ: I've got half a minute. Sorry to cut you off.
You have a lot of in-depth reporting in this piece about the counter-insurgency strategy and the frustrations of prosecuting this war. Do you think that's all been overshadowed by the somewhat inflammatory comments that led to General McChrystal's firing?
HASTINGS: Well, the only reason people are even reading the story is because of the actual human side of it, how these guys really interact. I mean, when I go out on an embed with a normal unit of American troops, I'm going to sort of capture their banter, capture how they are, capture their venting. Why would I treat General McChrystal and his team any different than I would anyone else? I guess that that would be my question.
KURTZ: You certainly did illuminate the human side of war.
Michael Hastings, thank you very much for joining us from Afghanistan.
HASTINGS: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
KURTZ: When we come back, do beat reporters cut military leaders more slack in war zones than a "Rolling Stone" guy? And should they?
CBS' Lara Logan joins us next.
KURTZ: The "Rolling Stone" piece that ended General McChrystal's career raises an intriguing journalistic question: Could this have happened with a military beat reporter?
Joining us now is a woman with plenty of experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, CBS' chief foreign correspondent, Lara Logan.
If you had been traveling with General McChrystal and heard these comments about Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Jim Jones, Richard Holbrooke, would you have reported them?
LARA LOGAN, CBS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it really depends on the circumstances. It's hard to know -- Michael Hastings, if you believe him, says that there were no ground rules laid out. And, I mean, that just doesn't really make a lot of sense to me, because if you look at the people around General McChrystal, if you look at his history, he was the Joint Special Operations commander. He has a history of not interacting with the media at all.
And his chief of intelligence, Mike Flynn, is the same. I mean, I know these people. They never let their guard down like that.
To me, something doesn't add up here. I just -- I don't believe it.
KURTZ: When you are out with the troops and you're living together and sleeping together, is there an unspoken agreement --
KURTZ: -- that you're not going to embarrass them by reporting insults and banter?
KURTZ: Tell me about that.
LOGAN: Yes, absolutely. There is an element of trust.
And what I find is the most telling thing about what Michael Hastings said in your interview is that he talked about his manner as pretending to build an illusion of trust and, you know, he's laid out there what his game is. That is exactly the kind of damaging type of attitude that makes it difficult for reporters who are genuine about what they do, who don't -- I don't go around in my personal life pretending to be one thing and then being something else. I mean, I find it egregious that anyone would do that in their professional life.
And, I mean, I take that to the point of, even when I plan to interview someone about something difficult, and they want to know the areas of the interview, I might not say, well, we're going to spend the whole interview on this, but I will list that. I will list that controversial issue.
KURTZ: Because you don't want to blindside them.
LOGAN: Because I don't believe in that.
KURTZ: But don't beat reporters -- aren't they nice to people to gain their confidence, and sometimes they have to write things that are not flattering?
LOGAN: Of course. I mean, the military is a good example.
I have never been -- they never know what to do with me because I've never been accused of being right wing. And they want to paint me as left wing because they expect the media to be that way. But, if you look at my body of work, it's been always been accurate and fair.
Now, Michael Hastings might look at my body of work and say, well, there's an example of another one of those reporters, unlike me, that didn't go and tell the truth because they wanted to come back. That's not the case at all.
KURTZ: He says that all of the things that have been written about Stanley McChrystal have been these glowing profiles. He's suggesting that he did a job that the regular beat journalists have not done.
LOGAN: I think that's insulting and arrogant, myself. I really do, because there are very good beat reporters who have been covering these wars for years, year after year.
Michael Hastings appeared in Baghdad fairly late on the scene, and he was there for a significant period of time. He has his credentials, but he's not the only one.
There are a lot of very good reporters out there. And to be fair to the military, if they believe that a piece is balanced, they will let you back. They may not have loved it. They didn't love the piece I did about hand grenades being thrown in Iraq that were killing troops. They didn't love that piece, it made a lot of people very angry. They didn't block me from coming back.
KURTZ: "The Washington Post" quoted an unnamed senior military official as saying that Michael Hastings broke the off-the-record ground rules. But the person who said this was on background and wouldn't allow his name to be used.
Is that fair?
LOGAN: Well, it's Kryptonite right now. I mean, do you blame him?
The commanding general in Afghanistan just lost his job. Who else is going to lose his job?
Believe me, all the senior leadership in Afghanistan are waiting for the ax to fall. I've been speaking to some of them. They don't know who is going to stay and who is going to go.
I mean, the question is, really, is what General McChrystal and his aides are doing so egregious, that they deserved to end a career like McChrystal's? I mean, Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has.
KURTZ: Is this going to prompt the military, in general, the commanders in Afghanistan in particular, to be more wary of journalists?
LOGAN: Of course, because what you see is not what you get. Clearly, you've got someone who is making friends with you, pretending to be sympathetic, pretending to be something that they're not, and then they're taking what you say -- when you start an article with General McChrystal making obscene gestures, you're not even using something that he said.
And "Rolling Stone" magazine put their own spin on this. They said that the greatest enemy for McChrystal is the wimps in Washington. Nowhere in the article does McChrystal refer to "the wimps in Washington." That's "Rolling Stone" magazine, how they chose to cast this, to make it as sensational as possible. And that was with intent.
KURTZ: After President Obama surprised people by first relieving General McChrystal of his command, and then hiring General David Petraeus, hiring him in the sense of making him the Afghan war commander, Bill O'Reilly, on his Fox News show, played a clip -- some clips that have been put together by the conservative Media Research Center, the NewsBusters site.
Want to show that to you now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sounds like a pretty brilliant decision, really.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is nothing less than a stung development, Brian. And quite frankly, at a quick glance, almost brilliant.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: Politically, in this town, it's going to be seen as a brilliant choice by the president.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A very brilliant move to tap General Petraeus.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, the suggestion is we liberal media are in love with David Petraeus, and they're falling into line.
LOGAN: And if they said it was a bad decision, then it would have been the liberal media hate David Petraeus and they're not falling into line.
The bottom line is it's very hard to find something wrong with this decision by the president, because there was only one general in the United States Army that has the political weight and influence in Washington to survive this. Anybody else going into that position who wasn't tested, who wouldn't proven, who didn't have political connections, would have been a lame duck. They would have been able to do nothing. They wouldn't have been able to fight for the strategy.
President Obama faced a serious choice here: was his strategy going to die with General McChrystal? Because there's a lot of opposition from very powerful people in Washington who want to move to a different model of counterterrorism and not counterinsurgency.
The only way that he had to ensure -- to silence the critics and really to move on -- this reassured the troops, this reassured the commanders, this reassured people who were in favor that -- the Afghans, the allies. I mean, that's why people are calling it brilliant, maybe because it was brilliant.
KURTZ: And Petraeus, much more press savvy --
LOGAN: Much more press savvy.
KURTZ: -- than the man he is succeeding.
Lara Logan, thanks very much for coming in this morning. We appreciate it.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, with the Natalee Holloway saga back in the spotlight, ABC's Chris Cuomo on why he flew to Aruba to interview the suspect's ex-girlfriend and why his network paid for photos and text messages.
Plus, Eliot Spitzer's resurrection from a call girl scandal lands him a primetime slot on CNN. Network president Jon Klein will respond to harsh criticism of the move.
And later, The National Enquirer's executive editor on why he published a woman's four-year-old sexual misconduct allegation against Al Gore, even after she asked a tabloid for $1 million.
KURTZ: He comes from a political family, but he's made his name in journalism. Chris Cuomo has covered all kinds of stories, including the massive earthquake in Haiti, and he was once crazy enough to go bungee jumping off the roof of an Atlantic City casino.
The "20/20" co-anchor was in Aruba last week to interview Melody Granadillo, the ex-girlfriend of Joran van der Sloot, the man suspected in one of the biggest tabloid stories of the decade: the disappearance of Natalee Holloway.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CUOMO, ANCHOR, "20/20": Melody also says she's seen him change from a romantic teenager to a compulsive liar. And today, an excused monster.
So, what happened to the boy she once loved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But are such crime stories worth all the attention that television lavishes on them?
I sat down with ABC's chief legal correspondent this week in New York.
KURTZ: Chris Cuomo, welcome.
CUOMO: Thank you.
KURTZ: Last week "20/20" aired an exclusive interview that you did from Aruba with the ex-girlfriend of Joran van der Sloot. He, of course, suspect in the Natalee Holloway case, and in a murder in Peru.
Why is that worth your time? Why is that such a big media story?
CUOMO: That's a good question, Howie. You know, in truth, journalistically, you could dismiss a lot of these tabloid stories. However, there is such keen audience interest, and there is something about crime, especially homicide investigations, that lend themselves to American curiosity.
You have two sides. You have a narrative ark that goes up and down. You have consequences. You have the worst of fates -- death. And they do very well.
People are interested in them. And I think that what I rely on in telling those stories is that, generally, there is something to tease out of this otherwise tantalizing narrative -- you know, who did what, the mystery -- that is worth review. And I see the story with Van der Sloot as a window into criminal investigation.
KURTZ: But when you say there's audience interest, that audience interest was completely created by television. Nobody had ever heard of Natalee Holloway. She disappears in Aruba, it becomes this televised soap opera, and it becomes part of this parade of what I call missing white women. They're usually young, they're usually pretty.
There are a lot of murders in the country, in the world, every year. So --
CUOMO: Have you been eavesdropping on our office conversations, Howie?
KURTZ: This has been a debate?
CUOMO: We have this exact conversation.
CUOMO: You know, there's no question about it. It's a debate.
Why her? Because she's blond and attractive, Natalee Holloway? What about all those African-American kids? What about the kids when their skin sheen is different? Their deaths don't matter?
They happen all the time. There are all these cold cases.
Why do you have to be good looking? Why do you have to affluent? These are all good questions.
This is a difficult business in that very often, we cater to the interest where it lies, other than trying to correct what the interest is.
KURTZ: You have to put up the numbers.
CUOMO: There's no question that there's commercial pressure on the business, Howie. I mean, both of us have to deal with that everyday. More so now than even 10 years ago. But I think that, still, you have to hold on to your ability to do the job that will be effective -- and effective, I think, has become a code work for "will rate" -- the best that you can.
And I think that in how we pursued Van der Sloot, for instance, you wanted those exclusive interviews. But you wanted to be able to piece together the investigation in a way that gave your audience the best and accurate information, as opposed to just following along in what you call the kind of parade of the absurd.
KURTZ: The Web site Media Bistro reported that ABC News paid the ex-girlfriend for text messages and photos.
Did that make you uncomfortable?
CUOMO: I would like it if there were an agreement among all major media outlets, CNN included, that there will be no licensing fees paid, we will not do it. If that's what you want in order to get your story out, you're going to have to go do it with someone else. You will not be --
KURTZ: We're basically talking about the broadcast networks here that pay the tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of dollars. ABC paid $200,000 to the family of Caley Anthony in that toddler disappearance and murder. And it just seems to me that everybody talks a good game about, well, we don't pay for interview, but they find ways around it.
I sense that you're not that comfortable with it.
CUOMO: Well, I think that you know me very well, Howie, and I love the pure art of the journalism. I love to be where things happen. I love to dig in, I love to muckrake, I love to push people to want to sue me for my investigations. I love the plain controversy.
But the business is what it is. And to be competitive today, when something happens to someone who is considered a guest, there's almost always a price tag attached.
KURTZ: And so --
KURTZ: And I think unless you have an agreement --
KURTZ: -- and if you wouldn't pay it -- I mean, if ABC wouldn't pay it -- Melody Granadillo goes to some other network?
CUOMO: You don't pay, then you don't pay. That would be my suspicion, is that she would not have -- she would have found her way onto television.
That said, some of the instance that you point out have definitely led to a change at ABC News now. There is not the kind of pocketbook reporting that was going on before in terms of how to get these bookings. I can tell you that.
That's also a frustration, because now I'm trying to get somebody against (ph) Howie Kurtz. He's already better looking than me. He's already a better journalist. And now he's going to outspend me on this piece. I'm not going to be competitive.
KURTZ: So it's a financial arms race, it sounds like.
CUOMO: Sometimes. And I think that if there were an agreement among all that it's not going to happen, I think ABC would be first at the plate to say, great, we'll sign on to that, let's never pay another dime for anything. If we lose then we all lose. I think that that would -- from what I hear from my bosses, that would be easy. That said, I think there are a lot of us in the game that are looking for things outside of those big bookings that allow us to make an impact on the journalism and the audience.
KURTZ: And on that point, let's talk about some of your other work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: There are families struggling to survive all along this coastline. They say the talk from the company and the politicians is just like more oil in the water. They need action, and they need it now.
(voice-over): Then we went to the California Department of Insurance, which has oversight responsibility for Joe's policy.
(on camera): You see how Mr. McKee (ph) moves. The idea that it took two years to decide that he has paralysis and loss of function, I mean, ,how does it strike you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It strikes me on its face as egregious.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: We've also recently learned that Shahzad is actually the son of a prominent member of the Pakistani Military. But for all we learned, the big question remains: Why did someone with apparently so much to live for simply decide to throw it all away?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What exactly is your beat?
CUOMO: You know, it's a good question. I don't know.
I'm not well branded. You know, we talk about branding in the business all the time. You do it very intensively here at CNN and on the other cable networks.
I don't -- I fear a niche. I am the chief legal correspondent. I am the anchor of "20/20." Often, I think to myself, are those too the same, are they different? I want to be relevant, Howie. When something happens that is important, I want to be there.
If the oil spill is going on, and it's of pressing importance to us, I want to be there. That's why I do what I do. Otherwise, I go into finance just like everybody else who just wants to make money.
Faisal Shahzad -- you can find a way in through a law and justice. And that's why I love to have the chief title there. But it's important for me to be relevant. I don't just want to be on television. I know I've told you this 100 times over the years. I don't want to be a celebrity. I want to be doing things that I find to be important.
It's a lot more work my way. It's a lot easier to cherry-pick and chase the big bookings, and be celebrated when you're on television. But that's not what I want to do.
KURTZ: You were, of course, on "Good Morning America" as the news anchor for three years. Six months ago or so, you were competing for the co-host job that went to George Stephanopoulos.
Was it -- did it bother you at all to get all this media attention from people like me? Has that campaign played out? It was almost covered like a political race.
CUOMO: Those -- transition is difficult. You know, I grew up in politics. I understand what true competition is, where you and I both want something very, very badly.
I don't think this was this kind of situation. I think that looking at the landscape at ABC News, George is the biggest male star there. And to replace a star like Diane, you have to go with your horsepower.
It was no surprise to me, as you well know, that George Stephanopoulos was going to get the nod for "Good Morning America." I think it was a great choice. I support him 150 percent, and I'll do anything I can for that show.
It was an opportunity for me when they dangled "20/20" to think about my own career.
CUOMO: I would have very much liked to stay on "Good Morning America" to help George and Robin and Sam. I love them. I love Juju, too, who took my job. Probably traded up that show.
But I never felt that I was in some type of race for that gig. I really feel that that was George's job to decide if he wanted it or not. I think he was the best choice.
KURTZ: Stephanopoulos, of course, came out of politics. You grew up as the son of a governor, Mario Cuomo. Your brother Andrew is running for governor here in New York. A lot of people think he's going to win.
CUOMO: Who does? You've been talking to my mother.
KURTZ: I've been looking at the polls and listening to the experts. Maybe I shouldn't do that.
Why didn't you go into the family business?
CUOMO: You know, Howie, to me, I've never worked in politics. I would never work in politics.
I've seen it in a very difficult way growing up as a child of a politician. There's a lot of strain. There's a lot of compromise. My father, a very uncompromising individual when it comes to playing politics, so he was an interesting study.
KURTZ: That drove you away from wanting to do it?
CUOMO: I didn't like the pressure that it put on my father. I didn't like seething that.
I didn't like seeing people take potshots at my pop within politics. There's so little -- there's such a low bar in political media in terms of what it takes to criticize somebody else, that it was bothersome to me.
I love what I do. I do not have it in my gut to deal with what you have to deal with to be a player in politics.
My brother does. God bless him. I've tried to persuade him not to do it many times. I think he's too good for that game in a lot of ways. He doesn't.
So, while sometimes I think about it, my brother, my father, should I have done the same thing? It's just not who I am.
KURTZ: But when you've watched as a kid and as a young man you father in the political wars as governor for three terms, your brother went through a divorce -- he talked about this himself, as humiliating the way it got the tabloid coverage -- does it change your approach to journalism because you know what it's like to feel the sting of negative coverage from the other side?
CUOMO: I think that it is all good in terms of what it does for me as a journalist. I think I have a depth of sensitivity to what you go at and what you don't, how sure you want to be about something, versus, just going on a fishing expedition. I think it has built in a sensitivity. I think it's built in a sense of purpose.
KURTZ: But it does open doors in the sense that you have a brand name, a very well-known last name, even though you're not a politician.
CUOMO: It's true. However, I would argue and submit to you, Mr. Kurtz, that being recognized as part of a political family in the world of journalism has been something that I have had to overcome. I've had to prove over time that if you sit down as a lefty, you sit down as a righty, I'm going to give you the same hard time. And I've worked very hard on that.
And I don't disparage people who go into politics. I give them a lot of respect. I do not have what it takes to play that kind of game.
KURTZ: Well, we've got that on videotape, so don't change your mind. Chris Cuomo, thanks very much for sitting down with us here in New York.
CUOMO: Howie, pleasure. Pleasure.
KURTZ: Up next, CNN signs Eliot Spitzer as a primetime host despite the prostitution scandal that forced him to resign as New York governor.
Is that a good idea, or just an attempt to boost ratings? My interview with CNN president Jon Klein in a moment.
KURTZ: The scandal erupted just over two years ago when "The New York Times" published an explosive story about a governor under investigation for patronizing high-priced call girls. On CNN and just about everywhere else, it was breaking news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on the governor of New York. He's now caught up in an amazing prostitution scandal. Eliot Spitzer says he's sorry, but he's not saying exactly why.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: If this is true, then Eliot Spitzer broke the law.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Allegations today that the governor of New York, Democrat Eliot Spitzer, a man who has campaigned as attorney general and won the governorship on a Mr. Clean image, was involved in a prostitution ring, including a rendezvous here in Washington, D.C.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Less than 48 hours later, Spitzer resign period.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIOT SPITZER (D), FMR. NEW YORK GOVERNOR: I am deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me. To every New Yorker and to all those who believed in what I tried to stand for, I sincerely apologize.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: CNN announced this week that Spitzer will become the co- host of a new primetime program, along with Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Kathleen Parker. This remarkable rehabilitation of a full- on politician has drawn sharp criticism.
KURTZ: And joining me now from New York to talk about the decision is CNN's president.
Jon Klein, welcome.
JON KLEIN, PRESIDENT, CNN: Hi, Howie. Thanks.
KURTZ: Why did you want a man who proved unfit to serve as governor of New York, who resigned in disgrace, as part of this network?
KLEIN: Eliot Spitzer still has a lot of ideas to contribute and a lot of things to say. And I think our viewers are going to find him a very interesting person to tune into every night.
KURTZ: Are you not troubled by what we he went through when he was governor?
KLEIN: Well, yes. I mean, it's obviously an issue. And it's something that we gave considerable thought to as we weighed the decision.
But, ultimately, the fact that he had acknowledged his mistakes, had apologized for them, and still was very much engaged in the world of ideas tilted the balance for us very heavily. I mean, he's an extremely well-versed, thoughtful person who has been writing columns on Slate, who has appeared on television very frequently. Actually, filled in as a host for a few weeks at another network. And what we saw told us that this is a person who had a voice that ought to be heard.
KURTZ: Right. He filled in at MSNBC for a while.
And he say smart guy, and he has been reinventing himself as a pundit. But the reaction in some quarters, as you know, has been quite critical.
Let me read you from "Baltimore Sun" critic David Zurawik, who's generally supportive of your effort to CNN.
He said, "I don't know how any channel committed to journalistic integrity makes a host out of a guy who betrayed the public's trust by his actions and then tried to cover it up by manipulating the very records of his deception. Forgive me again, but this seems like the Richard Nixon School of Ethics to me. Sorry, but this is the very sort of thing that undermines the credibility of every hard-working journalist in cable news -- and CNN has lots of them."
KLEIN: Well, I think that's a pretty good distillation of the countervailing point of view. And I understand that there are many people who may feel that.
And our hope and our expectation is that when Dave and others actually watch the show, they will understand why Eliot Spitzer belongs on CNN. And, might I add, his co-host, Kathleen Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist, is going to be an equal reason to watch every night.
KURTZ: Does it concern you at all that a sizable number of people within CNN at various levels disagree with this decision?
KLEIN: It doesn't surprise me. It's an innately controversial decision. I mean, there's no doubt about it.
KURTZ: All right.
KLEIN: And, you know, we're an organization of 4,000 people. There's going to be a range of points of view about it.
I have been happy to talk to anybody who wants to discuss the decision. And I think at the end of the day, when people actually tune into the show, they are going to be glad that he is on.
KURTZ: Now, I know this program isn't going to be "CROSSFIRE," the left/right slugfest that you canceled after Jon Stewart famously went on and attacked its very existence. But it does have one thing in common with "CROSSFIRE," which had James Carville, Mary Matalin, Pat Buchanan, John Sununu, and that is you are hiring a former politician rather than a journalist.
That doesn't feel like CNN.
KLEIN: Well, we'll see. I mean, I think in this day and age, especially with the rise of blogs and YouTube, there are so many different types of people who have gotten very good at expressing points of view. And I think there's room for that on the CNN schedule.
I think the driving factor needs to be, does the person bring an intelligence? Do they have informs opinions? Do they offer incisive analysis? And if so, that's got a place here.
KURTZ: When Campbell Brown announced she was giving up the 8:00 p.m. Eastern timeslot, she rather candidly said that she couldn't compete in the ratings against Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann.
Now, you have always stressed the importance, even when CNN has been hurt in prime time in the ratings, of straight news and reporting. So, having two opinionated hosts on, one of them a former Democratic politician, is clearly something of a shift for you.
KLEIN: Well, not really. I mean, we've always been a home for vibrant opinion.
You know, when you look at our election coverage, for example, that was -- we needed a bigger set to cram in all of those different points of view that were expressed in a very lively way every night. And we've got some of the best analysts on earth contributing every day and every night on CNN.
What we don't do is stack the partisan deck, stack the deck to push one point of view or another. Our network, unlike our cable news competitors, our network is not here to push a right-wing or a left- wing point of view. So, this is a show in which you're going to get the full range of opinions, fairly and honestly broached and explored.
KURTZ: So, in 20 seconds --
KLEIN: And I think that's going to make a refreshing addition to the schedule.
KURTZ: -- the fact that Spitzer and Parker balance each other, to some extent, ideologically, is a key element here?
KLEIN: But unpredictably. I mean, you never know on a given day. Eliot Spitzer wrote an editorial the other day on Slate that actually agrees with "The Wall Street Journal" op-ed piece.
KLEIN: So, there's no pinning them down.
KURTZ: Ultimately, we'll all get to see the new program, and viewers can decide for themselves.
Jon Klein, thanks very much for joining us.
KLEIN: Thanks, Howie.
KURTZ: I spoke to Jon Klein on Friday.
CIA Director Leon Panetta with some sobering about the Afghan war this morning.
Candy Crowley back with "THE SOUND OF SUNDAY" in a moment.
KURTZ: In the wake of General McChrystal's firing over the "Rolling Stone" debacle, you might think that administration officials would be out there talking up the Afghan war effort.
But, Candy Crowley, that was not the case this morning.
CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": There's apparently no way to pretty this up at this moment. And no way to get really a definitive answer. We had CIA chief Leon Panetta out talking, first time in a long time, and it's the obvious question: Are we winning or aren't we?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEON PANETTA, CIA DIRECTOR: Are we making progress? We are making progress. It's harder. It's slower than I think anyone anticipated.
I think the Taliban, obviously, is engaged in greater violence right now. They are doing more on IEDs. They are going after our troops. There's no question about that. In some ways, they are stronger. But in some ways, they are weaker as well.
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: I would say that Leon's statement is probably pretty well correct, that in the areas where we've really concentrated militarily, we've done well. But you have to give up something when you do that. In certain other areas, the Taliban probably has gained in strength because they have moved their troops there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Not a totally reassuring moment in American history here. And obviously, the whole switchover in generals has precipitated this talk about, what are we doing there? And it's very clear from the right and from the left and from the CIA that there's no way to make this look good at this moment.
KURTZ: I guess it all depends on the meaning of the word "progress."
CROWLEY: Exactly, or when.
KURTZ: And the divisions between the military and civilian leadership have really come to the forefront.
CROWLEY: Well, yes, because that came up in the McChrystal article in "Rolling Stone," which was the contempt that the military men seem to have for the civilian side of it. We've already seen up on Capitol Hill Republicans saying it's time to change some of the civilian part of this equation: the ambassador to Afghanistan, perhaps Ambassador Holbrooke as well.
KURTZ: What's been the reaction to the naming of David Petraeus?
CROWLEY: Well, that's positive. People really like David Petraeus.
It is now -- the question is on the civilian end of it. And while Republicans have been the ones asking for it, there's going to be a certain amount of leeway that Petraeus may have that might lead to an opening to maybe change over the civilian aspect.
This is Dianne Feinstein.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: If the team isn't right, I think Petraeus's views should be taken into consideration and observed by the administration. This is kind of, if you will, not a last-ditch stand, but it is a major change in the middle of the surge. And I think you put the general in, he should make the call.
If he can't work with the ambassador, the ambassador should be changed. If he can't work with Holbrooke, that should change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We need a better team and coordination between the military and civilian side. We all know that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Pretty amazing. So, it is amazing to me that Dianne Feinstein is suggesting that General Petraeus, if he can't work with the ambassador, then that ought to change. So that is the amount of faith that this Congress on the Democratic side and the Republican side are investing in General Petraeus.
KURTZ: A lot of Democrats uneasy with this Afghan War on Capitol Hill.
Candy Crowley, thanks.
Still to come, why did "The National Enquirer" publish a massage therapist's sexual misconduct claim against Al Gore that a police investigation couldn't corroborate? The tabloid's executive editor is up next.
KURTZ: "The National Enquirer" relied on police records this week in reporting that a masseuse in Portland, Oregon, alleged that Al Gore had sexually assaulted her four years ago. Among the problems with the story, the red-haired woman waited weeks to report the alleged incident, then refused to testify for more than two years. Then after she finally sat down with detectives, they found insufficient evidence to launch an investigation.
So, should the supermarket tabloid have published this at all?
Joining me now from New York is executive editor Barry Levine.
Let's start with the money. "The Enquirer" is known for checkbook journalism, but in this case, you refused to pay this woman when she asked for $1 million from "The Enquirer."
BARRY LEVINE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "NATIONAL ENQUIRER": Well, Howard, I think first of all, attorneys who sometimes represent individuals like this will ask for pie-in-the-sky-type figures. I think that this woman from the get-go felt very victimized and wanted her story to come out.
And, you know, our main responsibility was proving that those police records were indeed legitimate, which we did. We had former police officers look at those records, and we felt it was a no-brainer at that point, after we confirmed he had been there that day, that we needed to put this story into print. KURTZ: That Gore had been in Portland.
But, now, you have an accuser who, as I mentioned, her cooperation with the police was spotty. The police did not see any reason to launch an investigation.
Didn't that give you any pause about publishing?
LEVINE: Howard, it did not give us pause in the sense that this was something that had been buried. Was there some type of cover-up involving the police? We don't know.
I mean, I think our job was to bring it to the surface after we were able to corroborate certain facts of the story. And now there's public opinion on this story.
Let's look into the thing. Let's look into the evidence that's at hand. Let's hear from Al Gore in terms of his side of the story. He's officially issued a "no comment" about this, so I think there's still a lot that remains to be seen on this story.
KURTZ: You talk about Gore's side of the story, but you told me this week that "The Enquirer" did not call Al Gore's office for comment because you didn't want to lose the exclusive before your issue hit the newsstands.
Was that fair to the former vice president?
LEVINE: I think it was. You know, this was a competitive story.
You know, he could have gotten out in front of it by putting it in the hands of a news organization, to some degree, more favorable. We felt that we had the facts and we wanted to put that information out. Now is his time to come forward.
We thought our story was very fair in the sense that we said very high that the police had not charged him in any way. We also pointed out some things that we found out about the woman's past, that she had been involved in a previous domestic relations abuse case from 1998.
LEVINE: So we thought we laid all the information out.
KURTZ: Gore's office has not commented yet, and I put in a request as well. But isn't it possible, Barry Levine, that this woman is making this up and making a charge against a very famous person who is now being victimized?
LEVINE: Howard, I think that you have to take some degree the benefit of the doubt when you have victims. We've done many stories over the years at the "National Enquirer." We've had victims rights advocate groups that we've followed.
Oftentimes, as we've talked to experts, people will bury these things, they will have difficulty in terms of talking about them with law enforcement for a period of time. We think that there's a great deal to this story that still needs to be brought to the surface.
KURTZ: All right. And you of course did not name the woman.
Barry Levine, thank you for joining us from New York.
LEVINE: Thank you, Howard.
KURTZ: And finally, Dave Weigel resigned as a "Washington Post" blogger on Friday, and the truth is he didn't have much choice.
In private e-mail messages that someone leaked, Weigel said Matt Drudge should set himself on fire, said he hoped Rush would fail. This, while Limbaugh was hospitalized. Said some "real American views were (EXPLETIVE DELETED) moronic." And my newspaper had him covering conservatives.
The leaking of private correspondence was sickening and Weigel is a smart guy. It's too bad he got burned by his own incendiary words.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.
Time now for "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley.
Candy Crowley begins right now.