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Olbermann Out at MSNBC; Jobs Takes Another Medical Leave From Apple

Aired January 23, 2011 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: He was the most successful, the most controversial, the most passionate, the most incendiary, and perhaps the most self-destructive anchor in the history of MSNBC. Keith Olbermann abruptly resigned on Friday, after months, years, really, of intense internal battles with his NBC bosses. Did the liberal crusader become too hot to handle, or did he figure that the incoming bosses at Comcast would infringe on his fierce sense of independence?

Steve Jobs takes another medical leave from Apple, and some tech reporters say we should leave the guy alone. Should journalists investigate the health of the man behind the iPhone and the iPad?

Carole Simpson says her 25-year network career was marred by outright discrimination, racial jokes, and sexual harassment. She'll be here.

Plus, Piers Morgan makes his heavily-promoted debut on CNN. Is he living up to the hype?

I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

It was probably inevitable that Keith Olbermann and MSNBC would wind up in a bitter divorce. The "Countdown" anchor and top NBC executives essentially went to war two months ago over Olbermann's suspension for donating to Democratic candidates, with him threatening to take his complaints public on "Good Morning America" and other shows, and MSNBC president Phil Griffin telling his manager that if Olbermann did that, he would be fired.

The wounds never really healed even though Olbermann almost single-handedly rescued the cable channel by leaving it on a leftward march that boosted its ratings and established it as an ideological (INAUDIBLE) to Fox News.

On Friday, Olbermann announced he was out.


KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: I think the same fantasy has popped into the head of everybody in my business who has ever been told what I have been told, that this is going to be the last edition of your show. There were many occasions, particularly in the last two-and-a- half years, where all that surrounded the show, but never the show itself, was just too much for me. But your support and loyalty and, if I may use the word, insistence ultimately required that I keep going.


KURTZ: Olbermann had an intensely loyal following as a liberal crusader who delighted in attacking Bill O'Reilly, Fox News, George Bush, and plenty of Republicans. And sometimes he went too far, as with this rant against the newly-elected Massachusetts senator, Scott Brown.


OLBERMANN: In Scott Brown, we have an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary ex-new model, Tea Bagging-supporter of violence against women and against politicians with whom he disagrees. In any other time in our history this man would have laughed off the stage as an unqualified and a disaster in the making by the most conservative of conservatives.


KURTZ: Olbermann apologized for that, but it underscores how his political passions could sometimes lead him to go too far.

Joining us now to examine Olbermann's departure and what it means for cable news, here in Washington, David Shuster, former anchor and reporter for MSNBC; Jane Hall, associate professor at American University's School of Communication and a former Fox News commentator; David Zurawik, television and media critic for "The Baltimore Sun." And in Stamford, Connecticut, Verne Gay, television critic for "Newsday."

David Zurawik, had Olbermann simply become too difficult and too much of a disruptive figure within MSNBC to continue?

DAVID ZURAWIK, TELEVISION CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": I think he did become too difficult during that period right after the November election with the donations, but also, Howie, the one thing that wasn't mentioned, that election night, when he and the four other hosts and commentators he had with him started literally heckling and abusing the conservative politicians who won victories when they came on to do interviews, I think --


ZURAWIK: Well, no. It's not unfair. David, it's not even close.


ZURAWIK: Yes, they were laughing at him. They were making fun of him.

KURTZ: Well, they poked fun at John Boehner for crying, but --

ZURAWIK: No, no, no. I mean when they interviewed him, Howie. KURTZ: OK. But it's a management decision not to put on news anchors on election night. Instead, to put on Olbermann, Maddow, Schultz.


KURTZ: Let me turn --

ZURAWIK: And they were very upset about it at MSNBC and at NBC News. They felt the brand was really diminished because politics and media meet on cable TV.

KURTZ: Let me turn to David Shuster.

SHUSTER: I'm not sure if I can accept your assertions of what was going on at NBC, but in any case --

KURTZ: But you worked there a long time.


KURTZ: You had a good relationship with Olbermann. You filled in for him periodically on "Countdown."

What about this constant friction? I described it as a war between him and top executives at NBC and MSNBC.

SHUSTER: Well, look, I mean, everybody knew that with the new sort of Comcast coming in to take over from General Electric, that the reporting structure within MSNBC was going to be different. Until Comcast comes in, you have Phil Griffin, who very much was a Keith Olbermann protector, reporting directly to Jeff Zucker, the head of NBC News.

Under the new arrangement, Steve Capus, from NBC News, he will essentially be right above Phil Griffin. And so NBC News is going to have much more of an influence over what happens on MSNBC. And I think Keith anticipated, perhaps justifiably so, that his wings might be clipped, that some of the special commentaries that he would be making, that there would be much more sort of deference that would have to be paid to NBC News' standards and judgments.

And I think Keith felt that he built this franchise for eight years, it was highly successful. He treasured his independence, and he treasured the fans, the 250,000 who signed the petitions back in November, demanding that he put right back on the show.

KURTZ: Let me come back to that. I want to turn to Jane Hall.

I concluded that his days were numbered during that clash over the suspension. Not the suspension itself, but when you had Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, threatening to fire Olbermann if he went public with his complaints, there were always these kinds of struggles, these power struggles, almost, and I wonder if you think that contributed. JANE HALL, FMR. FOX NEWS COMMENTATOR: I think it absolutely contributed. I think that, you know, the other thing that has been said is that with Rachel Maddow coming up as more of a star, they may have felt they were more comfortable dealing with his mercurial nature and saying, hey, no more.

I mean, I think Phil Griffin was under a lot of pressure from people who were more on the traditional side, as David alluded to. Brokaw and others were unhappy with his election night editorializing.

I do think that it is regrettable in some ways that the special comment that you showed Jon Stewart went after and said that was over the top. I think that he began to believe the 250,000 people, which can happen to you if you're a talk show host. You can become thin- skinned.

I think he became thin-skinned. I think they were fighting with each other. I think it's regrettable that his voice, frankly, is lost, because they were the anti-Fox. That's what he characterized himself as.

KURTZ: Well, it's lost for MSNBC. I'm sure it's not lost forever.

Verne Gay, how much do you think -- you know, let's not lose sight of the fact that Olbermann had the highest-rated program on MSNBC. And yet, whether it was mutual, as we are told, or as whether David Shuster suggests, Olbermann decided to get out, they've now given that up because of this constant, constant friction behind the scenes.

VERNE GAY, NEWSDAY.COM: Yes. I think David said something that I really hadn't realized, which is Steve Capus is going to basically take over that role. And Steve, of course, is very close to Tom Brokaw, he has Tom's ear. Obviously, Tom has great antipathy of the sort of commentary that Keith's involved in.

And the other obvious issue that it was sort of like, you know, there's a new sheriff in town, and that that town just can't hold Steve Burke, who's the CEO, of course, of Comcast, and it can't hold Keith. I mean, it's too small a company, even in its gargantuan size.

And I think that Keith obviously said, look, this isn't going to work long term. It's certainly not going to work under this new arrangement with Steve Capus. So let's just move on now.

And I think he absolutely loves the idea that people assume that there's some sort of Comcast friction going on here. And I think it's sort of his Murrow moment, like Bill Paley having a fight with Ed Murrow. And he's got his Murrow moment now, and he's leaving with his head held high, and he had a nice classy goodbye on Friday.

KURTZ: All right. Well, let's talk about his style, which often thrilled his fans and infuriated his detractors.

I want to play a clip for you, David Zurawik. This is after the Tucson shootings, what Keith Olbermann had to say on the air about that. Part of it, of course, we're about to show you dealt with Glenn Beck.


OLBERMANN: If Glenn Beck, who obsesses nearly as strangely as this Mr. Loughner did about gold and debt, and who wistfully joked about killing Michael Moore, and Bill O'Reilly, who blithely repeated "Tiller the Killer" until the phrase was burned into the minds of his viewers, if they do not begin their next broadcasts with solemn apologies for ever turning to the death fantasies and the dreams of bloodlust, for ever having provided just the oxygen to those deep in madness to whom violence is an acceptable solution, than those commentators and the others must be repudiated by their viewers and listens, but all politicians, and repudiated by the sponsors and by the networks that employ them.


KURTZ: Olbermann had great passion. Television likes that. But he also often made it personal. In fact, you were "The Worst Person in the World" I think on a couple of occasions.

ZURAWIK: More than once, yes. That, to me, Howie, is typical of his recklessness and his character assassination. That's why I said he wanted to be Edward R. Murrow and he was more McCarthy than Murrow because --

SHUSTER: Oh, come on, David.


SHUSTER: There's a false equivalency that you and other folks make between Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck, and it's not fair.

ZURAWIK: David, let him finish. Let's finish. This isn't one of your MSNBC shows.

KURTZ: I'm going to let you respond in just a moment.

Finish your point.

ZURAWIK: I think that he will absolutely attack people and try to assassinate their character just the way Joe McCarthy did without facts. And to say that Bill O'Reilly, who has been much more reasonable in the last year than Keith Olbermann ever was on the air, much more responsible, to try to pin that on Bill O'Reilly, link him to that, is outrageous, Howie.

KURTZ: David Shuster.

SHUSTER: Look, the fact of the matter is, is there are people who have tried to carry out acts of violence who were inspired by Glenn Beck. That is not --

KURTZ: Wait a minute. Bill O'Reilly -- (CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER: The fact of the matter is you're making a moral equivalency between Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann, and it's simply not fair.

ZURAWIK: I'm not making --

SHUSTER: And the fact of the matter is, when people say that --

ZURAWIK: I'm not making a moral equivalency.

SHUSTER: -- MSNBC is the liberal antidote to Fox News, and that there's an equal balance there, that's simply not true.

KURTZ: But are you willing to say -- and then I'll get to Jane-- that sometimes Olbermann went too far?

SHUSTER: Yes, of course. And, look, I consider myself a friend of Keith Olbermann's. I like his work.

There were things that he did that I did not like. There were things that I did that he did not like. But the fact of the matter is, as Jane was pointing out, he was a valuable voice, never mind in terms of the media, in terms of politics.

There are so many progressives out there who felt like he was the poetic, literary, intelligent emotion and passionate voice for them, and they are looking up now and saying, OK, where do we turn now? Is it going to be an Internet venture? Is it going to be on the radio? Is it going to be maybe with Rachel or Ed or somebody else at MSNBC? But they are missing this voice, and they will miss this voice.

KURTZ: Help us mediate this dispute.

HALL: OK. Let me be the voice of reason here.

I think that Keith Olbermann was over the top sometimes. I think he did begin to believe that 250,000 people, just as Jon Stewart probably believes that 250,000 people turned out for him. It's hard not to begin to believe that you are some kind of a prophet, especially if you feel you're responding to people that you disagree with.

And I think sometimes he was over the top. I do not agree with the idea that inciting people to violence and calling Scott Brown a "Tea Bagger" are morally equivalent. I do not believe that. I think the rhetoric needs to be toned down on both sides.

KURTZ: Verne Gay, when Olbermann first started -- the show has run for eight years now -- he basically got a lot of attention by slamming Bill O'Reilly, who was on in the opposite time period. And then, of course, Rupert Murdoch and Fox and Beck and Sarah Palin became staples of his attacks.

So I'm wondering if you think he helped set the tone, not alone, of course, but that Olbermann helped set the tone for this left/right warfare that we have every night now on cable news.

GAY: Well, he didn't necessarily set the tone. The tone was already there. He basically sharpened that. I mean, that -- what he brought was really -- he clarified the division, let's say.


KURTZ: You say the tone was already there, but Fox News was certainly, in its nighttime opinion programming, aggressively conservative.

GAY: Absolutely.

KURTZ: MSNBC was not the liberal alternative that it is today.

GAY: Absolutely. That's absolutely right. And it's now leaned forward.

And now they've sort of -- you know, Keith has chewed off (ph) a lot of legs, and he's chewed on a lot of legs, including -- Hillary Clinton he went after. He's sort of an equal opportunity offender to a great deal.

I mean, he told President Bush to shut the hell up on the air. It was astounding.

He's sometimes afflicted with logorrhea, no doubt about it. But he's also sort of a bit of an actor to an extent. I think he believes it in the more flagrant your rhetoric, the greater attention you're going to get. And I think to a large extent, he really sharpened those boundaries, and he sharpened them very, very well.

HALL: I want to say one thing since I've been supportive of him. I think that some people on Fox had more people who disagreed with him on the air than Keith Olbermann did.

KURTZ: Well, I've talked to him about this every time I interviewed him.

HALL: I think he was pretty narrow, and therefore he left them open to the moral equivalence that people have been drawing.

KURTZ: Well, I mean, let's be careful here. But, I mean, he did put on an hour which was very popular with his most passionate fans on the left, but which basically he did not invite guests who disagreed with him. And so there was a certain element of preaching to the choir.

SHUSTER: Well, in part because most of the guests that he had on were journalists. I mean, he was interested --

HALL: And they all agreed with him.

SHUSTER: -- in getting people on who provided information in a factual base to sort of set up Keith's analysis.

KURTZ: But many of them were liberal columnists, too.

HALL: Yes. They were more columnists than --

SHUSTER: There were some, but --


ZURAWIK: Howie, I just want to make one point about --

SHUSTER: But it was a very different type of show though than what Hannity or O'Reilly have been doing.

ZURAWIK: I don't agree with him being a poetic voice for the left and all of the things that were said. What I am upset about is the recklessness he exhibited.

When people say, oh, he was a little over the top, and, oh, he was a little bit too much, no. That is dangerous. That is the dangerous kind of rhetoric we have.

And NBC News is absolutely right to say this does not belong on our airwaves, we're going to dial it back. And that's what's happening here. You watch how fast Maddow and all of the rest of them dial it back in a week.

SHUSTER: Well, David, that may be true, that, in fact, NBC News want to put a certain set of journalistic standards on MSNBC, and a lot of people will cheer them on to do that, including people at MSNBC who respect Steve Capus.

However, there are journalistic standards on many of these shows on Fox News. With the exception of a couple of new shows, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, they don't even attempt to subscribe to the journalistic principles that --


KURTZ: He said except for some news shows.

Let me follow up with you, David, because you worked at MSNBC for a long time. A bit of full disclosure, you got into a dispute with management and you were taken off the year last year, and your contract has run out. Right?

SHUSTER: It has.


What are you hearing from your former colleagues? Is there anything that we haven't heard beyond Olbermann perhaps sometimes going over the top, Olbermann being in a virtual state of war with the top executives and NBC and MSNBC? Is there any other factor here that may have led him to jump even as maybe he was getting a gentle nudge?

SHUSTER: Well, a couple of things. I mean, all the staff that I have spoken with have suggested that this whole event of him giving donations and the reaction to him being pulled off the air was a much bigger story than people think. Not so much in terms of how MSNBC and NBC executives viewed Keith, but in terms of how much Keith viewed his own sort of following.

Keith was mesmerized and flattered beyond belief by the 250,000 people who signed the petition. And he and his new agents who he picked up for the last year felt that that had certain value. And that when MSNBC made it clear that, no, it does not have the value that you think it does, Keith and his team felt like, OK, let's try to take this base of support, let's try to take this loyal fan following, and let's take it to a forum where I'll have the kind of independence that I've always wanted, and I'll be able to do the sort of reporting and analysis without having my wings clipped by NBC News.

KURTZ: Independence, but he was being paid $30 million over four years. Did he want more money from MSNBC?

SHUSTER: Keith has never been about money, and he's not somebody who's sort of obsessed with it.

KURTZ: I would agree with that.

SHUSTER: I think what he felt like is he wanted to be paid what he felt he was worth, and he wanted the respect that he felt his 300,000 fans who signed the petition deserved.

KURTZ: And wanted to be able to say what he wanted without having a Jeff Zucker or a Steve Capus or a Phil Griffin rein him in?

SHUSTER: Yes, or without the possibility in the future that his special commentary scripts might have to be approved by somebody else other than somebody on his show, that they might have to be run through management levels to sort of shake it out and make sure it fits, and what people want. And I think that's where Keith was very anxious.

KURTZ: Hold on. I know you all have a lot more to say.

Let me get a break. We'll talk more about Keith Olbermann on the other side.

And also, Piers Morgan's debut on CNN.


KURTZ: We're looking at the aftermath of Keith Olbermann's resignation at MSNBC.

Verne Gay, this is a guy who basically, in my view, rescued that network from being kind of a backwater (ph) with no clear identity. Does MSNBC, which now has a liberal lineup at night, including Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell, can it maintain its momentum?

GAY: That's a good question. I don't really know how. I mean, it is so sudden, Howie. They've got to change -- they've got to put somebody in at 10:00. Larry O'Donnell is starting off at 8:00. It's a slightly softer show. It was kind of designed for, obviously, 10:00.

They've got to figure out a new framework. I mean, and they've also got the "Lean Forward" campaign that they've got to worry about.

So, suddenly, Keith, the guy that was really responsible for making it lean forward, I mean, leaning really far forward, is gone. So I don't really know how they can maintain the momentum.

They've got to figure out a new personality. But I think to David's point, he was an incendiary personality.

KURTZ: And Dave Shuster, this is actually the second time Keith Olbermann has left MSNBC. He also left it back in 1988. He's going to surface somewhere, isn't he, on another cable network or on the Internet?

SHUSTER: He's an incredibly talented guy. He's got a very loyal staff. He's very good about picking and choosing the people who surround him.

One of secrets about "Countdown" that a lot of people don't realize is that it was an extremely well-produced, highly-produced show to the point that when I would substitute, when Rachel Maddow would substitute, when Lawrence O'Donnell would, producers would essentially hand you these incredible franchise segments, and they didn't require a lot of work.

Now, Keith would write his own special commentaries.

KURTZ: You sure you want to spread that around?

SHUSTER: Well, and I -- look, I've always sort of been very sort of selfish about wanting to write all my own stuff, but on that show, I mean, it is brilliant work that those producers turned in each day, each night, and I'm surprised that they took away the "Countdown" franchise, because it really was a well-oiled machine. Keith did it better than anybody, but I'm surprised they took the entire franchise away.

KURTZ: Well, a well-oiled machine, built a machine obviously built for Olbermann.

Let's turn now to Piers Morgan. A very heavily-promoted debut this week, with a lot of big-name guests on CNN. Here's a little bit of what it looked like.


PIERS MORGAN, HOST, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": Every woman I had talked to about you was curious about the same thing, given your on- air brand. They just ask how, is he good in bed?

HOWARD STERN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, you know, that's a tough one. Some women have said yes.

MORGAN: How many have said no?



MORGAN: Are you romantic?


MORGAN: In what way? How does it manifest itself with you?

RICE: Well, I love romantic music and romantic movies and -- of course.

MORGAN: But if I was going to woo you, which isn't completely crazy --



MORGAN: The thing I know about you absolutely unequivocally is that everything you touch is a hit.

OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: Well, that is -- no, that is not true.

MORGAN: Let's assume it is for a moment.

WINFREY: OK. But it is not true.

MORGAN: Could you just --

WINFREY: Go along with the program?

MORGAN: Could you just touch me?


MORGAN: And the question is straightforward really. How have I done?

WINFREY: You have been surprising.


KURTZ: David Zurawik, you groaned when he asked Oprah to touch him. Is that your review?

ZURAWIK: The Oprah interview was the worst of everything in terms of showbiz. It was like "Access Hollywood II." It was just awful.

She was selling the OWN network. She was pumping that -- I clocked 21 seconds before she started pumping OWN. And his payback for telling her that there was a realm where only she and the queen of England belonged was to say, ooh, you're good, and then CNN had the clip.

KURTZ: OK. Quickly.

ZURAWIK: So that was the worst start. But really, I'm reserving judgment on him.

And you know what? I want to say this -- I tracked him through the first four nights. His lowest rating was 1 million. That's what Keith Olbermann left. We're talking about him like he's a franchise. So he did pretty good.


HALL: You know, there was a time when people announced that they were running for president on Larry King. Now, that didn't happen in the most recent years. But "Are you good in bed?" is the signature first broadcast? You know, I'm not a prude, but I hope it gets better than that.

KURTZ: All right.

Verne Gay, is this what CNN needs, a pre-taped one-hour interviews with the likes of Ricky Gervais? To me, it sometimes felt disconnected from the day's news, because it was all done in a studio or a hotel room.

GAY: It's as disconnected from the day's news as Venus. It really is. It's ridiculous.

I mean, this is a news hours. I think people at CNN were hoping that they would get a real news hour and not Ricky Gervais saying something that he said nine months ago, or the Clooney interview on Friday.

He's a competent interviewer, there's no question about it. But it's pre-taped. It's not live. And I think the rubber hits the road in live television, Howie, as you know. And I agree with David Zurawik, the Oprah interview was absurd.

KURTZ: All right.

GAY: I mean, it was absurd. But it got better through the week.

KURTZ: Well, Oprah is welcome to come on this program. We can try it live, without a safety net.

Hoped to get to Regis Philbin announcing his retirement, but we are out of town.

Verne Gay, David Zurawik, David Shuster, Jane Hall, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, race, gender and journalism. Carole Simpson on her sometimes ugly battles at ABC and NBC, including outright prejudice.

Plus, Steve Jobs on another medical leave from Apple. Should reporters be probing the tech magnate's health?

And later, NPR's Scott Simon takes on his news organization over the coverage of Gabrielle Giffords.


KURTZ: Carole Simpson achieved a number of firsts in her television career: first black journalist to serve as a network news correspondent here in Washington; first black journalist to moderate a presidential debate. But she had plenty of run-ins with executives at ABC and NBC, and as she describes it, there were some truly ugly incidents.

But first, a brief look back.


CAROLE SIMPSON, ABC: Good evening. Motorist along much of the Eastern Seaboard from Washington to New York prepared today for odd- even gasoline sales.

Color -- how do black children develop a positive self-image in a society that's predominantly white?

We have very little time left, and it occurs to me that we have talked all this time and there has not been one question about some of the racial tensions and ethnic tensions in America.


KURTZ: But behind the scenes, away from the cameras, there were clashes related to race and gender. Simpson bluntly describes these difficulties in her new memoir, "News Lady." She joins me now, here in the studio.

Welcome, Carole Simpson.

SIMPSON: Hi, Howie.

KURTZ: Let's get right into it. You were writing about -- when you first came to Washington for NBC -- and for a long time you couldn't get on the air. Your pieces were not being used, and the word came back to you that you were what?

SIMPSON: Lazy. I had been there for nine months, and I couldn't get any stories on the air.

I was assigned to go interview people for other people's stories. And it's like, what is going on? I've had my husband move to Washington with me and leave his job. And I was so unhappy.

KURTZ: So what did you do as a result? SIMPSON: What did I do is a result? Is go in there and say I quit. I understand that the word is circulating around the network that I'm lazy. And, you know, in television, perception is reality.

So if people hear that, and it's on the grapevine -- and the word "lazy," the fact that I was an African-American, and you use a word like "lazy" with me, call me stupid or crazy or something. Don't call me lazy. That was not what I was.

KURTZ: And you got back on the air as a result.

SIMPSON: I told them, "Let me go." And one of the bosses said, "Well, let me check into this." And the next day I was on the air.

KURTZ: A couple of years later you ran into the person who you believe was the origin of that "lazy" charge. And this really jumped out at me. I mean, this is a producer who you quoted as telling you, "You think because you're black and a woman you can get anything you want. And, you slut, you don't deserve it."

SIMPSON: And you didn't describe how he had me. I was against a fence at the rap party for the Republican Convention, and he had his arms up against me like that.

He was in my space, too close to my space. So it was like I was pinned as he's telling me this. And I had to, like, get out from under him, sneak out from under his arms to get away. And I don't think he would realize today that he told me that, he was so drunk.

KURTZ: You later jumped to ABC News, and within a certain period of time, you ended up leading kind of a protest delegation of minority journalists to a luncheon with Roone Arledge, a legendary ABC News president, in New York.

You're kind of a troublemaker aren't you?

SIMPSON: I would like to think I'm an agent of change.

We were just celebrating Martin Luther King's birthday, and I gave one of those MLK breakfast speeches that everyone does at this time of year. And I think about Dr. King, and I met him early in my career, and I felt if those people could march and could get beaten in the head for freedom rides and things like that, the least I could do is do what I could where I was to make change and to improve, you know, race relations, and to get black people treated equally and fairly. The law of the land.

KURTZ: Again from the book, you were covering the first George Bush's presidential campaign, 1988. You were suddenly taken off that campaign as Bush was about to win the nomination, but you were made a Saturday night anchor as kind of a consolation prize, I guess. And you write that some colleagues thought you got the job because of "affirmative action and my big mouth."

SIMPSON: That's right.

KURTZ: So how did you feel about that whole turn of events?

SIMPSON: Well, first of all, I was very upset, because, typically, the person that covers the presidential candidate --

KURTZ: Who wins.

SIMPSON: -- who wins goes into the White House as senior White House correspondent. I was looking forward to that.

I had covered George H. W. Bush for eight years. But then it was in the paper. They didn't even tell me. I read it in John Carmody's column. Remember his column?

KURTZ: In "The Washington Post," yes.

SIMPSON: Yes. And it said, "Carole Simpson has been removed from the Bush campaign and Brit Hume will be the correspondent." And I was like, no, you didn't. No, you didn't.

How is this possible? When it comes to the black woman being able to be first senior correspondent, White House correspondent, it wasn't going to happen with me. So again, because they knew that I would just go -- I'm on TV, I can't say the word I want to say.

KURTZ: You use a few of those words in the book.


KURTZ: But you invoke affirmative action as a perception that some had about why you got this break or that break in your career. But, in a way, the flip side is, didn't affirmative action also help you?

SIMPSON: It did. And I'm proud to say I'm an affirmative action baby. I'm glad there were some people that looked around a newsroom and said we need one of those, somebody that looks like that, that dresses like that.

If that had not happened, I don't know where I would be. So "affirmative action" is such a bad term now. I mean, God forbid, affirmative action. But, you know, we need it back, because I look around at the networks today, and there are fewer African-American correspondents than there were in the '80ss.

KURTZ: I want to get to that, but I also want to touch on this -- in the book -- and we're not talking 30 years ago, we're talking about what I would consider the modern era -- you talk about producers, staffers maybe not intending offense, but making racial jokes. What kind of racial jokes?

SIMPSON: Well, how about walking into a going away party for a fellow correspondent who was going to Moscow and have the senior person in the ABC Washington bureau, as soon as I crossed the threshold in the party, ask me, where's my cap and apron, aren't I going to serve? And that said to me, this man sees me walk into this room and he sees a black woman. He doesn't see Carole Simpson. And he's asking, why aren't I serving these hors d'oeuvres.

KURTZ: When you describe these incidents with these executives and these producers, generally you don't name names.



SIMPSON: And you said a bad thing about me in your column on "The Daily Beast."

KURTZ: What was that?

SIMPSON: You said "A real journalist names names." Now, come on. You know "The Washington Post" is always talking about "highly- placed administration sources" and --

KURTZ: Right. But this is not a situation where you're protecting a source who was giving you sensitive information. You're recounting your story, this is what happened to Carole Simpson.


KURTZ: I don't have the ability to call up somebody else and say, well, wait a minute, did you really say that because you're not telling me or the reader -- more importantly, the reader -- who it is.

SIMPSON: Well I thought about using their names. And then I thought about libel (AUDIO GAP) without describing who they are. Plus, the people that I'm talking about are not doing so well now.

KURTZ: I see. All right.

I need to get a break. You understand that as a television veteran.

When we come back, more with Carole Simpson. We'll talk about not just the racial aspect of being a trailblazer in network news, but the gender aspect as well.

Stay with us.


KURTZ: And we are continuing our conversation with Carole Simpson, who's come down from Boston to talk to us about her book.

As much as you write about the ups and downs you had related to racial prejudice, or attitudes towards African-Americans, you say the sexual discrimination was worse.

SIMPSON: It was. Everyone is surprised when they ask me, "Did you suffer more racial discrimination or sex discrimination?" And it was more times I heard I couldn't do something because I was a woman than you can't do it because you're African-American.

KURTZ: But beyond that, you got groped and touched and other things that we won't detail on the air.

SIMPSON: Right. It was pretty nasty.

KURTZ: Didn't that make you angry, frustrated, infuriated?

SIMPSON: Yes, but remember in my book I said I wasn't going to let anybody push me away from my dream to be a journalist, and I just had to grin and bear it, because there was no recourse. There were no sexual harassment policies in the company --


KURTZ: Right. This predates that era.

SIMPSON: Right. Exactly.

KURTZ: Now, talking about -- you know, hasn't there been, I would say, some substantial progress in terms of from when you started to now, in terms of African-American in senior reporting and anchoring roles? I mean, we have Oprah. We have Robin Roberts. We have Soledad O'Brien.

SIMPSON: Don't put Oprah Roberts (sic) and don't put Robin Roberts in my category.


SIMPSON: OK? Robin Roberts came from sports, and she's doing what is basically an entertainment show, not a news show.

KURTZ: Well, "GMA" has plenty of news.

SIMPSON: It has in the first half hour. The last hour and a half is all books and cooking and celebrities.


SIMPSON: And Oprah Winfrey is a television personality.

KURTZ: Is a phenomenon who transcends --


SIMPSON: She was a former newswoman but, no, I wouldn't put those in the category. So don't say look at the success of these women because --

KURTZ: I was just using them as examples, of course.

SIMPSON: Yes, but they are not. They are not hard-news people like I was -- OK? -- that wanted to cover stories and wanted to anchor the news.

KURTZ: But it is not unusual to see a Lester Holt or a Soledad O'Brien on the air, on networks, cable channels, the way it was when you started. Is that progress? SIMPSON: Weekends, infrequently --


SIMPSON: -- for Soledad. No, I don't think it's progress.

I think we've gone backwards. There is nobody saying oh, my, we really need to get more African-Americans on the air, we need to get more Hispanics on the air, we need to get more Asians on the air. Yet, America continues to become more and more diverse. And yet it is white men --

KURTZ: So we have an African-American president, and you feel like the news business -- the television business, I should say -- hasn't gotten the message?

SIMPSON: It's gotten worse. And that makes me very upset, because I worked very hard.

KURTZ: We're coming up on a break, but why has it gotten worse?

SIMPSON: I think it's gotten worse because nobody is out there talking about it.

KURTZ: It's an issue that you believe has been swept under the rug?

SIMPSON: It is on the back burner. It is so far on the back burner, that nobody cared.

KURTZ: I'll give you one more reason to look at Carole Simpson's book, "News Lady" -- if we could put up the cover -- she also talks about her plastic surgery. How often do you find television stars talking about that?

Carole Simpson, thanks very much for joining us.

SIMPSON: It's great, Howie.

KURTZ: Nice to see you.

Up next, Steve Jobs taking another medical leave from Apple. Why are some journalists saying his health should be off limits?


KURTZ: There may be no CEO in America who is more closely identified with his company's success or more closemouthed about his health. Steve Jobs announcing this week for the third time that he's taking a leave of absence from Apple, but neither he nor the computer giant would provide any details about Jobs' condition.

The question: Do journalists have a responsibility to report on the prognosis of the man who helped bring us the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad? Joining us now here in Washington, Mark Potts, CEO, of and a former Washington Post" reporter. And in New York, Steven Levy, senior writer for "Wired" magazine.

I'll start with you, Mark Potts. Here's Dan Lyons, who was writing a column called "Fake Steve Jobs" online, a satirical column he's now ending, and he says, you know what? There's no real news value to any of this stuff about Jobs' health. People are just writing these stories to generate page views.

So, the argument is the guy is sick. Why don't journalists leave him alone?

MARK POTTS, CEO, GROWTHSPUR.COM: Well, you know, I think that's fine if he's an actor, if he's Michael Douglas. The fact is, there are millions of people who own Apple stock, who have a stake in Apple's future, and thus have a stake in Steve Jobs' health.

It's a delicate issue, because there are certainly privacy issues here. But Apple stock lost $15 billion in value on Tuesday morning after this announcement. It's a big deal. And I think we -- I'm a very small stockholder. I think we have a right to know what's going on with the company.

KURTZ: Steve Levy, does it seem -- do journalists run the risk that it will seem like they are harassing or stalking this guy by scrounging for details about his medical condition?

STEVEN LEVY, SR. WRITER, "WIRED": Well, sure they do. I'm not a fan of telling the press you can't do something here. There's two real issues here.

One, Apple has come under a lot of criticism for not being more forthcoming about the details of Steve's medical condition. And I feel that as long as they follow the law, they are OK with that. They let people know that he's taking a leave, and people who want to invest in Apple, or who are investing in Apple, can decide for themselves whether they want to keep investing or put their money in or take their money out.

KURTZ: You say they have been criticized for not being more forthcoming. Apple didn't even disclose when Steve Jobs had a liver transplant. That's the level of corporate disclosure we're talking about here.

LEVY: Well, it's troublesome. But ultimately, there is a referee here, and the referee is the SEC.

You really have to look for the rules of the game to come into play here. And, you know, I wish there were clearer rules about what a company has to do. Uncertainty is a big part of investing there.

KURTZ: But that's a legal argument. It seems to me there's a whole journalistic debate here, which is, first of all, Jobs has benefited, as has Apple, from a huge amount of coverage. In fact, a lot of people think Apple gets worshipful coverage. So that's to his benefit when he wants to roll out the iPad.

And at the same time, he seems to put a cloak of secrecy over his health, and the company pulls that curtain very tight. And as you were saying, investors want to know. But what about people who buy the products? What about people who just feel like this guy is a public figure, he ceases on the publicity that helps him sell products, but doesn't want to talk about the health of the CEO?

POTTS: Well, like I said, it's a delicate balance. And I do think that's where we're starting to get, to that balance. How much do people who buy products really need to know, or people who just are fans really need to know?

KURTZ: But here's Dan Lyons saying basically there's no news to knowing the details of his condition. And you guys who are writing about it, you're just trying to get more Web traffic.

POTTS: Yes. And I thought Dan Lyons was really off base there. I think he got a little bit confused with his "Fake Steve Jobs" character and somehow thought they were writing about him.

And I think, you know, again, as Steve said, the SEC issue here is pretty profound. And the SEC's rules are very fuzzy, as it turns out, on what has to be disclosed when a corporate executive gets sick.

There are cases that go both ways. In the past, the SEC really has never been definitive on it. But we need to know. We don't need to know absolutely everything, we don't need to know gory details. We do need to know, to some extent, what the prognosis is and whether or not he's going to be viable going forward.

KURTZ: Well, again, I don't think journalists need to take their leave from the Securities and Exchange Commission. That's a legal and stock matter.

LEVY: Well, the fact is that Steve, besides being a CEO and an important figure in business, he is a celebrity. And, you know, while he has asked for privacy, we hear pleas for privacy all the time from well-known people, whether it's Julia Roberts or Dick Cheney or whoever, who has a medical condition.

And the fact is, even though Steve has asked for it, there will be people who look into it. And some of them, you know, will be, you know, ankle biters who are looking around for information and then want to put it in context. And I expect at some point a pretty substantial journalistic institution will, you know, do a pretty detailed report on what is going on with Steve. And people will read it, and I'm not saying it doesn't have any news value.

KURTZ: OK. Right. I know you are not.

Let me turn to a piece in "Fortune" magazine by Doron Levin reporting this week that in early 2009, Jobs went to Switzerland for unusual radiological treatment for his cancer. This information comes from a former Apple director named Jerry York who has since died. And the piece says, "With York's death, the off-the-record agreement is no longer in place."

So is that OK, the source dies and then you report it? And then why not report it earlier? York died about a year ago.

POTTS: That's a whole other issue, and it's a very interesting one. I think it traces back to the pledge that Woodward and Bernstein made about "Deep Throat," that they wouldn't reveal him until his death. As it turned out, he gave permission to do that before his death.

But that was an exception case. I was not aware as a reporter that "off the record" suddenly disappeared when somebody died.

KURTZ: Well, "Fortune" magazine says in a statement that it doesn't have that view, but that Doron Levin, who's a contributor, lived up to his agreement, whatever that agreement was, with Jerry York. But it raises a ticklish issue about protecting sources who aren't around any longer to defend themselves.

POTTS: Yes. I was very troubled by that, and I'm not sure what the right response is. I understand the logic behind it, but I think you made a pledge to somebody, and unless they agreed to release you from that pledge at their death, as a reporter you have to hold up to that pledge.

KURTZ: Before we go, do you agree with Steve Levy that a major news organization will come up with a more definitive recount of Jobs' health?

POTTS: Yes, I think they will. And I think the best piece of reporting in this story so far is "The New York Times," which had a little tiny bit the first day that said that people on campus at Apple reported that Jobs had only been coming to work a couple of days a week, that he was looking much more gaunt. Wow, that really advances the story. Now we actually know what's going on.

KURTZ: All right. Steve Levy, Mark Potts, thanks very much.

When we come back, NPR gets some in-house heat for its handling of the Gabby Giffords shooting; the missing young woman you haven't heard about; and wait until you see who Dr. Laura is blaming now. "Media Monitor, up next.


KURTZ: Time now for our "Media Monitor." And here's what I liked.

It isn't easy to take on your own news organization. But Scott Simon, the host of NPR's "Weekend Edition," did just that.

After National Public Radio prematurely declared Gabby Giffords dead on the day of the Tucson shootings, along with other news outlets, including CNN and Fox News, Simon told NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard this week, "There should be no room for doubt when a news organizations declares someone dead. Why wouldn't the same judiciousness be exercised in a case like this? The mistake NPR made was reprehensible."

The reason Simon feels so strongly is that he and his wife are close friends with the congresswoman and her husband. He had to tell his two young daughters that Giffords was dead, and then that she wasn't.

"Take our pain and confusion," he says, "and multiply by, oh, 100 or so for the Giffords' family," as Giffords' husband made clear to Diane Sawyer about that moment when they hear the news reports that Gabby had die.


MARK KELLY, GABRIELLE GIFFORDS'S HUSBAND: The kids started crying. My mother starts -- she almost screamed. And I just walked into the bathroom and, you know, broke down.


KURTZ: NPR wasn't alone in this error. It was one of the few outlets to apologize. But hats off to one of its staffers for not letting it slide.

And by the way, two Associated Press reporters got a $500 Beat of the Week Award from the wire services senior managing editor, Mike Oreskes. Why? Because they didn't go with the story that Giffords was dead even though two congressional sources said they believe she had died. A nice example of journalistic restraint.

And here is what I don't like.

You know all too well what the coverage looks like when a young, attractive middle-class white woman goes missing. We all saw it with Natalee Holloway and in many other cases. You may not know that a straight A high school student from North Carolina went missing in Baltimore three days after Christmas.

Her name is Felicia Barnes, and she is African-American. Now, there has been a story here and there, but no cable obsession, no network morning shows, no major newspaper coverage outside of Charlotte and Baltimore. When CNN covered the disappearance, it was Don Lemon, an African-American anchor, who made the point that every time there's a missing woman, people believe there may be some disparity in race.

"NBC Nightly News," to its credit, got to the story this week and ran a clip of Felicia's mother describing their last conversation.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Police are frustrated because it's not getting more attention and not getting the kind of attention that some other disappearances get.

JANICE SALLIS, MOTHER OF MISSING GIRL: I told her how sad that I was because all of the children were gone, and that next year that they are not going to be able to go because I was lonely without them. And she said, "Mommy, I miss you, too."


KURTZ: Now, you tell me that if Felicia was "Felicity," a missing white student that had vanished weeks ago, that television wouldn't be going crazy? This is programming on a racial basis, and it's just sad.

Remember when Dr. Laura Schlessinger gave up her radio show after the fear over her use of the N-word? I never thought what she said was that big a deal. She was trying, rather clumsily, to make the point that black entertainers get away with using that racial slur while white folks can't.

But I was surprised to see Dr. Laura make this argument on "The Today Show."


DR. LAURA SCHLESSINGER, RADIO HOST: And so that night, I apologized. I apologized in the morning. And some 36, 48 hours later, CNN decided to have a field day and go 48 straight hours on it, misrepresenting me. With the Urban League coming after me, the NAACP --


KURTZ: OK. That's a bit much.

First, I found no evidence that CNN misrepresented Schlessinger, or, for that matter, covered the story more than lots of other outlets. It was on the network morning shows, evening newscasts. She was Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person in the World." And if CNN did play it up, maybe it was because of this --


LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": So what are you here to tell us tonight?

SCHLESSINGER: Well, I'm here to say that my contract is up for my radio show at the end of the year, and I've made the decision not to do radio anymore.


KURTZ: You chose to announce your decision on "LARRY KING LIVE." Now that you have landed at Sirius XM Satellite Radio, Dr. Laura, you really should stop blaming other people for your self-inflicted wound.

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