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Journalists Attacked in Egypt

Aired February 6, 2011 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: As journalists scramble to chronicle the uprising in Egypt, this is the week the story turned ugly in more ways than one.

From CNN's Anderson Cooper, to ABC's Christiane Amanpour, from CBS's Lara Logan to Fox's Greg Palkot, correspondents have been attacked, beaten, chased, threatened, arrested, and detained. How do you cover a dangerous story when you become a target for the mob?

Our guests include Katie Couric, just back from Egypt, and Sam Donaldson.

From Cairo to Jerusalem to Britain to here in Washington, we'll look at the way the crisis is being portrayed, the coverage of President Obama, the unorthodox criticism by Glenn Beck, the Egyptian television reporter who quit in protest, the trashing of Al Jazeera's offices, and why the press never saw this coming.

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

Journalists who race off to hot spots are accustomed to taking risks, but when violence erupted between Egyptian protesters and pro- government agitators, correspondents were not just caught in the crossfire, they were specifically targeted. It's a harrowing list, reporters from "The New York Times" and "Washington Post" arrested and released.

Lara Logan and her CBS crew first marched back to her hotel at gunpoint and later detained by police before being released. ABC correspondent Brian Hartman threatened with beheading by a group of angry Egyptians who let his crew go only after a plea from their Lebanese cameraman. Fox News correspondent Greg Palkot and his cameraman, badly beaten, then detained before being hospitalized for the injuries, released only after the Obama administration interceded.

Some of these incidents were captured on tape, beginning with the one involving Anderson Cooper, who later started reporting from an undisclosed location.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We were set upon by a crowd of pro- Mubarak supporters, punching us, trying to rip the clothes off my producer, trying to take the camera from my cameraman, punching me in the head several times in the body. All of us were punched. I don't mind telling you, I am a little scared because we frankly don't know what the next few hours will hold. And I think there's a lot of people who are scared tonight in Egypt.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, "THIS WEEK WITH CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR": We left that angry crowd and got into our car. They forced us into our car. And as we started to drive off, they hit the car with their fists over and over again, and threw a rock through the front window. The glass is shattered all over our driver.

Are you OK? Did they hurt you?


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As we are filming from a bridge, this man starts yelling at us to stop. "Why are you filming?" he shouts. "Is this a nice image? It's ugly." He threatens to break our camera.

(on camera): Why is everybody so angry with the media?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because it doesn't give a very good picture about us.


KURTZ: One of network anchors who went to Egypt was Katie Couric, who found herself in the thick of the story.


KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: This ancient city is the epicenter of an uprising by the people of this country who say now is the time for a new Egypt. And when the man many believe represents the old Egypt finally spoke to the people today, it only stoked the fires of rage and resentment.


KURTZ: I spoke to the anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News" a few moments ago by phone from New York.


KURTZ: Katie Couric, welcome.


KURTZ: You waded into that crowd in Cairo. We just saw that clip. Why did you decide to do that? It looks like things got pretty tense there for a few minutes.

COURIC: I think that was in the initial stages of the tension. You know, we had been shooting from other things. I had an interview with Amr Moussa, who is the secretary general of the Arab League, and then went and talked to Mohamed ElBaradei. And we had heard that things were getting a bit dicey in the square.

So of course we decided, well, let's go and find out what's going on. And it was very clear as we tried to get into the square itself -- we were just actually on a road leading to the square -- that things had taken a very ugly turn.

The atmosphere had changed dramatically from the night before, when it felt, as I said on the "Evening News," like a turbo charged street festival. All these pro-Mubarak industry protesters were marching into the square sort of in pretty big numbers. And their attitude toward the media was very, very different than the anti- government protesters. At first I thought --

KURTZ: Were you nervous?

COURIC: Well, yes, I was a little nervous. But at first, I just thought it was a boisterous crowd. You know, when you have a television camera, it sometimes attracts some pretty crazy behavior, people wanting to get in the shot, wanting to scream and yell and carry on and make faces and signs, et cetera.

So I thought, really, it was just one of those situations, but it became clear pretty quickly that this was a very different scenario, that this was fueled by a great deal of anger and animosity towards the press, towards the United States. And when I got surrounded, and this one sort of young Egyptian man pushed me, I thought -- I looked at his eyes, and they were so full of rage. I thought, gee, this is a pretty precarious situation I need to walk away from here, and so that's what I did. I just kind of walked away and got out of there.

KURTZ: It kind of leads to my next question. Some people are saying, you know, maybe American anchors shouldn't go into these volatile situations. They attract so much attention. Perhaps they become targets and distract from the story.

I can see both sides of that argument. What do you think?

COURIC: Well, I don't really see the one side of the argument. I mean, first of all, no one knew I was an anchor. They saw me as another journalist, as far as I know. And, you know, hopefully people who are in anchor roles have spent years out in the field reporting and have covered some of the biggest stories that have unfolded across the world for a fair amount of time and are experienced.

And so, you know, I think that you have to be smart and responsible and use good judgment. But I don't really think that we were necessarily targeted in terms of being anchors.

I heard of journalists getting abused from "The New York Times," from French news agencies. I talked to a couple of still photographers who had their cameras taken by the police and their film confiscated. So I don't think people were making judgments and saying, oh, she's the anchor of the "CBS Evening News," let's go after her.

KURTZ: Right. But on that point, clearly they were going after some journalists. And when we reached that 48-hour period where Anderson Cooper of CNN was attacked, where your CBS colleague Lara Logan was arrested and eventually released, what was your reaction to these attacks being in the middle of that cauldron?

COURIC: Well, obviously, it was very unnerving. And, I mean, I think it was pretty clear why they were doing it.

You know, I think heretofore, most of the coverage of the anti- government protesters had been pretty positive. And the government clearly knew they were losing the propaganda war, if you will. And they wanted these images coming out of Tahrir Square and elsewhere to stop. So what's the best way of doing that? It's obviously to intimidate, threaten and attack reporters.

KURTZ: Of course, but that then became the story. And the government got a whole new wave of bad publicity.

While you were in Egypt, Katie, to what extent were you able to get a sense of the passion of these protesters and why some of these people who were not especially political in the past were joining a mass protest that frankly none of us had seen coming?

COURIC: Well, I think that, clearly, this had been simmering for a long time. I had Lara Logan go a piece in Alexandria last week on Khaled Saeed, who was a young Egyptian man who had been beaten up by the police because he was really what ignited this -- partially ignited this tinderbox of simmering anger and rage.

He was beaten up by police. A Facebook page was started.

I think it's fascinating, the role social media played in this. I don't think you can say it was solely the result of social media, but I think it spread the word like wildfire and got young people incredibly engaged and organized in this process in a way that they wouldn't otherwise have been able to do.

But I think that, you know, people -- the joblessness, jobless rate, the lack of employment is so terrible in Egypt, the poverty rate is so intense and severe. And I think people were just -- their anger just came to the surface.

And I think that they -- it was really a people's revolution. People felt empowered, and you felt that when you went in Tahrir Square the first night I got there, because it was a peaceful protest, and you felt like people were actually going to speak out and try to enact change. And it was actually an incredibly inspiring thing to witness.

KURTZ: And a revolution that is still unfolding before our eyes.

Katie Couric, we're glad you're back home safe. Thanks very much for joining us.

COURIC: Thanks, Howie.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ: And we're continuing our coverage of the unfolding events in Egypt.

Joining us now from Cairo, Christopher Dickey, Paris bureau chief and Middle East regional editor for "Newsweek." In Jerusalem, Janine Zacharia, who covers the Middle East for "The Washington Post." She's just back from Egypt. And here in Washington, Frank Sesno, former CNN Washington bureau chief and now professor of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University.

Frank Sesno, to some extent, these brutal attacks against journalists by these thugs who are working for -- or in the employ of the Mubarak regime, didn't they backfire?

FRANK SESNO, THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Yes, they did backfire, because they turned an even harsher glare on the regime in Egypt, they distracted the world, in a sense, from the debate of the street, and put it on these sort of -- the human rights essentially, the human rights record.

And it turned the -- I think you could argue that it turned the Obama administration, many other governments around the world, even more harshly toward the notion that there needs to be real deep and lasting change, because this veneer of civilization is being challenged.

KURTZ: Chris Dickey, in Cairo, as somebody has been there through most of this story, what was the government hoping to gain by going after journalists, arresting them, threatening them, in many cases physically attacking them? It just seems like this has made the coverage more negative toward that regime.

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, MIDDLE EAST REGIONAL EDITOR, "NEWSWEEK": Well, absolutely, it has. But the regime wasn't thinking about the coverage in that sense. It was thinking about its domestic constituency, what it was going to tell the people here in Egypt.

And it wanted to tell them that this protest in Tahrir Square, that's not Egyptian, it's all a foreign conspiracy. It's all being run by these -- these journalists are all part of that foreign conspiracy.

And that's why although we're talking about journalists, really, it's worse than that. You've not only had attacks on journalists, you've had attacks on people just because they were foreigners. And this has just been the constant drumbeat of the Mubarak administration, even as the people who have been appointed to run things now, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq and Vice President Omar Suleiman are saying, oh, we're against attacking foreigners, we're against attacking journalists.

What we're seeing is one thing being said to the outside world and another thing being said to incite the people inside Egypt. And that's a very old game by this regime.

KURTZ: Right. And Janine Zacharia, the pictures, of course, speak very loudly. And I wonder whether you think journalists kind of became the face of the thuggish tactics of the Mubarak regime when they were, in effect, providing first-person witness to the fact that people were willing to use guns and people were willing to use clubs and rocks against those who were trying to cover the story.

JANINE ZACHARIA, JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, it's no doubt that journalists became part of the story when it becomes this kind of high profile and you have senior top anchors flying in there. That's going to be the case.

But I thought, you know, one of things to point out here is that what this really showed -- and it echoes a little bit what Frank said, is sort of the history of how the Egyptians deal with their own media. I mean, they just don't have a culture of free media, of people coming in.

Even when I was there in Cairo the day -- the Thursday before the "Day of Rage," so two days after that first protest, they had a press conference at the party headquarters, and you saw -- I was reminded again of how the Egyptian media are so cowed, they couldn't ask the most obvious question that day, which namely was, where is President Mubarak? We hadn't seen him yet. They asked very simple questions.

So, then, here you are, you're the Egyptian regime, and you're seeing all these people reporting all these things. You try shutting down their Internet and their phones, and that doesn't work, so, instead, you arrest them. And it really shows the Egypt that the media has not covered -- the foreign media -- in any kind of serious, sustained way, at least for the last coupe of years.

KURTZ: Right.

SESNO: There's one other thing very interesting, Howie, that has been the backlash, as you say, from all this. I got an e-mail earlier this morning from Theo May, a young man who's over there as a freelance journalist who spent a lot of time on the ground. He says one of things that these beatings and the harassment of these journalists has done has made it harder to write a story from the point of view of the Mubarak government, that he's found, actually, in a lot of his travels, that there's a fear bit of support for Mubarak in terms of the security -- the oasis of relative security that Egypt has become.

You have activities like this on the street with reporters being targeted and harassed. Not going to write a story that's favorable or has the point of view very favorably of the Egyptian government.

KURTZ: But to some extent, Chris Dickey, it worked for a while in the sense that I saw fewer live shots for several days, we saw Anderson Cooper of CNN broadcasting from his hotel room, not in the streets. NBC's Richard Engel has done an extraordinary job, up on a balcony for many of his live shots.

So, did the regime get what it wanted, which was to kind of tamp down the live pictures of the clashes in that square?

DICKEY: Well, to the extent that that's all it wanted, yes, it did reduce some of the coverage. The other vital thing that it did was shut down a lot of the camera positions in high-rise hotels around the square.

That's where it really started to black out the coverage. It wasn't just the people going into the square. And yes, it's been very scary going in and out.

Often, when you're in the square, there's not that much of a problem. But going in and out, you wind up, all of a sudden, confronted by people, you're not sure who they are. They're carrying clubs, they may be very angry.

You know, what you need to understand, though, is that this is something that the Egyptians have lived with for a long time. A lot of these thugs are normally employed by government party parliamentarians, and they're used during elections to intimidate voters.

It's not like they just sprang out of nowhere. This is part of the system. And this is something that -- this is precisely what the people who are protesting are protesting against.

KURTZ: Right.

DICKEY: And to the extent that they created a situation where the international journalistic community identified directly with those people and their problems, they created a disaster for public relations in Egypt.

KURTZ: And now the whole world is seeing it close up.

Janine Zacharia, I wonder if there was some irrational exuberance, to use a Wall Street term, in the early coverage of these protests. You have a front page story in "The Washington Post" today saying that maybe some observers, some journalists were expecting the Egyptian governments to topple rather quickly like Tunisia, and now it looks like it will be more of a long slog.

ZACHARIA: I wasn't one of those journalists, really. But I was wrong on the other end.

I really thought this was going to be over in four days, having covered Egypt in one way or another for the last 15 years, knowing the way that they deal with these kinds of situations, and having been there just a few months ago and taken the pulse, and it was so different. So I think, yes, there was that euphoria of expectation.

But I have to tell you, on that Friday night, that "Day of Rage," when I'm sure everybody was watching at home, those battles on the bridges, I was one of those journalists up in my hotel room, on the balcony, along with a lot of other journalists, because you could not physically breathe outside. They must have fired 2,000 cans of tear gas. Plus, the building next to me on fire. And I got a sense that night when the army rolled in. I didn't read it the same way everybody else did.

I didn't think that, oh, this is the army with the people. I saw it more as, this is going to be a long stalemate, the army is here, it's not really clear what their role is. And even now, today, we're not rally sure how this is going to end, as I pointed out in my piece today. So it's really --

KURTZ: It's very unclear.

ZACHARIA: I think we're headed into a long battle here, yes.

KURTZ: Right. And where the pictures may not be quite as vital because the violence has subsided, at least for a moment.

Let me get a break. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment.


KURTZ: And we're continuing our conversation about the unfolding events in Egypt.

Let me go back to Cairo and Christopher Dickey.

Chris, it's no secret that American media appetite for international coverage has shrunk over the years excepts in extraordinary situations like this. If the violence were to continue to subside, and we don't have the dramatic pictures of protesters being -- you know, clashing with the pro-government agitators, and the story moves behind the scenes, negotiations, diplomacy, do you think coverage of this story within days will begin to fade a bit?

DICKEY: Oh, I think it's already fading. I think you've seen a lot of people leave.

You know, the big anchors, they're gone. The television coverage of not just the violence, the overall television coverage, has diminished considerably, and it will continue to do so.

But the people who are in sort of quasi-leadership positions of the protest and of this movement, this democracy movement, they understand that perfectly well, and they're looking for new ways to keep continuing the pressure on the government. And I think they are going to looking to the Americans to help them, but I think they also will have a lot of different tactics from boycotts and other kinds of measures that they can take, which won't be as mediagenic, but which may still help them achieve their goals.

KURTZ: Frank Sesno, just because NBC's Brian Williams and CBS' Katie Couric and CNN's Anderson Cooper have either left, or are in the process of leaving, doesn't mean the coverage has to fade. But it seems to me that there was a narrative early on -- this was driven by Twitter, this was driven by Facebook -- and that Mubarak, somebody joked, will he be gone by the Super Bowl? It doesn't always work out quite so neatly, does it?

SESNO: It doesn't work out quite so neatly. And the problem is, Howie, that we are utterly addicted to the picture.

We are addicted to the narrative, to this great dramatic story. And when the great dramatic story of these millions of people in the streets suddenly fades, even though the story, what's happening behind the scenes, is going to be more important, probably, to what happens to Egypt's future, more important to the region, that's going to require more and better and smarter coverage, not less.

And we are in real danger here of missing the real story if everybody bails out of town -- not everybody, because this won't go away. We'll still get the coverage, but will it get the attention that it needs? And will we seize this, what needs to be a teachable moment for the world? This a pivotal part of the planet, and what happens there matters to everybody.

KURTZ: And Janine Zacharia, since you're in Jerusalem, this is playing out very differently, is it not, in the Israeli press, which doesn't welcome the toppling of Mubarak, which might be cheered in many corners in America? Do Israeli commentators care less about the fact that he has been an autocrat for nearly three decades and looking at it more through the lens of Israeli security?

ZACHARIA: Yes. Clearly, the Israeli security issue definitely trumps. The narrative here is one of deep concern about what's going to happen, especially the expectation that the Muslim Brotherhood will have some role in any new government. So you definitely see a lot of editorials along those lines.

In terms of the news coverage, I would say though that even here, where this is really like an existential issue for Israel, the new coverage is starting to fade. Today's front page does not have a story about Egypt. It's trumped by a fire at IKEA that burned down yesterday, and the story about the appointment of the next chief of staff.

So, yes, it's certainly of concern to the leaders. But how long Israelis will sustain interest, I'm not quite sure.

KURTZ: All right.

And, of course, tonight the big story will be the Super Bowl here in the United States. And Bill O'Reilly interviewing President Obama. He'll do a big number for that.

Janine Zacharia in Jerusalem, Christopher Dickey in Cairo, Frank Sesno, here, thanks very much for joining us.

We're going to take a commercial break. Our coverage continues on the other side.


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Welcome back. We're going to go now to Spokane Washington and talk to Lawrence Pintak. He's a former Middle East correspondent for CBS News, the founding dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.

Lawrence, you've written about Al Jazeera and its crucial role in the Egyptian events of the last two weeks. Why is that Arab satellite network, in your view, been so important?

LAWRENCE PINTAK, FMR. MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: You can draw a direct line from the birth of the Arab media revolution which started with Jazeera's launch in '96 and this uprising. Social media has been very important for the activists to organize in this uprising. But the fact that people can watch this play out on television has been the game-changer.

KURTZ: Why are we -- you lived in Cairo for some time. Leaving aside the pro-Mubarak thugs who were sent out there to rough up protesters and journalists, why are we not seeing from the crowds more hostility toward Americans, American journalists in general, and in particular? Was that revealing at all?

PINTAK: Well, there's never been hostility toward American journalists on the part of the average Egyptian. There has been hostility toward the media on the part of the government. And what American journalists are enduring now is something that Egyptian journalists and other Arab journalists have endured for a very long time.

KURTZ: There was, as you know -- I was going to play the clip, we don't have it right now, a reporter for Nile TV who was going -- I'm sorry, we do have it. Let's roll that. I want to ask you about it on the other side.

She resigned from the state-run television. Here's her explanation.


SHAHIRA AMIN, FMR. NILE TV SR. CORRESPONDENT: We were just covering the pro-Mubarak rallies, which I thought was ridiculous. And I don't want to be part of their propaganda machine.

And I heard the chants of the protesters and decided to get off in Tahrir Square and join the protesters, because I'm siding with the people, not the regime.


KURTZ: That was Shahira Amin. And I'm sorry, she was surprised that Egyptian state-run television isn't fair and balanced and that she was only covering one side of the story?

PINTAK: Well, I suspect she wasn't surprised. But the fact is that Arab journalists have been moving forward in how they approach their job for a long time. And obviously, the holdouts are those working for the overtly government-owned stations and papers.

But we did a survey of Arab journalists a couple of years ago, and we found that 75 percent of them said they saw it as their mission to create political and social change. And that was even true of those on government-owned papers and TV stations, but they were a little more constrained in what they could do.

KURTZ: All right. Lawrence Pintak, I have to interrupt you.

We're going to toss now to Candy Crowley for some breaking news. She's going to talk to the Egyptian prime minister by phone -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": I'm Candy Crowley in Washington.

We do indeed have the chance to interview Ahmed Shafiq. He is the prime minister of Egypt, and we have him on the phone now.

Mr. Prime Minister, can you hear me?


CROWLEY: OK. Thank you so much.

SHAFIQ: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you first -- there are reports that the state of emergency, which I believe has been in place in Egypt since 1981, has been lifted. Can you confirm that or deny it?

SHAFIQ: May I ask you kindly to repeat your message in a more louder voice, please?

CROWLEY: Yes. I was asking, has the state of emergency in Egypt been lifted?

SHAFIQ: If you are speaking now concerning the emergency now in Egypt, the emergency situation, I don't say that the problem be over now. But the situation today is extremely better than yesterday, and the discussion between the old factions are going on.

We spoke together today with all the ideas, reaction (ph), in the fields. Hopefully tomorrow or after tomorrow we will get better raises now, because I think the ideas are nearer each other now than before.

CROWLEY: Mr. Prime Minister, our reporters on the scene in Cairo tell us that while you negotiate about a democratic process, there are still arrests of local and international human rights activists, as well as journalists.

Why are you arresting them?

SHAFIQ: I didn't understand you. I didn't understand you.

CROWLEY: We are told that you are arresting human rights activists and journalists. Why?

SHAFIQ: No. I don't hear well. I don't hear well now.

CROWLEY: Can you tell us about President Mubarak? Do you expect him any time soon to resign?

SHAFIQ: If you are speaking about the situation with President Mubarak now, you know that President Mubarak will leave in September. And now the discussion is if he's able to leave before or not.

We insist here in Egypt to continue his period until the end of September, the month of September, because during this period we will be headed by the president, and a lot of points must be covered before he leaves. So I think we are in bad need for the president (INAUDIBLE) because that will be easier for us to fulfill the mission we are looking to get.

CROWLEY: Will the demonstrators accept President Mubarak staying until September?

SHAFIQ: Because he's -- the former period must be ended in September, and we have another six months to work with him, changing all the points, or working on changing all the points that we discussed with the majority of the ideas existing in the market here. And we think that this formal action must be respected, and no need to change this time as far as we are already changing all the needed points to be changed.

CROWLEY: Mr. Mubarak will not leave until September. Is that correct?

SHAFIQ: Yes, exactly, in September.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you by arrests by the military police. Why are they arresting --

SHAFIQ: About what?

CROWLEY: About the detention of human rights activists. Why are you detaining them?

SHAFIQ: Oh, frankly speaking, there is some problem. It's not intended at all, my dear.

Frankly speaking, I insist to assure all the authorities here not to ban (ph) anyone or not to bother anyone doing his work (INAUDIBLE). But during some periods as such the period we are passing now, we will not be -- it's rather difficult to be sure 100 percent that this man or either man gets some bad behavior concerning the foreigners here, and he doesn't understand their work or their job or something like that.

So we have to excuse him for such action done with this group because this is not at all intended, my dear. And we insist to cover this point. And I repeat again, hopefully that will not be -- this phenomenon will not be existing after that. CROWLEY: We were told by our reporters today that you have arrested another Al Jazeera reporter from Al Jazeera English, as well as more human rights activists. And it's the Egyptian military police.

Do you have a way to get them to stop those arrests?

SHAFIQ: After our telephone now, after our call now, I will go directly to check this point. And if you permit me, I will give you an answer if there is something like that. But they are not allowed at all to do something like that.

CROWLEY: We would appreciate a return call. That would be great.

And finally, let me try one more time.

SHAFIQ: Please.

CROWLEY: There are reports that the state of emergency that was imposed in Egypt in 1981 has been lifted. Is that true?

SHAFIQ: Frankly, I didn't understand your meaning now. Can you repeat it for me? What about 1981?

CROWLEY: A state of emergency declaration. Has that been lifted?

SHAFIQ: Do you want to say that keeping the case of emergency during the oldest period since 1981 until now, or something like that?

CROWLEY: Has the state of emergency been lifted?

SHAFIQ: I think if I understand perfectly your paragraph now, I think even this point is discussed now. And I don't know. I can't give you my answer perfectly now because I can't get the meaning exactly that you mean.


Thank you so much for taking the time. We look forward to talking to you again when you've checked into these things. We totally appreciate your time.

SHAFIQ: Please be sure that concerning our friends working here with us, I will assure now that nothing is banning the work, and excusing for any action like that against them.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much. We look forward to that. I appreciate your time. Thank you.

SHAFIQ: OK. Thank you, my dear. Bye-bye.

We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, reliable sources.


KURTZ: We pick up our coverage of the crisis in Egypt.

Joining us now via an Internet connection, from Cambridge, England, is John Burns, chief foreign correspondent for "The New York Times." And here in Washington, Abderrahim Foukara, Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera English.

Our thanks to Lawrence Pintak, who we spoke to earlier.

Mr. Foukara, Egypt first banned Al Jazeera, as we discussed when you were on the program last week. Your Cairo office has been ransacked and burned. You've had a couple of staff members detained and then released. Other news organizations as well.

Do you feel like your network is being singled out by Egypt? And why?

ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, AL JAZEERA ENGLISH: Well, the feeling is that all networks and all news outlets have been targeted by these measures in Egypt.

KURTZ: But only Al Jazeera has been banned.

FOUKARA: But Al Jazeera in particular. And the reason is that Al Jazeera Arabic, which I work for, that's obviously the most watched channel in Egypt and in the rest of the Arab region. So the coverage of Al Jazeera Arabic is of true consequence. But Al Jazeera English is of true consequence to the world at large, particularly here in the United States.

So we have seen both channels actually harassed in different ways.

KURTZ: You have managed to stay on the air most of the time, despite the fact that, officially, you're not allowed to broadcast from Egypt. Is that correct?

FOUKARA: Absolutely. I mean, we have found all sorts of different ways to go around the ban. Both the Arabic and the English continue to operate from inside Egypt. Egypt continues to be the main story on both channels.

KURTZ: John Burns, you reported for many years from Iraq, a very dangerous place for journalists. But the danger in Egypt is very different, is it not?


KURTZ: We seem to be having an audio problem. We'll see if we can go back to John Burns.

So I'll pick up with you, Abderrahim.

Fascinating, that the Web site of Al Jazeera English, the traffic has increased 2,500 percent since this crisis began. That is the only way that most Americans can get Al Jazeera coverage. You're on in only a couple of markets across the United States.

Frank Rich, writing in "The New York Times" today -- the columnist -- saying that, this is censorship, his word, by America's corporate gatekeepers. He compares Al Jazeera to the Voice of America behind the Iron Curtain.

Now, censorship happens to be a term used for government, but do you feel like there's been a concerted effort to keep Al Jazeera English off of the American airwaves?

FOUKARA: Well, I mean, we've had different things and different interpretations over the years since Al Jazeera English was launched a few years ago. But, look, what matters now is that this is a huge story. It's a huge story not just for Egyptians or Arabs, it's a huge story obviously for the United States as well.

The fact that Al Jazeera does provide this coverage is food for thought, whether it's a conspiracy against Al Jazeera, censorship, whatever it is, but it provides a service that in crucial times like this, Americans do need to have it to see what's going on in a story that affects them directly.

KURTZ: There are those who say -- are very critical of Al Jazeera, say that it's anti-American, say that it's anti-Israel. I know you've heard these criticisms before, but that -- I mean, you know, to some of these cable operators, these big companies, you have been kind of radioactive.

FOUKARA: Well, look, criticism, you'll always be criticized for one thing or another. All news media are imperfect media in an imperfect world.

Talking of the Israelis, it's interesting that the Israelis have over the years sort of appreciated the coverage of Al Jazeera more, perhaps, than people in other parts of the world like the United States or Canada. But ultimately, when you have a big story like this, and when you have not just the public, but even the international community scratching their heads and saying, how come this has come about? And you have a channel that has been focusing on this story not just for weeks, but for months, it tells you something. That regardless of its flaws, it does provide crucial coverage of a crucial story.

KURTZ: But do its flaws include a point of view? Or are you trying to be fair, even to Americans, even to Israelis? Certainly, there's an American appetite now for Al Jazeera English. But are you trying to be fair, or do you have a point of view?

FOUKARA: Well, the reporters, for example, do sometimes approach the story from different angles, and that creates a controversy for sure. But both Arabic and English have provided open platforms not just to governments in the Arab world, but governments in Israel, governments in the United States, governments in Canada, other parts of the world. Everybody who has a point of view and is willing to express it comes to express it. If they don't want to express it, that's their problem.

KURTZ: Abderrahim Foukara, appreciate your stopping by this morning.

My apologies to John Burns of "The New York Times." We could see him, but we couldn't hear him, which is sometimes the danger of relying on an Internet connection.

Let me get a break. Sam Donaldson and John Fund join us from the Reagan Library in California in just a moment.


KURTZ: Joining us now at the Reagan Library, in Simi Valley, California, Sam Donaldson, longtime ABC correspondent and former host of "This Week"; and John Fund, columnist for "The Wall Street Journal."

Sam Donaldson, I want to briefly touch on Al Jazeera. I just interviewed their Washington bureau chief. You had some nice things to say about the network's coverage. Bill O'Reilly took issue with that. He said, "Al Jazeera makes a living blaming most problems in the Middle East on the USA. and Israel."

SAM DONALDSON, FMR. ABC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Don't tell all the people here at the Reagan Library, will you? Keep it under your hat.

You know, Al Jazeera, I thought, performed a service in fanning the flames in Egypt. But, hey, is that so bad? If Al Jazeera brings information to people in the Arab world, it makes them think they should throw over their dictators, should we complain?

Now, Howie, Al Jazeera says things about us we don't like, and some things that are not true. And I certainly don't subscribe to that, except a news service of any kind has got to be able to say whatever it wants, otherwise it's a contradiction in terms.

KURTZ: All right. Let me let John Fund say whatever he wants right now.

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, I have toured Al Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar, and I think they have come a long way.

I remember back in 2003 and 2004, they had one of their correspondents who was a paid spy for Saddam Hussein. I think they've cleaned up their act. I think they're providing better information. And frankly, the Arab street is never going to trust Western media. Al Jazeera is about as good as we're going to get in terms of objective analysis for the Arab world, and I'm glad that it's there.

KURTZ: Almost a qualifying endorsement from John Fund. All right. Let me play for you a bit of Glenn Beck from Fox News Channel, getting a lot of attention this week for things he is saying about the situation in Egypt. We'll ask you a question on the other side.


GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: Please, if you take anything away from this show, please be prepared. Look at Egypt right now. These were people that were not prepared.

Tomorrow, the radicals here in America that are operating as Marxists and communists, that are in support of this -- but the Muslim Brotherhood isn't just operating overseas. We're not done with them yet. We showed you in their own words that their goals include the transformation of America into an Islamic state, the destruction of the Western world.


KURTZ: Sam, now, Glenn Beck has got a following. He's got a rather unique style. He can say whatever he wants. But is there a point when he tries to tie the American left wing to the caliphate that's going to take over the Middle East, where other commentators need to say, hey, this is pretty out there?

DONALDSON: You should have heard what Father Coughlin -- and I've heard the radio tapes in the '30s -- call Franklin Roosevelt. We couldn't use it on the air.

It's too bad when people want to make their case by just calling names. But I say to people, hey, if I'm arguing with you, and you can't beat my argument with another argument, but you just to have call me a name, I win. I win. So I wouldn't pay that much attention to him.

It's nonsense to think that we are going to have an Islamic state here. I mean, not in the lifetime of my great-great-grandchildren. I don't know what the future is going to hold after that, but the diverse views in this country, I think, are a good thing.

KURTZ: John Fund, no less a conservative than Bill Kristol of "The Weekly Standard," writing the other day that when Beck uses this kind of language, he sounds like the John Birch Society and he marginalizes himself.

Do you agree with that, or would you disagree?

FUND: Look, Glenn Beck is a commentator. And I think that part of his analysis is accurate.

Look, we have to remember that the Iranian regime, when it collapsed, was going to be a democracy. Then it was hijacked by Islamic extremists, and we are still dealing with them 30 years later and their nuclear weapons.

And obviously Europe has a lot more to worry about. You know, by 2030, nine percent of Europe is going to be Muslim.

But to carry that and take it into apocalyptic conspiracy terms about America becoming an Islamic state, that goes too far. And I think if Glenn Beck had to do it over again, he might rethink that.

KURTZ: All right. I'm coming up on a break. Let me get a 30- second answer from each of you.

Do you think that the media coverage has engaged in the traditional blame game toward President Obama and his handling of the Egyptian situation? It seemed like that might be happening early on. Lately, it seems like the situation has kind of gotten so far out of any other country's influence, that maybe there is less of that.

John Fund, we'll start with you.

FUND: I think there's finally some humility not only in American politics regarding Egypt, but also the American media. The situation is complicated enough, the cultures are different enough. I think we're holding back, and I think that's a good thing. Humility, good thing.

KURTZ: Sam Donaldson.

DONALDSON: I think the media really swings with the story. Media really swings with the story. And often we're wrong, and sometimes the story is messy, as it is now, and we don't know what's happening. I just -- stick to it.

KURTZ: Yes. There is sometimes a tendency to think that a president can control almost anything. And right now that's not the case.

Got to get that break. And when we come back, we'll talk about the reason that you folks are there, the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth.

Stay with us.


KURTZ: Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday would have been today. The press was far more critical of the 40th president when he was in the White House than is the case today. Just look at how he dealt with some of those pesky reporters.


DONALDSON: In talking about the continuing recession tonight, you have blamed mistakes for the past and you have blamed the Congress. Does any of the blame belong to you?

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, because for many years I was a Democrat.


KURTZ: Sam Donaldson, he used humor there to slap away your question. And that was not unlike Ronald Reagan, was it?

DONALDSON: That's right. That was game, set, match. We all sat down and laughed.

He would turn things around with one line. He went on to explain what he meant on that, but the president said whatever he -- came into his mind. And often, his staff would run round after a news conference and say, "Well, what the president meant to say was" -- you understand it was just a hypothetical case.

Reagan had very little guile that I saw. He would say what he thought the case was. And I've maintained, John, that if you put a polygraph to anything he said, he would pass. He believed what he said.

KURTZ: At the time, John Fund, the press often depicted President Reagan as kind of uninformed, detached, somewhat insensitive toward the poor.

Do you think there has been a marked correction since his death in that, in effect, journalists have given him more credit for an essential (ph) presidency than was the case at the time?

FUND: Oh, sure. We now have his diaries and we now have his correspondence. So we know he was a pretty sophisticated thinker and he read a lot.

We also know that the media, I think, has stepped back and realized that Reagan was sometimes playing a game with them. Reagan loved being underestimated, because in being underestimated, he was able to accomplish a lot more.

And he loved the fact that people thought of him as just an actor. Actually, what he told David Brinkley just before he left office was fascinating. Brinkley asked him, "How in the world could you do this job, Mr. President, if you have been an actor all these years?" And Reagan said, "I've often thought about that. How in the world could I do this job if I hadn't been an actor?"

KURTZ: All right. Well, with that, we're going to have to bring the curtain down on John Fund and Sam Donaldson.

And CNN will have live coverage of the Reagan centennial celebration starting this afternoon. That's at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.


We're going to go over now to "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley.

Thank you for watching. Glad we were able to bring you some breaking news, the interview with the Egyptian prime minister, during this hour. And we'll be on this story next week and probably for some weeks to come, whether it stays on television or not. That is to say, whether the pictures, the dramatic pictures that we have seen from Tahrir Square, whether they fade or not.

It's important for journalists to stay on this story. Sometimes we have been accused of not sufficiently covering stories when they didn't have dramatic pictures. I think that perhaps will not be the case this time.

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