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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Using Trickery to Get a Story; Japan Earthquake Coverage; Remembering David Broder
Aired March 13, 2011 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: It happens on the right, it happens on the left. And my reaction is always the same. Why is it OK for journalists, bloggers, or activists to lie and deceive to trick someone into a surreptitiously fake discussion? Or do organizations only object when the other side does it?
James O'Keefe, who famously played a pimp in the ACORN sting, gets a National Public Radio executive to trash the Tea Party as a bunch of Islamophobic racists and forces the ouster of chief executive Vivian Schiller. We'll ask him about his guerilla tactics. And NPR's ombudsman will be here to assess the damage.
But first, the disaster in Japan. How do correspondents cover an earthquake and tsunami, death and destruction, on such a massive sale? And what role are social media sites playing in tracking and humanizing the story? We'll have the latest.
I'm Howard Kurtz. And this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
We have all been watching the horrifying pictures, trying to grasp the magnitude of what has happened in Japan. Journalists have done their best to report on the damage from Friday's earthquake and tsunami, talk to the victims, evaluate the risks from that explosion at a nuclear plant and the serious malfunction at a second plant. But whether they are operating on television, in print, or online, the challenge is daunting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: Today, 126 million people watched their world crumbling around them. The earthquake, 8.9, one of the biggest ever. And then 35 minutes later, the tsunami racing at the speed of a jumbo jet.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: As you know by now, to your west, across the Pacific, the nation of Japan has suffered a colossal, historic earthquake that has caused massive damage, massive loss of life, and sent ocean waters racing over land.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the coverage from Hong Kong, Mike Chinoy, former CNN foreign correspondent who's now a senior fellow at USC's U.S. China Institute. In Boston, Callie Crosley, former ABC producer who hosts "The Callie Crossley Show" on WBGH radio. And from Sendai, Japan, Gary Tuchman, CNN national correspondent.
And Gary Tuchman, I'll start with you.
What is it like to drive through that devastated region? How do you deal with the emotional impact of seeing all the rubble and you know that many, many people have died?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, we went through this a year ago, Howie, in Haiti. You know, 300,000 people died on January 12, 2010. And the aftershocks for the days and weeks afterward, where people were so scared to go back into their houses, and now we're going through it again.
But what's different about it this time are all the cameras, video, still cameras. They're taking pictures of this so people all over the world can see from so many different angles what happened. And also the difference this time, the tsunami.
What's the difference between this and Haiti is that it's the tsunami that has killed most of the people. We're in a town today, a town called Minami Sanriku, Japan, where 20,000 people lived there before this earthquake and tsunami. Ninety-five hundred people are missing right now, and it's very clear that the earthquake didn't clear these people.
We don't know if all those people are dead. Let's make that very clear, because it's hard to account for people right now. But we know a lot of people are dead because we saw them today. But it's clear it wasn't the earthquake. It was the tsunami, because just a half a mile outside of town, there no damage whatsoever. But this town was totally destroyed from the rushing waters of the tsunami.
KURTZ: But how do you cope? How do you put your emotions aside, Gary? Because you have a job to do, which is to gather information and give it to all of us. But it's got to play on your mind, weigh on your mind a great deal.
TUCHMAN: Well, there's no question. There's so much anxiety here, Howie. And we're human beings.
I mean, people ask me all the time -- you know, I have covered so many disasters over the years -- you know, "How do you get used to it?" And then my answer is I don't get used to it. It's very upsetting to me, and I think about it a lot when I get home, and I'm still thinking about Haiti all the time.
But we have to report. That's our job, to report to the public, report what's going on. But there's no question, I'm a human being, and I'm very upset by this.
KURTZ: As anybody would be in your situation.
Mike Chinoy, you covered that Indian Ocean tsunami. I guess it's seven years ago. How does that situation as a journalistic challenge seem different to you from what's happening in Japan? MIKE CHINOY, U.S. CHINA INSTITUTE: Well, the tsunami in Southeast Asia was different in a number of different ways. First of all, it affected several different countries -- Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and Indonesia, especially Aceh, in the northernmost part of Indonesia, which is where I went immediately after and spent a month.
The logistics were very, very difficult. To get to these places, it took a long time for it to become clear just how devastating the damage was. For example, communications had been cut off in Aceh, and no one really knew initially how bad it was. And so the Indonesian airline laid on a regular commercial flight to go up to the main city there, Banda Aceh, thinking it was more or less functioning.
And we got off the plane, and we found the city had been wiped out. There was a mass grave with 10,000 bodies in it 10 minutes from the airport. So it unfolded more slowly in more places.
What you have here in Japan is, the quake was on the air almost instantly, and the tsunami was shown live in video that I think is going to become a kind of iconic moment in terms of the way people experience these things. And now you have this massive influx of people getting there faster, with more ways to get the material out.
KURTZ: Right. No shortage of pictures, and that does distinguish this tragedy.
Callie Crossley, is the American media more interested in Japan than it was in Haiti, where more than 20,000 people died, because Japan is an affluent, urbanized country that is more like us, or more interested than in Rwanda, where, over the years, genocide has taken -- the death toll has been 100,000, 200,000? Estimates vary.
CALLIE CROSSLEY, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, I think that's generally true, that there is less interest in Africa coverage and incidents that happen in those parts of the world. But I also have to say though that I think that because of the pictures that we've just been talking about, and the great access -- and remember, there were reporters on the air reporting live as the earthquake was happening. That's how immediate the pictures were. So to have that, as opposed to a Haiti, where you have some interest in it, but you just don't have that kind of pictorial access in any way, will drive some interest in that way.
I have to say that the thing that makes the coverage for me so important in these situations, in disasters, is that there is real reportorial skill going on. Even though Japan has all of the pictures going on, you still have to get there and piece it all together in huge amounts of area to cover. And that's where that gum-shoe reporting, that knowledge about how to put these things in context, make sense. You can have all the pictures but no context. It doesn't mean a thing.
KURTZ: Has that been hard, Gary Tuchman, to go beyond the towns that you're able to get to on a first-hand basis to give us the larger picture? And how helpful has the Japanese media coverage been? Is the tone of that coverage different perhaps from what we might be seeing elsewhere in the world?
TUCHMAN: Well, yes. I mean, it's a very good point that was just made.
We drove across the country in the northern part of Japan today from the Sea of Japan to the Pacific Ocean. It took us five hours. And that was what was very notable.
In Haiti, almost all of Port-au-Prince is destroyed. But here, there's very little, small portions of the country that have been destroyed.
We drove for four hours, about 100 miles, and there was almost no destruction whatsoever. There's no water on the shelves in any stores, and there's no gas stations open except for a couple that have more than a hundred cars in line. But until you get to the coast, that's where the damage is. And that's what we're able to report, that most of the damage is not from the earthquake, most of the damage is from the tsunami.
KURTZ: Mike Chinoy, usually in these situations, because it's very hard for us to wrap our minds around these abstract numbers -- I mean, the official estimate, more than 1,000 people dead. Everybody expects it to go much higher than that. And television, in particular, has a tendency to try to focus on individual families, victims, in a way to humanize the story.
I haven't seen much of that, but I suspect we will in the days ahead.
CHINOY: Well, I think part of it is people are still trying to get a hand on the total scale of what we've seen, because it's unprecedented, essentially, in an advanced, industrialized country to have such a significant chunk of it totally destroyed. And so people are really trying to get a better sense of that. But, clearly, the individual story is the way you do humanize something and you bring it down from just numbers and statistics.
We did that in Aceh as well, where there were, by some accounts, between 100,000 and 200,000 people died just in Aceh. That's so big, that you've got to put it in terms of what it means to an individual, otherwise it just kind of goes in one ear, out the other, in a sense. It's too much to take in.
KURTZ: Callie Crossley, given the challenge here, given the size of the area that's affected, the nuclear situation, which we'll get to after the break, the number of people who have died still missing, rescuers, how would you grade the coverage so far in terms of piecing things together, the point that you made earlier?
CROSSLEY: I actually think that real work has been done, and there's been a good job across the board. Been looking at the print publications, and also at broadcast, and I have been quite impressed.
If I had one nitpicky (ph) thing, it would be -- and that maybe is for the journalists on this side -- not exactly telling me what it means to hint at a nuclear meltdown. I mean, there was all kinds of words being thrown around -- "melting," "meltdown," "nuclear radiation leak." I don't know about you, but I don't walk around thinking, what does that mean for me personally? And I needed to have a little bit more of that information.
But I think now I've seen it today, a lot of information about that, and that's to be commended. But I have to say that on the ground, the piecing together of it, looking at those pictures and saying this is what this means, but there's an area that we still can't get to where there are many more deaths that are predicted, I think that's all been really very good. This is when journalism can really shine.
KURTZ: Thanks. You've set me up perfectly for the next part of the discussion, which will be about, how do you report on, assess, and not scare people when you have got two nuclear reactors in jeopardy?
We'll be back right after this.
KURTZ: We're continuing our discussion of the Japanese disaster.
And Gary Tuchman, in Sendai, Japan, there are headlines here on television, on the Internet, "Nuclear Meltdown Fears." It seems a little inflammatory.
How do you strike the right tone when are you reporting on those two crippled reactors between legitimate concern and fear mongering?
TUCHMAN: Very simple, Howie. We have to be transparent, totally transparent.
We can't scare people unnecessarily, but we also can't tell them they shouldn't be scared. We have got to tell them we don't know. We've got to tell them the Japanese officials, it doesn't appear they know.
And when the term "nuclear meltdown" is used, we have to attribute it, make sure we make clear where that term is coming from. But the fact is, we just don't know. We have to be -- we can't be too proud not to admit that.
KURTZ: So, in other words, stick to the facts, and acknowledge the uncertainties, rather than indulging excessively in worst-case scenarios?
TUCHMAN: Absolutely. I mean, yes, journalism is all about sticking to the facts. In this day and age, sometimes we don't always do that. But in this case, where it's so important that we do that, we must do that.
KURTZ: Callie Crossley, I have also seen headlines that say "Could it Happen Here?" A lot of speculation about nuclear reactors in California and elsewhere in the United States.
You raised the concern before the break about meltdown, and what does it mean. And I wonder whether you think that there has been a touch of the inflammatory in the coverage of the Japanese nuclear situation. CROSSLEY: Well, I did think so at the beginning, because I just heard, oh, my God, there has been an explosion. Well, I'm thinking, oh, my God, then it's melted down. Now what? And it took a long time before they got the great experts. I saw a great one on CNN International, and, of course, there's Michio Kaku, who has been on ABC, to say, OK, calm down, here's what this means.
The guy on CNN International actually said there is a difference between melting and melted, which I needed to know. And what does it mean that there has been the censium and iodine leaks that have been detected, even though some of the Japanese officials, as Gary Tuchman said, at first weren't so forthcoming about that? And what does it mean to evaluate -- all of that stuff finally has come out.
But I have to say, at the beginning, there was sort of this heavy duty music going with "Meltdown." And nobody told me what it meant. And I'm scared to death for those people and for the rest of us, and I thought that was extremely irresponsible.
KURTZ: Let's get rid of the heavy-breathing music. And it's been a long time since Chernobyl. We all need to sort of educate ourselves about these nuclear details.
Mike Chinoy, you want to weigh in on this question?
CHINOY: Well, I think one of the things that complicates the coverage here is the fact that the news cycle is permanent and continuous. And so people report tidbits as they come out, as people say things, as people hear things or see things. And so you don't have the luxury of sort of letting something unfold for an hour, half a day, and then putting together.
The moment it happens, there is tremendous pressure to broadcast it, to tweet about it, and I think that complicates things. But I do think, in fairness, this is a scary situation.
CHINOY: You've got two reactors that are in potentially serious trouble, questions about four others. And so without being too alarmist, I think it's right to be seriously concerned, and journalists are right to raise those concerns.
KURTZ: And you are right. And we're all on deadline every second.
Mike Chinoy, in Hong Kong. Gary Tuchman, in Japan. Callie Crossley, in Boston.
Thanks very much for joining us.
When we come back, a look at the Internet's increasingly vital role in disaster coverage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are experiencing a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) earthquake. Everything is falling. They tell me that I'm supposed to be under a desk or something.
Oh, (EXPLETIVE DELETED). All right. I'm going under the desk. Oh, (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: That was an unidentified, obviously, victim, or witness, I should say, to the Japanese earthquake, posting on a site called CitizenTube.
And joining us now from Austin, Texas, Jeff Jarvis, founder of the site BuzzMachine.com and director of the Interactive Journalism program at the City University of New York.
And as we just saw, and you perhaps heard, Jeff, the Internet enables anybody to publish, to post their own thoughts, experiences, recollections, in a way without needing a printing press or a television license.
JEFF JARVIS, FOUNDER, BUZZMACHINE.COM: That's certainly true, Howie. And it's not just that they're trying to do journalism, it's the witnesses, the participants.
I saw someone on TV who said after the quake hit, immediately Japanese were characteristically, I guess, on their phones using technology to be able to communicate with their family and friends, and also to find out what's going on. Those phones, of course, also have cameras now, so anyone has this ability.
We see a few things that -- the change in our coverage as a result. The first is that the Internet, Twitter is immediate. So it is to TV news what TV news was to the newspaper in terms of the speed of the story. Doc Searls, who's a blogger, said that.
KURTZ: But even -- let me just jump in, Jeff. Even speed aside, what has struck you about the nature of messages on Twitter? I mean, I put in the tag "Japan," and I was getting 100 messages an hour. Is there a different tone to those messages than you would get from a sort of, you know, professional correspondent?
JARVIS: No, I don't think so, Howie. I think what you see is witnesses talking.
There's a wonderful blogger/twitterer at NPR named Andy Carvin. His sign there is ACarvin. And he has taken on a new journalistic role in aggregating and curating the tweets there and trying to find out what's going on. He did a magnificent job of this in Egypt.
And it shows the new roles of the journalists -- aggregating, trying to verify things, asking questions. And as your correspondent said, the key journalistic skill now, in this instant world, is to say what we don't know. KURTZ: But, you know, I was also struck just in looking at Twitter and some other sites, there is a sense of community that develops. I saw several appeals to donate money to relief organizations, and that strikes me as different from what you get on your average cable network. Not that we don't care or we don't want people to donate money, but it's direct and from the heart.
JARVIS: Well, these are human beings. You know, this is -- again, it's not a medium. It's a place where people connect with each other, and they can show each other photos and videos.
The one thing that happens, I find, is that in the instant aftermath of an event like this, you see the witnesses on the ground. And then, of course, you see an outpouring of people talking about this. And that tends to drown out the witnesses.
I suggested that we need a new hashtag. The way we define things is by using the hashtag for a word with an exclamation point or something like that to say I'm a witness, I'm there.
KURTZ: Another key difference, Jeff Jarvis, it seems to me is that you can seek out specific information about a town or an aspect of this story. You don't have to wait for television or a newspaper to present it to you. You can go online and search for what you want.
JARVIS: Not only search, you can ask. You can say, does anybody know about this? And that work can spread and people can come back. And truly, we can't wait for correspondents to be in the field anymore. Now we find people who are there, and that is our link to the world.
KURTZ: In other words, rather than us all having to wait for a correspondent in New York or Washington to get on a plane, fly halfway around the world to Japan, figure out what's going on, and then get in front of a camera, or at least a satellite phone, you can go direct to the country, wherever it is, and the people who are affected?
JARVIS: Well, right. And one person covering this disaster becomes ludicrous on its face, whereas you have thousands, even millions of people, communicating what they are actually going through.
And then the journalist has to ask, how do I add value to that? I add value by aggregating, curating, finding the good stuff, finding the people who are actually there, asking questions, giving caveats, adding facts. There's a lot for a journalist to do, still, in this, but the eyes on the story are those of eyewitness with these new tools of publicness that they have.
KURTZ: Right. A new challenge for journalists, certainly, but a lot of new tools available that simply did not exist a decade ago.
Jeff Jarvis, thanks very much for joining us from Austin.
And coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, National Public Radio gets stung. We'll talk to conservative activists James O'Keefe, who orchestrated the undercover video that led to the ouster of NPR's chief executive. And later, remembering the quintessential newspaper man David Broder.
KURTZ: It is, when you get right down to it, a pretty crude stunt to impersonate someone else with a hidden camera or a tape recorder running. But, well, it works. A couple of weeks ago, it was the Buffalo blogger who got Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to say some embarrassing things and to believe he was talking to one of the billionaire Koch brothers.
This time, conservative activist James O'Keefe, orchestrating a meeting with NPR's senior vice president, Ron Schiller, who thought he was dining with members of a Muslim group offering the radio network $5 million at a chic Georgetown restaurant.
Here is some of what Schiller said.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RON SCHILLER, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, NPR: The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people's personal lives and very fundamental Christian -- and I wouldn't even call it Christians. This weird, Evangelical kind of move.
It's been hijacked by this group, this radical, racist Islamophobic Tea Party people. I mean, really, basically, they are -- they believe in sort of white, middle-America, gun-toting. I mean, it's pretty scary. They're seriously racist, racist people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Vivian Schiller, NPR's chief executive, quickly condemned the remarks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VIVIAN SCHILLER, PRESIDENT & CEO, NPR: The comments made by Ron Schiller are an affront to this organization and are contrary to everything we stand for as a news organization. We stand for diversity of opinion and tolerance and open-mindedness.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But in the wake of her mishandling of the firing of Juan Williams, it was too late. The NPR board quickly moving to fire Schiller, a direct hit for James O'Keefe and a huge black eye for National Public Radio at a times when Republicans are trying to eliminate its federal funding.
I spoke to O'Keefe earlier through an Internet connection from New Jersey.
KURTZ: James O'Keefe, welcome. JAMES O'KEEFE, UNDERCOVER ACTIVIST: Thanks for having me.
KURTZ: What made you think that this thing would work, that you'd get Ron Schiller spewing all this inflammatory stuff about the Tea Party?
O'KEEFE: Well, what happened with Juan Williams, back in the fall, my colleague, Sean Adele (ph) and Simon (ph), we were talking amongst ourselves, and we saw that happen, and we sort of just decided to put that to the test. If they're willing to mishandle that situation so badly, what would they do if confronted by an organization tied to terrorists, possibly tied to terrorism? So -- a Muslim Brotherhood front group. And we -- you know, we had reason to believe that they would potentially go along with something like that.
KURTZ: Now, you describe it as a front group, and look, clearly, you got the story, it became a very big story. But in order to get that story, your team had to lie. You had a couple of guys impersonating these wealthy Muslim donors, and you set up a fake Web site.
So why isn't that unethical?
O'KEEFE: Well, I think journalists have been doing this for a long time. I think it's a form of investigative reporting that you use to seek and find the truth. People are not going to be honest with you when you have a notebook or you're in front of a podium.
I mean, Vivian Schiller, on Monday, at the National Press Club, misled America when she said that she needed federal money to survive, or she implied that. The next day, we have the chief fundraising executive saying that they don't, and they don't want federal money in the long run.
So I think reporters do a lot of stenography in this country. They do a lot of damage control, they do a lot of punditry. But real investigative reporting is showing things for what they are.
KURTZ: So -- and yes, some networks have done this. There's less of it these days.
But you're saying the means justify the ends, you're willing to use deceptive tactics to get to the truth. That's your justification?
O'KEEFE: No, that's not what I said. I said investigative reporting, you're -- it's sometimes justified to go under cover in order to get to the truth.
You're not -- it's a form of guerrilla theater. You're -- he's willing to meet with strangers tied -- they claim that they're getting money from the Muslim Brotherhood, and he's willing to have a conversation in public.
Remember, there's no expectation of privacy. He's meeting with two strangers in a public place, in a business meeting. His organization is funded with taxpayer dollars. So I think --
KURTZ: I understand. Obviously, he doesn't know he's being videotaped.
Now, you've described yourself, James, to me and others as a citizen journalist. But you look at the targets that you have gone after -- NPR; ACORN, very famously, when we saw you dressed up as pimp; Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, and you had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor going into her office as a false name -- it seems like you go after targets that you see as being on the left.
O'KEEFE: Well, first of all, I'm just getting started in my journalism career. We're going to be going after all different types of organizations.
But I think we have -- I think, personally, I have prioritized certain subjects because, for example, "The New York Times" was sitting on a Pulitzer Prize with ACORN, and they didn't even touch it. They refused to touch it.
In fact, there's a story that Matt Batem (ph) wrote about -- or he's going to write about in his book where they literally cancelled the story. And this was -- and that was --
KURTZ: Well, I don't know the details of that. But are you suggesting that there might be a time when you would go after a person, an agency, an institution that is seen as conservative?
O'KEEFE: Absolutely. Absolutely. There's fraud, particularly financially, in this country, with the crony capitalism. I personally -- you know, my political philosophy is essentially that big business and big government are scheming together to hurt Americans.
So, yes, we're going to get there, for sure. We just got started, and I feel my priority is to go after subjects right now that the media is refusing to touch.
KURTZ: You put the full video online of this encounter in the Georgetown restaurant with Ron Schiller. Was that in part to some of the criticism you got during the ACORN sting when the ACORN video was edited and people said, well, let's see the whole thing?
O'KEEFE: Yes. I mean, all journalism is edited. There certainly was no context in those ACORN tapes that were mitigated by the unedited tapes. That was just hyperbole.
Well, they say it's edited. But we released the full video right away this time so that people couldn't use that argument. Even though it's not a legitimate argument, people use it.
All journalists, your -- CNN edits all their broadcasts in order to pick the relevant and salient portions of the conversation. This is something that they use against us. It's really -- it doesn't make sense and it's been debunked.
KURTZ: Well, the key, of course, is not to edit it in a misleading fashion.
Let me ask you about an encounter you had last year with Abbie Boudreau, then of CNN. She reported that an associate of yours had told her that you were trying to lure her to a boat filled with sex toys and a hidden camera, and you were going to try to seduce her.
Now, if that's overblown, what were you trying to do?
O'KEEFE: We were just going to have a conversation with her, and that was sort of borne out of, I think, a contempt for the mainstream media. What the media wants to do is make this story about me. That's what everyone wants to do. And that's one of the reasons I haven't been doing TV, because they want to talk about me and my background and what I did a year ago, and who I talk to and what my colleague -- this is absolutely --
KURTZ: OK, but you met with Abbie Boudreau, and you were trying to send some kind of message to or about the mainstream media, apparently by embarrassing her. So what would that message have been?
O'KEEFE: The message would have been that the media is not doing the job. And they want to documentaries on James O'Keefe and company, and they don't want to do documentaries on malfeasance in society, as evidenced by, you know, the questions you're asking me right now.
KURTZ: Well, I did want to touch on it cause she did work for CNN, and I guess you said you were going to be flirtatious with her, so I just wanted to touch on it.
KURTZ: Flirtatious, is that a fair description?
O'KEEFE: That's the message. The message is the media isn't doing the job. And if you're not going to take us seriously, we're not going to take you seriously.
KURTZ: All right.
Now, you're a controversial guy. You've taken on some big targets. You certainly had an impact with this NPR story.
Do you think the media coverage has been fair to you and your organization in this NPR story?
O'KEEFE: I think it's been more fair. I think the mainstream media is certainly starting to have a little more respect for us because we've shown the disdain for the Americans in the tape.
The tape is very powerful. The tape is very honest. The tape cuts to the core of who these people are. It sort of shows their hearts and minds, and it's had such an effect.
KURTZ: Of course, there was one aspect in which the tape was not honest, and that this was a front group, as you -- the phrase that you, yourself, used.
But, James O'Keefe, I very much appreciate your coming on to answer these questions. We appreciate it.
O'KEEFE: Thank you.
KURTZ: Thanks for joining us.
KURTZ: Up next, did James O'Keefe engage in unfair editing? What does that undercover video tell us about NPR? And how badly has the network been tarnished? NPR's ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, and Terence Smith, who has a history with NPR and PBS, join us, next.
KURTZ: We're joined now by Alicia Shepard, the ombudsman at NPR, and Terence Smith, former media correspondent from PBS' "NewsHour" with Jim Lehrer.
You heard -- just heard James O'Keefe describe what he did in this sting as a form of investigative reporting designed to get at the truth.
ALICIA SHEPARD, OMBUDSMAN, NPR: Well, first, I want to give a shout- out to him for putting the whole video online, and also to Glenn Beck's "The Blaze" for showing that even the full video was --
KURTZ: Well, let me get to that in a minute --
SHEPARD: OK. All right.
KURTZ: -- because I want to play that for our viewers.
SHEPARD: But James O'Keefe is not a reporter. The design was political. And he wasn't right about the public funding.
The whole video shows that -- NPR, first of all, doesn't get direct political -- direct funding from the government. This is about public radio stations.
They are the ones that would be hurt. They are the ones that get the money directly. So to say that NPR doesn't need it, that may be one way of looking at it from NPR's point of view, but the funding is about the 900 public radio stations and the public TV stations.
KURTZ: But, of course, the video focused on Ron Schiller, who was at this luncheon, he didn't know he was being recorded.
KURTZ: But most of the coverage has kind of glossed over the fact that there was deception involved in this.
I guess because he got the goods, Terry. TERENCE SMITH, FMR. MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSHOUR": Well, he got the goods, or he got some goods. It was clearly unethical. You don't do that. You don't lie to people unless there is literally no other way to get the story.
KURTZ: Although some mainstream journalists have done this.
KURTZ: ABC --
SMITH: But Howie, I am disappointed with you. You should have lured him to lunch. You should have had a hidden camera. You should have brought him out that way, and then I think --
KURTZ: And I probably would have gotten a lot more attention.
SMITH: So you lost.
KURTZ: Now, you mentioned "The Blaze," and this is a Web site owned by Glenn Beck which compared the raw video, the unedited version, to the shorter version that most of us have seen. And I want to play some of that. And there's a reference here to MEAC. That is the fake Muslim group set up by O'Keefe in an effort to perpetrate this thing.
Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'KEEFE (voice-over): On the MEAC Web site, it said the organization sought to "spread the acceptance of Sharia across the world."
SCHILLER: Really, that's what they said .
O'KEEFE: Nice to meet you.
SCHILLER: You too.
O'KEEFE: I mean it, nice to meet you.
SCHILLER: They initially directed us to a big room where I guess there was a party also under the name. Really, that's what they said.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So when Ron Schiller says, "Really, that's what they said," and laughs, he's reacting to something entirely different than you see in the edited version.
SHEPARD: Sure. But the bottom line is, when I first saw this video, I contacted Ron Schiller and said, "Is this true?" And he said, yes, it had been heavily edited, but he did say some "stupid and sweeping things."
You brought up other networks have done this kind of reporting.
KURTZ: It's a lot less popular now --
SHEPARD: It is. It is.
KURTZ: -- because of the ethical concerns. I mean, "60 Minutes" used to do it all the time.
SHEPARD: Right. And I'm not condoning it. I'm just saying that, first of all, NPR didn't take the money.
KURTZ: Well, that's not much of a defense.
SHEPARD: No. I'm just saying that NPR keeps making the point that had it not been for the ridiculous things that Ron Schiller said, this wouldn't be an issue.
KURTZ: The editing that we just saw, does that raise doubts in your mind about James O'Keefe's whole approach to this sort of thing?
SMITH: Well, I already have doubts in my mind.
SMITH: But yes, it raises some more doubts, because, obviously, he's trying to distort it, and distort the message, and get Ron Schiller to say things that he doesn't at least mean. But, look, this is about politics, not journalism.
SMITH: Just as, frankly, the reaction at NPR was about politics and not journalism. The board decided to throw Vivian Schiller under the bus as a reaction for this. I think that's because they and their member stations are paralyzed about losing their funding.
KURTZ: But in terms of the journalistic reaction to what O'Keefe did, whether you want to call him a citizen journalist, as he prefers to be called, or a political provocateur, Fox was all over this story, Fox News. I mean, here's Sean Hannity: "NPR hit a new low." Bill O'Reilly: "The truth is NPR is a liberal organization, always has been."
Juan Williams, of course, piling on. He's the one who got fired. He called these guys rude and condescending.
And MSNBC did very little. When we had the blogger who got through to Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, MSNBC went haywire and Fox did very little.
So I'm wondering how much politics is involved in the cable news reaction.
SMITH: Well, there is politics, or at least there is perspective that comes from a political perspective. And so that's a fact. But it doesn't change the problem that you have with the original piece by James O'Keefe or the reaction by NPR or Public Broadcast.
KURTZ: Alicia Shepard, when you called Ron Schiller and basically said, is this basically true, did you say this, is this wildly out of context? And he said, no, I did say these things, and you looked at those remarks, that the Tea Party are a bunch of racists, Islamophobe, weird Evangelicals, it seems to play into every stereotype that the right has about National Public Radio.
How did you feel about this? And did it make you angry?
SHEPARD: Well, it actually did make me angry. And as the ombudsman, I represent the listeners, not NPR. But as a journalist, it made me angry because the idea that journalists are anything but professional in the mainstream media, that -- we all -- the three of us have personal opinions and biases, but we go out there and we do our job.
And I actually work inside NPR, and the anger there is so palpable, and the anger at management and just how this has tarred the people who, like Susan Stamberg, who have been there for 35-plus years. I've heard so people say, you know, "I spent 35 years of my life. And this happens in one luncheon, and he's been there for 18 months?"
And let me just say one other thing, which is, who speaks in public about how they feel to a complete stranger?
KURTZ: At a business lunch.
SHEPARD: At a business luncheon.
SMITH: It seems incredibly stupid on Ron Schiller's part. But one thing is getting lost here. Ron Schiller is not part of the editorial decision-making process of NPR.
SMITH: And, therefore, to say that he reflects it, or affects it, or alters it, is completely wrong. He doesn't, and that should be made clear.
KURTZ: We're coming down to our last minute.
You have worked with NPR, for PBS. In a time of soaring budget deficits, why should it get federal dollars?
SMITH: It should get federal dollars because it is a public service in the main, and it needs it to do as well as it does, and it could use more. I would love to see it separated from annual congressional debates and set up through an endowment, but that hasn't happened yet, and it may not happen.
KURTZ: Don't you think some rich liberal folks would step in and provide the additional millions of dollars if that 15 percent of the budget was taken away?
SMITH: Liberal folks you said.
KURTZ: Well, liberal folks who like NPR.
KURTZ: Maybe there's some conservatives who love NPR. I talked to Tucker Carlson. He gives money to NPR.
SHEPARD: I think the issue that the right has is whether or not federal funds should go to public broadcasting in general, because the money does go to the television and radio. And, you know, the fact is that there are lots of parts of the country that are not wired. They depend on public radio to get news.
KURTZ: And they need this money, you say.
SHEPARD: And they need the money. They are the ones. I mean, the big stations get six percent. Others get up to 50 percent.
KURTZ: All right.
Lisa Shepard, Terry Smith, thanks very much for joining us on this interesting and controversial topic.
Still to come on this program, David Broder was an extraordinary reporter who did things now considered to be old-fashioned. Dan Balz joins me to remember the late "Washington Post" columnist.
KURTZ: There are still search efforts under way in Japan this morning in the wake of the massive problems at the nuclear power plants, as well as the earthquake, the tsunami. We will bring you any developments that happen. And at the top of the hour, Candy Crowley talks to Japan's ambassador to the U.S.
Turning now to David Broder.
The first time I worked alongside David Broder, I was a rookie reporter for "The Washington Post," and we were covering a national governors conference in Portland, Maine. He could not have been more gracious, sharing interviews and insisting I take the lead byline in one of our stories.
But I also remember how he struggled with his Radio Shack laptop. These were the old trash 80s. You had to hook up these big rubber cups, the phone receiver. He tried again and again to transmit the story to the newsroom.
Broder, who died this week at 81, climbed the ladder one rung at a time. He won a Pulitzer Prize during Watergate. He wrote several books. He was a significant presence on television, especially "Meet the Press."
Here he is with Tim Russert in 2007.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM RUSSERT, HOST, "MEET THE PRESS": You have been appearing on this program for 44 years. Do you remember your first appearance?
DAVID BRODER, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, with the late John Tower. He had just launched the "Draft Goldwater" effort, and he -- Larry Spivak had him on to explain what this strange conservative movement was about.
RUSSERT: Here is David Broder asking John Tower about that very subject, of Barry Goldwater, July 7, 1963.
BRODER: Senator, Barry Goldwater has been in the Senate now about 10 years, a little better than 10 years. Has he accomplished anything there that you think is particularly noteworthy?
RUSSERT: Right to the chase. Were you nervous?
BRODER: I was terrified.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining me now is Dan Balz, national political correspondent for "The Washington Post."
And Dan, talk about what David Broder did during campaign season when he was out on the trail that almost nobody does anymore.
DAN BALZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, he went door to door in precincts around the country.
KURTZ: Just knocked on doors to talk to voters?
BALZ: He would pick states where he wanted to test what was going on in the country. And then he would call the congressional office in those areas and say, "Give me the precincts that were the swing precincts in your district." And he would go into those neighborhoods and he would go up the street and down the street, and he would knock on doors, and he would stand on doorsteps, or people would invite him in, and would talk to people.
KURTZ: And he continued to do this into his '70s. He was always getting on airplanes. I just marveled at that, watching him, even as he became a little bit more frail.
There is a famous story about a "Washington Post" political staff meeting in late 2007 when almost everybody, like most of the people in the media, thought that Hillary Clinton was going to roll to the Democratic nomination.
Talk about that.
BALZ: Well, I was actually on the road at that meeting. Well, I later heard reports of it. And David just calmly and casually threw out the idea, "Well, I think Barack Obama is going all the way." And people in that room were stunned, because, as you say, the conventional wisdom then was that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee and probably the next president of the United States. And David saw something in Barack Obama, saw something in the confluence of Obama's candidacy and the state of the country, that made him believe that Obama had the stuff to go all the way.
KURTZ: You know, in television -- we just saw a little bit of that -- he didn't shout, he didn't throw food. And even as he became famous -- you know, he was called "The Dean of the Washington Press Corps" -- he had a certain gentlemanly style. And that really was Broder. I mean, he was the same way off camera.
BALZ: He was totally the same way. David had a modesty about him and a personal humility.
I mean, David didn't believe that wisdom began in Washington, and he certainly didn't believe that wisdom began in his own head. I mean, that was the reason I think that David always felt the need to get outside of Washington and talk to people, and not just to talk to politicians.
David didn't want to be in the echo chamber. David wanted to hear from real people. And he -- that was just built into his DNA from start to finish.
KURTZ: Now, as you know, in his later years Broder was often derided as a kind of defender of the Washington establishment, out of touch. And people said he couldn't see the fact that politics was broken.
And I don't think all that criticism was unfair, but at the same time, he liked politicians. And so I don't think he really thought the system was broken.
BALZ: He liked politicians, he respected the good politicians. He did not respect the bad politicians.
I think what David's view was, that that the role of a journalist, and particularly a reporter -- and though he was an influential columnist, he thought of himself as a reporter -- that the role of the reporter was to try to advance democracy, and that part of that involved making government work. David loved a good political fight the way you and I do.
KURTZ: Yes, sure.
BALZ: He loved political gossip, as you know. He had a great sense of humor. But when it came to governing, David felt that people who had sought public office had a responsibility to govern in a serious way. And when they didn't, he got upset with it and wrote about it.
And I think that his -- if he had an ideology, it was the ideology of seriousness, of the seriousness of purpose of people who were in public life. He took that as a watchword.
KURTZ: When I look at journalists today, some younger journalists using snark or attitude in order to kind of make a name for themselves -- I mean, I'm not saying that should be illegal, but in a way, Broder was one of the last of the breed, a newspaper man who wasn't cynical about what he did.
BALZ: No. He was not cynical. As I say, he could be disdainful of the process, but he never grew cynical of it.
I mean, I think he had a kind of sense of the power of democracy, and his part in it, being a small part, I think he thought in his own mind. But he believed that it was essential and that it was important. And I think if you take that attitude toward what you do, then you approach it the way David always did.
KURTZ: David Broder of "The Washington Post" was 81 years old. And I, for one, am going to miss him. I know you are.
Dan Balz, thank you for helping us remember him.
That is it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
You can 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. And Candy will have an update on the situation in Japan. The Japanese ambassador to the United States will be among her guests.