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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Trump's Presidential Run; BP Oil Spill: One Year Later
Aired April 24, 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: I put in a call to Trump headquarters with some questions the other day, and within five minutes "The Donald" called me back and had plenty of time to talk. I asked him about his business record, the kind of questions more journalists should be asking, and he responded with his usual feistiness.
Are the media finally taking Trump's presidential flirtation more seriously, and should they be?
As an Oscar-nominated filmmaker is killed in Libya, we turn our attention to the impact of dangerous assignments on families back home. The wife of a "New York Times" correspondent said his risk- taking almost destroyed her marriage.
Plus, one year after the BP oil spill, this question: Did the news business get carried away during the disaster? We'll ask the government's top spokesman, Admiral Thad Allen, about life in the crossfire.
I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
I began the program last week by asking, what if the media's conventional wisdom is wrong and Donald Trump actually winds up running for president? Well, this week, the pundits began taking that prospect a little more seriously. One unmistakable sign, conservative commentators began taking off the gloves.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: But does this hurt the Republican Party?
KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it hurts Donald Trump and it removes -- he was an interesting candidate who had a business background and could have contributed to the dialogue, but his full embrace of the birther issue means that he's off there in the nutty right and is now an inconsequential candidate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Trump is the Al Sharpton of the Republican Party, provocateur and clown, unserious. I think he's going to harm the party if he runs for the same reason that Sharpton harmed the Democrats.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: You don't bother being someone up if they're just pretending to run. Besides, Trump is sucking up so much media oxygen, that Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty are practically gasping for attention.
The big network shows, still giving Trump a platform, but now pushing back a bit harder, as CNN's Candy Crowley did on the birther nuttiness. Trump appeared on "The Today Show" and "GMA," where he got into this dustup with George Stephanopoulos.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, ENTREPRENEUR: There's a real question about the birth certificate. There's a real question about the -- his own citizenship.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": But there is no question. He's got a certificate of live birth that's recognized by the State Department.
TRUMP: Let me just say, George, I know exactly what you're getting at. George, they have co-opted you.
STEPHANOPOULOS : Who is "they"?
TRUMP: Obviously, Obama and his minions. And by the way, this is not a big focus of my campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: That was a low blow about Stephanopoulos being co-opted. George was saying the same thing that virtually every journalist and independent analyst has said, that there's ample evidence that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. But here we are, thanks to the endless coverage, talking about that nonsense again.
So are news organizations enabling the Trump presidential phenomenon or finally starting to question his record?
Joining us is now here in Washington, Clarence Page, columnist and senior member of the editorial board for "The Chicago Tribune"; Jennifer Rubin, who blogs for "The Washington Post" and is author of "The Right Turn" column; and in New York, Michael Wolff, former columnist for "Vanity Fair" and " New York" magazine, who now serves as editorial director for Adweek Media, which has just re-launched "Adweek" magazine.
Clarence Page, in the beginning the media kind of treated Donald Trump as a sideshow. Are your colleagues in the press now treating him as a more serious candidate?
CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": He has risen, I think, because the rest of the news looks rather boring by comparison. And I say that remembering, like, four years ago, when Ralph Nader announced he was getting back in the race, and it was just unnoticed.
KURTZ: Nobody cared.
PAGE: Nobody cared. You had Barack Obama, you had Hillary Clinton, all the other drama going on. Right now, what else is there to talk about but the Medicare debate? Which is important, but not as pulse-pounding, shall we say.
KURTZ: All right. So you she him as an antidote to dullness.
Jennifer Rubin, some of the conservatives -- we showed a couple who have been taking on Trump. What does that indicate? Does that indicate that somebody has made the calculation that he is in fact going to run for the White House?
JENNIFER RUBIN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": No. I think there is a little bit of boredom in the mix here. It's perhaps more interesting to take a shot at "The Donald" than to study Tim Pawlenty's position on Syria. I'm not excusing that, by the way. I think that's a bad statement on the media, that they are not covering serious issues in a serious way. And they are devoting so much time to --
KURTZ: Just gravitating toward what is the most fun and perhaps pulls in the best ratings?
KURTZ: All right.
Michael Wolff, you live in New York, you've observed Donald Trump for a long time. What explains this intense media fascination with "The Donald"?
MICHAEL WOLFF, "ADWEEK": Preposterousness, ridiculousness, absurdity. Let's go on.
This is a man who is not going to be president, who has no chance of being president, who will not run. And if he does run, it will be for a matter of weeks. This is all pose, it is all posture, it is all, I suppose, a branding exercise which we have fallen victim to.
KURTZ: I'm glad that Michael Wolff doesn't have any self-doubt about these pronouncements.
WOLFF: And I don't understand why people talk about this in such serious ways.
KURTZ: Well, in part because --
WOLFF: Maybe it's people in Washington who have no idea actually how brands are created and how media is run. I mean, I have no other explanation for this.
KURTZ: Well, there is the poll-addictive nature of journalism. And so when you have a couple of polls where Trump is at nine percent, leading the GOP field, that tends to get our attention.
Let me ask you this, Clarence. You've got to give Trump one thing. He is not ducking the press.
I had called his spokeswoman to check some facts, and he called me back. And he knew that I wanted to talk about some of the failed real estate ventures that you can read about in an article in "Newsweek" out tomorrow.
Also, I want to play a clip for you where NBC's Mike Isikoff, who's done the most serious, in-depth piece on the Trump business record, Donald let him into the office in Trump Tower, and they got into it a little bit, talking about the casinos in Atlantic City, which, of course, had to declare bankruptcy.
Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS: Wait a second. You were chairman of the board.
TRUMP: Excuse me.
ISIKOFF: You were chairman of the board.
TRUMP: I was chairman, but I didn't run the company. I had nothing to do with running the company. Management --
ISIKOFF: You were paid $2 million a year.
TRUMP: Excuse me, I didn't run the company. I'm just telling you --
ISIKOFF: So what were you paid $2 million a year for?
TRUMP: Excuse me. Because of my genius, OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: This is a guy who's engaging.
PAGE: He's a salesman. He's a salesman. This is it.
You know, Michael is right. Trump knows how to promote his brand. And no matter what you say, whatever facts you present to him, they mean nothing, because he'll come back and say, yes, I just lost all this money on those casinos, which is not easy to do -- I mean, a gambling casino, for Pete's sake -- but they were paying me for my genius.
It's totally contradictory, but he says it with such great determination, that it does have enough appeal for him to tie with Mike Huckabee for first place among Republican candidates right now. And that's the real story. I think this is what this says about the Republican lineup.
RUBIN: Actually, I think it's not. I think that's a phony story.
RUBIN: I think this is all based on name recognition a year and a half out, a year out, six months out.
KURTZ: But Trump is famous.
RUBIN: Right. He's famous. So, as soon as people hear the name, it's someone they understand, or they know a personality that they're familiar with. And I really think that's just an excuse for the media to do more frivolous coverage of it.
KURTZ: Michael Wolff.
WOLFF: Well, I think it's actually part and parcel of the whole Republican field or where the Republicans have gone. And maybe it's a kind of -- it's a Fox thing. They're in the entertainment business.
Virtually all of the Republican candidates are in one form or another entertainers. So he's just taken this a step further.
KURTZ: But if you want to talk about the impact, there's a Pew poll that came out the other day that said -- this was among Republican voters -- the Republican candidate you've heard most about, Donald Trump, 26 percent; Mitt Romney, nine. And then others are at lesser figures.
Let me come back to you, Michael Wolff, because having lived in New York myself, and seeing how Donald Trump over 25 years has dealt with the tabloids going back to his romance with Marla Maples and "The Best Sex I Ever Had" headline, this is a guy who kind of knows how to play the press. Does he not?
WOLFF: Well, I'm not sure that he knows how to play the press. I mean, he is a joke, after all. But he knows the thing that he does, which is just keep going.
It is just utter shamelessness. He will talk to anyone, he will say anything. He will constantly provide a picture, a sound bite, something more preposterous than the last preposterous thing that he provided, which is a recipe for something.
KURTZ: You say he's a joke, but he has a hit television show and he has certainly built some hotels and projects that have been successful.
WOLFF: Well, but does anyone take him seriously? I mean, this is -- what he has done, he's built a career on being not taken seriously, which is fine. I mean, many performers have.
But now we are taking him seriously. We are sitting here, we are taking him seriously. How come? KURTZ: I want to come back to this point about Trump engaging with the press. And he told me he doesn't think reporters are fair, but that doesn't stop him from dealing with them.
He called into CNN's Eliot Spitzer's program on Friday to get into an argument with Spitzer's analysis about his net worth, the idea that he's actually worth less than the $2.7 billion that at least "Forbes" magazine claimed that he was.
PAGE: A pauper, he is.
KURTZ: Yes. I mean, I don't know whether he's more or less wealthy, I don't know that that bears on the presidential prospects. But, also, Charles Krauthammer on Fox has been one of his sharpest critics, and Trump called Krauthammer and talked to him, and Krauthammer concluded from that conversation that, yes, he may be a clown but he's running.
So, what do you make -- I mean, we often complain about candidates who hide behind lawyers and statements. Trump's not doing that.
RUBIN: Yes, but he's also not talking substance.
WOLFF: Yes, but they're running. They're serious candidates. I mean, they're trying to get elected. He is not trying to get elected.
KURTZ: Jennifer Rubin.
RUBIN: Well, I agree with Michael. He, first of all, is not answering, for the most part, very serious questions. He's talking about himself, his favorite subject, and he's engaging with people who seem to be not showing the proper reverence for his wealth and personality.
On the other hand, he is entirely ill-equipped, I think, to talk about the issues. This is a man who has spoken in favor of universal health care coverage. Not exactly a winning issue in the Republican campaign.
KURTZ: No, but that's actually an example of how Trump has shifted his positions over the years, and this, I think, has gotten remarkably little attention. Pro-universal health care coverage a decade ago. Now he says Obamacare is an abomination. He had been in favor of abortion rights, and now he says he's pro-life.
If any other candidate had done that --
PAGE: He was in favor of Obama, for that matter, a few years ago --
KURTZ: So, if we're going to give Donald Trump all this attention, why don't we hold him to the same standard that we would any other candidate who had those kind of shifts, in addition to looking at the business record?
RUBIN: Because --
WOLFF: But, Howie, you the answer to that. Because we don't take him seriously.
KURTZ: What if we are wrong and he gets tempted by these poll numbers and he decides to run?
PAGE: Howard, step back. Step back, Howard.
WOLFF: But if nobody believes that even if he's tempted, that he would win.
PAGE: Step back. Look at the broad view.
WOLFF: This is a very circular thing.
PAGE: This is not a man who is serious about being president. Look at his actual answers to questions.
He gives answers like he's a late-night comedian. You know, nobody has ever made the presidency, as far as I know, who wasn't determined to do it from age 12. This is a guy who just started reading the papers, is what he sounds like, because when he talks about dealing with Gadhafi, oil prices, Medicare, when you ask him serious questions, you get these answers that show he really hasn't thought about it at all.
I don't think he wants to give up the paycheck he's got now in order to take the most important job in the world.
KURTZ: Well, he doesn't need any more money.
PAGE: He doesn't need money. He doesn't need the power either.
WOLFF: But it is clear that this guy is having the time of his life.
KURTZ: Well, that much is clear.
On behalf of facilitating that, Trump had an op-ed piece in "USA Today" this week about -- and he mentioned the birther issue. And he says, "Sadly, the press, en masse, has chosen to glom onto but one of the myriad issues I have discussed and would tackle as president."
Let's play for you a little bit of Donald Trump talking about that one issue the press is now glomming onto.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Let him show me a birth certificate. How come nobody has any records of his hospitalization?
And he doesn't have a birth -- he might have it. And you know what, Savannah? I hope he has it.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: Are you willing to lose the presidential race over this issue?
TRUMP: No, because I tell you what, I hope he does. I would love him to come out with a birth certificate, a proper birth certificate.
Either he wasn't born in the country or he doesn't have a birth certificate, or there's something on the birth certificate that he doesn't want people to see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Clarence Page, and now it's the press's fault that we keep harping on this?
PAGE: Well, this is what I mean. You know, those answers are all old tropes of the birther movement, and he acts like he just discovered it himself. That's how I know he hasn't really read the papers.
And he said, you know, the longer I go, the more convinced I am. Convinced by what? I mean, obviously, he's building his brand.
KURTZ: He says it's the media's fault. And look, he knows if he throws out an issue where he is claiming against all evidence that the president of the United States is not an American citizen, that we are going to cover.
RUBIN: Yes, this is a co-dependent relationship here. The press feeds his ego, he delivers these sound bites, these wacky stories, and the ratings go up and his poll numbers go up.
It's the perfect relationship. What it's not about, however, is about the presidency.
And I would take exception to one thing that Michael said, that there are no serious candidates on the Republican side. They may not be excellent candidates, they may not be winning candidates, but they're serious people. Mitt Romney is a serious person and Tim Pawlenty is a serious person.
KURTZ: Former governors. All right.
PAGE: But there's no front-runner in the race for the first time --
WOLFF: But "winning" candidates is important there.
KURTZ: Well, we'll see if any of them get into a position where they can seriously challenge Barack Obama, who may not glide to re- election. Before we end this segment, I asked on my Twitter feed this week, "Have the media devoted too much coverage to Trump?" And "Are the journalists holding Trump accountable?"
Let's put up some of the responses here.
From Piemac 19: "You need to start putting the pressure on 'The Donald.' Take the kid gloves off."
ChrisKenny233 says, "He is the new Sarah Palin, media-created, inconsequential controversy."
MMOIvr -- I'm not sure how you pronounce that -- "Trump is amusing, understand is news. However, media is irresponsible when giving too much time to his populist nonsense."
Jan Rifkison says, "What the news media is doing for him is shameful. He's not news. He's entertainment and belongs on ET with Mary Hart."
And TheHarryShearer, which who is, of course, the writer and comedian, Harry Shearer: "Isn't he just the Charlie Sheen of campaign coverage?"
We'll go out on that note, and let me get a break.
When we come back, this is really low, moving beyond mocking Sarah Palin to making fun of her Down syndrome son. Now a Web site is paying the price.
KURTZ: Wonkette is a satirical Web site, so you might expect its authors to have some fun with Sarah Palin. But this week it mocked her son, Trig, the baby born with Down syndrome, as "retarded" and "somewhat alive" and "perhaps not really Palin's child."
Wonkette initially defended the item, but after advertisers started bailing out, took it down, and its editors apologized for poor comedic judgment.
Jennifer Rubin, how bad was this? Can you say it's just satire?
RUBIN: No, it's not just satire. It's really in rotten taste. And it's not the first episode of rotten taste.
If you remember, David Letterman also had to apologize for taking on another Sarah Palin child.
KURTZ: An older daughter.
RUBIN: An older daughter, that's right.
So I think a lot of this stuff really is completely out of bounds. And I must say, there are other people who have escaped scrutiny. Andrew Sullivan spent months and months exploring whether she was the real mother of Trig. And people --
KURTZ: Well, he would say he was asking the question.
RUBIN: But I think that's a phony issue. That's like saying, the birther question, I'm just asking to see the birth certificate.
RUBIN: I think this is beyond the bounds of reasonable --
KURTZ: But to make fun of the 3-year-old boy is horrible. But at the same time, there was sort of an aura (ph) campaign on Twitter to get a boycott of Wonkette, and it seems to have been somewhat successful.
PAGE: Well, you know, I think this is one of these usually delightful matters of a lack of experience on the part of Wonkette and other bloggers. I say "delightful" because, yes, the joy of blogging is to take chances and to push the boundaries.
But one thing us seasoned political reporters and commentators have learned is, leave the kids alone. Democrat, Republican, whatever, there are numerous examples over the years any of us could cite of how people making fun of the children of candidates, suddenly the public reacts in a manner that is as fierce as what we're seeing now with Wonkette.
KURTZ: Michael Wolff, is leave the kids alone a pretty good philosophy?
WOLFF: Well, it's never good to be tone deaf.
KURTZ: And this is a classic case.
WOLFF: Especially when you're dealing with advertisers, which I can now speak for. Yes, that was a bad idea.
KURTZ: All right. Well, since you now have to worry about things like advertisers, let me take a minute to ask you about the re- launch of "Adweek," which combined two other titles, "Media Week" and "Brand Week."
You were interviewed about this by the Web site Mediaite, and you said the following: "Most people writing about the media have no idea what they're talking about. They're completely irrelevant."
That's a tad confrontational.
WOLFF: Well, they certainly have no idea what they're talking about. I mean, that's actually one of the curious things and one of the reasons I'm interested in this magazine, why I took this job, is that media writers don't know anything about the media business. They especially don't know anything about what pays the bills, which is advertising.
And so that's one of our missions in this magazine, and the remaking of this magazine, is to introduce the various parties in this business -- buyers and sellers, the media, with the advertising business, and everybody with the technology business.
KURTZ: Well, before we go, since you now have to worry about advertisers, as well as cover advertisers, are you going to tone down just a little bit your famously acerbic and slashing tone?
WOLFF: Howie, I'm the sweetest person in the media business.
KURTZ: You have fooled me up until now. We'll ending on that note.
Michael Wolff, Jennifer Rubin, Clarence Page, thanks very much for joining us.
Up next, I never thought we'd see the day when Sarah Palin's side was asking the media for more attention. We've got the tweets. My two cents in a moment.
KURTZ: Sarah Palin has really let the lamestream media have it over the years. Sometimes she's got a point -- too many unnamed sources taking potshots. Sometimes she doesn't.
The conservative "Daily Caller' ran her statement in a story, but not prominently enough. But given the media's Palin mania, her team has never had to complain about being ignored. That is, until now.
Rebecca Mansour, the spokeswoman for Palin's PAC, took to Twitter to chide the media for not devoting sufficient attention to Palin's speech at a Tea Party rally in Wisconsin. These were helpfully compiled by Slate, and I'll just read a few.
"Hi, Huffington Post. I noticed that you really didn't cover SarahPalinUSA's speech in Madison. How come?"
"Hi, ABC News. How come you didn't cover SarahPalinUSA's speech in Madison very much? What gives?"
"Hi, CNN. Did you cover SarahPalinUSA's Madison speech? Did it upset you that she made Obama look bad by saying the stuff you gloss over?"
Mansour apologized in a later tweet, saying, "OK, fair enough. CNN did cover the speech." Then she ratchets it up.
"Hi, CBS News. I know no one watches you, but how come you really didn't cover SarahPalinUSA's Madison speech? What gives?"
She asked the same question to MSNBC, then said, "Oh, never mind," with the tag: "Why bother asking barking mad network?"
It sounds like someone believes the former governor is being neglected by the media. Of course, Palin could have gotten an avalanche of coverage in Madison simply by holding a news conference.
Now, Rebecca Mansour later said that she was just mocking the media, this wasn't any kind of official complaint. Fair enough, but Palin could get a lot more serious and substantive coverage if she would engage with journalists beyond the carefully-doled-out interviews that she does as a Fox News contributor.
One other thing. Next Sunday, of course, we are going to cover, like everybody else on the planet, the royal wedding in London, which will just have happened the day before. And I've been reading the coverage in the British papers today. Here's The Telegraph telling us breaking news that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are being snubbed and not being invited to the wedding.
I wonder whether we in the news business, particularly on this side of the Atlantic, might be overestimating the public appetite. Here's a "New York Times"/CBS poll that says that only six percent of those asked the question are following news about the royal wedding very closely, another 22 percent somewhat closely. That leaves a whole lot of people who don't care that much, but you're not going to escape this particular topic.
Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, war correspondents get all the glory. But what about the spouses left behind? The wife of a "New York Times" reporter says his job almost destroyed their marriage.
And one year after the BP oil spill, did the media overdramatize the impact of that disaster? Admiral Thad Allen talks about life in the crossfire.
KURTZ: As if we needed any reminder of the dangerous conditions in Libya, two courageous journalists were killed there this week during a battle. One was Chris Hondros of Getty Images. The other, director Tim Hetherington, who was nominated for an Oscar for his film "Restrepo," about American soldiers in Afghanistan.
There's been an outpouring of tributes on Hetherington's Facebook page. He talked about working in war zones in an interview last year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM HETHERINGTON, JOURNALIST: Often, when I'm working in a very pressured situation, I can almost flip the off switch and go into a default of filming. And later on I come to and it shocks me, what I've done.
And that's just something I've been able to do, and that's perhaps why I continue -- why I realize that I'm good at what I do. But it does have the side that it is very dangerous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What a tragedy. Now, for many of the correspondents who go to war, there's a spouse left behind. Selma Kalousek is married to Ian Fisher of "The New York Times," who's reported from Iraq, from Afghanistan, from Gaza, from Somalia. She writes candidly in "Salon" about the difficulties in raising their two young children -- the exhaustion, the doubts she developed, the erosion of their marriage, the raw feelings that arise when one's spouse is trotting around the globe.
And she joins me now here in the studio.
SELMA KALOUSEK, MARRIED TO "NEW YORK TIMES" CORRESPONDENT: Thank you for having me.
KURTZ: You write about a gnawing feeling that you developed that this was not a normal way to live. This must have been hard and it must have been a hard piece to write.
KALOUSEK: It was a hard piece to write, but I really felt like it was time to speak about the legions of spouses and girlfriends and husbands who don't get mentioned unless there's a tragedy, unfortunately, in which case --
KURTZ: Or if somebody is kidnapped.
KALOUSEK: Or killed.
KURTZ: -- or injured or killed, then the spotlight shifts to the families. Otherwise, you're kind of suffering in silence.
KURTZ: And I really -- there's so many lines in your piece that jumped out at me. One was, "Over time, I found myself distancing myself from Ian emotionally."
KURTZ: Why did you do that?
KALOUSEK: It was a self-defense mechanism. And I felt -- the reason I actually wrote the piece, because I felt that same distancing when our -- when Ian's friends disappeared in Libya, the four journalists from "The New York Times." I felt that same feeling of whatever happens, happens. I'm not fully there, too.
KURTZ: Trying to insulate yourself from the possibility of very bad news.
KALOUSEK: Insulate yourself, yes. And that's when I realized -- and Ian, at the same time, was suffering and feeling jittery for his friends, and out of sorts. And so our two reactions were so similar to the way that we used to feel when we were abroad, I thought, you know, maybe I should write about it.
KURTZ: Now, you write about him being gone for as much as nine months in a single year.
KURTZ: And missing whole chunks of the kids' childhood.
That had to be hard.
KALOUSEK: That was very difficult, yes.
KURTZ: And you even say -- I mean, you're remarkably candid in this piece. You say that if you had no kids together, you question whether the relationship would have lasted.
KALOUSEK: Yes. Well, I think -- we've seen a lot of relationships come and go. I don't think "The New York Times" are the only ones that have a huge divorce rate on the foreign desk.
I think any institution, media entity, television, print, radio, have a very high divorce rate, and it's not only amongst journalists versus stay-at-home spouse. Actually, the percentage is even higher amongst journalist couples.
KURTZ: So even though it's the reporter who goes off to war, and it could be a woman, it could be a man --
KURTZ: -- a lot of broken families left in the wake because it impacts, obviously, the whole family whether you're a journalist who happens to be married to one or not.
Talk a little bit about the phone conversations you would have when Ian Fisher was in Iraq or Afghanistan or Somalia. Those were difficult when he would call to see how you were doing?
KALOUSEK: Those were extremely difficult. You have to remember, at the time, we didn't have cell phones. It's not that long ago, at the time. It's not even 10 years. But when we moved to Africa, we had no cell phones.
Toward the end there was a little bit, so there was mostly this just echoing on the phones where you hear your own pathos going at you, when you're saying something like, you know, "I'm lonely," "I miss you," or "I burnt the soup." It comes echoing at you, and you just sound silly to yourself.
You know, you're speaking to this person who is in this horrible, unbelievably terrible place, that he's taken a part of you with him to that place, but you aren't there. So --
KALOUSEK: -- your fantasy life takes over, you know. And so these conversations you would have, like the one I mentioned in the piece where he'd call me and said, "I just got ambushed on the way from Baghdad to the Jordanian border, and they took everything and, you know, there was an AK-47 pointed at my head, but luckily my U.S. passport was hidden deep in my pocket and they didn't find it. That would have been bad."
And that stops at "That would have been bad." And, of course, my imagination goes, OK, so what would have happened? Would they have shot him? Would they have kidnapped him, beheaded him?
It just doesn't stop where the conversation stops.
KURTZ: And then, of course, he says, so, how are you? And you --
KALOUSEK: So, how are you? And then you feel like -- yes.
Do you think -- and by the way, we invited Ian Fisher to join this conversation and he declined.
Was it hard for him to have you put this out there, the intimate details?
KALOUSEK: Not at all. He just said this is your story, go speak.
What happened when he came home to visit? And how did the kids react to him, how did you react to him? You talk a little bit about being angry and resentful during those visits.
KALOUSEK: Yes, there was a bit of a fight for dad's attention. You know, he would come and the kids would hang on him, and I would hang on him. My needs were raw and I was very emotional and very needy, and very angry at the same time because, you know, all these emotions would come up because we hadn't seen each other for a while.
And then, also, all the worry and the fear would come to the surface. And then, of course, Ian was -- he won't say traumatized. Ian was, let's say, had the imprint of what he had just seen on him, so it would be very difficult for him to transition. And we talked about, you know, as a joke, they should have a decompression chamber for these guys where they can go and just spend a couple of days in a floating state.
KURTZ: And by the time you get used to normal life, he's back off to another war zone.
KALOUSEK: And then he's back -- yes.
KURTZ: I admire so much correspondents -- and there are many of them like Ian Fisher -- who go off to these war zones and risk their lives, but you also have to wonder, are they addicted to the adrenaline rush? Are they addicted to the danger? What do you think?
KALOUSEK: I think that it's partly addiction, yes. It's partly addiction, it's exciting.
Ian used to always say, "I just want to have a little look in the beginning." It was like, "I'm going to have a little look." And it was like, "You're having a lot of little looks."
You know, and then it of course sucked him in completely. But I think it's hugely good to do, also, with wanting to tell an important story. And I get that.
I was a picture editor for many years. I worked in media. And I grew up in a communist country. And to me, the importance of speaking frankly and openly about what goes on in the world is extremely important.
KURTZ: That country is?
KALOUSEK: I grew up in Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic.
KURTZ: Right. So you very much value and admire what your husband has been trying to do.
KURTZ: And at the same time, you're bearing the brunt. Did you have trouble sleeping? Did you have nightmares?
KALOUSEK: Yes. I had repeat nightmares. I had all those things.
I also should mention that I had my first, I guess, big love, the man that I imagined I could spend my life with, was killed in Iraq in the first war, the Persian Gulf War. He was 26 years old. He was a war photographer -- he was a photographer and he went in --
KURTZ: So you actually paid the ultimate price once.
KALOUSEK: So I think that -- and the dreams that I would have were mixed -- very mixed together with my reality and with my past, where -- and because I had lost once before, I think in the piece I say, "Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive."
I think that was part of it, is that I somehow felt I survived this once, I should be able to survive it again. That was part of the distancing.
KURTZ: We're coming up on a break here, but did you ultimately convince him to stop? And did he resent that, to stop covering war?
KALOUSEK: I stopped him and he didn't resent me, because I let him do it -- let him -- he did it for six years.
KURTZ: With your acquiescence. KALOUSEK: Yes.
KURTZ: But you're a little happier now that he's not on the frontlines of journalism, so to speak.
KALOUSEK: Yes. I think that you have, you know -- journalist have nine lives, or maybe even less. And I just -- yes.
KURTZ: Don't want to use up too many of those.
KURTZ: It's a fascinating piece, and particularly the kind of thing that's not usually talked about in public, so very much appreciate your writing it and your being here.
Selma Kalousek --
KALOUSEK: Thank you.
KURTZ: -- thanks for joining us.
After the break, the press put him on the hot seat day after day during that Gulf oil disaster a year ago. Admiral Thad Allen turns the tables by grading the media's performance.
KURTZ: The coverage was nothing short of relentless. One year ago, when an oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, the media jumped on the disaster day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute. And the man on the firing line was Admiral Thad Allen.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Is top kill this week going to work?
ADM. THAD ALLEN, U.S. COAST GUARD (RET.): We certainly hope it will. Nothing is a sure thing.
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: So, at this moment, Admiral Allen, do you think this is possibly the big fix? Is this it?
ALLEN: Well, Diane, this certainly is an important day in the evolution of this response.
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Why did it take the Coast Guard until this morning to realize that BP and Louisiana didn't have the resources to contain this thing?
ALLEN: Well, Katie, we've been on this problem ever since the fire broke out on the rig. And actually, there's been a life cycle to this event that started with a very serious search and rescue case.
KURTZ: Those pictures look so familiar, but did journalists go overboard on the impact of the environmental disaster? Was the reporting overheated or restrained?
I spoke earlier with the retired Coast Guard commandant here in the studio.
KURTZ: Thad Allen, welcome.
ALLEN: Thank you.
KURTZ: Let's start with the spill cam, the picture that was up there 24/7, always at the bottom of the screen, pulsating.
Did those images accomplish anything other than perhaps alarming people?
ALLEN: They did a couple of things.
First of all, I thought it created transparency on the response. Early on, there were issues of whether or not BP was releasing the video.
We had a long conversation. We knew it was inevitable, that this stuff had to be seen by the public. We just made it the policy that we would be releasing it.
But, also, that video was the only information we had about what was going on down at the well. It was actually used to analyze the flow rate.
KURTZ: This was very much a story driven by pictures, as you know.
Now, you were constantly asked -- I mean, here you were briefing virtually every day at the White House, in the Gulf -- what's the administration doing? How is the administration going to solve this problem? Is the president mad? Is the president outraged?
But a lot of the cleanup was led by BP.
ALLEN: That's correct. Under our current laws, the responsible party is supposed to clean up the oil and cap it and take all responsible actions. In this case, the technology used to contain the oil and cap the well lay in the private sector, and there really was no capability to do that in the U.S. government.
That cautioned a lot of angst among a lot of political leaders because it raised the question of whether or not the government was relevant. And we really had to work that.
KURTZ: Was it frustrating for you to be sort of -- you were the face of the cleanup, and you're on camera every day, and you're having to explain that there's a division of labor here involving this giant oil company, which was not too popular at the time. Was it frustrating for you to get questions about what's the administration doing, when the administration didn't have -- wasn't in control of all of the levers?
ALLEN: Well, what happened was, the administration formed a science team under Secretary Chu, the secretary of Energy, who is a Nobel Prize winner in physics. I was more like the integrator, because I could see what was going on in Washington, down on the scene, out at the rigs. And, frankly, when we went to a single briefing that I was doing every day, it got easier to explain everything because I could integrate and explain it as a whole.
KURTZ: But was it easier to explain to reporters, many of whom were political in nature, who wanted a headline for that hour, that minute, the next day, that, you know, this was a problem that was going to take some time to fix? But, of course, the media can be very impatient, and you were the guy taking the questions.
ALLEN: Well, you're absolutely right. They want information every day. There's a 7/24-hour news cycle that needs to be filled. But some of these things take a period of time.
It took -- from the day the well sank, it took -- or the rig sunk -- it took 85 days to build that capping stack and put it on and have it be successful. And every day, people were wondering what was going to happen. And sometimes there were delays because of weather. Just a huge, huge amount of interest.
KURTZ: But you're a pretty unflappable guy. But you can tell me now, was it frustrating to be in that situation where you didn't necessarily have a lot of progress to report and the press wanted answers?
ALLEN: Well, there were a lot of press sessions where I got repeated questions about details that I would give and get the same question again the next day because --
KURTZ: So very repetitive.
ALLEN: Very repetitive.
KURTZ: And a lot of journalists understand the nuances here. This was complicated stuff. We were all suddenly having to learn about top-kill and junk shot and all this exotic terminology.
ALLEN: Well, we had a call-in line every day so people could listen. Even if they weren't asking questions, they could keep up to speed on what was going on. And pretty soon, they sorted themselves out about -- you could tell the ones that had been there before and kind of kept up to speed on what was going on with the technology, and the ones who were asking questions for the first time.
KURTZ: All right. We saw an endless parade, it seemed, of scientists and other experts on the air and in print.
Did some of these folks know what they were talking about?
ALLEN: Well, I think they all had a point of view, and they all were providing information based on assumptions or information they had. I was very concerned --
KURTZ: But those tended to be conflicting points of view.
ALLEN: Correct. You know, if you put out a scientific piece, it's usually vetted by peers, and there's some self-governance on what goes on.
You can have somebody be interviewed from where they sit and see the problems and be radically different from somebody else across the Gulf. And trying to reconcile those different scientific positions was very difficult when they were put forward in the media without any peer vetting.
KURTZ: Well, and, you know, with television, anybody can get on. And I'm not saying these aren't smart people, but you're right, some of them had agendas or maybe didn't have the whole picture.
What about social media, these social media networks? Did that -- this was, perhaps, the first big, huge environmental disaster of the Twitter age.
Was that a factor?
ALLEN: I think we saw this starting to build even during Hurricane Katrina, but you're absolutely right. I've told my people for a long time that we're never going to have a major event in this country that won't involve public participation.
This goes well beyond the 24-hour news cycle to social media, tweeting, people aggregating through social behaviors on the Web. We have to be responsive to that. So we tried to put out as much information as we could on a Web site so the public would have access to it.
KURTZ: Now, this oil spill inflicted a lot of damage on a lot of people's lives. I'm looking at some of the numbers here -- five million barrels of oil released into the ocean, nearly two million barrels of chemical dispersants, 8,000 birds identified as killed, probably many more.
But at the same time, we look back now, with the benefit of hindsight, and much of the oil seems to have dispersed. The media certainly didn't predict that.
ALLEN: Well, there were a lot of predictions about what was going to happen. Anybody that can tell you to virtual certainty they know what happened in the Gulf has just demonstrated they don't know, in my view. It's going to take a long time, a lot of science.
I think we need to bring everybody together, bring everything we know, because one part of the Gulf didn't receive the same amount of oil and maybe didn't react the same way. And I'd be very, very cautious about hasty generalizations on this event.
KURTZ: But was there a tendency to spin out -- and we would even see a little of this with the coverage of the Japanese nuclear disaster -- to spin out worst-case scenarios, when, in fact, nobody knew at the time -- and, as you say, we still don't fully know -- whether that would ever come to pass?
ALLEN: I think you're exactly right. In numerous briefings I had in the White House and other places, I said the event was indeterminate and omnidirectional. And that was maddening to the political leaders.
KURTZ: Why so?
ALLEN: Well, there didn't appear to be an end to the event. And since oil came to the surface every day under different wind and surface conditions, we didn't have a monolithic slick, we had 100,000 patches of oil.
And every time I characterized the spill as being indeterminate and omnidirectional, that just frustrated people to no end. But it, in fact, was the truth until we got it capped.
KURTZ: Was there also a concern on your part, Admiral, that if you said that progress was being made, that you would be seen as trying to minimize the impact or trying to put a happier face on what was a very bad news story for the administration?
ALLEN: Well, you're kind of in a dilemma between trying to give progress and tell people something is being done about it, but not minimize the fears of the people that are being severely impacted by this. And there are people at each end of the emotional spectrum.
I think you just have to understand that, and you've got to understand that those emotions are valid and you can't deny them. You shouldn't disrespect them, but you should focus on the truth and what it is you've got to do to fix the problem.
KURTZ: With the benefit of hindsight, again, did this tidal wave of media coverage -- I mean, this was saturation for so many weeks -- overstate and overdramatize the impact of that oil spill?
ALLEN: Well, I think in some cases it was probably underreported. In some cases, it was probably over reported.
Again, because the spill impacted areas of the Gulf differently, it's kind of hard to say there was one way to describe it. The marshes of Louisiana are a completely different set of environmental circumstances than the beaches of Mississippi, Florida and Alabama. And so there were people that were trying to get people to come to the beaches to minimize the economic impact, where in Louisiana, they wanted to make sure they were getting support, so they wanted to make sure everybody knew there was oil there.
KURTZ: And the fishing industry, of course. So the journalists love to generalize, but at the same time, the impact was very wide, very disparate, as you say. That put you right on the hot seat.
Admiral Thad Allen, thanks very much for joining us.
ALLEN: My pleasure. Thank you.
KURTZ: Still to come, "60 Minutes" busts a best-selling author; Glenn Beck accused of ripping off material; and the creator of the "Dilbert" strip does a not-so-funny thing online.
The "Media Monitor," straight ahead.
KURTZ: We start with a word of apology. I didn't catch it during the crosstalk on last week's program, but one of our guests, former Bush adviser Mark McKinnon, let slip one of America's favorite expletives, but one we usually compress on television to simply BS.
That's live TV for you. McKinnon told me he was sorry for the slip. We try to avoid the expletives here.
Now, on to this week's "Media Monitor." And here's what I liked.
Too many publishers these days bring out nonfiction books without having the faintest idea whether they're true. We saw that with the partially fabricated memoir that James Frey peddled on "Oprah."
Now "60 Minutes" has taken on Greg Mortenson, the author of the best-selling "Three Cups of Tea." It's an uplifting tale of how author, after a failed attempt at mountain climbing, was helped by a group of villagers in Pakistan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREG MORTENSON, AUTHOR, "THREE CUPS OF TEA": My pants were ripped in half and I hadn't taken a bath in 84 days.
And I stumbled into a little village called Korphe where I was befriended by the people.
They gave me everything they had, their yak, butter, their tea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But CBS's Steve Kroft knocked down several parts of the book, in part, through an interview with author and mountaineer Jon Krakauer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON KRAKAUER, AUTHOR AND MOUNTAINEER: It's a beautiful story and it's a lie.
STEVE KROFT, "60 MINUTES": So nobody helped him out and nursed him back to health?
KRAKAUER: Absolutely not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Mortenson, who wouldn't talk to "60 Minutes," defends the book, but says he used compressed time frames to tell the story more efficiently. Hmm.
The publisher, Viking, says, "Well, we relied on the author." Is that a high enough standard for a hardcover that has your company's name on it?
I liked this one, too. "The Daily Caller" reporting that Glenn Beck has periodically lifted material from conservative activists and bloggers without giving them credit. The story is based on numerous on-the-record interviews. And by publishing the piece, Tucker Carlson's Web site was taking on its own side.
A Beck spokesman told "The Daily Caller" that the radio and Fox News host broadcast nearly 1,000 a year and that, "Anyone can find examples of stories they think should have been sourced differently."
There was a standout in this year's Pulitzer Prizes. The nonprofit group Pro Publica won for reporting by Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein on how some Wall Street firms exacerbated the financial crisis.
This is the first time the coveted prize has been awarded for work that appeared only online. Pro Publica shared a Pulitzer last year with "The New York Times" magazine.
This is remarkable. For an outfit launched just three-and-a-half years ago by former "Wall Street Journal" Paul Steiger, and which relies in part on donations from readers.
Now to the world of comic strips.
The creator of "Dilbert," that hapless office bureaucrat, is not so hapless in real life. Scott Adams is pretty combative, at least judging by his decision to use a fake screen name to defend himself online.
As reported by Gawker, Adams used the moniker "Planned Chaos" to post such messages about Scott Adams as, "His job is to be interesting, not loved." "As someone mentioned, he has a certified genius I.Q., and that's hard to hide." And, "Is it Adams' enormous success at self-promotion that makes you jealous and angry?"
Well, for a self-proclaimed genius, using a phony pseudonym is pretty dumb. Even the nerds in Dilbert's office could figure that one out.
That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz. If you happened to miss this program, you can always download our full podcast at CNN.com/podcast, or find us on iTunes.
We'll be here 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.