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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Coverage of Anthony Weiner Scandal; Couric Goes Over to ABC; Pelley Takes Over 'CBS Evening News'
Aired June 12, 2011 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: The media have been ricocheting from one scandal to the next -- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, John Edwards. But the Anthony Weiner saga has got to be the strangest of all, a sex scandal with no actual sex, but 100 questions about a congressman's digital dirty deeds.
With Weiner now checking into rehab, how much of this story has been driven by his serial lying to journalists, and how much by the sheer salacious content? We'll ask ABC's Chris Cuomo, who conducted the first interview with one of Weiner's online gal pals, and Fox News commentator Kirsten Powers, who struggled with whether to write about Weiner, a man she once dated.
Plus, while Katie Couric strikes a lucrative syndication deal with ABC, Scott Pelley takes over her old anchor chair at CBS. But how do you start that job without introducing yourself to the audience?
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
The media hunt was on once Anthony Weiner admitted to having sexual conversations and sending explicit photos to six women online. Who were they? Would they talk? Would they trash the congressman?
20/20's Chris Cuomo landed the first television interview with one of these women, a 26-year-old single mother in Texas named Meagan Broussard. When the New York congressman apologized for what he called shameful behavior at that bizarre news conference on Monday, Cuomo got in a question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CUOMO, "20/20": Was Meagan Broussard one of the women?
REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: Megan Broussard was one of the women.
MEAGAN BROUSSARD, EXCHANGED PHOTOS WITH CONGRESSMAN WEINER: He said I'm an open book, maybe too open. He was eager to hear about if I wanted him or thought he was attractive or that sort of thing.
CUOMO: How much of it was sex talk?
BROUSSARD: I mean, he would attempt all the time. CUOMO (voice-over): Broussard says she also received this bare- chested shot of Weiner with photos in the background showing his wife and the Clintons. And she says she received an explicit photo of a man's exposed private parts.
(on camera): When you got that photo, what did you think?
BROUSSARD: I just thought it was risky. Real risky.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So what about it take for Cuomo to get that interview? Did money change hands? And how newsworthy was it?
I sat down with him in New York.
KURTZ: Chris Cuomo, welcome.
CUOMO: The pleasure is mine.
KURTZ: You're interviewing this woman, Meagan Broussard, asking her about sex talk she had with a Congressman. Did that make you uncomfortable?
CUOMO: It made me anxious. It made me make sure that we had everything right, Howie, because, as you know, growing up, learning from people like you in the business, you do not get a chance to miss in a situation like this. So, going into the interview, there was as much preparation as possible, and I had to make sure everything was right.
KURTZ: Ordinarily, this would be the private business of two consenting adults. What made it news, news that warranted your involvement?
CUOMO: I think his position and its reflection as a potential pattern of judgment or misjudgment. I think that's what did it, because you're putting your finger right on the most sensitive part of this -- the human frailty, the idea that it was some kind of sex -- pseudo-sexual relationship, and struggling with that as a journalist as to whether or not it's news just because it's salacious. This was -- I believe it checked every box as a challenge in journalism.
KURTZ: Well, Anthony Weiner, in a way, made it easy because he went on 27 television shows and he lied about it, and then he acknowledged that he lied. Let's say he hadn't done that. Let's say nobody had ever heard of this. Meagan Broussard calls you up and said, Chris, this congressman's been sending me photos, I'm willing to talk to you about it.
Would you have broken the story? Would you have put it in play?
CUOMO: I'll say it this way -- his party wouldn't have mattered to me. His position as a congressman might have, but ultimately, I would have felt very good knowing that I don't have to say yes. This would have been one of those situations where I would have had the ability to walk away from this story, and I may very well have, because there are lots of other people to do it.
KURTZ: Andrew Breitbart, the conservative author and blogger who broke this story, brought Broussard's name to ABC. Why?
CUOMO: Because he trusted us. And when I say "us," I mean Chris Vlasto, who is --
KURTZ: Your producer.
CUOMO: -- who is my senior producer there and --
KURTZ: But Breitbart hates the mainstream media.
CUOMO: But not Chris Vlasto. He trusts people that he knows he can depend on.
He wanted mainstream media legitimacy on this story. He knew probably that he needed it -- not to reach into Andrew's head. But he came to us because he knew that if ABC News got involved -- specifically Vlasto and Cuomo got involved in this -- it would help the legitimacy of the case.
KURTZ: You know, look, Breitbart was right on this story, but he has a controversial background. He selectively edited videos of Shirley Sherrod, making the Agricultural Department employee look like a racist.
Did any of that bother you, or did you feel like it just needed to be judged on its own?
CUOMO: It makes you cautious. I mean, Howie, listen, you still talk to me, right?
CUOMO: And you have much better sources than I. Every source can be 100 percent wrong or 100 percent right. Everyone falls somewhere in between.
When Andrew Breitbart had this, we took the name and we did everything we could to make sure it was right. This was as in depth as we could be.
KURTZ: And was it difficult to talk Meagan Broussard into sitting in front of a camera with you?
CUOMO: It was very difficult because she --
KURTZ: Why? What was her reluctance?
CUOMO: She was afraid of the implications to her as a regular person. She's got -- she's a single mother. She struggling to go to school. She has a kid -- a young kid. She's afraid of the power of the system against her.
And what we were trying to tell her is, if this matters to you, that you didn't like that he was lying about this, that you think there are a lot of women out there, you're worried that he'll make them bad guys, you have to step up and you have to trust us that we'll protect you, because we have to become your advocate if you're telling us the truth
KURTZ: But she played along with Weiner. She sent him a picture of herself in a bra. And she didn't really say much negative about him. And to you she said, "I don't think he's a bad guy, he's got issues just like everyone else."
So she didn't really come off as a great victim here.
CUOMO: She's not a victim.
KURTZ: She's not a victim.
CUOMO: She was afraid of being a victim --
KURTZ: How so?
CUOMO: -- of the cover-up. If there were repeated denials, then anyone who became involved would have to be somehow a malefactor, right? Just by the logical extension of which way he was going early on. So --
KURTZ: But you played -- I mean, journalists are very good at this -- seducing sources -- you said, you have a responsibility to come forward.
CUOMO: Well, she felt a responsibility to come forward. That's why she --
KURTZ: So you had to allay her --
CUOMO: No. I had to let her know that we're in it for the right reasons.
You're going to have to tolerate my vetting of you. You say you're a veteran, I have to prove it. Oh, your name didn't come back. Oh, you were under your married name at the time. OK.
That was difficult for her. She was afraid. But I said, "You have to tolerate the vetting. You have to trust us, because this is how we do our job, and we have to make you airtight."
And luckily for us, Representative Weiner did a good thing. During the press conference, I asked him if Meagan Broussard was one of the women, and he took the opportunity to answer that question in the affirmative. That made a big difference.
KURTZ: ABC paid Meagan Broussard $10,000 to $15,000, I'm told, for those pictures -- the one that she sent him, the one that Weiner sent her.
CUOMO: No. The ones that she sent him.
KURTZ: No pictures of Weiner?
CUOMO: No. We paid for her pictures.
KURTZ: OK. Did that bother you?
KURTZ: Does it -- doesn't it make it look like by talking to ABC she's trying to cash in?
CUOMO: Yes, it does. And that's one of the things we have to deal with in the business. We've talked about this before. The commercial exigencies of the business reaches to every aspect of reporting now.
KURTZ: You felt that if you didn't -- I mean, this wasn't your decision -- but if the network didn't pay her something, she might go to someone else who might well be ready to open the checkbook?
CUOMO: True. And I appreciate the protection you're giving me, but I'm not -- I don't want it. It is my decision. I'm the anchor --
KURTZ: You could have walked away from it.
CUOMO: I could have said don't do it. I don't because it is the state of play right now. I wish it were not.
I wish money was not in the game, but you know it's going to go somewhere else. You know someone else is going to pay for the same things.
The question becomes what you're paying for. You're paying for these photos. Why? Because they are the key to the exchanges.
And this became about photos. This became about things that had to be real, so I needed them. And that is the state of play, Howie.
I wish it were not. You do, too. But it is the state of play, and to say otherwise I think is false.
KURTZ: You grew up around Democratic politics here in New York. Your father was governor. Your brother Andrew is now the governor.
Have you ever met Anthony Weiner?
CUOMO: I have.
KURTZ: You feel sorry for him in this situation?
CUOMO: I do. And you know what? You take criticism from that.
I'll take criticism from that from the women in my own family, and some of the men, who are saying he did this all himself. I don't know what you say you feel sorry for.
I get the logic of that. And yet, I do feel sorry for him because of the human failing. And it's tragic in that somebody who seemed to be trying to do the right thing with their public life winds up now in a very precarious situation.
KURTZ: So you've debated this with your wife and others in your family?
CUOMO: I'm a married man. I have to debate everything with my wife.
CUOMO: I don't get to do anything. Whether it's on TV or off, I have to speak to her. And with these types of stories, you need those human connections around you as a journalist to understand where people's heads and hearts are when you're covering this type of material.
KURTZ: But particularly growing up in a political family, Chris, I mean, Andrew Cuomo got a lot of negative cowboy publicity when his marriage to Kerry Kennedy broke up. I'm sure you didn't like that.
CUOMO: I didn't. That's a big reason I'm not in politics.
KURTZ: Are you, are we, all of us, doing the same thing to Weiner?
CUOMO: Well, I think this is different because I don't think this is a judgment on a regular activity. You know, even divorce these days has become so common.
I think we have to be careful. I think a good instruction out of this story and why I think it's great that you're covering it is that it is a good reflection of where the media's heads are on cultural behavior.
How do we treat it? What do we decide to chase?
I did not do the follow-up stories of how many women, how deep, what were the types of dialogues, because once we open the door here, I believe that that was sufficient. Unless we find illegal behavior, underage people, something that shows some type of illegality, or furtherance of a wrong, I didn't want traffic in just the salaciousness of it.
KURTZ: But if you open the door to saying this is an important enough story for me to do, and here's Meagan Broussard, and this is the sexual exchanges that she had with Congressman Anthony Weiner, why not publish -- why not read on the air these transcripts of the e- mails with this other woman from Las Vegas that "Radar Online" published, some of which are very graphic and explicit? You're drawing a line, but I'm not sure I see the distinction.
CUOMO: Well, I have to. I have to see that line.
KURTZ: Did you turn it down? Did you say, I don't want to be involved?
CUOMO: Yes. You have to see the line for yourself. I have to see the line for myself. To me, the pattern of behavior as a leader -- him going after my colleague, Jonathan Karl, whom I have tremendous respect for, as I know you do as well, and saying, basically, how dare you ask me these questions, I'm a victim, and then I don't see any governmental side to the investigation of the hacking, it made us look at it.
He is an elected leader. He's a strong voice within that party. He has to have credibility, and that was worth going after.
KURTZ: The fact that Weiner not only lied to the media repeatedly, and with great indignation, and how dare you, to some extent, in a way justifies the story because journalists don't like being lied to. He helped put it in play.
CUOMO: The people can't have that happen from their leaders. That's one of our main jobs here, right? Other than being handsome guys on television, which is more true for you.
CUOMO: You beat me to it. But, you know, they deserve better than that. And that's part of our job.
His sex life, or whatever kind of life you want to look at this Internet stuff as, it's not really my business. I don't make it my business. And my record as a reporter would show that.
But he is a leader, they have to take him at his word. If this is a lie, what else could be a lie? That's what draw me to it.
KURTZ: So was that, as was often debated during the Bill Clinton impeachment investigation, and lots of other of these scandals, it's not really about the sex, it's about the credibility? But, of course, the salaciousness of the story, Chris, is what drives the ratings and the online traffic, let's face it.
CUOMO: You know, look, there's no question about it. You know, I'm saying to you, hey, I wish this were about a congressman and a contract that a company shouldn't have had, but I don't know that people would have cared the same way, because as much as they want to condemn us for covering the sex involved, and saying we have bigger things to worry about, this draws their attention.
So it was somewhat of a convenience in this case that probably drove some of the volume of the coverage. But the underlying issue of whether or not this congressman was telling the truth is very important. It's a very important aspect of public life that I appreciate, maybe even more than others, because I see the sacrifice in my own family.
KURTZ: And you've seen it from both sides.
Chris Cuomo, thanks very much for sitting down with us.
CUOMO: What a pleasure.
KURTZ: When we come back, she didn't expect to be drawn into the controversy over the man she once dated, but Kirsten Powers believes Anthony Weiner left her no choice. The Fox News analyst joins us, next.
KURTZ: It's a very tricky journalistic dilemma -- someone you were once close to, a congressman you dated years ago, is suddenly enmeshed in a cringe-inducing scandal. Do you defend him? Do you write about him, talk about him? Or should you just stay quiet?
Fox News commentator Kirsten Powers ultimately decided to write an explosive piece about Anthony Weiner for "The Daily Beast," my Web site, and she joins me now here in the studio.
KIRSTEN POWERS, FOX NEWS COMMENTATOR: Great to be here.
KURTZ: Let's go to the very beginning. Allegations initially surfaced. You were in touch with Anthony Weiner by e-mail.
What did he tell you about those allegations?
POWERS: That they weren't true, he did not contact her, that he had a lawyer, and that they were very close to figuring out who actually did send the picture.
KURTZ: Referring to the college student who we first heard about and had gotten the shirtless photo?
POWERS: Yes. Right. Right. Yes.
So, it wasn't just that he didn't do it, it was just that they were about to figure out who did do it. So, you know --
KURTZ: They were going to solve the mystery.
KURTZ: OK. Now, based on that, you went on Fox News. You went on Sean Hannity's show, and this is some of what you said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: All right. He's the one that says he doesn't know if it's him or not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know why he's doing that.
POWERS: He says he didn't send it. I mean, really, to put him on that list of a bunch of people who cheated on their wives, there's --
HANNITY: Doesn't he sound guilty?
POWERS: No. I do not --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what he sounds like?
HANNITY: He won't answer a straight question.
POWERS: The point is, he didn't send it. He said he didn't send it. Don't say that he said things that he --
HANNITY: All right. How does he not know --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Weiner also asked you (ph) to talk to "The New York Post," which is owned by Fox's parent company.
Were you 100 percent sure at that time that he was telling you the truth?
POWERS: Yes. I would never, ever have gone on air and said that if I didn't think that it was true.
KURTZ: When the initial picture of the shirtless photo first surfaced, as the Washington bureau chief of "The Daily Beast," I asked if you would write about this and you declined.
POWERS: Because I just felt that I didn't want to get involved in it. I wasn't really quite sure what was going on.
I thought it was possible but unlikely that he did it. And I just sort of thought, you know what? I'm just going to stay out of this.
And I really never would have talked about it -- as you know, I work for Fox, and so I was going on that show. It had been booked a month in advance. And when they gave me the topics, I had to go on and talk about it. I had no choice.
KURTZ: But Anthony Weiner is not just someone you dated briefly some years ago. I mean, he had remained a friend of yours. You once spent Thanksgiving with his family. He helped you when you had some problems. So you were pretty close to him.
POWERS: I was in the past. I wouldn't say right now, in the last couple of years, no, absolutely not. We were friendly. I think I mentioned in my column, when my in-laws were stuck in Egypt, I did reach out to him for help, and he connected me with his wife, who connected me to the embassy. So we have that kind of friendship. It -'s not that we were best friends or anything like that, but --
KURTZ: "He was a friend" --
KURTZ: -- "whom I cared for very much, even if I thought he had issues he needed to deal with."
KURTZ: So what went through your mind on Monday when he goes on television and said yes, I lied; yes, there were six women; yes, I sent explicit photos, after telling you the opposite?
POWERS: I was shocked. I was -- I think my initial reaction was as a friend, as looking at this person's life unraveling on television.
He seemed he was in a lot of pain. I imagine his wife was in a lot of pain. I had a much more human reaction, I think.
I knew he had lied to me, you know, but I really wasn't focused on that. I was really much more focused on the fact of just really feeling sorry for him and what kind of situation he was in.
KURTZ: And then, after a day or two to think about it, when you did decide to write the piece for "The Daily Beast," how did your thinking change? I mean, you may still have felt sorry for him -- I mean, look, let's not mince words here. He betrayed you.
POWERS: Yes. Well, I still felt sorry for him, and I still do feel sorry for him. But what changed was I hadn't seen those 27 interviews. Well, I hadn't watched those interviews. I had seen some outtakes.
And then the next day I saw a bunch of clips, and I thought, this is sociopathic. This is not just him lying to a couple people. This is him, you know, as Chris Cuomo brought up, coming on and really accusing reporters of things, pointing fingers at Andrew Breitbart. And so that started to shift a little bit.
And then, as more information came out about it, I started to become concerned from a feminist perspective, because, as you know, I write about feminist issues. And I felt, I can't stay silent on some of these things just because this is somebody who I was friends with. You know, I have to hold everybody to the same standard.
So, there were a couple different things. And the fact that he lied to me, frankly, is the least important issue of all of them to me. KURTZ: But there was great passion in your piece. You said he should resign, he said he's a misogynist. So how do you get from, gee, I feel badly for this guy who I knew pretty well, once dated, to calling for him to kick himself out of Congress?
POWERS: Well, because I think you have a responsibility to the American people. I think it's not just that he was lying to reporters, he was lying to all Americans. And he was doing it in a way that makes him untrustworthy.
I don't think after this people can really say, come on, you can do 27 interviews and lie like that? I mean, how are we ever going to know that you're ever telling the truth?
And then, you know, I do think -- I don't know if I'd say he is a misogynist. I think he behaved in misogynist behavior and that he needs help, and that he needs to -- and he is getting treatment now.
POWERS: Yes, and he is a distraction to the Democratic Party. He's dragging the Democratic Party down. And this would be my analysis if he was a Republican.
KURTZ: Were you angry? Was this a painful piece to write? When you had to sit down at that computer an d put your thoughts together, was that hard for you?
POWERS: It was extremely painful and extremely difficult. And even if we aren't as close as friends as we used to be, you don't ever want to have to write something like that about a friend of yours. But my credibility was also on the line.
I try to be very honest in my analysis. I try to be very fair. I try to hold everybody to the same standard, not give someone a break because I agree with their politics or I know them -- because, look, we all know each other. And so, for me, I really felt like, you know, I owe something to the people who -- the viewers who heard -- saw me do this.
And I got a lot of e-mail asking me, "How could you do this?" I felt I had to set that record straight.
I didn't want to do it. We had a long conversation about it. I didn't want to do it, but I felt I had to do it.
KURTZ: We're coming up on a break, but has there been any negative fallout for you being lumped together with Weiner's girls?
POWERS: I mean, I don't like it. I'll just put it that way. I don't think there's been a lot of -- I've gotten a lot of very positive feedback from a lot of people in the media and in politics, really understanding why I had to do it.
A lot of people are angry at him for what he did to me as well. I would much, much prefer that I had never been involved in the story. And frankly, had I not had that Hannity interview that had been booked long before, I probably never would have gotten involved in it.
KURTZ: Well, I'm glad that you wrote from the heart when you did.
POWERS: Yes. Thank you, Howard.
KURTZ: Kirsten Powers, thanks very much for coming by.
Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, more on what's driving the Weiner story and the role of Andrew Breitbart.
And later, major news outlets invite the public to pore over thousands of Sarah Palin's e-mails. An innovative technique or a plain old liberal bias?
Plus, the Scott Pelley era begins on the "CBS Evening News," but did anyone notice?
KURTZ: There may well have been people in America who never heard of Anthony Weiner before the sexting scandal that put the congressman in the eye of a media hurricane. From the pictures and X- rated messages, to the women, to the political fallout, to "The New York Times" reporting that his wife Huma is pregnant, every news outlet on the planet seemed consumed by the Weiner story, and there was no shortage of opinions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: Congressman, there is only one person who can end this story. You. You've got to take one for the team, the country, your constituents, and your party. They all deserve better.
GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: Here he is saying that he's not going to resign. May I ask, is there no shame in America anymore?
KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: And look, he has an illness. He has a very -- he has a sickness. And it is not going to get better by him remaining in Congress and digging in, and just sort of basically trying to bully his way through this thing.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: But him screwing up his marriage in itself I think is more gossip than news. He was never -- this is not a matter of political hypocrisy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to turn a critical lens on the media's behavior in this frenzy, Amy Holmes, afternoon co-host at America's Radio News Network; Jane Hall, associate professor at American University's School of Communications; and Dana Milbank, columnist for "The Washington Post."
Amy Holmes, let's strip away the sociology here.
AMY HOLMES, CO-ANCHOR, "AMERICA'S MORNING NEWS": So to speak.
KURTZ: So to speak. Are the media just wallowing in the steamy and salacious details of the Weiner story?
HOLMES: Well, there certainly is that aspect. And Andrew Breitbart, of course, had the uncovered photo which --
KURTZ: We'll get to that.
HOLMES: Yes -- which I don't think actually that news organizations would have run with. They wouldn't have even put --
KURTZ: But give me your overall assessment of the behavior here by news organizations.
HOLMES: The behavior by the news organizations I think was responsible. I think that Anthony Weiner was of course going out and telling this absurd story about a hacker, and the media had an obligation to get to the bottom of it.
He is a U.S. congressman. If there was a hacker, this was someone who was impersonating a congressman. There were real legal and ethical issues at stake here, and I think the media handled it well.
KURTZ: Absolutely legitimate story, Dana Milbank, but how much of it has been driven by journalistic anger, exactly what Amy mentioned, which is that he lied to all these journalists at press conferences and television interviews? And is there a point where it just becomes excessive?
DANA MILBANK, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think this was a minor story until that extraordinary interview with CNN's Dana Bash and Ted Barrett, who Weiner called a jackass. And I think that had the effect of saying, wait a second, there's something more to this story.
He could have easily put it to rest with, I guess, a more clever lie, but it wasn't just what he said, it was the way he said it. And I think a lot of journalists were passing around that transcript and that clip saying, this is extraordinary. And this story has a new life as a result of that single encounter.
KURTZ: But once Weiner admits that he lied, and so clearly it was going to be a huge story, it seems to me, Jane Hall, that there aren't gatekeepers anymore. That if "Radar Online" gets a bunch of instant messages between Weiner and the woman who is the Vegas black jack dealer, it's on 10,000 Web sites in half an hour.
JANE HALL, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY'S SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATIONS. Yes. You know, someone asked me if I thought this showed dissatisfaction with the mainstream media, that the person went to Breitbart. I said it showed absolutely how the mainstream media worked, which is you give it to Breitbart, Breitbart puts it out, it's all over the place, and the media follow. I thought ABC did a very responsible job with the story they did.
I think that the media, if they're focusing on whether he lied or not, that is personal pique on the part of the media. I think the bigger story is the story that most people I know are resonating to, which is, what is with these guys?
You know, that's what Ruth Marcus asked in "The Washington Post," what is it? Is there some connection for some men between power and treatment of women and anonymous sex and treating their wives badly?
Rachel Maddow did that whole thing on the chart of the number of politicians. I mean, that, to me, is the story most people I know are really focusing on.
KURTZ: By the way, Radar's editor told me that they didn't pay a dime for those messages, but since you brought up Breitbart, let me play for you a clip of Andrew Breitbart on "The Today Show" talking about this one picture that he did not release, and we'll pick it up on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT LAUER, "THE TODAY SHOW": You have also said that you have another image, and you've described as X-rated. Under no circumstance will you release that? In other words, let's say Anthony Weiner's supporters target you in some other way?
ANDREW BREITBART, CONSERVATIVE BLOGGER: If Anthony Weiner decides to make this a jihad against me for his interpretation of putting him into this situation, you know what? I'll take that as a -- you know, you said an insurance policy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Did that sound like a threat to you, Amy Holmes?
HOLMES: Well, it certainly was a challenge to Anthony Weiner. And let's not forget that the congressman told Luke Russert that he couldn't use certitude in saying that that photo wasn't him, which of course raised a lot of eyebrows, meaning is this behavior more extensive than Anthony Weiner is willing to admit to? And, if so, what were his methods? And I think "The New York Times" got into this in a real important way.
KURTZ: But coming back to Breitbart, I've been critical of him in some other contexts, the Shirley Sherrod story for one. But on this story, did he do anything wrong?
HOLMES: I don't think he did. I think he went with the news. And clearly, the story blew up.
MILBANK: Up to the point where he apparently was showing this picture to Opie and Anthony.
KURTZ: Oh, he was, because I've seen the video.
MILBANK: Right. So --
KURTZ: And let's just explain to people, Opie and Anthony have a satellite radio show, kind of a raunchy show. And Breitbart, who made a great point of saying he was not going to release this -- you know, it's a naked picture of Weiner below the waist -- was showing it around in sort of a frat room atmosphere.
Now, I take Breitbart at his word that he didn't know that somebody on the Opie and Anthony set was going to snap a picture of the picture.
MILBANK: Well, then he's never been involved in that show before, because that's just the sort of thing that they do there. So I just don't buy that at all.
HOLMES: Actually, one of the co-hosts was not pleased that this photo was put up.
MILBANK: That was a way of getting it out there and letting people know that it's out there without doing it.
KURTZ: You're just annoyed because Breitbart, who doesn't like the liberal media, has actually gotten some credit on this story.
MILBANK: No, no. I think up until that point, it was right on. I think that was completely over the top.
I mean, I think sort of midweek this week, we reached the overkill point. And part of it was that photo and part of it was the Huma Abedin pregnancy.
I got this e-mail of all the keywords you're supposed to put in your stories. And it was like, "Huma Abedin, pregnant"; "Anthony Weiner wife pregnant"; "Abedin, pregnant." Pregnant, pregnant, pregnant.
And I said, you know what? All right, we've gotten a little carried away.
HALL: But the Breitbart thing, his moral outrage was what kind of got me. I mean, I still -- he got this one right. The Shirley Sherrod one, he libeled somebody pretty badly. So his saying I'm to save Weiner's family, that's when I thought we were over the top.
KURTZ: Let me pick up the pregnancy story with you, Jane, because Politico reported that it had the story that Weiner's wife was pregnant, held it for a day, that friends of Huma Abedin had passed the word that she did not want this reported, she was still in the first trimester. "The New York Times" then reported it after what its editors told Politico was discussions about whether they should do this.
Isn't that -- I mean, obviously, it will come out eventually, but isn't that a tremendous invasion of her privacy when she had nothing to do with her husband's antics? HALL: Well, I think that would be a tough call. I didn't realize that she was saying she didn't want it out, because I've been reading that she's been -- you know, again, this is totally reported -- that she may want him to stay on, that they may be talking that way.
Unfortunately, I don't think the media did this to her. I think that, unfortunately, he brought her into this.
KURTZ: Anyone think that story shouldn't have been published about the pregnancy?
HOLMES: I don't think that it should have been. I think it was an invasion of her privacy and that it was not relevant to Congressman Weiner and his future as a politician.
But like you, I had read that, you know, friends were possibly putting this out to gain him sympathy, as she was behind the scenes making phone calls to try to rescue his career.
MILBANK: It just made me sad to see the story. I wouldn't say they shouldn't have done it, but that's why I think -- that was the most compelling reason why Weiner should have gone in the first place to avoid that, because that story wouldn't have been reported had he stepped down, or it just would have been a footnote.
KURTZ: Or the usual playbook, you check into rehab on day two, not on day nine.
But Jane Hall, have the media set a new standard here? I mean, where you don't have to have an affair, you don't have to have a love child, you don't have to be sleeping with someone on your payroll, but if you engage in stupid may have online -- and he now says that this was reckless behavior -- you get savaged. I mean, do we keep lowering the bar for what's reportable?
HALL: Well, I think, unfortunately, if you have waxed chest, naked, below-the-belt photos of yourself that you're putting out there -- and the Internet world allows you to do that -- we're into -- I don't know if it's the new low, but we're into a new world where people -- if you were doing this, then it is going to be found out. And that is the recklessness that is shocking about this.
HOLMES: And let's also say that this is not just about his private sex life. He was sending these photos to people that he admitted he didn't know if they were who they represented themselves to be. They could have been minors. They could have been political opponents. And they actually were.
"The New York Times" reported that he knew he was under surveillance by political opponents for his tweeting habits. And he still continued on.
KURTZ: That's pretty amazing.
You made the point in a column this week that the media have spent a lot more time and space on Weiner than on members of Congress screwing the country by failing to solve all these big problems like the debt crisis and dealing with Libya.
MILBANK: Right. And to me it's all part of the same recklessness, the sort of drunkenness with power that says I'm invincible, I can do whatever I want. I got away with this, let me try something else.
So I think that goes on all the time. I think that had this been a run-of-the-mill affair, it probably wouldn't have gotten anywhere near this interesting. It was the recklessness, not the sex.
HOLMES: So sending some of these photos unsolicited, the woman in Bellingham said she got it and couldn't believe what she was looking at.
KURTZ: Unsolicited, not a good idea.
On this program last week, Jeff Jarvis was critical of the coverage of the Weiner story as we knew it then. Let me play a clip from that program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF JARVIS, BUZZMACHINE.COM: It's a fine story for Gawker, absolutely. It's a fine story for Jon Stewart, who pointed out that bloggers actually did some reporting on this. But all in all, what's the real story here?
You know, that a congressman has a penis? Let's stipulate that. There's no news in that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: To his credit, Jeff Jarvis went on his "Buzz Machine" blog the next day after Weiner admitted he had lied and said, "I was wrong," and wrote about it at some length. I think he deserves a pat on the back for that.
After the break, "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," CNN, MSNBC, many other news outlets, have been asking you to help examine the 24,000 Sarah Palin e-mails. Are journalists just looking for dirt?
KURTZ: When the state of Alaska released all those Sarah Palin e-mails under a Freedom of Information Act request from the media, what happened is that news organizations did what bloggers have done for years.
And Jane Hall, they asked their readers and viewers to help them sort through 24,000 e-mails. Is that a kind of a milestone, or is this just unique to Palin?
HALL: Well, I think it's unique to Palin, and I think the media should cop to that. They think they're going to find something entertaining.
I mean, it's not, you know, something -- in my mind it would have been better to have crowd sourcing on the war in Iraq or health care or something -- you know, this is not a big, serious subject. It is an entertaining subject to the media, who care a lot about Sarah Palin maybe more than the Republican voters do.
KURTZ: Here is what somebody wrote to "The Washington Post" ombudsman about this exercise, Dana Milbank. "Sickening. Trying to recruit 100 Palin haters from the general public to sift through Palin's personal e-mails looking for dirt to generate more anti-Palin stories."
Wow. That's how it looks to a lot of people.
MILBANK: I can see why it might look like a waste of time. You know, I think our newsroom had actually ordered in pizza for all the people doing it, like it was an election night or something. I'm glad to say I was home doing other things, sending out Twitter pictures.
But, you know, look, it's going to be done by somebody anyway since the information's available in a public realm. Wouldn't we do the same thing if it were, you know, from George Bush's White House or Obama's White House? It's just something out that everybody can't get through in that period of time. It turns out it was a dud, but --
KURTZ: Well, a dud in the sense that Politico had a headline, "Palin E-mails, No Bombshell," but because -- and a lot of it was about her doing state business as governor. I think she looked good, not bad.
And there were some politics as usual, and there were a few embarrassing things. And we found out she doesn't think much of the media. But because so many journalists went to Alaska -- CNN sent somebody, MSNBC sent Mike Isikoff -- they almost were invested in having to do stories to justify the initial expense.
HOLMES: Right, I think that's true. Someone described it as if they were trying to record the moon landing with all of this. It's just totally ridiculous.
I think it was as disgraceful as it was ludicrous. And no, the media does not do this to other politicians like President Obama with this feeding frenzy, and sending everybody everywhere to try to get the media -- try to get the public involved.
MILBANK: If he released his private e-mails --
HOLMES: Well, these were not private e-mails.
MILBANK: -- I'd even go into the office for that.
HOLMES: This was a FOIA request for government e-mails.
KURTZ: Right, these were state government --
KURTZ: But why disgraceful? Why was this --
HOLMES: Right. And it's absurd. She's not an elected politician. She is not sitting in office. She hasn't even yet, if she's going to, throw her hat into the ring to run for president of the United States, or the United States Senate from Arizona.
KURTZ: I'm short on time. Why was this a disgraceful exercise by the media?
HOLMES: The media, it seemed to me, it was like they were putting out America's Most Wanted tip line to try to find something to try to nail Sarah Palin. All we found out from this is that she wanted a tanning bed.
This is ridiculous. And I think the media needs to go to rehab with Anthony Weiner and get over their obsession with this woman.
KURTZ: All right. You've got your marching orders. Find a clinic for yourselves.
Amy Holmes, Jane Hall, Dana Milbank, thanks very much for joining us.
A reminder: CNN will be hosting the New Hampshire Republican presidential debate. That's tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
Up next on this program, as Katie Couric cuts a lucrative deal for a daytime talk show, Scott Pelley takes the CBS anchor chair. Is this low-key reporter what the network needs?
KURTZ: There's usually plenty of fanfare and a big publicity rollout when someone takes over one of the three network evening newscasts. But when Scott Pelley succeeded Katie Couric this week in the coveted CBS anchor chair, not so much.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT PELLEY, "CBS EVENING NEWS": Good evening.
We start tonight with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This has been a day of U.S. casualties in Iraq, and it is also a day that President Obama met with his advisers about the future of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.
And that is the "CBS Evening News" for tonight. I'm Scott Pelley.
For all of us at CBS News all around the world, good night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Pelley delivered the news without addressing the audience at all.
Joining us now from New York to talk about Pelley's debut and Katie's new career, Adam Buckman, founder of TVHowl.com, and a former TV critic for "The New York Post."
So, explain to me how a new anchor takes over "The CBS Evening News" and doesn't say, "Hi, folks, I'll be delivering your news here for the next few years"?
ADAM BUCKMAN, FOUNDER, TVHOWL.COM: Well, wasn't that refreshing, Howard, to have a TV personality come on TV and not reference himself immediately, or at all, in this case? Usually they come --
KURTZ: You liked it?
BUCKMAN: Yes, I did. You know, after I thought about it, I thought, this is nice. He's not coming on and making any big promises that critics like me will look at in a couple weeks and figure out that they weren't fulfilled at all.
He didn't come on and promise what his newscast would be like, what the Scott Pelley era at CBS News would be like. Nor did they book him any high-profile interviews like with President Obama to open his week.
KURTZ: Nor was his face on buses in New York City like his predecessor.
Look, I know that he's a reporter. He doesn't view himself as a star. He's told me he didn't even want his name on the newscast. He declined an invitation to talk about his debut on this program.
But in the modern age, don't you have to try to build some connection with viewers?
BUCKMAN: Well, yes, that's the thing. I mean, you can only, as your on-screen super (ph) put it recently just now, you can't really sneak on the air and expect to lift the newscast out of third place. On the other hand, you can't stand on your head and wear a clown suit either if you're going to anchor the CBS News.
I have a feeling that Scott Pelley is just now getting acclimated. And I think that they probably have some ideas to put him out in the field, maybe in the midst of wildfires in Arizona, or other locations soon, so that we can see the swashbuckling Scott Pelley that we've become accustomed to seeing on shows like "60 Minutes."
KURTZ: Pelley is a very good field reporter. That's one of his strengths.
There was a map up behind him, almost like the old Walter Cronkite map, and I wonder, given that this has been a pretty no- nonsense broadcast, he didn't lead with Anthony Weiner like some others did last Monday, whether you see this as being more of a throwback to a broadcast from the Cronkite era. BUCKMAN: Well, whether it's back all the way to Walter Cronkite in the '60s or not, it certainly came across as old school. And personally, I happen to admire this kind of professional, proficient, efficient, fastidious, flawless approach to delivering the news.
However, I don't think very many people are looking for news on TV that lacks personality to the degree that the CBS News lacked it in Scott Pelley's first week. I don't really know what you do, though, to sort of elevate your personality if you're anchoring the CBS newscast. It's a very challenging thing to do, to sort of break out of a mold in order to break out of --
KURTZ: It is difficult indeed.
Now, the same day we got the announcement from Katie Couric that she signed with ABC. She's going to get the big syndicated daytime show that will launch next year. But also, she will have a role on ABC News.
What kind of impact do you think that she'll have given her high profile?
BUCKMAN: Well, it will interesting to see what she winds up doing at ABC News. The press announcement that Disney made on Monday indicated that she'll start turning up on some sort of ABC News programs as soon as this summer. And I suspect that maybe they'll use some sort of platforms on ABC News to elevate her profile, or at least keep her in the public life for these 15 months that it will take to prepare this daytime show.
I believe that after the daytime show launches in September, 2012, you may actually see her less on the news programs because the talk show will take up all of her time.
KURTZ: It's a very absorbing daily job. She will be reunited, of course, with her old friend Jeff Zucker, the former chief executive of NBC.
Katie told me that she's going to do a newsy show that will also deal with lighter topics, but will try to pivot off the news when possible.
What are the chances of her succeeding here in a very highly- competitive syndicated market?
BUCKMAN: Well, not only is it highly competitive, but when you're talking about daytime TV, you're talking about one of the most volatile day parts in television today. The traditional soap operas are on life support, and indeed the leading shows in daytime remain the judge shows such as Judge Judy beat Oprah the last two seasons, which few people seem to remark upon. And also talk shows from the likes of Maury Povich and Jerry Springer.
The more I thought about the Katie Couric idea of having a talk show, I wondered, whose big idea was this? How do you take the former anchorwoman from CBS News and a star of morning television on NBC and put her in the swamp of daytime television? I just don't know really what they're going to do there.
KURTZ: Well, it's a pool she wants to swim in. She obviously brings a lot of talent and a unique brand. And we will find out soon enough.
Adam Buckman, thanks very much for stopping by.
BUCKMAN: Thank you.
KURTZ: We appreciate it.
Still to come, a media stampede over a mass tragedy that wasn't, another columnist caught plagiarizing. And was that a picture of Sarah Palin on Fox News?
Our "Media Monitor," straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for our "Media Monitor," a weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.
Hold on. I'm getting a premonition here about a big story, a sensational story, a story that -- well, let me just check the facts here.
On Tuesday evening, there were reports in "The New York Times," on the AP and Reuters, on Fox News, the BBC, and here on CNN that police in Texas were on a gruesome trail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: Authorities in Texas say as many as 30 bodies have been found buried at the intersection of two county roads in the southeastern part of the state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get some more on that breaking news, a horrific story coming out of Texas right now. A lot of bodies have been found in a grave, including a lot of children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: CNN has now confirmed that at least 20 bodies have been found in a home in Hardin, Texas. And we are being told that it includes -- that there are children involved.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Well, it turns out the tip came from a psychic. There was no mass grave. The authorities are now investigating the psychic woman who provided the information.
Oh, and the blood found on the house? The truck driver who lives there told reporters his daughter's boyfriend cut himself after getting drunk.
Now, what would have been lost if these esteemed news organizations had waited for confirmation before going with this bogus tale?
I'm getting a little tired of journalists who think plagiarism is somehow OK. The latest offender is "Denver Post" columnist Woody Paige, who wrote a piece about ESPN that included three passages, including quotes, lifted almost word for word from the "SportsBusiness Journal."
The author called out Paige on Twitter, naturally, and Paige called him to apologize. "I told him it was a mistake, and he accepted that and said he enjoyed the column," Paige says.
Why do journalists still think they can get away with this stuff?
Now, I don't like to poke fun at networks that put up the wrong had headline or graphic. It happens to the best of us. But given the fact that Sarah Palin works for Fox News, I can't help but note that someone thought that this picture of Tina Fey captured her just fine. You see it over there in the right corner.
Chalk it up to the "Saturday Night Live" generation.
Now, you probably noticed that a while ago we change the look of RELIABLE SOURCES -- new graphics, new music, better camera angles for the host. Well, now we've upgraded our Web site as well. Be sure to check out the new "Reliable Sources" blog where you can see segments from the program, leave your thoughts, get a sneak peek at upcoming guests and topics, and links to our Facebook page and my Twitter feed.
The address is ReliableSources.blogs.CNN.com.
That's it for this edition of the program.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.
Candy Crowley is in New Hampshire this morning, site of tomorrow night's Republican presidential primary debate. That will be live here on CNN at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
"STATE OF THE UNION" begins right now.