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Weiner Resigns; Interview With John Ziegler; Interview With Larry King

Aired June 19, 2011 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: It was the virtual sex scandal that refused to die, kept alight by a voracious media. Now that Anthony Weiner has finally resigned, this question: Was he forced to quit by political pressure or because the press would not let go of this tawdry tale?

A filmmaker who says the media have maligned Sarah Palin now says she runs her operation like the CIA. We'll ask John Ziegler why he changed his mind.

Two prominent lesbian bloggers are exposed as really being men. We'll ask one of them why in the world he engaged in that kind of Internet impersonation.

Plus, Larry King on how his life became the kind of tabloid sensation he hated covering and what it's like to have the media mock your marital problems.

I'm Howard Kurtz. And this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

It was, in a weird way, a fitting end for the strange scandal that began with that racy underwear photo that Anthony Weiner claimed he had never sent. When the New York congressman who tweeted his way into a career-ending crisis finally bowed to the political pressure this week, some hecklers, one of them from "The Howard Stern Show," practically drowned him out.


REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: So today I'm announcing my resignation from Congress --


WEINER: -- so my colleagues can get back to work, my neighbors can choose a new representative, and most importantly, that my wife and I can continue --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people demand to know --

WEINER: to heal from the damage I have caused.


KURTZ: But looking back, should the media have treated this salacious stuff for three long weeks as the most important story in America?

Joining us now to talk about that and the sudden spotlight being trained on Michele Bachmann, here in Washington, Jennifer Rubin, author of "The Washington Post" "Right Turn" blog; Julia Mason, White House correspondent for Politico; and in Boston, John Avlon, CNN contributor and senior political columnist for "The Daily Beast."

Julie Mason, this proposition, agree or disagree? Anthony Weiner resigned not because of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi -- that was a factor -- but because the media simply would not let this story go and there was no other way for him to stop the bleeding.

JULIE MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Oh, it's so true. The New York media is so intense. I mean, that's just a force unto itself. If he had been perhaps been a representative from a different state, we might have seen a different outcome.

KURTZ: Kentucky, Oklahoma. You're not going to have the daily tabloid headlines making fun of his last name.

MASON: Exactly. Well, plus, we had pictures. And that made the story different from some of the other sex-related scandals we've seen.

KURTZ: John Avlon, Rachel Maddow, on her MSNBC show, put it this way: "This was not a congressman having to resign because of his bad behavior. This was a congressman having to resign because of the media treatment of his bad behavior."

Does that go too far?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I think it does. This is currently a self-inflicted wound, but it's really the first future sex scandal.

Digital evidence is the new blue dress. And the fact is that the steady stream of new photographs helped keep it in the news. And sure, he made it worse by lying to everyone for a week, but this just kept getting worse.

It was politically untenable, absorbed 17 percent of all news coverage in its third week. That's insane. But it's because it had a tawdry aspect, a political aspect, and just more information that was embarrassing every day.

KURTZ: I thought it was about 80 percent on cable.

Jennifer Rubin, clearly the fact that Anthony Weiner lied to the media repeatedly set the narrative for the way in which the press turned on him. But I can't get away from the thought that somehow, this stayed in the news every day, even when there weren't new women, new texts, new pictures, new developments.

JENNIFER RUBIN, "RIGHT TURN": Well, I think if that's true, it was attributable to Andrew Weiner (sic).

KURTZ: Anthony.

RUBIN: Anthony Weiner, excuse me. Andrew Breitbart was the other player in this scenario.

Now, I think that press conference was indicative of what was going on here. He didn't have to give a press conference which turned into a three-ring circus. He could have simply sent his resignation letter over to Nancy Pelosi.

KURTZ: He couldn't stay away from the cameras, you're saying.

RUBIN: He couldn't. So he was baiting them, I think, in some sense. And I think when he is lying every day and when new pictures are coming out, and his poor press person has to put out a statement that says, "According to Anthony Weiner," no explicit statements or pictures were sent to the 17-year-old girl --

KURTZ: The 17-year-old, right.

RUBIN: -- this is simply not the press's fault. They're carrying a real news story.

KURTZ: Part of what I think was going on here, Julie Mason, is the media were just fascinating by this world of sexting -- why do men do it, is it cheating? So that became a whole sidebar story that bubbled up underneath whatever it was that Weiner was doing that day.

MASON: Right. It goes to what John is saying. This is like a new evolution, a new era of sex-related scandal, the whole new media aspect of it. And you have to imagine there's going to be more. Certainly, right after this happened, members of Congress started tweeting a whole lot less.

KURTZ: But looking back, now that the hyperventilating has gone down at least a notch --

MASON: Maybe for you.

KURTZ: Maybe for me at least. The day of the news conference, when Weiner came out and said yes, I lied; yes, those are my pictures, and I'm really, really, really sorry, it was a couple of hours before the network newscasts. Scott Pelley, on CBS, led with stories about Iraq and Afghanistan, didn't get to that story until the second commercial break.

Was that the right decision, or because it was something everyone was talking about, those who led with it, did they make the right decision?

MASON: I don't know whether there's a right decision. You can make one decision or the other decision.

I mean, we are a profit-driven industry. And if you want the most eyeballs, you have to go with the thing that people are most talking about. But if you're trying to do a quality program, then maybe you have got to go with Iraq and Iran. KURTZ: That was his debut as the CBS anchor.

John Avlon, let me come back to you.


KURTZ: The media lost sight of this. I think you'll agree with this.

Bill Clinton had sex with an intern in the White House. Newt Gingrich had an affair with a House staffer while he was leading the Clinton impeachment drive. Mark Sanford, going on and hiking on the Appalachian trail. John Ensign, having an affair with the wife of his top aide.

Wasn't all that worse? And yet, the media made Anthony Weiner into public pervert number one.

AVLON: Well, I think at the time it was. And certainly it's been cascading.

I mean, just even in the last month, you had Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Edwards in the weeks before this scandal broke. But I do think the reason it stayed in the news wasn't just the lies, although that did make a certain grudge match element to this.

It was the pictures, the constant steady stream of photographs that were so grim and embarrassing and odd and awkward, that really kept it in the news. And look, politicians should have to hold themselves to a higher standard.

This new era we are in is going to force a new accountability whether they like it or not. Folks are going to keep getting knocked out of office. Chris Lee was just the appetizer. This was the first main event.


KURTZ: Chris Lee was the congressman who resigned after sending a shirtless photo of himself to a woman on Craigslist. That now seems mild by comparison. So I guess the message of getting here is that media terms, if you're going to get into trouble on this front, make sure there are no pictures.

But look, coming back to Julie Mason's point about the quality newscast, unemployment, war, all of this got overshadowed. The cable networks cut away from Nancy Pelosi when she was having a news conference to talk about jobless figures once she made clear she was not going to talk about Weiner.

RUBIN: Well, I'm not going to defend the obsessiveness of cable news.

(CROSSTALK) RUBIN: Yes, exactly. That said, I think this was a relevant story. And I think there is perhaps a generational or even a gender difference in how these are perceived.

I think women see this as a character flaw, as Anthony Weiner as a deeply flawed individual who should not be inhabiting office. And I think men, particularly younger men, are much more willing to turn this aside or think this is nothing much. And I actually think that there is a difference in perception.

Is this a moral failure or is this just a little trivial thing that he's doing on the side?

KURTZ: The Facebook and Twitter generation may view it differently.

Let me turn now to Michele Bachmann, because at the CNN debate on Monday with various Republican presidential candidates, I would say she stole the show. Everyone regarded it as a strong performance.

Here is what some of the pundits on the right and the left had to say about the Minnesota congresswoman.


ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: I think she's a very strong candidate, or she could go back to Minnesota and run for governor and then run for president. She's a great candidate.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: I think Michele Bachmann did the best, partly because she didn't totally embarrass herself.

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: Michele Bachmann got through the debate with no recurrence of the shakiness she's shown a few times on American history.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, HOST, "THE MICHAEL ERIC DYSON SHOW": Michele Bachmann, scarily enough, presented the reasonable face of what has often been a vicious and vitriolic expression of partisanship and ideology.

BILL MAHER, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": She did well by what standard? Because she's able to speak in complete sentences?


KURTZ: All right. So, some of the liberals not so crazy about her.

But, Julie Mason, why was this collective news flash, hey, she's not so crazy, she did pretty well, she'd be a good candidate?

MASON: Well, part of it was a sort of collective on we about the Republican field. Everyone, including, it seems, the Republican Party, was looking for some new star, something new to grab on. But what we're seeing with Michele Bachmann is the start of a very familiar trajectory where someone new is discovered, they burn very brightly, and then here comes the media scrutiny that comes with being a new star, and everyone is just going to be tearing her down.

KURTZ: I would say that there's a media caricature of Michele Bachmann that omits largely the fact that she's a lawyer, that she's an experienced legislator, that she's -- you know, people compare her to Sarah Palin, but she has got a lot of experience in government.

RUBIN: Yes. I did a very extensive interview in her office in late March. And my conclusion was, this is a smart lady, she's able to weave details and principles together, she's very methodical in her decision-making process.

KURTZ: Why has she not been covered that way?

RUBIN: Because I think, to some extent, she has brought this on herself. She has gone on some of the cable news shows. When you go on "Hardball" with Chris Matthews, you can't expect to be discussing Plato, I think.

But I also think that there is a real sexism in the media that attributes Sarah Palin qualities to Michele Bachmann, and that they treat them as if they're twins. Her competitor is not Sarah Palin. Her competitor now is Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty the other candidates.

KURTZ: And John Avlon, it's not just that Bachmann went on "Hardball," it's that she has said some pretty provocative things on cable television over the years. So, arguably, that does contribute to the image that she has in the media.

AVLON: Of course it does, directly. That's the context.

And then, look, when you go on "Hardball" and you introduce yourself to the American people in October of '08 by questioning whether Barack Obama has anti-American views, and then a steady stream of incitement from then on, I mean, just remarkable stuff, using words like "slavery" and "tyranny" to describe the impact of the Obama administration on America, that's the context in which this caricature has come from. And yes, she did very well in the debate.

In covering her, we need to be honest and balance those both facts. She did very well in the debate because she exceeded expectations. She has $14 million in the bank, and she's used it to hire some fantastic consultants. And she clearly is politically talented.

But you need to root it in context and what she has said -- that is the sum of her record -- and you need to balance both. And when you forget one or the other, you're missing the whole picture.

RUBIN: I don't think that's the sum of her record. She has a very strong political background.

She was a tax lawyer. She served three terms in Congress. In the debate, what she did was weave in her votes, her personal experience, and because the media I think has set the bar so low, she easily exceeded it.

KURTZ: Well, that expectations thing may have been key.

Now, before we go, I want to play for you something that happened yesterday at the Republican Leadership Conference, where an Obama impersonator -- Reggie Brown is the guy's name -- told some jokes. First, a series of pretty risque and racially sensitive jokes about the president. That got a lot of laughs. Then he turned his comedic fire on the Republicans, and suddenly he's yanked off the stage.

Take a look.


REGGIE BROWN, OBAMA IMPERSONATOR: My father was a black man from Kenya, and my mother was a white woman from Kansas. So, yes, my mother loved a black man, and, no, she was not a Kardashian.

It's unfortunate that Tim Pawlenty couldn't make it here. But cut him some slack. He's having his foot surgically removed from his mouth.

Oh, no, don't worry. Luckily for him, it's covered under Obamneycare. So, yes, that along with spinal transplants.

He was a one syllable president --


KURTZ: And he gets escorted off.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's off the hook.

KURTZ: What do you make of the fact -- is this going to be a big story because we can all now play the tape that when this guy, Reggie Brown, started making fun of Republicans, suddenly the music starts playing and he's off the stage?

MASON: I don't know if it's a major story. It's an interesting, kind of funny, sad story about this comedian.

KURTZ: Well, the Republican official who we saw there escorting him off said that he had gone too far. The first 10 or 15 minutes was fine. That's when he was making fun of Obama, talking about, you know, I grew up in Hawaii, but it was actually Kenya. Then it got inappropriate.

So it seems like perhaps there was a double standard here.

RUBIN: I think this is a lesson in you have to know who you're hiring. This was a bad hire. And we've had all week long, for weeks now, bad behavior in public places.

And I think this is an example of that. I think it's an example of people who have no self restraint, no inner check, and I think they should have gotten out there on the stage earlier and --

KURTZ: Just briefly, John Avlon, former Republican spokesman Doug Heye tweeted that, "This is why many minorities have a problem with the GOP."

I don't want to make this into more than it is, but is that a fair criticism?

AVLON: Sure. I think this failed on a judgment call from the initial impulse to hire an Obama impersonator, and then it just got worse.

And the fact that he got yanked when he started taking on Republicans with his humor, clearly a bit of situational ethics there. But there's a certain tone deafness which is pervasive, and this will become a new symbol of that, for sure.

KURTZ: All right. I think the story actually is going to have some legs for at least a couple days.

John Avlon, Julie Mason, Jennifer Rubin, thanks for joining us this morning.

When we come back, he once accused the media of malpractice when it came to covering Sarah Palin, but now filmmaker John Ziegler has some less than flattering things to say about the former governor and why he wants no part of any presidential campaign. He'll join us in a moment.


KURTZ: All from the moment Sarah Palin hit the national stage and began tangling with the "lamestream media," John Ziegler has been one of her fiercest defenders. He got her cooperation for a film called "Media Malpractice," but now, with an article in "The Daily Caller," Ziegler has announced that he severed ties with the Palin camp and doesn't think she should run for president.

And John Ziegler joins me now from Los Angeles.

Good morning.

What did you mean when you wrote that "Her tiny and dysfunctional circle is increasingly managed like a CIA field office, and she's adopted a bunker mentality, and even people loyal to her get tossed under the bus"?

JOHN ZIEGLER, FILMMAKER: Well, Howard, this is part of a 6,000- word essay that I wrote about my two-and-a-half year experience with the Palin camp, which was probably about 80 percent to 90 percent positive. But there were an awful lot of trials and tribulations in that two-and-a-half years in trying to deal with her camp.

And frankly, my theory on the Palin camp is that the media coverage of her almost forced her into a bunker mentality. She had no idea who to trust and, frankly, had good reason not to trust anybody. So, therefore, she only trusted herself, Todd, and maybe a couple other people. That had positive attributes, but it also has negatives. And I certainly --

KURTZ: But when you talk about the way she dealt with you -- you couldn't get her to commit to making appearances, you couldn't even get a ticket to go see her at "The Tonight Show" -- you seem to be -- I understand you're not completely a Palin critic now, but you seem to be conceding that her critics have a point about Sarah Palin.

ZIEGLER: Well, no one is perfect. And I think I got a chance to see Sarah Palin, all of her positives and her negatives.

Unfortunately, I think what's happened here is that the media coverage that she endured -- and my film "Media Malpractice" certainly documents that -- created a situation where she had a horrible set of cards, Howard. And she had to play those cards in a way that allowed for her survival.

And this was really what led to the resignation. Most people don't understand the resignation from the governorship of Alaska, which is the main reason why I don't think she should run for president. It's an issue that's absolutely dead on arrival.


KURTZ: You don't think she should run for president. You say a presidential run would be suicidal. That's pretty strong language.

ZIEGLER: It would be suicidal for the Republican Party. I think it would actually be good for her brand. I don't know that she has much choice but to run for president to continue her brand.

But for the Republican Party it would be devastating. She is absolutely, positively, 100 percent -- and keep in mind, Howard, nobody has more incentive than I do to believe that she has a chance. But she has no chance of beating Barack Obama, and the media narrative that has been created about her is the number one reason why. It's not her fault. It's not fair.


KURTZ: Well, when you say it's not her fault -- and I'm not saying that you don't have some valid criticism here of the way in which some in the media, maybe many in the media, have treated Sarah Palin. But doesn't she bear some responsibility for the fact that she basically speaks on Fox, she doesn't really engage with the mainstream press, she spends an awful lot of energy going after the press, which pleases the base but doesn't do much to elevate her as a serious policy thinker, shall we say?

ZIEGLER: That's what I meant when I referred to how she dealt with the cards that were dealt to her, how she dealt with that hand of cards, which was horrendous. She made lemonade out of lemons.

And I disagreed strongly with her decision to go on Fox. I told her that, because after she resigned, I thought, well, the last chance to try to get her message out to the middle of America and not just preach to the choir would be going on a major network, maybe do ABC Sunday mornings, or something like that. Her celebrity certainly allowed her numerous options to do that.

KURTZ: Sure.

ZIEGLER: But she has chosen to play to the base. That's fine if you want to sell books. That's fine if you want to do a reality show. That's fantastic if you want to make money for your family.

She deserves all that. I think it's great that she survived all this.

KURTZ: But not to run for president. But ironically --

ZIEGLER: Exactly. She can't run for president.

KURTZ: Ironically, and I'm quoting you, "The media are acting as her enabler because, otherwise, the Republican race would be a commercial disaster."

You're saying the press wants her to run, because otherwise we'll all fall asleep covering these other guys?

ZIEGLER: Well, Howard, one of the dirtiest little secrets in ideological media is that both the liberal mainstream media and the conservative media are not only ratings-based, but they don't want their person in power. So what we have here is, the liberal media wants another shot at destroying Palin, and she's great for the narrative of the campaign and great for ratings. The conservative media doesn't want to say anything bad about her because they're going to offend millions of Palin fans.

I had the guts to do that, believe me. I'm getting the blowback. This was not a financial decision that I made to come out and tell the truth about this.

But I think the conservative media also has a disincentive for Obama to lose, because Obama has been great for business in the conservative media. That's the dirty little secret that very few people want to talk about.

KURTZ: So, conservative commentators would rather not have their side hold power because Obama is such a great target for them. OK.

So, now, you've taken some heat obviously from your own side as a conservative. You've thrown down a challenge. You'll give $100,000 to any Republican or conservative who does what?

ZIEGLER: Well, here is the bet for my fellow conservatives that are attacking me. Any prominent conservative, the first one that takes me up, it's $1,000 bet at 100-1 odds that Sarah Palin will not be elected president in 2012.

So, if you're one of those conservative commentators that thinks I'm crazy for saying that Sarah Palin has no chance to beat Barack Obama, put your money where your mouth is, $1,000 at 100-to-1 odds, and I'll pay it up if she's ever elected in 2012, which isn't going to happen, unfortunately.

KURTZ: Coming up on a break. I need a short answer. You say that because of your defense of Sarah Palin, you've become practically unemployable. Is that right?

ZIEGLER: Well, I'm turning a phrase. It's been a rough ride.

I did the right thing in making "Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected and Palin was Targeted." It's the truth in that documentary. But defending Sarah Palin is not exactly good for trying to be employed, especially here in Los Angeles, believe me.

KURTZ: Got to go.

ZIEGLER: The media bias against her is incredible.

KURTZ: John Ziegler, thanks very much for chatting with us this morning.

ZIEGLER: Thank you.

KURTZ: And coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, not your usual interview with Larry King. The longtime CNN host talks about the ordeal of having his marital problems turned into tabloid fodder.

Plus, a pair of popular lesbian bloggers turned out to be men -- straight me at that. We'll ask one of them, what was he thinking?


KURTZ: Larry King had a tumultuous final year before calling it quits at CNN. He had to negotiate over the winding down of his iconic talk show, battle cancer, and deal with a divorce filing that made headlines and put him squarely in the spotlight that he used to turn on others. King writes about all this in his new book "Truth Be Told."

I sat down with him in New York.


KURTZ: Larry King, welcome.

LARRY KING, FMR. HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Howard, a pleasure.

KURTZ: You open up in this book. You've covered a lot of tabloid stories in your life, and you open up about your marriage.

You write about the day you filed for divorce from Shawn. You've since reconciled. The big argument, you drove away, it was one of the worst nights of your life.

Why did you decide to share this with the public? KING: Because it made the press.

KURTZ: It sure did.

KING: And if I'm writing about this last year with "LARRY KING LIVE," even going on to do a bunch of other things, once we decided to write it, I think the best thing is to just come out and you take the ball.

I didn't discuss any reasons because I don't think that anybody's business. But I did discuss what it was like, what it was like for the kids, and I especially --

KURTZ: And speaking of the kids, you went to a little league game not long after that. And what happened?

KING: One of the worst experiences of my life. And the reason I wrote it is because of paparazzi, who I am not very fond of.

My 12-year-old's in a little league game. The 11-year-old is watching the game, along with my mother-in-law, father-in-law and wife.

And we're all there. It's a big game. It's at a field in Beverly Hills. It's a night game.

There's 30 paparazzi there. They've all got their cameras and lights going. The umpires are asking them to please shut off the lights because it's blinding the players.

KURTZ: They can't even play the game.

KING: They don't shut them off. They keep playing the game.

My mother-in-law trips running -- trying to run away -- run toward the car when it was over. The 11-year-old is crying. They keep shooting. My friend Sid almost belts one of them. It was unbelievable.

As then, as a funny ending, my 12-year-old says, "You know, some of them could have been scouts."

KURTZ: That guy has a future.

But this sets up my next question. From the book, "If I dislike tabloid shows in the first place, imagine how I felt doing them when my own life had become one."

KING: Yes. That's the sad part. And look at -- and this was -- I mean, OK, there was a separation. It was brief, we're back together.

My wife is opening for me in Las Vegas. I'm doing a comedy act. We're really close. The boys are going to summer camp -- one's going to baseball camp, one's going to football.

In the spectrum of things, this was not huge. Yet, in today's world, Howard, who knows better than you?

KURTZ: And that's what interests me. I mean, you're used to being a punch line because, as you say, you've been married seven times to six women. But you felt when you were in the news that late- night comedians crossed the line.


KING: Because I --

KURTZ: It was mean?

KING: Because there are children involved. You know, and it's bad enough for children into any kind of tragedy that occurs.

I don't think this was a tragedy. It was an event.

Everybody who's been married has had some kind of event in life, but to kid about it every night and -- Jay Leno, I will say, to his credit, called me up, and he said, "I heard that you were unhappy with some things. I apologize. I meant nothing by it, it's show business." You know.

It was very nice of him to do that.

KURTZ: Haven't you and I and lots of other people in the news business done this with celebrity breakups? And you're a celebrity. I mean, there are often kids involved, and we cover them.

KING: You know something, I never liked it.


KING: We did it because we do it --

KURTZ: You did it on "LARRY KING LIVE."

KING: -- because -- yes, we did, and the public is enthralled with it, but I never felt comfortable unless -- unless there is a proviso -- you were a paid public official, because if we are paying the collective salary of Congressman Weiner, then we have a right to this. But if it's a movie actor, or a Larry King, or a Howie Kurtz, or anybody, I don't think it's anybody's business.

KURTZ: So, if you felt uncomfortable, why did you do it? Competitive reasons?

KING: Competitive reasons and because, you know, you work at CNN. I don't own the camera. We don't own this camera.

So the producer says, hey, we've got to cover this. It would be like, don't cover this -- you can't -- I could not not do it, but I was not happy doing it.

But there are other things, you know. You don't like everything you do in this business, but you love the business. KURTZ: You say a lot of what appeared in the tabloids was not true. You don't go into details. Look, there were stories about you and another woman. You didn't want to get into detail in knocking them down. But how did you feel reading about yourself when you said the details were not --

KING: I tell you, with the weekly tabloids, they really go away. They really do.

If it ever happens to you, Howie -- I hope it never happens to you -- weekly tabloids go away. What you don't want is a story with, as they say in the business, legs. The story keeps running. You've got to learn to deal with it right away, especially if you're in a position like Weiner.

KURTZ: And you were dealing with it at a time when you were also dealing with the eventual end of your program. So that had to be a lot of conflicting pressure.

KING: And that's why I wrote about it. Could you try to describe what a last year is like?

I had prostate cancer. I received radiation for that. But you go on to other things. I'm doing -- there's a lot of announcements -- you may be the first to learn, Howie. There's a lot of things coming Larry King's way which I'm looking forward to.

KURTZ: Feel free to share any exclusive details. But before we leave this subject -- and again, from your book, a man you had breakfast with every day gave information about you to the tabloids. You don't name him, but it's the book publisher Michael Viner (ph).

How do you know that he gave information about you to the tabloids?

KING: Because a close associate of his -- and I won't reveal the name because -- told me that he was with Michael in his last two days, and he told him -- he apologized for everything.

A lot like Lee Atwater did at his death. Remember he apologized?

KURTZ: Yes, sure.

KING: And he apologized that he sold those stories for money.

And then how do you feel about that? I didn't know how to -- what kind of feeling to have. What do you -- you can't walk around with hatred, he's gone. What do I do with that feeling?

KURTZ: I mean, did you ever talk to him about it?

KING: I didn't know.

KURTZ: You didn't know.

KING: I didn't know it until after he died. KURTZ: A very close friend of yours, you were seeing him virtually every day, and he betrayed you. But yet, you --

KING: Well, betrayal is one of the hardest things to deal with. Freddie Wilpon is a close friend of mine. We went to high school together.

KURTZ: He is, of course --

KING: The Madoff -- and he knew Madoff for 30 years.

KURTZ: Owner of the New York Mets.

KING: Yes.

KURTZ: Who also dealt with Bernie Madoff.

KING: And I asked Freddie, "Are you angry?" And he said, "I'm not angry, I'm betrayed." It's deeper than anger. There's nothing like that.

I mean, I shared so much with Michael. I liked him. He was a different kind of person.

He was kind of morose, but he was very supportive to me, and he -- I did -- he published talking books, and I did three of my books with him.

KURTZ: Right.

KING: I read books by others for him. I saw him socially. He came every morning to breakfast.

I will admit, my wife wasn't crazy about him. And I had two close friends who never -- they didn't buy him. They didn't buy him.

KURTZ: Was it the fact that Viner (ph) and Shawn did not get along, maybe it was part of his motivation?

KING: Maybe, or she didn't buy -- that could have been. I've put it away. I wrote about it because, you know, you're writing.

KURTZ: It's another thing that happened to you in this tumultuous year.

KING: It was.


KURTZ: After the break, Larry on the difficulty of leaving behind the daily grind and what he thinks these days of the media world.


KURTZ: More now of my sit-down in New York with Larry King. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: So when you were talking to CNN executives about whether you would continue with "LARRY KING LIVE," and, of course, the rating were down, and, you know, you weren't getting any younger, you say if Ted Turner had still been in charge of CNN instead of Time Warner executives, he would have given you another contract.

KING: Well, because Ted is loyal. But in all honesty, I thought it was time to move on to other things, too.

KURTZ: But it took you a while to come to that, did it not?

KING: Yes. But remember, I'm doing three more years of four specials a year, and we've already done one Alzheimer's. We're planning some other big ones which I can't announce, because we've got some real great ones planned.

But I'm going to do other things. I'm going to other things in television. I'm going on to other things.

But sometimes it's time to move on, to move on to other things. But I'm not leaving. I didn't retire. I never use the word "retire."

KURTZ: That's right.

KING: I never said I'm retiring.

KURTZ: Nor did you disappear.

KING: No, I didn't --

KURTZ: You're not sitting in a rocking chair somewhere. You're here.

KING: I seem to be busier than ever.

I was in Korea last week. I was the keynote speaker at a major digital conference. I was in Portugal three weeks ago at another digital conference. I'm going to Brazil. I'm going to Moscow.

KURTZ: But after -- Larry King, world traveler. But after 25 years, do you miss the nightly game?

KING: When there's a big story. When they killed Osama bin Laden, yes, I want to be in. Where there's a royal marriage, I don't care if I miss that or not.

It depends on -- you know, I'm a professional. We had to do shows like that. I would go in and do them. You don't like everything, but once the light goes on, hey, you give it 100 percent.

KURTZ: How's Piers Morgan doing in your timeslot? You were quoted early on as saying he's not that dangerous.

KING: Well, I think -- I told Piers -- I went on his show and told him, when you promote something and say, "I'm dangerous," you better be dangerous. And he's very good, but I don't see dangerous.

And I told him, when you over-promote something, you can never live up to that. So if I'm doing a special on Alzheimer's, and I tell you this is the ultimate special on Alzheimer's, you will learn things you never knew before, it's the greatest special ever done --

KURTZ: You got to deliver.

KING: -- you can't equal that.

KURTZ: You say that Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity at Fox don't have to dangerous.

KING: Well, their guests are -- they're props for their -- Fox is a forum. It's a forum for the Republican Party. MSNBC is a forum for the Democratic Party.

That's what they are. And denying that is silly. I think Roger Ailes is kind of a genius.

KURTZ: You're not saying that some journalists at those networks don't try to be fair, but certainly in the nighttime shows.

KING: They're not journalists. They're hosts of shows.

KURTZ: They get ratings, as you know --

KING: Yes.

KURTZ: -- having competed against them.

KING: That's what they do. But it's such a small box in the world. When you look at total -- look at the top 15 cable shows. You know what their most popular show on cable is?

KURTZ: Of all cable?

KING: "SpongeBob." "SpongeBob."

KURTZ: I hear he gets a pretty good salary.


KURTZ: Last point. You write about -- this line just jumped out at me: "The eat-it-up, spit-it-out culture we now live in." It sounds to me like as that has gotten to be a sharper, faster-moving, maybe meaner culture, you're not that comfortable with it.

KING: I don't like it. I think CNN does the best it can with it, but this is -- when you're in a breaking news competitive business, there's a tendency -- Howie, you know this -- to rush something.

The demise of newspapers is one of the saddest things to me. So I question, are we better off now with instant information than we were with Edward R. Murrow, Huntley-Brinkley, and the men who were producing news then? Are we better off now? Not so sure.

KURTZ: Not so sure.

We'll leave it hanging in the air. Larry King --

KING: Thanks, Howie.

KURTZ: -- thanks very much.

KING: Always great seeing you.

KURTZ: Same here.


KURTZ: Up next, the lesbian blogger who wasn't. We'll talk to the straight man behind a Web site for gay women and why he spent three years living a lie.


KURTZ: It turned out to be a media hoax of global proportions. Amina Arraf attracted all sorts of attention as a lesbian blogger in Syria. But as you may have heard, there are few factual problems. She wasn't in Syria, she wasn't a lesbian, and she wasn't a woman.

She was, in fact, Tom MacMaster, a straight man in Georgia now living in Scotland. He apologized this week when the scam was exposed, but then the story took another strange turn.

A lesbian blog called "Lez Gets Real" had helped publicize the supposed gay Syrian blogger. The site's executive editor was Paula Brooks. But it turns out that Paula Brooks is also a fictional character invented by a man by the name of Bill Graber.

To try to unravel all this, I spoke to him earlier from Cincinnati.


KURTZ: Bill Graber, welcome.


KURTZ: You created this site, "Lez Get Real," and you said you were Paula Brooks. Now, you don't look anything like a Paula. You're a straight guy and a former Air Force pilot.

Why have you pretended to be a lesbian?

GRABER: I was trying to provide a platform for lesbians to speak. Actually, I didn't do an awful lot of the writing. I have writers that write for the site. Mostly what I was doing is news copy.

KURTZ: But why would you not do that under your own name, and then you could hire all the lesbians you wanted? Why do this impersonation? Why be an imaginary lesbian?

GRABER: Because I'm a straight white guy, and what lesbian is going to want to work for me?

KURTZ: Let me go back to the beginning of this to help me to understand it, why you started down this road in the first place. I understand that you created this character who was a surfer, and I understand that you have a friend -- a couple that are gay, and that you feel strongly about these issues. But how do you make the leap to saying, I'm going to go online and pretend to be a lesbian?

GRABER: Actually, it was a metamorphosis. It didn't happen overnight.

And what actually was going on is that I found out that people told this little surfer girl things really good news tips. And if you pulled the strings on them, they were very good news stories.

KURTZ: But why did you want to be a surfer girl in the first place?

GRABER: Well, because that -- that's not the --

KURTZ: What went through your mind?

GRABER: That was a -- like you said, originally it was a fun thing, a literary construct. It was never meant to be taken seriously. She had a talking dog.

KURTZ: So it was kind of a prank on your part, and then it gathered momentum, and then you said, hey, I kind of liked this?

GRABER: It gathered momentum. I saw that people were giving her news stories that were news stories.

And I thought, well, you know, this is important stuff. You could put this out and inform the community on this.

KURTZ: So the thing that strikes me about this is for three years, you were leading a double life. You were deceiving your staff. Your deputy editor, Linda Carbonell, says she's furious about this.

Did you feel guilty about this at all?

GRABER: Yes, I did.

KURTZ: Did you think about revealing yourself long before this?

GRABER: Long before this.

KURTZ: And why did you not --

GRABER: About every time -- every time that I thought that I could tell somebody, I wound up with a -- running into somebody that was not exactly stable. I mean, and then once you get into it, you're into it. KURTZ: And by pretending to be a lesbian, and creating what was a pretty popular site, I mean, is there something about saying I'm the lesbian editor of this Web site that attracts more attention than Bill Graber, you know, being a blogger?

GRABER: Well, actually, Bill Graber being a blogger wouldn't have attracted attention.

KURTZ: Why is that?

GRABER: Bill Graber talking about LGBT issues wouldn't have attracted attention. Nobody would have listened to him.

KURTZ: Let me get into this situation with the Syrian alleged lesbian blogger, Amina. You played a role, your site played a role in publicizing Amina. And, of course, she turned out to be an American man living in Scotland.

Were you suspicious because you, yourself, were perpetrating this kind of scam?

GRABER: Actually, at first, I was suspicious because, the way he was coming in on my site, he was coming in from an IP in Scotland. And I asked him -- or asked her at the time --

KURTZ: An IP Web address. OK.

GRABER: Her Web address was coming in from Scotland. And I asked her at the time. I said, "Well, you know, I'd like you to report." She was a fantastic writer, an incredible writer.

And it sounded like an important story. I said, "But your IP address says you're coming in from Scotland." Well, I got that explained, that it was a proxy for -- so the security people didn't get it. And I've dealt with that before, where people were actually coming from proxies, from Egypt or some other places where they were coming into the site through --

KURTZ: Let me ask you this final question, because a lot of people think, in some ways, this -- both cases, yours and Tom MacMaster, the alleged Syrian lesbian blogger, that it's been kind of a setback for lesbians.

Now that this has all come out, do you feel like you owe anyone an apology?

GRABER: I think I owe the -- I think I do owe the community an apology, because I know that some of -- we did good work on "Lez Get Real." I had some incredible writers that were out there. One developed a whole series on the corrective rape issue in South Africa. And now the credibility on that is hurt.

I mean, people are saying well, look at your leader (ph). What about the rest of you? And I only hope that the rest of them -- they don't -- the readership doesn't hold that against them because I wasn't being straight up about who I was. KURTZ: Well, it's a pretty --

GRABER: Because everybody else on that site was -- everybody on that site was real.

KURTZ: Everybody except you.

All right, a pretty stunning revelation.

GRABER: Exactly.

KURTZ: Bill Graber, thanks very much for joining us.

GRABER: Thank you.


KURTZ: Still to come, a Fox News host flirts with racial stereotyping; why Dick Morris is stopping his criticism of Mitt Romney; and a Miami newspaper blows the biggest local sports story in years.

Our "Media Monitor," straight ahead.


KURTZ: Time now for our "Media Monitor," a weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.

I had thought we were beyond the this sort of thing in 2011, but apparently not. Fox News host Eric Bolling used some racially-tinged language to describe a meeting between two black heads of state.

Here's some of what he said.


ERIC BOLLING, FOX NEWS (voice-over): Guess who's coming to dinner? A dictator.

Mr. Obama shows a laugh with one of Africa's collectocrats. Not the first time he's had a hoodlum in his house.


KURTZ: That's right, he used an urban street term to describe the meeting between Obama and Gabon's Ali Bongo. Bolling later apologized.


BOLLING: One editorial note. On Friday, we did a story about the president meeting with the president of Gabon. We got a little fast and loose with the language and we know it's been interpreted as being disrespectful. And for that, I'm sorry. We did go a bit too far. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: More than a bit too far, in my view.

One question I always ask about commentators on the left and the right is whether we're getting their unvarnished opinion, or are they towing some kind of party line? Fox News analyst Dick Morris made clear in a radio interview that he'll throw his support to anyone the GOP puts up, or as conservative host Mike Gallagher put it, whoever the Republicans prop up.


DICK MORRIS, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: I agree so much with that, Mike. I decided a couple of -- a month or two ago to stop jumping on Mitt Romney.


MORRIS: Not because I approve of Romneycare, not because I approve of his flip-flop-flip on abortion, but because I may have to be one of those who carries this guy for a couple of months when he's running against Obama, and I don't want to make my own task harder.


KURTZ: He may have to carry this guy against Obama. Those are Morris' own words.

Talk about falling into line.

Now, I'm pretty sure I was watching at the time that the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA championship last Sunday. And congratulations to owner Mark Cuban, who was on this program just a few weeks ago.

But someone at "The Miami Herald" failed to get the message that the Heat, with super-ego free agent LeBron James, lost the series. The next morning, The Herald ran a big ad congratulating the Heat for winning the championship. And that's a slam dunk for mortifying media mistake of the week.

Hey, check out our new redesigned Web page. You can catch video of the segments you've missed and check out the guests that are coming up on each Sunday's program. You can find us at

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.

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