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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Interview With Jose Antonio Vargas; President Obama Announces Afghanistan Drawdown
Aired June 26, 2011 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: We begin this morning with a journalist I know but, as it turns out, didn't really know. Jose Antonio Vargas had a secret, one that his former paper, "The Washington Post," just refused to publish.
Vargas is an illegal immigrant. And in his first television interview since breaking that news with ABC, he'll address his history of deception and why he's taking the risk of coming forward now.
This one really struck me, President Obama announcing his decision to withdraw 30,000 troops from Afghanistan. That drew only brief media coverage. Are journalists capable of a sustained look at America's role in the war that would match the intensity of, say, the Anthony Weiner story?
Plus, Jon Stewart back in the Fox's den. Did he successfully skewer the network in his appearance with Chris Wallace, or just indulge in his typical schtick?
And Keith Olbermann back in action on Al Gore's low profile network. Can the liberal crusader regain his clout and stick it to MSNBC?
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
He came here illegally as a teenager from the Philippines, later obtained a driver's license improperly, and used that to become a journalist. Jose Antonio Vargas became a "Washington Post" reporter, part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team that covered the Virginia Tech shootings. He later moved on to "The Huffington Post" and interviewed Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for "The New Yorker."
All that time he kept his dark secret unit this week, when he wrote about the experience for today's "New York Times" magazine. I'll hold it up here. The headline is "Outlaw."
And joining me now from New York for his first cable news interview is Jose Antonio Vargas.
JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS, "THE HUFFINGTON POST": Hi, Howie. Thanks for having me. KURTZ: You knew that you'd be criticized, that you'd be slammed, that you were admitting to having been a liar, and that you could be deported tomorrow. Why did you decide to come forward with this information?
VARGAS: Because I'm not the only one. You know, I'm one of millions of undocumented people in this country who are living kind of under the shadows. And in many ways, coming out, it was my way of -- at the end of the day, I think we have to tell the truth about this immigration system. And because of that, I had to tell the truth about myself.
KURTZ: I will come back to that, but I do need to ask you -- I mean, as you acknowledge, you deceived your editors. For instance, Phil Bronstein was editor of the "San Francisco Chronicle" when you were there. He write that he feels duped and that he was particularly uncomfortable that you wrote for The Chronicle about illegal immigrants getting fake drivers' licenses at a time when you had done the same thing.
VARGAS: I mean, what's interesting here is there were just some times when I couldn't avoid writing about immigration. I worked for The Chronicle in San Francisco, and immigration is a big issue in that region. But all along the way, I think -- at the end of the day, I think the work speaks for itself, and it was fair and accurate and insightful.
And really, at the end of the day, my work -- I had to do what I had to do to work. And in terms of my own immigration status, which I could never talk about, because whenever I did talk about it, people told me that I shouldn't be revealing it because then I couldn't work.
This is why it's been really important for me. You know, I've been referring to it as part of my own personal underground railroad of the 21st century, people in my life who have been taking risks to help me all through these years.
KURTZ: And of course sometimes you had to lie to your friends or not tell the whole truth. But as you enjoyed more professional success, you went to work for these prestigious publications, you were hanging out with Mark Zuckerberg, how worried were you that it could all fall apart at any moment?
VARGAS: The whole time. I mean, this is why it's important I think to remember.
I came forward with this story. It's not as if someone was threatening to out me or someone was threatening to do anything. I just got to a point where last year, I was sitting at home here in Manhattan, I was sitting in my apartment, and I'm watching and reading the stories of these four students from Miami who took, like, a 1,500 mile walk to Washington, D.C., to lobby for immigration reform for a thing called the DREAM Act. And I was sitting this in my apartment feeling like I was in their shoes just seven years ago.
I had to say something. I had to say something. And this is my way, as I said, of kind of coming forward. The best way to solve is problem is to tell the truth about it, and that's what aim doing.
KURTZ: Let's come back to how you decided to go public. You called Katharine Weymouth, the publisher of "The Washington Post," where you had worked for, what, seven years?
VARGAS: Five years.
KURTZ: Five years.
VARGAS: I was there for five years, yes.
KURTZ: And we knew each other a little bit then. And you told her that you wanted to disclose this and you wanted to do it in the pages of "The Washington Post." Why?
VARGAS: Well, actually, the first thing that I told her is that I'm sorry. The first thing I said to her on the phone, "I'm really, really sorry about this." And the second thing is I said, "I'm going to come forward with my story, and I want to do it for The Post," because I thought that was the right thing to do.
I owe a lot of my professional identity to that paper. That paper has been very and was very good to me. So I thought it was the best place to tell the story.
KURTZ: And then you did write the article, and this was extensively edited and extensively fact-checked, understandably, given the history there.
VARGAS: Oh, yes. Exactly, yes.
KURTZ: And days before a decision would have been made to run this, the executive editor of The Post, my former newspaper, Marcus Brauchli, killed it.
Were you surprised at that decision?
VARGAS: Yes, I was surprised. But at the end of the day, everything, thankfully, worked out for the best.
I ended up just reaching out to Peter Baker at "The New York Times," and he contacted his editor. And I spoke to The Times the next day. And thankfully, they ended up running the piece.
KURTZ: But do you feel like The Post was almost in a position of wanting to cover this up? I mean, this was something that -- The Post had hired you not knowing that you were an illegal immigrant. You did tell one top editor, Peter Perl, who kept your secret.
The paper has now criticized that. He said he thought he was doing the right thing. And then Brauchli is refusing to comment on the reasons, even to his own ombudsman.
Why would The Post not take this opportunity to set the record straight?
VARGAS: I mean, you and I both worked there. I can't tell you what The Post thinks. I don't want to assume what The Post thinks.
All I know is I'm really grateful that "The New York Times" -- you know, Hugo Lindgren, the editor at the magazine, and Chris Solentrof (ph), who edited it, ended up editing the piece when it got there, I'm just grateful that they were able to give me this platform. I mean, I've been getting all these tweets and Facebook, and people have been going on to DefineAmerican.com to kind of share their own stores and ask questions. And really, that's what I'm doing here.
I mean, I decided to do this because what I do best is ask questions. And now I'm asking questions about, what would you have done if you were in my shoes? What would you have done if you were the teacher or the principal in high school who found out one of your students is undocumented?
KURTZ: Just before I leave the subject, The Post, belatedly, of course, covered the controversy and said that there was a red flag raised, because when you were developing this story for the paper, you failed to disclose that you had replaced your expired Oregon driver's license with one from Washington State. The driver's license was what enabled you to stay here and work.
So why did you not come forward with that information?
VARGAS: No, everything -- I mean, again, we went through weeks of editing. And everything that they wanted in the story ended up being in the story.
So I kind of -- I don't want to hatch on -- kind of hatch what happened there. At the end of the day, the story is the story.
And again, this is just one story. I'm just one person. And thankfully, I was able to have this platform to tell my story.
KURTZ: Right. But you've made the point several times, Jose, that you could not have worked without the initial lie.
VARGAS: Exactly. I could not have worked without --
KURTZ: At the time, you have to acknowledge and you do acknowledge that you broke the law. But it seems like you're kind of letting yourself off the hook to some degree.
VARGAS: Oh, no. I mean, this is not about -- I'm sorry -- I'm sorry for breaking our county's laws. And I think what's -- I've owed my sanity kind of living with this to all the people in my life. Really, the principals and the pastors in this country who have helped people like me.
In many ways they've stepped up where the government has failed. We have a broken immigration system. Everybody agrees on that. And people, everyday American citizens, have stepped up because the government has failed us. And this is really what this is about.
KURTZ: And we will talk more about that on the other side. I've got to get a break in. More with Jose Antonio Vargas in just a moment.
KURTZ: We're back with Jose Antonio Vargas, the journalist who reveals in "The New York Times" magazine this morning that he is an illegal immigrant from the Philippines.
And "Washington Post" ombudsman Patrick Pexton writes this morning -- he criticizes The Post for refusing to run your story -- but he also says that you have crossed the line from journalist to advocate.
VARGAS: You know, all I've ever done since I was 17 is tell stories. You know, I'm a storyteller. And that's what I'm going to keep on doing, especially now, kind of embracing and making sure that we tell immigration.
I mean, if you look at the way immigration is covered in this country, it's not as well rounded or as holistic. Or it doesn't really kind of elevate the conversation in the way that it needs to be elevated. And that's what we're going to be doing on DefineAmerican.com.
KURTZ: But clearly, you are approaching this issue for the very same reason that you've chosen to go public about this with a very strong point of view. So you're not a "reporter" on this.
VARGAS: Well, to quote Jay Rosen -- you and I both know Jay Rosen.
KURTZ: From New York University.
VARGAS: Yes. It's not going to be a view from nowhere. I'll tell you that right now.
This is going to be a view from somewhere. And when -- the view from somewhere is going to be about, again, how many principals, pastors, teachers, all of these people that have been, in many ways, stepping up where the government has failed, I mean, I think they need to be a part.
The story of undocumented immigrants in this country is not just about undocumented immigrants. It's about the country as a whole, and it's about us being able to tell the truth about where we are with this issue, because we haven't been telling the truth about where we are with this issue.
KURTZ: You're in the media, and you were making a very nice living getting paid to write articles. In some ways, you keep making the point that you're one of millions, and, sure, that is true, but in some ways you're not typical of people who come to this country illegally. VARGAS: Well, I mean, I think that's the point, is that we are not just mowing your lawns or baby-sitting your kids or serving you food. I mean, what's been really interesting in this experience, people have been e-mailing us on Define American. And people who have either engineering degrees or who want on go into medicine. I mean, how many people out there my age, younger than me, who haven't been able to fully live up to their potential and pay taxes and be a part of this society that has invested in them?
You know, I'm a child. I grew up going to American public schools that invested in me.
VARGAS: I have been paying taxes. You know, I think this is what this is about.
KURTZ: I've got to go, but I do have to ask you before we go, are you worried at this point about the immigration authorities coming after you?
VARGAS: Of course I am. I'm worried. And I think a lot of us, millions of Americans living with this, are worried every day.
But this is the point. The point is to face this, to face this issue squarely, and say, all right, what are we going to do? What are we going to do?
KURTZ: Well, you've certainly started a conversation.
KURTZ: Jose Antonio Vargas, thanks very much for joining us.
VARGAS: Thank you so much for having me, Howie.
KURTZ: We appreciate it.
Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, President Obama's speech puts the media spotlight back on Afghanistan this week, but only briefly. Why do journalists keep tuning out this war?
And then, Jon Stewart makes a factual flub while sparring with Chris Wallace, but argues that Fox News is a bastion of inaccuracy.
Plus, Keith Olbermann returns to primetime cable. Can he put Current TV on the map?
KURTZ: It didn't last long. In fact, it barely lasted a news cycle. But it was the president of the United States speaking from the White House and promising to start winding down America's longest war.
Over 30,000 troops that will return from Afghanistan are equal roughly to those that Obama sent there in his military surge. What's striking is how few pundits liked the speech. Whether it was conservatives on Fox or liberals on MSNBC, nearly everyone was dissatisfied.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.
America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS: This is a remarkable speech. This a commander-in- chief who tripled the number of our troops in Afghanistan and who launched us into this intervention in Libya, delivering what is essentially an antiwar speech.
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: Mr. President, I have immense respect for you, but I have to call this one as I see it. It was not a good night at the office. And this talk about nation-building, with what money?
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think either side was happy, and I think the rest of the country just kind of continues to scratch their heads about what we're doing right now in Afghanistan.
CENK UYGUR, MSNBC: Look, 56 percent of American people want us to remove troops as soon as possible. Who cares what the people in Washington think?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But with Americans still fighting and dying in Afghanistan, are the media just plain tired of this war?
Joining us now in Seattle, Michael Medved, host of "The Michael Medved Radio Show," who now writes a column for "The Daily Beast." In New York, Keli Goff, columnist for TheLoop21.com. And here in Washington, Craig Crawford, who writes the "Trail Mix" blog for CQ- Roll Call.
Michael Medved, I thought this might be the moment where we had a big debate in the media, but 15 minutes after that speech, the cable shows had moved on to other topics, and the next day the newscasts were leading with the capture of fugitive mobster Whitey Bulger.
MICHAEL MEDVED, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, you're forgetting the all-important Casey Anthony story, right?
KURTZ: Yes, indeed. MEDVED: No, what gives is the reaction to the president's speech is, so what else is new? He had said when he initially announced the surge that he was going to begin withdrawing troops in 18 months, and so now he says, OK, we're going to be withdrawing some troops this year, and then depending upon conditions on the ground, we're going to bring another 23,000 home during 2012, an election cycle.
This seems to be have been an attempt by the president to change the subject, not to talk about Libya, which is hot in Congress right now, and not, above all, to talk about the debt increase, which is a looming crisis that he is only belatedly addressing.
KURTZ: Well, if that's what it was, it didn't work, because the president didn't take the bate.
Keli Goff, are the media just quite simply suffering from war fatigue?
KELI GOFF, COLUMNIST, THELOOP21.COM: Well, I don't know if it's just the media. I mean, I think part of this also goes back to the audience.
I mean, Howard, you know as well as I do that those of us who work in the media are always kind of caught in that struggle between feeding broccoli versus young junk food to viewers. And I --
KURTZ: So you're saying Afghanistan is just too boring for us to feed to the public, so we'd rather do the Casey Anthony trial, to take one example?
GOFF: Well, I would never use the word "boring" to describe any struggle where Americans are losing their lives. I mean, I just would never do that.
But what I will say is this -- is that when you look at -- I think for a lot of American, you saw the bump in coverage following the death of Osama bin Laden. That was something that was very tangible that Americans could sort of hang their hat around. And I think in the eyes of many, that sort of seemed to be the end in terms of their connection to this story. And I don't know if you call that fatigue or what have you.
I will say this, though, that when you look back at a study Mediaite did at the height of Donald Trump and birther mania, what you saw is, from the major cable networks, Donald Trump's name was mentioned as much as the word "Afghanistan." Donald Trump's name.
KURTZ: And I'm sure Anthony Weiner's name was mentioned many times more than the word "Afghanistan."
Craig Crawford, is it too easy for the press to look away from this conflict which has dragged on for nearly a decade because it affects a relatively small slice of American society?
CRAIG CRAWFORD, CQ-ROLL CALL: That is part of what happens with a volunteer army, I think. KURTZ: If there were a draft, we would be looking at a different story here.
CRAWFORD: And we wouldn't get into wars as easily I think. But what is boring about this is how it's framed, that the public focus, the media focus is exclusively on, should we be there and when do we leave and not what's doing on the ground right now?
I mean, the story in Afghanistan is really quite fascinating, the military adventure that it is. I mean, it's probably one of the most complex in the history of all warfare, the asymmetry of it and the technology, the drones. The sophisticated use of drones is really a fascinating technological story, the dealing with tribes. It's probably the future of war.
KURTZ: And a few news organizations have tried to cover that, but not many.
Michael Medved, I said at the top, it just seems like the president can't win on this in this sense -- liberal commentators saying Obama's not pulling out fast enough, they'd like all their troops gone tomorrow. And many conservative pundits saying he's abandoning Afghanistan, we're going to end up giving up the hard- fought gains in the military. So it just seems like he doesn't have anybody on his side on this intractable issue.
MEDVED: It's true. But partially, that's because of his own great failure. And his great failure, going back to his previous big speech on Afghanistan, was not giving an articulate explanation of what it is that is at stake at this war.
In other words, even though the withdrawal has begun, we're going to maintain American forces there, he says, at least until 2014. That's the latest.
So what's at stake? Why do we need to do that? What would happen to the United States of America to imperil our own national security to impact the lives of everyday Americans if we did withdrawal abruptly? Why can't we do that?
This has never been addressed by the president of the United States, despite the fact that he campaigned as a candidate saying he would reinforce troops in Afghanistan and this was the good war that was worth fighting.
Keli Goff, I'm wondering if you think the media are behind the public on this issue, because the polls show that a majority of the public has turned against this war, would like the troops to come home. And yet, I don't see a lot of coverage about that public sentiment the way we did when war was raging and really became a civil war in Iraq.
Why not? GOFF: Well, a couple things. I mean, number one, the polls that you're referring to, Howard, are actually relatively new. It's a new phenomenon that the majority of Americans want troops to come home.
KURTZ: All the more reason for it to be a new story.
GOFF: Right. Well, there you go. So I think that that's part of it.
But I also do really think that part of this is yin and yang here. And I'm all for holding the media accountable, myself included. But I really do think that you started to see sort of a nosedive in terms of some of the connection between Americans in their -- for following this conflict in the news after the death of Osama bin Laden.
And I do think that that's definitely part of what's at play, that you saw the huge bump in coverage there, the huge bump in interest, and you do see an interest in Americans wanting troops to come home. I don't know if the passion is quite there in terms of follow-through as there might be on other issues.
KURTZ: There's no big demonstrations in the streets.
KURTZ: And on Libya, Craig Crawford, I'm wondering if you see a double standard, because here you have many in Congress, including many Democrats, saying that President Obama should get permission from Capitol Hill to conduct this war, and you have the White House saying it's not a war. Imagine if George Bush had said we're bombing with NATO allies, but it's not a war. Don't you think the press reaction would have been more dramatic?
CRAWFORD: Yes. Our springtime fling in Libya is now moving into the summer, 4,700 sorties and four months long. And at some point, I don't care what you call it, but with our people in conflict, Congress could do something if it wanted to instead of just hollering. They could start pressuring the president in more legal ways.
KURTZ: But again, that was a one-or-two-day story for the media.
Now, I want to turn our remaining moments to this Friday night vote in New York State to legalize gay marriage. New York becoming the sixth and largest state to do so.
This has gotten an enormous amount of coverage, Michael Medved. Four Republican votes in the state senate helped push this through.
Now, I think the politicians are catching up to the public here, but the coverage has been absolutely celebratory. And if you're against gay marriage, you're against same-sex marriage for religious or other reasons, you have to wonder whether the coverage is really telling both sides.
MEDVED: Well, I think that's exactly right. And part of the reason for that is there is just such weariness on the part of people who support traditional marriage and want to maintain the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. I'll give you one example.
The term "legalization" of gay marriage, that's the way that this has been regularly defined. It seems to me that that's inaccurate and misleading.
Gay marriage has not been illegal. What this is about is government sponsorship and government sanction of a different form of marriage than has been recognized before.
And it seems to me that the one big story here has been the decision to do this in legislatures without consulting the people of a given state. And I do think that part of the reason this is going on the way it is, is because of the sense of a dispirited hopelessness on the more conservative side.
Keli, I just -- go ahead, Keli.
GOFF: I'm sorry. I'm just going to challenge that slightly.
Actually, Howard, all of the polling shows that the majority of Americans do support some sort of legalized partnership for gays and lesbians.
MEDVED: Sure. Civil unions, absolutely.
GOFF: And the word "marriage" has essentially been the hang-up here and the issue of debate. So I would argue that the coverage is actually reflecting public opinion. The debate is over celebration regarding the word. And I think that might be a bit more of an accurate context for us for coverage.
KURTZ: Well, put up "The New York Daily News" cover, which says, "History!" And I just think most journalists support this. I think increasingly more, the public supports it. But there is another side to it.
And Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed this through, Craig Crawford. Already, there's speculation that --
CRAWFORD: He's going to run for president.
KURTZ: -- he's going to run in 2016. We haven't even gotten to 2012 yet.
CRAWFORD: Well, I think marriage equality is here to stay with New York the most populous state, and I think it's good through the legislature. That's the only way we can consult with what the people want in a Democratic government. That's better than courts doing it.
GOFF: If a judge had done it, it would be a different complaint.
KURTZ: Does it seem to you, quite frankly -- I just have a moment --
MEDVED: It certainly is better --
KURTZ: -- that the coverage has paid equal attention to both sides of this debate?
CRAWFORD: I think the media has been kind of rallying behind the marriage equality movement. I think we're always prone to any civil rights movement. We like it. It's democratic to us, and that's just one of our soft spots.
KURTZ: A candid answer from Craig Crawford.
Michael Medved, Keli Goff, thanks for joining us this morning.
After the break, Jon Stewart in the Fox's den. The comedian beats up on Chris Wallace, but is his pummeling of Fox News getting just a bit stale?
KURTZ: Jon Stewart loves to stick it to Fox News. And in classic finger-in-the-eye fashion, he especially likes to do it while appearing on Fox News.
His latest sparring partner wasn't Bill O'Reilly, but Chris Wallace, who had a career at ABC and NBC before joining Rupert Murdoch's network.
So, when Stewart ripped Fox as forum for Republican propaganda, the host of FOX NEWS SUNDAY pushed back, saying his network is a (INAUDIBLE) to the liberalism of "The New York Times" and other mainstream outlets.
Stewart wasn't buying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": I think that you are here in some respects to bring a creditability and an integrity to an organization that might not otherwise have it without your presence. So, you are here as a counterweight to Hannity, let's say, or you are here as a counterweight to Glenn Beck, because otherwise it's just pure talk radio and it doesn't establish the type of political play that it wants to be.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": I don't think our viewers are the least bit disappointed with us. I think our viewers think, finally, they're getting somebody who tells the other side of the story.
STEWART: Right. And in the polls --
WALLACE: No, no, no. One most of example.
STEWART: -- who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers? The most consistently misinformed? Fox. Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the comedian's latest indictment, in New York, Glynnis McNichol, media editor at the Web site Business Insider. Here in Washington, David Zurawik, television and media critic for "The Baltimore Sun." And in Kansas City, Aaron Barnhart, who writes the "TV Barn" blog for "The Kansas City Star."
David Zurawik, did Jon Stewart make the case that Fox peddles right-wing propaganda, or was he just being entertaining?
DAVID ZURAWIK, TELEVISION CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": I don't think he made the case at all. He's told Bret Baier that he approves of him, he's told Bill O'Reilly he approves of him. Now he's told Chris Wallace he approves of him.
So how do you get a 100 percent 24/7 propaganda machine if you have got three of their biggest stars are people he approves of? I think that segment that showed him saying Fox viewers are consistently misinformed, the bite you had was terrific. And then saying every poll shows this to be true --
KURTZ: Well, that was a mistake and we're going to come back to that.
But let me turn to Glynnis McNichol.
Did Chris Wallace do an effective job of defending Fox News, or did he concede that the network is kind of set up to battle the mainstream media when he said, "We tell the other side"?
GLYNNIS MCNICHOL, MEDIA EDITOR, BUSINESSINSIDER.COM: I'm not sure he did as an effective job as he could. At one point, he pulled out a 6-year-old clip from Comedy Central. He seemed to sort of use the entire Comedy Central network against Jon Stewart, even though Jon Stewart obviously just hosts a half an hour show.
The point Jon Stewart I think was trying to make was that Chris Wallace said, "We show the other side " and conceded that Fox shows the conservative side. But, I mean, I don't know that Chris Wallace needed to do an effective job. His viewership are obviously fans of Fox News.
KURTZ: Right. Right.
MCNICHOL: So I'm not sure who he needed to convince.
KURTZ: Chris Wallace later said that perhaps not the best choice of phrase, "the other side." Of course, they would say that they cover both sides. But, Aaron Barnhart, clue me in here. Why would Wallace invite Stewart on to rip Fox News knowing full well that that's what he was going to do?
AARON BARNHART, "THE KANSAS CITY STAR": Well, I think as he said in his intro, Howie, he wanted to -- you know, they're a fair and balanced network, and this is what a fair and balanced network does. Right? It presents both sides to the story.
But I just found the whole conversation a little bit dishonest. There was a lot of debating about ideology, and there was that line about being a comedian is harder than what I do. And if you were a tree, would you be Mark Twain?
And I went back and I looked at the tape -- or I should say the Web video -- and by the way, we should probably make clear here we're not talking about what aired last week on "Fox News Sunday," but what everybody watched and is commenting on, on the Web, the longer, unedited version of it.
ZURAWIK: You know, the statement about -- Fox News did air the statement that Stewart made about it being --
KURTZ: And, in fact, since you both referenced this point, let me just jump in --
BARNHART: He said something about Bill Senior (ph), the Fox News Channel executive, Bill Senior (ph), that got bleeped from the --
KURTZ: Right. Well, you say bleeped. I mean, the interview was edited. And I want to come back to that point, too.
But first let me play Jon Stewart acknowledging that he made a mistake when he made this argument that polls showed that Fox viewers were the most misinformed.
Let's roll that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: Ultimately, Politifact declared my statement false. I defer to their judgment and I apologize for my mistake.
Fox said less than 10 percent of Obama's cabinet appointees have worked in the private sector. Politifact says that's false. Fox said White House political director once served as right-hand man to the ACORN chief. Politifact scored that as false.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, having made that mistake, was that an effective comeback? Obviously, he went on and on. We haven't showed the whole thing. ZURAWIK: It was effective for his supporters. I counted 21 errors that he went through by the time he was spitting Trail Mix out of his mouth. As comedy, it was a very funny thing.
But as a media critic, Howie, this is what drives me crazy about Jon Stewart. So many of my colleagues think he's a great media critic and take anything he says as the truth. Listen, if -- what he did was this -- this would be "The New York Times" on their correction page saying, well, we made a mistake and we're sorry for it, but "The Wall Street Journal" made 21 mistakes.
They're we're worse than us, we're good. Forgive us.
KURTZ: In fact, Chris Wallace quoted you -- quoted David Zurawik -- during the interview and -- you having said, "Stewart has never been held accountable in his media criticism."
KURTZ: All right. Hold him accountable.
ZURAWIK: Well, that's a case of it right there. I'll tell you another case of it.
When he attacks CNN for its coverage of Anthony Weiner's press conference where he called the CNN producer a jackass, horrible display. Dana Bash and that producer were doing exactly what journalists should be doing, and they were doing it politely. Dana Bash was the adult there who kept saying, well, I know you're upset, but just answer this.
He calls them a jackass. And Jon Stewart makes fun of CNN. That's Jon Stewart's kind of media criticism.
And a week later, when Weiner says this is all true, I was lying to you, where is Jon Stewart? He pulls his punch in that Monday night show.
KURTZ: Let's try to elevate this from the jackass category by going back to Glynnis McNichol.
Was that an effective response by Jon Stewart, to say, well, I screwed up, but you're far worse? And what do you make of Zurawik's point that he's overly celebrated as a media critic?
MCNICHOL: Well, let's just start with I think Jon Stewart going on Fox is genius for both of them because it's good TV. Was his response effective? Absolutely.
I mean, it was right down the line, a quintessential Jon Stewart response. OK, I'm wrong, let's turn this into a sharp, funny segment about why Fox is so bad, because it's so easy and fun to demonize Fox, particularly for his audience.
I do think David has a point. I think Stewart manages to take the most ridiculous aspect of cable news and turn it into an entertaining show. And sometimes that means he's an effect media critic and sometimes that means he's just a very effective comedian or a satirist.
So, I think it's hard to separate the two sometimes. And he does get a pass. He's so entertaining. You're never disappointed when you watch his show.
KURTZ: Let me have Aaron Barnhart break the tie here, because, look, Stewart admits that he's a comedian first, but he obviously uses comedy and satire in order to make serious points, including skewering the media, and often Fox.
BARNHART: Yes. And I think he sees himself doing the job that a lot of mainstream people won't do, which is to punch back.
And you know what's really interesting? Sometimes when you hit the bully, he respects you. And I would refer people to the video of his interview with Bill O'Reilly, to go back and watch that, because what starts to happen is what didn't happen with Chris Wallace.
You know, where Chris Wallace was sort of sticking to his guns and throwing out lines that -- arguments that could have been made three, four years ago, Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly had a really reasonable discussion once they got done sort of hitting each other a couple times back and forth. But I thought they had a really excellent conversation about judgment and the way it's exercised, why Fox News goes wall to wall attacking the Obama White House on common, but won't go after Ted Nugent. I just thought that it felt to me like a conversation among peers and equals, and we didn't have that last week.
ZURAWIK: That's not what Jon Stewart said. Jon Stewart said he was so badly edited, he looked like a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown during the whole thing. That was his morning after assessment.
KURTZ: Can I just point out that "The Daily Show" edits interviews, and Fox, by putting the complete 24 minutes, or whatever it was -- Wallace said Stewart was filibustering -- online --
ZURAWIK: Yes, exactly.
KURTZ: -- we all got to see it and make our own judgment.
Yes? You'd agree with that?
KURTZ: All right. We have a rare moment with David. That means it's time for me to get a break.
KURTZ: Up next, "Countdown" is back on the air. Can Keith Olbermann lure the liberals from MSNBC to Al Gore's network?
KURTZ: It was hard to miss the fact that Keith Olbermann returned to television this week thanks to a high-profile publicity campaign for his debut on Current TV. And it was hard to miss the fact that "Countdown" looked and sounded pretty much the same as it did on Olbermann's eight years on MSNBC, until their bitter breakup earlier this year.
And as the liberal commentator made clear, he is still a man with a mission.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH OLBERMANN, CURRENT TV: This is to be a newscast of contextualization, and it is to be presented with a viewpoint, that the weakest citizen of this country is more important than the strongest corporation; that the nation is losing its independence through the malfeasance of one political party and the timidity of another; and that even though you and I should not have to be the last line of defense, apparently we are. So we damn well better start being it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Glynnis McNichol, did you see a different Keith Olbermann in his role as last line of defense or the same old guy?
MCNICHOL: I think I basically saw the same show on a different channel. And I think Olbermann and Current are banking on the fact that his loyal viewers from MSNBC have missed his show since January, are going to follow him to this new station to see him again, not that they're presenting something new or different or anything all that spectacularly original from what they had at MSNBC.
KURTZ: David Zurawik, you've been critical of Olbermann over the years at times, but mostly you gave his debut a positive review.
ZURAWIK: I was really impressed with the production values, and I think his leadership. He really produced a show that looked better than I think it did on MSNBC. And for that, I think he deserves high praise. I don't know what kind of infrastructure he's working with in terms of facilities and that, but they really did well this week.
The thing I didn't like, Howie, and really troubled me was this rhetoric he has of insult and rancor, calling people idiots and -- half an idiot he called Sarah Palin. And morons, calling people morons.
That's what has always troubled me about Keith Olbermann. And I hope Al Gore, the half owner of that network, will rein him in. But it is an attractive show. It really is.
KURTZ: I think Olbermann was hired to be Olbermann.
I thought he kind of toned it down a notch even while doing "Worst Persons in the World," which he had flirted with giving up a couple times on MSNBC.
Aaron Barnhart, Olbermann talked both on the show and in the run- up about being free of the corporate constraints of working for an organization like NBC. Did he seem to you to be liberated on this new network?
BARNHART: I didn't see him really throwing those shackles off in any significant rhetorical way.
BARNHART: And he spent the last three months, you know, being asked this question: What was it that MSNBC management did that you were trying to get out from under? And he had three months to give an answer, and I never thought he really particularly gave a very helpful answer.
You know, in the show, you saw the same guests. You saw Jonathan Turley. You saw John Dean (ph). You saw the M&M brothers, Michael Moore and Markos Moulitsas.
And so, going forward, my question is, now that you've promoted yourself as being, you know, free from the man, what does that mean? What exactly are you going to be doing with this show that you weren't doing for that show?
But I should say that for the purposes of this first week, maybe even this first month, it was absolutely vital that Keith Olbermann get his audience moved over to Current. And with 175,000 viewers in the young adult demographic, twice what CNN was doing in that hour, by the way, Howie, I think he succeeded.
ZURAWIK: Well, you know, that's another -- an interesting aspect of it. You know, Current, like a lot of stations do this, release selective Nielsen figures.
KURTZ: They wouldn't release the total boards (ph).
ZURAWIK: Yes. Only gave us that one demo, which was sure to be their best number.
Now, that's what corporations do. That's what these evil corporations that he's going to rail against, this $10 million a year anchorman who's the little people's friend, that's what he's going to do. And he's doing it. You know, I wrote a piece --
ZURAWIK: Tell us what the ratings are.
BARNHART: To be fair to Olbermann here -- well, yes, and he's making $10 million a year, too. That's corporate money.
ZURAWIK: Yes, it is.
BARNHART: But what I was going to say is, when you're looking at those young audience demos, I think that's important and shouldn't be skipped over. You know, the one thing that Jon Stewart does that none of these cable news channels do is he draws a crowd of people under the age of 40 and talks to them about the things that interests you and me and all these other people who work in the media.
ZURAWIK: But Aaron, you heard him say this was going to be a newscast of contextualization. Well, you can't just give one number and not the other ones that contextualize this.
KURTZ: All right. Let me get some context from Glynnis.
You know, it's true, as Aaron says, that Olbermann has always chafed against the man, whether it was at ESPN or MSNBC. Now he is the man. He's the chief news officer at Current TV.
Will he have the same impact six months or a year from now as he had on the bigger network?
MCNICHOL: Well, here's the thing. When you watched his show on MSNBC, did you ever get the sense that he was chafing against the man, that he was not being allowed to say things that he wanted to say? I mean, I never --
KURTZ: I think he said whatever the hell he wanted.
MCNICHOL: I know. Exactly. You never got the sense that there was this Keith Olbermann waiting to be unleashed. You know?
So, the fact that he's moved to Current, I feel like we're not getting anything new. That, in fact, viewers never really got the sense that he was being held back and needed to go somewhere different unless you read his Twitter sometimes, which is a little angrier than perhaps what you get on the show.
KURTZ: There was one change where he pulled back. He had been going three or four minutes past the hour in an effort to kind of stick it to MSNBC. He now says he's not going to do it anymore because his friend, Rachel Maddow, would be hurt by that.
MCNICHOL: Yes. I thought that was interesting because he --
ZURAWIK: Typical Olbermann.
MCNICHOL: -- was listening, A, to fans. And B, I think he's been trying to demonize MSNBC and sort of make them the enemy that he's playing off of. And it clearly, in the first week, didn't work, and he pulled back and sort of said, oh, Rachel Maddow is my friend now.
KURTZ: All right. Well, we'll keep watching and talking about it on this program.
David Zurawik, Glynnis McNichol, Aaron Barnhart, thanks very much for stopping by. Still to come, Gerald goes too far; Ed Henry gets flak for taking a new job; and Facebook retaliates against Roger Ebert.
Our "Media Monitor," straight ahead.
KURTZ: First, I want to take note of the passing of sportscaster of Nick Charles. This is a guy who helped put CNN on the map in the early years, a creative journalist who essentially invented the cable news sportscast.
He'll be missed.
Time now for the "Media Monitor." And here's what I liked.
An "Atlantic Monthly" story on how many in the medical establishment are starting to accept alternative medicine from acupuncture to chiropractic treatment, despite a lack of hard scientific evidence. It's a thought-provoking look at what makes some patients feel better, including extra attention that many busy doctors can't provide.
Here's what I didn't like.
CNN's Ed Henry, one of the fairest journalists I know, is moving to Fox News as chief White House correspondent, something of a coup for Fox. But that prompted the liberal advocacy group Media Matters to take a few swipes at Henry.
Six years ago, he described a Democratic proposal to withdraw from Iraq this way: "Some have referred to this as the cut-and-run provision." Was that a Republican talking point? Well, he made clear it was one faction's description. Plus, as a member of the White House Correspondents Association, Henry defended Fox's right to inherit a front-row briefing room seat.
Come on. Just by taking a job at Fox, Ed Henry didn't automatically become an unfair and unbalanced guy.
Remember when MSNBC suspended Ed Schultz because he called Laura Ingram a right-wing slut? Schultz made a heartfelt apology, but what about this guy talking about murder defendant Casey Anthony?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS: I think it will end the prosecution case, Brian, with a bang, so to speak, to show that this was a selfish, narcissistic, self-involved slut who wanted to kill her child to have la "bella vita."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, Casey Anthony may be many things, including guilty of killing her young daughter. That's up to a jury to decide. But Geraldo is guilty of using a blatantly sexist term. Finally, the sad news that Ryan Dunn, star of the movie "Jackass," was killed in a car crash. He had been using alcohol, prompting film critic Roger Ebert to tweet, "Friends don't let jackasses drive and drink."
Now, maybe that's in questionable taste, but Facebook temporarily shut down Ebert's page over such comments.
Hey, Zuckerberg and company, are you familiar with the concept of free speech? Or, as Ebert put it, why did you remove it in response to anonymous jerks?
That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
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.