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Murdochs Testify Before British Parliament; Debt Talks Collapse

Aired July 24, 2011 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, CNN HOST: The message was simple -- what happened was awful, but not my fault. Rupert Murdoch tells parliament he's not responsible for the phone hacking debacle that tarnished his media umpire. Some of his staff staffers are punching back at the critics. Can a humble Murdoch put the "News of the World" scandal behind him?

An angry President Obama said the debt talks collapsed on Friday right after "The New York Times" said the two sides were close to a deal. Is the press being spun in this budget brinkmanship, which continues today?

An online report about Michele Bachmann suffering from frequent migraines become as headache for her campaign. Would that story be written about a man?

Plus MSNBC host Cenk Uygur quits because he says the network told him to tone it down. He'll be here and he won't be toning it down. I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

He looked well, 80 years old as he sat in the witness chair and haltingly answered the lawmakers' questions. Rupert Murdoch often overshadowed by his son, James, says he runs a big company and couldn't be expected to know the details of illegal conduct at one London tabloid or precisely how it was covered up.

In fact, the chief executive of News Corp went out of his way to downplay his influence.


RUPERT MURDOCH, CEO, NEWS CORPORATION: (inaudible) keep in touch. I ring the editor of "The Sunday Times" nearly every Saturday, not to influence what he has to say at all.


KURTZ: Perhaps the most penetrating question came from a member of parliament who wanted to know just where did the buck stop?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Murdoch, do you accept that ultimately you are responsible for this whole fiasco?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're not responsible, who is responsible?

MURDOCH: The people that I trusted to run it and then maybe the people they trusted.


KURTZ: The hearing was carried live by all three cable news networks, including Murdoch's Fox News and made headlines here and around the world.


DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: The 80-year-old global power broker Rupert Murdoch called this the most humble day of his life. We watched him called to account in front of the British parliament for the scandal that outraged the world.

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Rupert Murdoch called it the most humbling day of his life and he said he was sorry, but it wasn't his fault and he wasn't resigning. Then someone hit him with a cream pie.


KURTZ: Boy, did cable news enjoy replaying that moment with the clown who threw the pie. Joining us to examine the impact of this fast moving scandal and talk about this week's developments via video connection from Cambridge, England, John Burns with London bureau chief of "The New York Times."

In Boston, Paul Farhi, a media reporter for "The Washington Post" and in New York, Vicky Ward, contributing editor for "Vanity Fair" who has worked for several Murdoch newspapers.

John Burns, Murdoch didn't say anything that particularly damaged him in that testimony, but sure he looked something of a detached CEO, did he not?

JOHN BURNS, WINNER OF TWO POLITZER PRIZES: He certainly did. I mean, it's one thing to say that he only called the "News of the World" editor from time to time and asked him what's doing.

It's another thing to say that five years into this building scandal, he just remained hands off. I mean, at some point or other, this shrewd, astute, tough guy you would have thought would have wanted to look into this more seriously or to tell his son who runs the British operations to look into it more seriously.

So the question arises, of course, did he just stay away because he didn't want his fingerprints on any of this?

KURTZ: That is a very good question. Speaking of his son, Paul Farhi, James Murdoch who did much of the talking said he didn't know details of the evidence when he approved a $1.4 million settlement to one of the hacking victims who sued. And then two former executives came out and said no, no, no, that's not right. We told him. Is this a building credibility crisis for the Murdochs right now?

PAUL FARHI, MEDIA REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Yes, it certainly is. It's difficult to claim that you're paying out these large sums of money to people and then discover that there's a whole mess of these out there.

That's what's going on with James Murdoch. You know, as a CEO of this division, it's his job to know and he's had several years, as John points out, to know. The fact that he didn't suggests he's either dumb or he's incompetent.

KURTZ: Vicky Ward, you know the Murdoch family. What toll is this taking on Rupert?

VICKY WARD, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR FOR VANITY FAIR SINCE 2001: Well, I think it's taking an enormous toll. It would be very surprising if it wasn't, Howie. But I think I would like to address a few things that have come out.

Unless you actually have worked for the Murdochs, you don't know. So to take John's point about how could he not know what was going on at the "News of the World" -- quite frankly, Rupert Murdoch 20 years ago, 30 years ago, those English papers were his babies, he'd broken the print unions to basically create that empire.

Then he did call those newspaper editors all the time. But News Corp has evolved. It's become a much larger, much more global company. Those newspapers create a fraction of its wealth. Now I think it's quite legitimate when he says he delegated and, yes, there were problems with that, we now know, major problems. But he did delegate. I think that is a credible statement.

KURTZ: You know, the question remains as the member of the parliament asked, if Rupert is not responsible and if James didn't know then, who is responsible?

Let me move on because I want to play tape for John Burns about some comments, you may have heard about this from Fox's Bill O'Reilly who says, of course, anybody who broke the law at the "News of the World" should be punished, but he also had this to say involving your newspaper.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: But here in the United States there isn't any intrusion of the story thus far on News Corp properties, none. Yet you have "The New York Times" absolutely running wild with the story, front page, front page, front page, column, column, column, vicious stuff, vicious stuff, vicious stuff and it's all ideological, is it not?


KURTZ: So running wild, vicious stuff, ideological? BURNS: You're asking me, Howard? Nonsense, rubbish, not at all. Who could deny that a scandal in one of the world's largest if not the largest media organization with influence over tens of millions of people, a scandal of this kind is not news?

Secondly, as for vicious and the rest of it, I just ask your viewers to go to our web site and read what we've actually written about this and I think you'll find it's forensic. It's very careful. If there's any stepping over that mark, you can be sure that our editors will push us back and remind us not to do it.

As a matter of fact, I would say the opposite is true. I think because "The New York Times" has to worry about competition from Murdoch properties like the "Wall Street Journal." We have been especially careful to be forensic and even handed about this. So Bill O'Reilly attacking us like that is just nonsense.

WARD: Howie --

KURTZ: Go ahead, Vicky.

WARD: John, with all due respect, in your own paper today there's a headline, "CNN host, an ex-tabloid editor is reluctantly dragged into the phone scandal." Talking about Piers Morgan. He wasn't reluctantly dragged into the phone scandal.

He came out on his own volition on Monday night and then certain assertions were made by Louise Mensch, a British member of parliament about what was written in his diaries.

He then defended himself and said were categorically untrue and all you had to do for him to be validated was to read his book. Even the British have come out and said she got it wrong.

KURTZ: Let's get a response from John Burns.

BURNS: I think there's an edge of paranoia with what you're saying. You apparently don't want to talk about the substance of the article which gives full voice, very extensive voice and I know this firsthand because I was involved in preparing an e-mail exchange.

It could only be e-mail because that's what Piers Morgan insisted on last night. The questions that we put to him, he answered them and answered them fully. We ran a very long story, two pages on the web site, giving his answers in full.

As for the reluctantly dragged in, I'm sure everybody who has been associated with this in any way, whose name has been brought up in any way, would be reluctant to be drawn into it. I think Piers Morgan would be the first to say, and it certainly was strongly implicit in everything he said to us on the telephone and by e-mail last night that he was very reluctant as who would not be?

WARD: I know empirically that's not true.

KURTZ: Let me not so reluctantly jump in. We invited Piers Morgan to appear on this program because of the questions that's been raised and he declined.

I want to play some tape of British member of the parliament, Louise Mensch talking about this on CNN and Morgan's very aggressive response.


LOUISE MENSCH, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: I said what I said in the committee, Wolf. I'm afraid right now I'm going to say I can't comment about it outside of the committee room.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN: I call on you, Ms. Mensch, now, to repeat it, show some balls, repeat what you said about me and then maybe go and buy a copy of my book "The Insider."

She made some very specific claims. In fact, later on she repeated them, even down to me apparently giving tutorials in phone hacking, how I've hacked people myself. How my staff had broken stories of phone hacking. She has absolutely no evidence on any of this. She based it on what she claimed I published in my own volume of diaries.


KURTZ: Paul, let me let you be the arbiter here. There's also a former "Telegraph" reporter telling London's Independent that he believes that Piers Morgan probably knew about hacking when he was the editor of the "Telegraph". But, of course, Morgan puts out that the guy has already gone to jail. How much of a problem is this for Piers Morgan?

FAHRI: Well, I don't think it's a problem because Louise Mensch is wrong. It is not in his book. He does not mention hacking. The whole basis of her story is incorrect. The reporter who accused Piers Morgan of hacking is, himself, accused of insider trading and was involved in a scandal over there in London.

KURTZ: He went to jail.

FAHRI: He went to jail for it, convicted. Just one thing about Bill O'Reilly and Fox. Fox has some explaining to do as well. They are invested in this story or not invested as the case may be. They have covered the story much less, far less than CNN has or that MSNBC has.

It may well be as a result of their ownership and their competitive position that they have made that editorial judgment not to cover it.

KURTZ: Well, Fox has covered it a little more than in the beginning and certainly did carry the hearings. But the Project for Excellence in Journalism actually did a study July 6 through July 15, in the evening only, you see CNN with 130 minutes, MSNBC with 125 minutes and Fox News with 24 minutes.

Vicky ward, let me ask you, because the "Wall Street Journal," which, of course, Murdoch also owns, an editorial this week kind of mocking the moral outrage being directed at one company. News Corp saying lots of tabloids in Britain have engaged in all kinds of outrageous behavior.

You have Rupert Murdoch saying this is the most humble day of his life, so which one are we going to believe, that he and management are sorry or this is being made too much of by the rest of the press?

WARD: It's a great question, Howie. I've spoken about this before. You have here a real problem. I believe that Rupert is sincerely, sincerely appalled and sorry that in the case of Millee Dowler, which is really what brought this scandal about when it was revealed that a teenage girl's phone was tampered with in order to sell newspapers because readers might think she was still alive.

KURTZ: Are the critics going overboard as the "Wall Street Journal" editorial suggests? I have only a few seconds here.

WARD: OK, the "Wall Street Journal" had the right to say that I think because there are plenty of other stories in your own country, Watergate, the Pentagon papers.

And in England the "Daily Telegraph" two years ago paid for stolen records to expose MP's stolen expenses. So there are certain complicities in Britain and here that sometimes illegal means are justified to meet the end, not when a girl has been murdered. Where is the line?

KURTZ: Got to jump. John Burns, quick final thought on whether the coverage has been a little bit overheated?

BURNS: No. I don't think so at all. I can only say again to your viewers who care about this, and I'm sure many do, please go to our website or go to copies of our print editions, today's and the last weeks and months and make your own judgment.

I think you'll see that in the tradition of "The New York Times" it's very, very balanced and very careful and we have said and we have said more than once that Mr. Murdoch deserves great credit in many respects for what he's done for British newspapering.

In fact n the 1980s by confronting the unions here he may have saved "The Times" of London and other titles that he now owns. We have tried at every turn to be even handed.

KURTZ: All right, more organizations not just "The Times," of course, covering this story. John Burns, Paul Farhi, Vicky Ward, thanks very much for joining us.

When we come back, the man that blew the whistle on the hacking scandal, but why did he go along in the first place.


KURTZ: He was one of the first whistle-blowers in the phone hacking scandal, a reporter and editor at "News of the World" who knew all about the snooping and surveillance at Rupert Murdoch tabloid.

He understands the culture and at times has defended it. Paul McMullan joins me now from London. Thank you very much for joining us.

You didn't engage in any phone hacking yourself, knew about it, went along with it, I guess one could say. Is it morally wrong for journalists to tap into the voice mail of some celebrity or royal family member?

PAUL MCMULLAN, FORMER NEWS OF THE WORLD JOURNALIST: Well, I've always said no. My argument is if you want to have a free democracy and an open society where politicians behave well, you have to have a press that is allowed to stray into the areas of the dark arts, i.e., not the illegal area, to catch people out.

Fundamentally you don't go to a politician and say, hello, I'm a "News of the World" reporter, are you having an affair with your secretary while presenting yourself as a happily married man. You've got to be clever than that, you've got to catch them.

So I think that's the public interest defense, that sometimes it's in the best interest of the country to have -- after all, who polices the police and who polices our politicians if it isn't a free press?

KURTZ: If journalists, however, aggressively are going to try to police politicians and the police and other segments of society, don't they also have a responsibility to obey the law?

MCMULLAN: They do, and this is -- it's where the argument falls down. If you look at the day to day fodder of who was hacked, it's people like Hugh Grant and Kylie Minogue and Nicole -- big American stars, also, but when they were in the U.K. How do you justify that?

Well, I think the only justification for that is it allows the "News of the World" to be the biggest selling English language newspaper in the world. When I was there, oddly working for Piers Morgan who was my first boss, we sold more than five million copies a week with 12 million readers which is a substantial part of the adult population of the country. So every couple of months we did something worthy.

We had a Pakistan cricket scandal, caught a politician with trousers around his ankles after getting voted in as a happy married man. Every couple months five million people bought that and 12 million people read that. So the important stories have massive power that they wouldn't otherwise have had.

KURTZ: OK, obviously these techniques look very different when they're employed against ordinary people who are not celebrities, who were not famous athletes, who were not members of the royal family.

But you mentioned Hugh Grant. His phone was hacked by "News of the World." He is suing. You had a chance encounter with him a few months ago, and he actually taped your conversation. Let me play a little of that for our viewers.


MCMULLAN: Do you think it's right the only person with a decent digital scanner these days is the government whereas 20 years ago we all had a go? Are you comfortable that the only people who can listen to them now are - is it MI5 or MI6?

HUGH GRANT: But celebrities themselves, you would justify because they're rich?

MCMULLAN: Yes, I mean, if you don't like it, you've just got to get off the stage. It'll do wonders.


KURTZ: If you don't like it, just get off the stage. So you don't believe that celebrities have any right to privacy at all it sounds like?

MCMULLAN: Well, fundamentally. If you hire a publicist and ask him can he get me in the movies in any way possible? Can you get me in the magazines in any way possible and can you get me in the newspapers in the most favorable, possible way?

I think you certainly lose the public backing for when you start winging somebody only got paid 5,000 pounds for the last movie and someone's listening to messages. I think nine out of ten people who only take home 250 pounds a week in Britain would happily have their messages hacked into to two months' work and get paid 5,000 pounds.

KURTZ: Why did you decide to blow whistle and go public about the phone hacking at "News of the World"?

MCMULLAN: Well, it's a good question actually. First of All, I mean, Sean Hoare who's now sadly dead did cracked under the pressure, he did drink too much and died last week. I mean, he started it.

And it was presented -- I just bought a bar in the south of England about nine months ago, which is where Hugh Grant taped me. I was semi-retiring from journalism and "The Guardian" presented it as a fantastic story.

It was the British Watergate and I was offered the chance to be part of it. The whole point was, if we can label our former bosses, Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson who are both now arrested, not criminal masterminds.

But certainly engaged in a media empire where criminality was rife, if that media empire molded, shaped and got David Cameron elected as the British prime minister, that's a good story.

KURTZ: I have a break coming up. Since you mentioned Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, both former editors of "News of the World," do you have any doubt that they knew phone hacking was going on at that paper? MCMULLAN: No, I have no doubt whatsoever. I got to say Piers Morgan was also my editor, but in that time in 1994-'95, it wasn't illegal. You could sit outside someone's house and tap into their phone conversations and record all of it.

And also look at their messages. I need to ask a lawyer actually, is it legal for a wife to hack into her husband's phone if she thinks he's cheating? About 10 percent of the population of Britain have done that, too.

KURTZ: We're going to keep our focus on journalists. Paul McMullan, thank you for coming in and good luck with the pub now that you've gotten out of journalism. We appreciate it.


KURTZ: Coming up on the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, the debt talks collapse after news reports of a deal. How much was the press spun and is continuing to being spun in this high stakes budget fight?

Plus MSNBC's Cenk Uygur resigns with some choice words for his former network, but do his charges hold up?


KURTZ: John Boehner may have walked out of the debt talks on Friday night, but it was President Obama who sees the bully pulpit when he walked into a briefing room full of reporters and spoken part about how the seemingly endless impasse is being covered.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: You know, for us to not be keeping those folks in mind every single day when we're up here, for us to be more worried about what some pundit says or some talk radio show host says or what some columnist says or what pledge we signed back when we were trying to run or worrying about having a primary fight, for us to be thinking in those terms instead of thinking about those folks is inexcusable.


KURTZ: But wait? Hadn't "The New York Times" reported just the day before that Obama and Boehner were close to a major deal? Joining us to talk about how the debt dealing is being covered, Jonathan Strong, reporter for the "Daily Caller" web site and Ruth Marcus, columnist for "The Washington Post."

Ruth Marcus, I know you love writing about the budget. It is getting awful hard for even the most dedicated journalists to follow the action here with all different the plans and walkouts, now back at the White House yesterday.

RUTH MARCUS, WASHINGTON POST: Not to mention the different baselines. KURTZ: This is where we do the math?

MARCUS: Yes because that is why some of the reporting has been so confused. Any rational human being would be confused listening to these guys talk. From my point of view, it's almost a recipe for bad reporting.

You have talks going on behind closed doors in an atmosphere of everything must be tweeted immediately. The guys who are involved can barely understand, are you in the current law baseline or the current policy baseline?

I'll be happy to give you the lecture off camera about the differences and enormously high stakes, the full faith and credit of the U.S.

KURTZ: Enormously high stakes. There seems to be an assumption, Jonathan Strong that you know, typical Congress, they'll screw around and screw around and at the last minute we'll have a deal. But now some journalists are saying are these people crazy enough to keep fighting past the deadline and let the U.S. go into default?

JONATHAN STRONG, REPORTER FOR DAILY CALLER: I actually have concerns we may not reach a deal in my own observations. But the problem is, as you were getting at, these leaders go into a room and then all we get is this highly politicized readout of what happened.

KURTZ: From each side.

STRONG: From each side. Sometimes it actually directly contradicts each other on key facts. So you have to triangulate the truth and I talked to about a dozen insiders last night who say they don't find the reports reliable, but that's the only information they're getting.

KURTZ: Right, it's almost become like this, a horse race where they're going to have a deal, they're not going to have a deal. It's completely fallen part, but as we saw the president there. Obama, you know, as angry as I've ever seen them, ripping the Republicans. He gave a lot of ways -- he came back a couple times, talk radio hosts and columnists.

MARCUS: I took that kind of personally, the columnists part. Those are the people you really need to listen to. I'm sorry.

KURTZ: Do you think he's giving too much weight to the way it's being covered as opposed to the fact that these two sides are dug in and can't seem to hammer out even a short term deal.

MARCUS: I thought he was hot on Friday, but I also thought he was effective.

Now, I think his fundamental point is, look, there is real -- there's something really, really important going on here. We have to get a deal. Don't be distracted by the noise from both sides. And also, look, this was an interesting moment. The president of the United States got up and said, look, I gave away this. I said I wanted to mess with your entitlements. I gave away this. I said I wanted to raise your taxes. You know, what more -- why can't these people say yes? It was sort of odd way to sell yourself perhaps.

But he really has --

KURTZ: To sell yourself by talking about how much you're given up in negotiations.

MARCUS: And how much pain you're ready to inflict on everybody.

KURTZ: But I wonder, Jonathan, whether you think the press has basically bought into Obama's argument, that he has compromised and compromised again and again, done things that are painful for him, painful for his party, and it's the House Republicans who are being intransigent.

STRONG: The Republicans I've talked to say they feel Obama's megaphone gives him the power to set the narrative.

KURTZ: He could just drown them out.

STRONG: Right.

KURTZ: Boehner has a press conference after Obama on Friday night. I think it was covered on cable news but it doesn't get anything of the way to the president of the United States speaking in the White House.

STRONG: Right. So, they're afraid that he's been the one who's had the voice here, and I think that the biggest sin of omission by the news media is not -- you know, Democrats ought to have had to introduce a budget plan by this point, and they haven't really. But Obama gave a speech. The CBO said we can't score a speech. And they have not really faced accountability.

KURTZ: So do you think that journalists by and large -- obviously, a lot of people in the media are covering this -- have been too harsh in saying these House Republicans, influenced by the Tea Party, just won't budge and not done enough to hold the Democratic side accountable?

STRONG: Well, you know, it's difficult because that's a subjective question, right? From what perspective? If you live in Nancy Pelosi's district, you're saying, yes, just raise taxes. If you live in Eric Cantor's district -- you're saying say how does that make sense? We're spending twice as much as we're getting in taxes.

KURTZ: And then just in terms of again following the action. "The New York Times" went pretty hard with that story, saying close to a deal. And then Boehner tweeted "false." It turns out Boehner was right, they weren't close to a deal.

MARCUS: Being part of that, as the president has reminded us, you know, nothing is agreed on until everything is agreed on. And I think, by the way, that this has been one of the most fascinating uses that I've seen of the bully pulpit, where the president has, at least until now, done a very effective job of putting the Republicans on the defensive and using his power to really command attention.

I do think, in the end, I'm continuing to be optimistic that if we don't have a grand bargain, we will at least avert Armageddon, which is the definition of success these days.

KURTZ: Right. So, it could be an ugly compromise. It doesn't really resolve but gets us past default. And I wonder how the press will play that.

STRONG: In defense of "The New York Times," real quick, they reported Democratic leaders were told by White House officials that the deal was eminent. Now, that could have been true and a deal never was reached.

KURTZ: So, in other words, they may have been properly reporting what their sources said. Of course, when you put it on the front page, it carries a lot of weight.

STRONG: Right.

KURTZ: I don't need to remind anybody that this story will continue, since we're nine days from a possible U.S. government default on debt.

We are going to move on. And after the break: the media jumping on a report that Michele Bachmann suffers from frequent migraines. But is that a big deal?


KURTZ: Michele Bachmann has been drawing major scrutiny since jumping into the presidential race and much of it not exactly favorable. For instance, the Minnesota congresswoman has quoted the Lord as saying, be submissive -- wives, you are to be sub missive to your husbands. Should that be an issue?

And this week, "The Daily Caller" Web site broke the story about Bachmann's recurring problems with migraines and the story became a pain for her campaign.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Congresswoman and GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann today denied a report that she suffers from, quote, "debilitating migraine headaches."

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Enter Michele Bachmann, a Web site reporting she's taking medication for migraine headaches. Predictably, that set off a frenzy of media activity.

JOHN KING, "JOHN KING, USA": Plus, Michele Bachmann responds to former aides who anonymously allege this rising force in the Republican presidential field suffers from migraines so debilitating they could undermine her ability to lead.


KURTZ: Jonathan Strong, that was your story in "The Daily Caller." Women get more migraines than men. A lot of women nonetheless lead perfectly productive lives and have important jobs.

Any hesitation about making this an issue?

STRONG: If I had the same set of facts about Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, any of the other male candidates, I would have written the same exact story. And I think that male candidates, like John McCain and Fred Thompson, had faced scrutiny about their health when they're running for president. And John McCain had to release 1,500 pages of documents.

So, I think this is a gender neutral thing because your health is pivotal to your ability to serve as president.

KURTZ: Other candidates have faced scrutiny about their health, but probably from medical conditions or past medical problems that are more serious than having migraines.

MARCUS: Well, I actually don't take issue with the -- if it were a male candidate in the same circumstance would have written the same story. I assume that that's true. I think it's a completely legitimate story.

I also think it's a very treacherous story because we're still working our way here in 2011, through the minefield of gender politics. And when you have a health issue that is more often than not experienced by women, when it sort of feeds into -- and this was not Jonathan's intention -- but it does feed into the "Not tonight, dear, I have a headache," the sense of women being weak, having vapors. You have to deal with it in a very, very sensitive way.

And I think there's attention between the need to be sensitive on the one hand there and the absolutely critical point that, especially when we're talking about people running for president of the United States, their health issues need to be on the table.

Migraines can be debilitating. We want to know -- I think the more information we have about candidates' health, the better off we are. But it is a tricky subject.

KURTZ: The question is how debilitating. And on that point, and I'll let you respond to Ruth as well, you granted anonymity to your sources. These are former aides and advisers to Michele Bachmann. Why would they tell you this? Could they have an agenda? Why wouldn't they go on the record? And yet they were saying things that clearly had the effect of hurting her campaign?

STRONG: In an ideal world obviously you want to use named sources. In this case these people were terrified that Michele Bachmann, in running for president, either would, A, get -- allow Obama to skate away with re-election if this came up, or, B, if she actually did win president, be severely hurt by this condition.

KURTZ: OK. So you're saying that they were sincerely motivated, not that they had some personal animus against the congresswoman.

STRONG: That's what they told me, yes.

KURTZ: But that if she were to be the nominee and this came out, it would help Obama win re-election, and secondly, could she serve as president? But since they don't work for her anymore, why couldn't their names be used?

STRONG: Actually, one of the three sources is an adviser to Bachmann, present tense.

KURTZ: All right. So I can understand that. What about the other two, why would you grant anonymity?

STRONG: Because this was the only way to get out a story in our estimation that we thought was really important and we thought was true. And other news media outlets have corroborated all of the facts that we reported.

KURTZ: Except that the degree to which the migraines are debilitating is still very much at issue. Does the sourcing here bother you at all?

MARCUS: Well, I think there's two things that bother me, we all simultaneously would prefer to have all of our sources go on the record and we use their middle initials, and we all understand as journalists that that's not always possible.

I do think that when you're using anonymous sources and when the impact on the campaign is clearly going to be, let's call it, debilitating, you know, parsing their motives is a hard thing. The sources say that what they want is to save the country from a president who can't do the job. But is that really what's going on? Or are they just trying to torpedo her campaign?

KURTZ: Right. You wrote this week, I mentioned this at the top, about Bachmann talking about being submissive to -- wives being submissive to husbands. Is that a real journalistic issue? You kind of wrestled with it in your column.

MARCUS: You mean, was it legitimate for me to raise it? I think by definition I thought it was legitimate to raise it. I wrote an entire column about it.

KURTZ: But you seem conflicted about it.

MARCUS: I'm conflicted about it only in this sense. She said -- so just to set the stage for your viewers, she said in a church speech when she was running for the House in 2006 that the reason that she had become a tax lawyer was that her husband had instructed her to be a tax lawyer even though she had no interest in tax.

And she said -- and this was not -- she wasn't making a joke, she was being completely sincere. The reason that she listened to her husband was that the Bible instructs wives to be submissive to your husbands.

KURTZ: And on that point, because we're running out of time, is this a case of the media taking a biblical injunction too literally?

STRONG: I don't know.

KURTZ: You think it's fair game?

STRONG: I think that parsing her views on family and how she chose her career is fair game, yes, when she's running for president.

KURTZ: You also write, Ruth Marcus, "for female candidates, much more than men, appearance matters." I'm glad I didn't write that. Did you get any blowback on that?

MARCUS: Not a peep of blowback. And, look, everybody knows it. It's just there are some things, if you're a woman, it probably would have been easier for you to write that Bachmann story. And that was an easier sentence for me to write.

KURTZ: All right. That's a good note to end on. Ruth Marcus, Jonathan Strong, thanks for stopping by this morning.

Up next, Cenk Uygur is bounced from his MSNBC show after the network tells him to watch his tone. He'll talk about the bitter breakup in a moment.


KURTZ: He has been part of MSNBC's nightly lineup since the beginning of the year, trying out for a permanent slot. Cenk Uygur, known online as one of the "Young Turks," is a two-fisted liberal who isn't afraid to throw some punches.


CENK UYGUR, THEN-MSNBC HOST: When they tell you it's broke, they are lying, lying, lying. The problem is they've already spent that surplus on tax cuts for the rich. Those are the guys that are sucking off of you. So here is something else they should suck on, our rage.

The right answer was to fight. The right answer was to kick the Republican ass.


KURTZ: Uygur says his network bosses talked to him about his delivery and when he refused to change his style this week, they parted company, but not before he took a few shots at MSNBC.


UYGUR: I got pulled in and they told me, hey, listen, we were just -- or it was actually one specific person, the head of MSNBC. He said, I was just in Washington and people in Washington tell me that they're concerned about your tone.


KURTZ: And Cenk Uygur joins me now from Los Angeles. Welcome. You referred right there to Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC. What did you think he meant when he asked you to tone it down?

UYGUR: Well, we were having the conversation and he said, I talked to people in Washington and they were concerned about your tone. And in the beginning of the conversation I was thinking, that's kind of a weird way to put something, what does he mean? His friend Bob in Washington? Does he mean one of the reporters? What does he mean? But as the conversation unfolded it became...

KURTZ: Apparently he meant other MSNBC staffers.

UYGUR: That's what he claims. But I find that -- I'm incredulous about that, because the rest of the conversation was hey, look, Cenk, we'd love to be outsiders, outsiders are cool, but we're insiders, we're the establishment and you basically have to act like it.

Now if my bookers had problems with my waving my arms, that would be an incredibly weird way of putting that.

KURTZ: But you suggested, when this split came, that perhaps there was some White House pressure on MSNBC because you have taken on the president on various things. But you don't have any evidence of that, do you?

UYGUR: But I didn't say that. I said people in Washington had a concern with my tone, which is what Phil Griffin told me. I didn't say that he said that it was the White House. Now, you know, who is the people in Washington? I think that's a really great question, probably needs some more investigation.

You know, a friend of mine just suggested that I watch the "60 Minutes" piece from a couple of months ago on Al Sharpton. And I found that to be very curious because Leslie Stahl said there, and here I have the quote for you: "Sharpton says he has decided not to criticize the president about anything."

So the guy who was criticizing the president is out, even though he had really good ratings, and the guy who has decided not to criticize the president about anything is in. That's interesting.

KURTZ: MSNBC in talks with Al Sharpton to take over that 6:00 p.m. show, and that probably will happen. Let me read you the MSNBC statement, I know you've seen this. "Cenk's claims are completely baseless. In fact, we were working on a new contract to develop him into an even bigger television talent. We did have numerous conversations with Cenk about his style, not substance. It's unfortunate that he has decided to depart in such a negative fashion."

There was an offer on the table for you to remain a contributor and do a weekend show. You chose not to do that. What about this notion that, you know, you just decided to go negative and rip them?

UYGUR: All right. Well, look, here's the thing, they say it's baseless, except they don't specify what's baseless about it. They have already acknowledged that that conversation took place. They just say, oh, that insider/outsider conversation, we meant your producer said that, which, again, does not seem credible at all, right?

So they've actually acknowledged every single part of the story, so I don't know what they're saying is baseless.

And second of all, yes, there was a lot of money on the table. I'm not a rich guy. I have got a Pontiac Grand Am from 10 years ago, the air conditioning doesn't work. Look, I thought about the money a lot. But in the end, I told my agent, that's it, we're done, I don't want to take it, and the deciding factor was, look, I have got to tell this story.

Our media is obsessed with access. It's not just MSNBC, and it's not personal. Look, I think CNN does it. FOX News is a propaganda outfit entirely. And we're all worried, oh, my God, are the politicians going to come on?

Our job is supposed to challenge the politicians, challenge the government. That's what the press is supposed to do. And I don't think we're doing it.

KURTZ: Well, for my part, I see people and whom I agree with and disagree with on FOX, on MSNBC, on CNN challenging the government every night. So it does kind of come back to your tone. I've watched you. You're a passionate guy. You can be pretty strident at times.

Doesn't -- don't your employers, if you're going to work for an MSNBC, have every right to say your style needs some adjustment? Why does that tick you off so much?

UYGUR: No, no, no. Look, if it's just matter of style, I hear you. Like, for example, they say, you know, you should act like a senator on TV. I don't agree with that, but, hey, I work for them, so I tried to listen to that as much as I could. Right?

If I thought it was about style and, hey, don't wave your hands or this or that, you think I'm going to turn down all of that money that I really, really needed because I didn't agree with their stylistic points of view?

KURTZ: But just to be absolutely clear...

UYGUR: They give me a speech about being an insider. That's not about style. That's about substance.

KURTZ: But did anybody -- other than saying you should have more Republicans on as guests, did anybody say you should moderate in any way your political positions?

UYGUR: Well, that was the -- certainly the sense that I got from it. You know, they were concerned that we're too aggressive against Democrats. I was certainly the most aggressive against President Obama, no question about that. You can see that in all the tapes.

I think President Obama is not remotely progressive, and that's the message that, you know, I'm pretty sure that the White House does not like to hear as they're heading into an election.

And, look, Howard, if I thought it was about style, I'm not turning down the money. It was about substance. They say, be the establishment. I can't be the establishment. I have got to tell people the truth, which is that the Democrats and the Republicans are here to screw you.

Look, they're about to cut Social Security.

KURTZ: All right.

UYGUR: They're about to cut taxes on the rich. It's insanity. And who on the air is saying it?

KURTZ: I have got half a minute. After you...

UYGUR: And, you know, to your point about challenging, I don't see it.

KURTZ: I have got half a minute. After you were asked to tone it down, you, in fact, kicked it up and went back to your more expressive style. So you were kind of giving MSNBC a finger in the eye.

UYGUR: Look, when they tell me, hey, you've got to be an insider and watch your tone, I think, I'm not going to do that, and if you want to hire me, great. If you don't want to hire me, OK, well, this is what happens. There's no problem with that. But you made your choice.

I'm not -- MSNBC is making the choice...

KURTZ: All right.

UYGUR: ... that they're making. I'm making the -- I don't want to work for an organization that says, hey, take it easy on Washington.

KURTZ: You have made that clear.

UYGUR: That's the exact opposite of what we do on "The Young Turks."

KURTZ: Thanks very much. Maybe we'll have you back since you're now liberated.

And still to come on this program, Bryant Gumbel throws a penalty flag on the coverage of women's sports.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: When the U.S. women's soccer team made it to the World Cup finals against Japan, it was a pretty exciting moment. I know women, not big soccer fans, who were utterly transfixed.

Yes, the American team lost in a shoot-out but the women were celebrated by most of the media. Not on HBO's "Real Sports" where Bryant Gumbel gave them a good, swift kick.


BRYANT GUMBEL, HOST, "REAL SPORTS": Can we please stop coddling women in sports? Are we now so fearful of being labeled sexist that we can't objectively assess the efforts of female athletes?


KURTZ: Gumbel noted that the U.S. team blew two leads late in the game and made sloppy mistakes.


GUMBEL: Had a men's team turned in a similar performance, papers and pundits nationwide would have had a field day, assailing the players, criticizing the coach, and demanding widespread changes to a men's national team that flat-out choked.

Yet the common reactions to this ladies' loss were simply expressions of empathy for the defeat of the unfortunate darlings and pride in their oh so heroic effort.


KURTZ: Now that's outrageous. Bryant Gumbel is -- well, he has a point, doesn't he? They did blow the game. But here's what Gumbel is missing, sports isn't just about scoring points and playing defense. It's about heart and emotion and inspiring the fans.

The media don't pay all that much attention to women's sports, so it's nice to see the soccer team breakthrough, even if they did lose the big one.

Well, 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.