Return to Transcripts main page

CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Cain Quits with Blast at Media; Conservative Pundits Boost Newt; Scandal at Syracuse

Aired December 4, 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: In the end, it took just five days for Herman Cain to leave the race. Five days after the candidate denied an extramarital affair on CNN -- a surreal moment shortly before an Atlanta station aired Ginger White's account of a 13-year relationship -- Cain dropped his presidential bid yesterday with several swipes at the media.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The pundits would like for me to shut up, drop out, and go away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But is Cain just blaming the press for his own mistakes?

New Hampshire's biggest paper backs Newt Gingrich and conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin says the track record of the right-leaning media in this campaign has been embarrassingly bad. Really?

Plus, ESPN and a Syracuse newspaper sit in on an incriminating tape for a decade until the university fired Syracuse's basketball Bernie Fine over accusations that he was molesting boys. On that tape, Fine's wife consoles an alleged victim.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LAURIE FINE: You know, he needs -- that male companionship that I can't give him. Nor is he interested in me, and vice-versa.

BOBBY DAVIS: He wanted to do me. He wanted to me to touch him, too.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KURTZ: Did the news outlets make the right call? We'll have an exclusive interview with ESPN's top news executive.

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

(MUSIC)

KURTZ: It was only last Monday when Wolf Blitzer was interviewing Herman Cain on "THE SITUATION ROOM," and CNN producers saw on Twitter that the FOX affiliate in Atlanta was about to broadcast an interview with a woman who claimed to be the candidate's mistress. Blitzer asked Cain during the commercial whether he'd be willing to address Ginger White's explosive allegations, and he did, even though her account had not yet aired.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You say friend, was it -- I mean, I'm asking -- these are awkward questions, but I'll ask you the questions you're going to be asked. Was this an affair?

CAIN: No, it was not.

BLITZER: There was no sex?

CAIN: No.

BLITZER: None?

CAIN: No.

BLITZER: And if this woman says there is, she's lying? Is that what you're --

CAIN: Well, Wolf, let's see what the story's going to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Next up, Atlanta station WAGA broadcast the sit down with Ginger White.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGER WHITE, CLAIMS AFFAIR WITH HERMAN CAIN: It wasn't complicated. And I was aware that he was married, and I was also aware that I was involved in a very inappropriate situation, relationship.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And yesterday, Cain kept scolding the news business as he pulled the plug on his improbable candidacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAIN: These thoughts and unproved allegations continue to be spinned in the media and then the court of public opinion so as to create a cloud of doubt over me and this campaign. The pundits would like for me to shut up, drop out, and go away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the coverage of this blowup in a rocky presidential campaign: Jennifer Rubin, author of "The Right Turn" Blog at "The Washington Post"; Bill Press, syndicated radio talk show host; and Steve Roberts, syndicated columnist and professor of media and public affairs at the George Washington University.

And, Steve Roberts, did the pundits try to shut him up? Did the media want Cain out this race?

STEVE ROBERTS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: No. I think the -- the focus on his private life was totally justifiable. I was not a big fan of the original "Politico" story which I felt had holes in it and didn't have on the record sources. But --

KURTZ: It led to --

ROBERTS: But led to other women coming forward. It led to Ginger White.

And the fact is this is -- what we're in now, Howie, is the media primary. This before any vote is cast in Iowa or New Hampshire. The press has not only the right, the obligation, the responsibility to vet these people, see how they stand up under fire, and in fact, part of what did Cain in was not just the allegations, it's how he handled them and his total inability to react under pressure.

KURTZ: On that point, Jennifer Rubin, if anything, I thought the media were cautious on most of these sexual allegations. And for many weeks, he seemed to be skating. In other words, he stayed up in the polls even though there was a drumbeat if this in the press.

JENNIFER RUBIN, WASHINGTON POST: I think that's right. And I think, in this regard, the conservative media was even worse. They were more accepting I think of his ridiculous excuses.

KURTZ: Why was that?

RUBIN: I think they did a circle around the wagons routine, which I didn't find appropriate. And I didn't do.

But I think there was a sense that somehow this was some, you know, liberal media scam that had been cooked up. And so they felt some obligation in their contrarian way to stick up for him.

After a while, it became impossible to sustain that narrative as more and more women came forward.

KURTZ: Interesting that the liberal conspiracists managed to find five different women --

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIN: Yes, exactly. Very sneaky there.

KURTZ: But, it was this week, Bill Press, that Herman Cain's attorney, Lin Wood, said that this, this latest case, Ginger White, 13-year extramarital affair she says, an accusation of private alleged consensual conduct, not a proper subject, he says, of inquiry by the media. In a presidential campaign?

BILL PRESS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, first of all, I warned you all against accepting a talk show host as a presidential candidate. You see what happens here?

But, look, sure, it's an appropriate subject in a presidential candidate. They didn't have that hesitancy when we were talking about consensual sex with Bill Clinton, for example.

But I got a different take on this, which is -- I don't think Herman Cain should be complaining about the media. I think he should be thanking the media. I mean, they took him -- we all took him seriously as a presidential candidate for a lot longer, I believe, than he deserved to.

I mean, 9-9-9 didn't add up to 1-2-3. But we all said, oh, he's got a great economic plan. It wasn't a great economic plan. It was a scam.

RUBIN: That wasn't -- I think actually what began to erode his support even on the conservative side was his absolute ignorance. And we saw this in a whole series of guests, primarily on for foreign policy. But he really couldn't even answer questions about his own economic plan.

ROBERTS: In fact, the single most important moment between Cain and the media had nothing to do with sex at all.

KURTZ: Libya.

ROBERTS: It had to do with the "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" asking him a totally legitimate question which he could not answer. That was the moment when his candidacy dissolved.

KURTZ: The other day, Cain, whose candidacy does seem to consist largely of giving TV interviews and going on a book tour, he wasn't exactly spending a lot of time in Iowa, went on Neil Cavuto's talk show and he talked good -- you know, keeps using the phrase "character assassination." People are out to get him. Sometimes, he includes the media in that.

Ginger White, "I have no idea, unless the people who I believe are putting her up to this."

Now, maybe we believe Ginger White, maybe we don't. But after all, he did later, Cain later did acknowledge that he paid her money and didn't tell his wife. So, where is the conspiracy?

ROBERTS: Yes. There's been this whole pattern of a lot of conservatives have attacked the media for their problems. And Gingrich does it, everybody does it.

But one of the reasons why I think this is so important and so justifiable -- we don't know many of the issues any president is going to face. In 2000, George Bush got exactly one question on the Taliban in the entire campaign. And yet his presidency was consumed by it --

KURTZ: How they react under pressure --

ROBERTS: How they react under pressure. What judgment they've shown in the past. And this is absolutely central to understanding --

KURTZ: Let -- I want to turn the cameras around to the accuser because when any woman steps forward and said, I was sexually harassed, I had an affair, he grabbed me in the car, of course, the media scrutiny turns on them.

Here's Ginger White speaking with George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: He calls you a troubled Atlanta businesswoman and says your story is completely false. Your response?

WHITE: It's very disappointing that he would -- that he would call me troubled. And, you know, it's unfortunate. I'm not here to say anything negative about Mr. Cain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So, when Cain makes charges like that, of course, the media pick up on them. Fair or unfair?

RUBIN: Well, I think they cover both sides. They cover his response, they cover her. And I think --

KURTZ: But is it relevant that she had a history of financial problems and evictions and things like that -- when she is saying, look, I had this long affair, and she had the text messages at 4:00 in the morning and all the phone calls and all that?

RUBIN: Well, Cain is going to bring up this, whoever is accused, will bring this up as a motive, that these people are gold diggers. That they're looking for a book deal.

So, he's going to say it. The media is going to cover it.

But then I think it does actually come out in the wash. I think the public evaluates the credibility, the number of these people. One or two, you might be able to understand. But, you know, after a while, we lost track.

And I think they can make an evaluation about credibility and the way he reacts. We saw in that segment with Wolf, how uncomfortable he was, how nervous he was, and how really -- un-credible he was in his initial response.

PRESS: This is to say, Howie, I understand why any woman would hesitate or think twice about coming forward --

KURTZ: That was the point I was trying to get to.

PRESS: -- with any of these accusations because they know they're going to be vilified. He called all five of them lawyers -- liars --

RUBIN: Lawyers and liars, close, yes.

PRESS: Liars. What a slip. And troubled women.

And then the media went out after -- boy, if they ever had any financial difficulty in their life and who hasn't, and so they become, you know, the target unfairly I believe. I understand why --

KURTZ: And, by the way, the reason that Ginger White came forward, I don't believe she's looking for a book deal, is she said the reporters started calling her. In other words, she was going to be outed. She went ahead --

ROBERTS: Someone had. But, look --

KURTZ: Yes?

ROBERTS: Even as strongly as I feel, it is totally legitimate and even necessary that the press scrutinize the private lives, they have to be fair. They -- and that's why I was a little uneasy with the original "Politico" story. I think that you have to play -- the press has to play by rules of accountability and verification and not just print rumor. You've got to do it right.

KURTZ: Well, here's an issue that came up this week before the Cain campaign imploded, and I save this one for you, Steve. And that is we learned that John Coale, Washington lawyer, has been an informal adviser to Herman Cain's campaign, particularly after the allegations surfaced.

He happens to be married to Greta van Susteren, FOX News anchor. She has interviewed Herman Cain 10 times and once, of course, sat down once with Cain's wife Gloria.

Let's take a brief look at her most recent interview with Herman Cain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: Well, I grilled her, too, on the recent stuff that's come out. She believes you, she's behind you.

CAIN: Yes, yes. One -- 200 percent.

SUSTEREN: Two hundred percent?

CAIN: Two hundred percent -- absolutely, no doubt in my mind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: That was Greta with both of them.

Now, Greta van Susteren disclosed her husband's role on her blog but not her show, not on her FOX News show which has nearly 2 million viewers.

Is that a problem in your mind? ROBERTS: Yes, absolutely. It's an ethical mistake. She should err on the side of transparency.

Look at George Will's column this morning writing about Rick Perry. And he says, as he always does in every one of his times of mentioning Rick Perry, his wife is an adviser to Rick Perry. That's the way you operate ethically, is more transparency, the better.

KURTZ: Of course, his wife is a full-time paid staffer. So, there's that distinction.

But let me turn to Jennifer, here's what Greta wrote on her blog, "These are simply his friends," referring to her husband John Coale. "Many in the media have spouses, unlike my husband, who actually work for politicians or in government."

So, is this a legitimate issue or not?

RUBIN: Well, I think it is a legitimate issue. And disclosure is the key here. It's very hard not to run into ourselves coming and going in Washington, George Will and the rest. Everybody is a journalist or media person or a consultant or a lawyer. So, I think these conflicts happen. And you should be credible --

KURTZ: Some have normal jobs.

(LAUGHTER)

RUBIN: Very few, yes. Right. I'm married to an accountant, but most people aren't.

So I think this comes up a lot. And I think they should err on the side of disclosure, and I also think there are times when you don't want a reporter, you don't want someone writing or covering about a person who is intimately involved with that individual.

PRESS: Full disclosure, Greta's a friend of mine, OK? But still, she should have -- she should have revealed this on her TV show.

And here's a problem, I think. She's got a great show, she get great ratings. She could have gotten Herman Cain. She didn't know John Coale's help to get Herman Cain. But by not disclosing it, she gives the impression that the only way she got the interview, which was because John's a friend of Herman's, that's not the way it works.

KURTZ: Well, I wasn't suggesting that. I spoke to John Coale this week. And I asked him why Greta had not disclosed this on the FOX program, and he said because she's used to me being friends with all of these people, it probably didn't occur to her. He has friends on both side of the aisle. He's an informal adviser to Sarah Palin. But he also knows the Clintons and the other Democrats.

Before I go on this segment, I want to give a special -- I want to shine the spotlight of RELIABLE SOURCES on WGCL. This is an Atlanta CBS affiliate, which did the following with the Herman Cain tape, played a lie detector test. Take a brief look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PALUSKA, REPORTER: We sat down with investigator T.J. Ward and played two speeches, one made by Herman Cain yesterday --

CAIN: Ain't going to happen --

PALUSKA: The other by Sharon Bialek from Monday --

SHARON BIALEK: I was very, very surprised and shocked --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: A lie detector test and you don't have the person in the chair with the thing strapped around -- give me a break. And I'm going to get a break.

When we come back, Jennifer Rubin says the conservative media are being downright daft when it comes to Newt. Does she have a point?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: "Manchester Union Leader" endorsing Newt Gingrich this week, that's a very big deal in New Hampshire -- and prompting you Jennifer Rubin to write on your "Washington Post" blog, "The track record of the right-leaning media, including talk shows and blogs, embarrassingly bad this election cycle, and it amounts to circling the wagons rather than reporting accurately the serious missteps of people atop the polls."

Why would that be?

RUBIN: Well, I think part of the conservative media operates in opposition to what they see as the liberal media. That is their cause. That's the way they gather an audience. That's entertainment for many of their viewers.

And I think sometimes that overrides their other function or their other role, which is news coverage, news analysts, and the rest. So, I think we've had a lot of sort of defensive media from the right. I actually feel that's changing however somewhat over, you know, the last few weeks -- and the last few days, rather. And I think you see a more critical vein now that he is rising in the polls, now that there is a lot of questions about his past, now his past representation of Freddie Mac, now that his position's on global warming, on the individual mandate are coming out, you're seeing a much more critical voice beginning to emerge --

KURTZ: Among some.

And you did say in your original piece that there were some exceptions.

RUBIN: Yes. KURTZ: But, Bill Press, this indictment suggests, my reading of it, that the conservative media, parts of the conservative media, are essentially corrupt. In other words, they are more interested in protecting or promoting certain Republican politicians than they are in being candid.

PRESS: I wouldn't use the word corrupt, but I do think they have an agenda. They have a mission.

You know, I mean, so Mitt Romney today got the endorsement of the Sioux City paper, whatever it is. That's significant in Iowa. He got the endorsement of the Dover, New Hampshire, paper. I was surprised at how all the media, mainstream media even played "The Manchester Union" as such a big deal for Newt when, in fact, they've only been right twice since 1972.

RUBIN: I have a theory about that. It was on a Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. There was nothing else to write about. It was a dearth of news that weekend.

PRESS: Well, Jennifer is right. When you look at Newt -- I mean, let's face, it he's got more baggage than a FedEx cargo jet. You know, ethically challenged, morally challenged, all the flip -- he's got more flip-flops than Mitt Romney --

KURTZ: OK. You can defend him and say he's grown, he's moved on, whatever. But not to grapple with that stuff -- but I want to ask you, is it any different than what a lot of people would call the liberal media being in the tank for Barack Obama? We don't see that much criticism on the MSNBC talk shows about Obama except perhaps from the left.

ROBERTS: That's a fair point except I think that the coverage from the left on Obama's changed, too. I think that was a much fairer point during the campaign --

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: -- where he got far more favorable coverage.

But if you look at the recent Pew study about all the candidates and the positive versus negative coverage, the person in public life who got by far the most negative coverage in the study was Barack Obama, because the Republicans are attacking him and he's got a lot of bad news to defend.

KURTZ: One more point. You also said that you believe that the -- to the extent that some in the conservative media are protecting whether it's Cain or Newt, is driven by a general antipathy toward Mitt Romney. Now, you're kind of around -- you've interviewed him, you don't like Newt. You certainly don't like Rick Perry.

So, are you filtering this conclusion to your own political opinions?

RUBIN: I try to being balance. I have attacked him on his individual mandate. I have attacked him during the budget standoff during the summer for taking sorts of a timid view of things. So I think I try to dish it out to most candidates. I think most campaigns would agree that I've said nasty things about all of them.

But I also think it's a question of some balance. There are other candidates in the race, for example, who have been entirely ignored by the conservative media, even though they espouse consistent conservative views that you think they would enjoy. And so I have gone -- Rick Santorum, and to a certain extent Michele Bachmann. So, I have -- and I will admit to this, I have gone out of my way in some instances to provide coverage where I think it's been lacking on the right.

KURTZ: Well, you set me up for the next segment because when we return up next, Mitt Romney gets rather testy in an interview with FOX News. Was Bret Baier really badgering him?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Mitt Romney doesn't do many interviews. In fact, he's on the cover of "TIME" this week, "Why Don't They Like Me?" The cover story by Joe Klein -- didn't give an interview, no cooperation to "TIME" magazine.

But he did sit down this week with FOX News Channel's Bret Baier -- and thing got a little bit heated. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: How can voters trust what they hear from you today is what you will believe if you win the White House?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Bret, your list is just not accurate.

BAIER: Do you think a mandate mandating people to buy insurance is the right tool?

ROMNEY: Bret, I don't know how many hundreds of times I've said this, too, this is an unusual interview. All right, let's do it again.

BAIER: As we were walking in the walk and talk and then after we finished, he went to his holding room. And then came back and said he didn't like the interview and thought it was uncalled for.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: Bill Press, was Bret Baier overly aggressive in asking "uncalled for" questions?

PRESS: I love that. This is an unusual interview for FOX is really what Mitt Romney was saying.

No, Bret Baier was not over the line. I thought it was excellent journalism. He asked good questions. He was very persistent but low key. He wasn't offensive at all.

And the one that Mitt Romney really got hung up on was a question about, OK, you said one time that 11 million Americans who are here illegally, members of the communities, whatever, should all go back to Mexico. Now are you -- you stick with that or not? That's a yes or no answer.

KURTZ: But what do you make --

PRESS: Not a gotcha.

KURTZ: -- of Bret Baier going on O'Reilly and making public Romney's private comments of dissatisfaction with the interview?

ROBERTS: That probably was not a good idea because Bret Baier I admire, I thought he did a very good job. The fact is that FOX before 7:00 is a first rate news organization. And if you want to maintain your credibility, you shouldn't blur the lines by going on O'Reilly, you know?

But all he did was throw Romney's own words back at him. Reminds me of one of my favorite political stories, used to be told about Barry Goldwater rally, old "New York Times" reporter used to tell the story.

Woman comes running out of the rally, tears streaming down her face, saying, "Stop them! Stop those reporters! They're writing down every word he's saying." Throw his words back at him --

KURTZ: Mitt Romney and his wife Ann appearing on the cover of "Parade" magazine today, which is kind of a soft focus interview. You've talked to Romney. But he hasn't been on a Sunday show in a year and a half.

Why isn't the press calling him out on his lack of accessibility?

RUBIN: Well, they have to some degree. I think it's a more interesting question, why he hasn't done it? Now, I think if he did it more, he probably would have a smoother time of it, he would get used to it. He's been good in the debates. He can state his views with clarity and with fluency.

So, I think it's been a mistake, as it was for many candidates we saw in 2008 to shield them accessibly from the media. And I think it's better to get them out, get them to be accessible and get them to defend themselves. When he speaks for himself, he can articulate his views and he has given speeches explaining some of these inconsistencies.

PRESS: And, Robert Draper's piece in "The New York Times" cover this story, magazine, points out that Mitt Romney of all the candidates, he's the one who's got experience, he's got the money, he's got discipline, he's got a message, which is the issues, the economy, and on the business --

KURTZ: But he makes mistakes. PRESS: But he makes mistakes.

ROBERTS: So he makes mistakes? He'll sit down with reporter and make mistakes, he's human.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree. But --

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: But the clip of him saying the economy should hit bottom, foreclosures should hit bottom, which is being thrown back at him in Democratic ads, that's the kind of mistake that --

KURTZ: In our final seconds, a "Newsmax"-sponsored debate, the conservative magazine, to be moderated by Donald Trump two days after Christmas, Newt is already in. What do we think of the Donald coming back on to the scene?

RUBIN: I'll say something I would never otherwise say, and that is Ron Paul is absolutely right. He's not going. He it says debases the presidential primary. I think anyone who shows up should be automatically disqualified.

KURTZ: Yes. Bill Press will cover it.

PRESS: Theater of the absurd is all I've got to say.

ROBERTS: Trivialization to the max. He was never serious candidate for president. He's not a serious person as a moderator of a debate.

KURTZ: But I bet it gets a lot of coverage Christmas week.

Steve Roberts, Bill Press, and Jennifer Rubin -- thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES: ESPN's top news executive in an exclusive interview on why it took his network eight years to air an incriminating tape about the former Syracuse University coach accused of molesting young boys?

And later, which is worse, what Ann Coulter said to get bleeped on MSNBC, or what a Chicago anchor dare said about Santa Claus?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Here's the dilemma. It's 2002, and your news organization is approached by a man named Bobby Davis, who says he was sexually abused for years by Syracuse University's assistant basketball coach, Bernie Fine.

He's secretly -- he provides a secretly recorded tape of a conversation with Fine's wife, Laurie. That's the situation faced by the Syracuse "Post-Standard" and later by ESPN when they heard the 47- minute tape.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LAURIE FINE, WIFE OF BERNIE FINE: Bernie is also in denial. I think that he did the things he did, but he's somehow, through his own mental telepathy, has erased them out of his mind.

BOBBY DAVIS: Do you think that I'm the only one that he's ever done that to?

FINE: No. I think that there might have been others, but it was geared to (ph) -- there's something about you. That's just wrong -- and you were a kid. You're a man now, but you were a kid then. You know, he needs this male companionship that I can't give him. Nor is he interested in me and vice versa.

DAVIS: He wanted to do me. He (inaudible).

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KURTZ: I should note that Laurie Fine confirmed eight years ago that portions of the tape were accurate, but was quoted as saying Bobby Davis had created a phony tape overall. Now ESPN reporter Mark Schwartz taped an interview in 2003 with Bobby Davis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVIS: We'd always sleep in the same bed and he'd always, you know, grab me every night, you know, during the night and like talk to me before we'd go to bed. And just, you know, just be, you know, fondling me and touching me.

MARK SCHWARTZ, REPORTER, ESPN: ESPN did not report the story back in 2003, because we could not find any corroboration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Fine's lawyers have declined to comment, saying that, quote, "would only invite and perpetuate ancient and suspect claims." Both the Syracuse "Post-Standard" and ESPN concluded they didn't have enough evidence to go with the story about Bernie Fine, who was fired this week by Syracuse University.

So did ESPN do the right thing? I spoke earlier with Vince Doria, ESPN's vice president and director of news from the network studios in Bristol, Connecticut.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Vince Doria, welcome.

VINCE DORIA, VICE PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR OF NEWS, ESPN: How are you, Howard?

KURTZ: Very well. Let's go back to 2003. ESPN had the account of the accuser, Bobby Davis. You had the surreptitiously recorded tape of Davis, talking to Coach Bernie Fine's wife, a tape that you described as damning. In retrospect, was ESPN too cautious in not reporting these allegations?

DORIA: I don't believe we were, Howard. What we had at the time was one source, Bobby Davis. He had told us a story, a story about a well-respected coach there, had been at Syracuse for many years, no track record of this kind of conduct.

Bobby put us onto three other sources that he thought would either corroborate his story or tell us stories of their own, about being abused by Bernie Fine. Of those three, either they wouldn't talk to us or they denied the story. He also gave us a tape that we were not involved in producing. He had taped (inaudible).

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: So you're saying had doubts about the -- doubts about the reliability of the tape with Laurie Fine?

DORIA: I didn't have doubts particularly about the reliability, but again, we weren't there when it was taped. So we were taking the word of Bobby Davis here, who had just come to us.

KURTZ: So what changed?

DORIA: (Inaudible)...

KURTZ: And now we're here -- now we're here, eight years later, you -- ESPN goes with the story. What changed to make your organization comfortable with putting that on the air?

DORIA: Well, what changed is we got a second source, Mike Lange. OK? Mike Lange, who's a stepbrother of Bobby Davis', had also been abused, or alleged to have been abused by Bernie Fine. He was one of the three people that Bobby Davis had told us about in 2003, but he would not talk to us in 2003.

So now we had two separate sources, telling separate stories about their own experiences with Bernie Fine. And we had the tape.

And I should say the tape, while it is damning in terms of the -- what she says about her husband, what she doesn't say in that tape, she offers no firsthand evidence of his actions in terms of abusing children, and she offers no characterization that her husband ever told her that.

So there are disparaging comments in there, there's speculation by her. She talks about her beliefs, she talks about what she thinks. But she never offers any firsthand evidence...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: And is that -- and is that the reason, Vince Doria, that ESPN delayed in actually airing that audiotape after breaking the story until after the local paper, the Syracuse "Post-Standard" advanced the story with some reporting?

DORIA: We were preparing to air that tape. We probably would have aired it on Monday. We ultimately got it out on Sunday. We were in the process of, as I think you've probably seen, having it looked at by a voice recognition expert who confirmed in comparing it with another tape that it was, in fact, Laurie Fine's voice.

We were editing the piece, selecting what we were going to use. It would have aired on Monday. When they broke the story of Zach Tomaselli and his role, perhaps, in generating the search warrant that caused the federal agents to search Bernie Fine's house, we wanted to get the tape out and we aired it that Sunday.

KURTZ: Let me just explain to viewers that Zach Tomaselli is another accuser, who has come forward with allegations of abuse against former coach, Bernie Fine. And your reporter, Mark Schwartz, talked to him and then apparently put him in touch with the original accuser, Bobby Davis. Why did he do that?

DORIA: Yes, he did that. And the reason he did it is he wanted to get Bobby Davis' tape on Tomaselli to see if his description of his relationship with Bernie Fine offered more credibility. In truth, that's not how we typically operate. Putting two sources in touch with each other is something that we would not normally do, and probably would not have done in this case, if had we thought about it.

KURTZ: So you have doubts about -- you, in retrospect, you wish that that had not happened?

DORIA: Correct.

KURTZ: All right. Now some of the criticism has come from the other direction, some people saying, why would ESPN go with the story now? For example, columnist Jason Whitlock, I'm sure you saw, said it was morally criminal what ESPN did to Bernie Fine, based on what he, at least, considers to be flimsy evidence. Your response?

DORIA: We believe we had enough evidence to report it. We were not satisfied with the evidence we had in 2003. We were satisfied with the addition of a second source, with what we had in 2011.

KURTZ: A lot of people, as you know...

DORIA: Can't say it any more directly than that.

KURTZ: OK. A lot of people wondering, fairly or unfairly, why ESPN didn't notify the police in Syracuse, New York, back in 2003, since you were sitting on this audiotape, even if it wasn't totally verified. Is that something that journalists should do?

DORIA: I understand the argument, and it -- it is a reasonable one, coming from people who are not approaching this from a journalistic stance. And I will say, you know, greatly concerned with potential victims there obviously.

However, as a journalist, you know, we operate by certain standards and principles. And in this case, those principles dictate that we're not an evidence-gathering arm for law enforcement here. We look at our material, we gather information, we assess it, we vet it, we determine whether or not we feel we're able to report it. In this case, we felt we were not able to report it. That being the case, was not our job to deliver it to law enforcement.

KURTZ: All right. And finally, you know, college sports obviously is big business. ESPN in effect has a business relationship with Syracuse University through your nearly $2 billion contract with the Big East. I don't know if that was a factor or not. But looking back, has it kept you up at night at all that for eight years, Bernie Fine allegedly, these charge have not been proven, allegedly was able to continue with the conduct that ESPN was tipped off to eight years ago?

DORIA: Well, as noted, we obviously are sympathetic to potential victims there. And certainly that gave us pause over the years. I wish that had not been the case.

However, given what our charge is, giving the journalistic standards that we exist by and that influenced our decisions, I believe we did the right thing here. I would do it again.

KURTZ: All right. Vince Doria, thanks very much for joining us from Bristol, Connecticut.

DORIA: Thanks, Howard.

KURTZ: We'll talk more about this story after the break. And also, Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State coach accused of sexual abuse, gives an unusual interview to The New York Times. Did the newspaper succeed in holding him accountable?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: We'll yet get back to the Syracuse scandal in just a moment, but it was the Penn State tragedy that was making news yesterday. The New York Times ran an extraordinary interview with Jerry Sandusky, the former football coach charged with sexually abusing eight boys, in which he said the fact that he liked to shower with boys, wrestle with boys and sleep in the same bed with boys was, quote, "being twisted."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JERRY SANDUSKY, FRM. ASSISTANT FOOTBALL COACH: If I say, no, I'm not attracted to boys, that's not the truth because I'm attracted to young people, boys, girls...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, but not sexually. You're attracted because..

SANDUSKY: Right, I enjoy -- that's what I was trying to say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now here in Washington, Mike Wise, sports columnist for the Washington Post and a host at WJFK Radio, and in Las Vegas, Jason Whitlock, columnist for Foxsports.com.

Jason Whitlock that Times interview, did the paper -- was the paper appropriately skeptical about what was an obvious plea for sympathy by Jerry Sandusky?

JASON WHITLOCK, FOXSPORTS.COM: Jerry Sandusky is a very troubled person. And so it's hard for me to criticize The New York Times at all for, you know, giving the guy a platform. I -- I think they're just -- if the guy is going consent to interviews, I think The New York Times wants to put his story out there so we can better understand a person who is very deeply troubled.

KURTZ: And Mike Wise, the Times certainly asked the right questions. I was really struck by some of the answers.

MIKE WISE, WASHINGTON POST: Yeah, the reporter, former colleague of mine, Joe Backer, did a good job. And it was four hours over two days, it wasn't a 20-minute hit and run. Nonetheless, yeah, there's part of me that, like the Vince Doria interview, feels like I'd like to see passion, and if you're completely innocent, like to see a little more emotion. That's just me.

KURTZ: And speaking of ESPN's Vince Doria, you watched my interview with him about the Syracuse University allegations.

Jason Whitlock, you say even now ESPN should not have gone with the story. This is not another Penn State. And as I mentioned to Doria, you say that what the network did to Syracuse -- former Syracuse coach Bernie Fine was morally criminal. Why?

WHITLOCK: Well, Howard, I think there's two different aspects. The way they presented the story originally was morally criminal. I think it did a disservice to the alleged victims. I think it did a disservice to Bernie Fine. I think it did a disservice to Jim Boeheim. The story was told so sketchily and in such a juvenile fashion.

They didn't air the audiotape with the original story. If you aired that story originally in context, then perhaps Jim Boeheim doesn't have such a strong reaction in defense of Bernie Fine. Then perhaps people aren't questioning the credibility of the accusers. If you air it properly the first time and don't wait 10 days to air the audiotape, people digest the story differently.

KURTZ: Right.

WHITLOCK: And people don't feel like Bernie Fine has been wronged here because the original report raised a lot of questions about the accusers and made you wonder, well, hold on, they must have more than just these brief snippets of comments from Lange and Davis.

KURTZ: All right. Let me jump in, Jim Boeheim, of course the Syracuse basketball coach who defended his assistant coach, Bernie Fine.

But on the other hand likewise, ESPN had two alleged victims making on-the-record accusations and Bernie Fine refusing to comment. Why wouldn't that be enough to go with?

WISE: It's enough to go with. But again, it's the context in which you present it. And having not known the background of this and seeing -- the first part that comes into my mind is, did you just throw this story out there because the Penn State scandal has made it OK for you to -- to throw out there.

KURTZ: In other words, the climate has changed...

WISE: The climate has changed, right.

KURTZ: ...suspicious of college sports...

WISE: Paradigm shift. We're now covering child sexual abuse in sports rather than Big 10 championship games. And so that part of it made me wonder if this just became a hot story.

KURTZ: And to your point, with the atmosphere very different eight years ago when ESPN had this videotape -- had this audiotape, excuse me, should the network at that point have gone with the story? Vince Doria says we didn't have corroboration.

WISE: Look, it bothers me that a multinational conglomerate news organization abdicates what I call important responsibility and puts that behind professional responsibility.

And I think that the idea -- journalism ethics, the idea that anybody wants to hide behind that right now is really bothersome on many levels. I don't care who it is. If it's the "Syracuse Post Standard," if it's the smallest newspaper in America, if one kid -- we say allegedly, but if one kid was abused, after that audiotape came out and you had ahold of it for eight years, that's on your conscience.

KURTZ: Jason Whitlock, you brought say -- you also made -- brought up Penn State. You said that ESPN's embarrassingly slow reaction to the Penn State scandal has made it want to own the Syracuse story. But that's an assumption on your part, isn't it?

WHITLOCK: It's certainly an assumption on my part. But listen, the people running ESPN are human beings. They react to criticism poorly like most human beings. They were criticized for their coverage of the Penn State deal, and they did want to own the Syracuse story.

And now they really do because their actions in 2003 are now being questioned. ESPN is a major part of this story. Mark Schwarz, his handling of the third accuser, and giving him to Bobby Davis, he's now a part of the story.

The journalists at ESPN, the editors at ESPN, if this ever goes to court, they'll be on the witness stand more than likely. That's the last place a journalist wants to be.

KURTZ: On that point, you interviewed Zach Tomaselli, who was another accuser in the Syracuse case, who also says -- alleges that he was abused by Bernie Fine. What did you make of ESPN putting him in touch with the original accuser, Bobby Davis? You heard Vince Doria say that he wished that hadn't happened.

WHITLOCK: Completely inappropriate. He has put the police, the district attorney, the potential prosecutors in a very tough spot. It could be argued, if they got search warrants based off of Tomaselli, and Tomaselli was put in contact with Bobby Davis and a defense lawyer argues that Davis gave him information to tell the police, those search warrants might be thrown out.

ESPN's improper handling of this, in 2003, turn your information over to the police and wait for them to investigate and then break your story. This needed to be handed over to professional investigators, not ESPN trying to control and manipulate potential witnesses and potential accusers. They've created a gigantic mess.

KURTZ: Turn the information over to the police. Turns out the police did know about this eight years ago, but is it the job of journalists to go running to the cops if they can't prove something?

: I think everybody and -- look, for one, Mark Schwarz, ESPN, anybody at The Syracuse Post-Standard that worked on this story, you get some kind of credit for making sure that this gets out there at some point. But to wait that long, I have a real problem with it.

And if we're going to hide behind journalism ethics, where are we as a society? If that's what's more important, this is not...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Hold on. You're saying protect the kids.

WISE: Yes. I'm saying this isn't a Watergate situation, this isn't bringing a president down. This is possibly a child sexually abused. If you could prevent one more from being sexually abused, and we always say allegedly, then you need to take that precaution.

And if any news organization doubts that, you need to go work for another news organization.

KURTZ: Another conversation. Last comment, Jason Whitlock. Got about half a minute.

WHITLOCK: Well, just on that final point, if they had information that they believed a terrorist was going to bomb some location but they couldn't prove it and it couldn't go to publication, I guarantee you they would call the police. So, this journalism ethics deal is just garbage.

WISE: And corroborating that, really.

WHITLOCK: The right thing to do -- the right thing to do was to go to

KURTZ: Was to go to the police. You say ESPN says, no, tough situation, ESPN being criticized from both sides. We have got to go. Jason Whitlock, thanks for stopping by this morning.

Still to come, Ann Coulter gets bleeped, "Morning Joe" accused of sexism? And a Chicago anchor says the unthinkable about Santa Claus. The "Media Monitor" straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Time now for our "Media Monitor," a weekly look at hits and errors in the news business. I was watching conservative bomb- thrower Ann Coulter on "Morning Joe" the other day and was just starting to think she was sounding rather reasonable when she brought up Mitt Romney's 1994 race against a man she despises, Ted Kennedy. And a moment later, as she railed against other politicians, MSNBC hit the delay button and cut her sound.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN COULTER, AUTHOR: I mean, if you're flipping from positions you held when you came within five points of taking out that human pestilence, we have Romney and Gingrich...

(AUDIO GAP)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Coulter later told HLN's Joy Behar that she had uttered an insult based on the slang for male genitals. Stay classy, Ann. I'm all for robust debate but using the kind of language we did hear about a senator who is no longer with us seems pretty "blanking" excessive.

Speaking of "Morning Joe," the reviews of its new promo were awful, sexist, obnoxious, and worse. It portrays co-host Mika Brzezinski as the uber-organized housewife relentlessly racing to the show in a skimpy running outfit while Joe Scarborough, Willie Geist, and the boys club stagger in after a night of drinking, smoking, and partying.

(VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: My professional reaction? Seriously? It's a parody. They make fun of themselves. They all played along. Some of these critics are in dire need of a humor transplant.

But this wasn't very funny. It was a routine Christmas segment on Santas at the mall, but Robin Robinson, an anchor at the FOX station Chicago, chose to play the Grinch. Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBIN ROBINSON, FOX CHICAGO NEWS: Stop trying to convince your kids that Santa is Santa. My take is, forget about it. That's why they have these high expectations. They know you can't afford it. So what are they going to do, ask some man in a red suit? There's no Santa.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: No Santa? Says who? Well, the next night Robinson had to admit that kids might have been watching.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBINSON: It was careless and callous to say what I said in what could have been mixed company. I would never spoil it intentionally, so I sincerely apologize.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Don't mess with Santa Claus, at least in front of a television camera.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us 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.