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Romney "Poor" Comments; Trump Endorses

Aired February 5, 2012 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: The media haven't exactly had a soft spot for Mitt Romney -- you know, stiff, awkward, weak frontrunner. But he seemed to come riding high after a huge victory in this week's Florida primary. That is until an interview with Soledad O'Brien.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it.


KURTZ: Are journalists again taking Romney out of context or just reporting the clumsy things he keeps saying?

And with Romney winning big in Nevada last night, are we writing off Newt Gingrich for the third time?

Major news outlets breathlessly report that Donald Trump is on the verge of a big endorsement.


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN: We don't expect him to say he is running for president, but "Politico" and others are saying that he's ready to back Newt Gingrich.


KURTZ: Hours later, the Donald backs Romney. How did the press get it so wrong?

Plus, Facebook files for a monster public offering. Is sharing information with your friends now more powerful than the mega corporations of the media?

I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.


KURTZ: By the time the votes were counted in Florida this week, the pundits have basically decided that Mitt Romney had all but wrapped up the Republican nomination, and that Newt Gingrich might keep the race interesting, or so they hope, but have no real chance to win.

Romney hit the television circuit for what was supposed to be a victory lap. And the man who once said I enjoy being able to fire people, did it again. Or did he?

Here is the exchange on CNN.


ROMNEY: By the way, I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it.

I'm not concerned about the very rich. They're doing just fine.

I'm concerned about the very heart of America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN: You just said, "I'm not concerned about the very poor because they have a safety net. I think there are a lot of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say that sounds odd.


KURTZ: That and not Romney's primary victory soon became the hot media story.


ALAN COLMES, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: You don't say that stuff unless you have a tin ear, politically because you've got to realize that that stuff is going to be used by your opponents. But it also signals that this is how Mitt Romney truly feels.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: He gets keep deeper and deeper into this pit of strange talk. He is talking about being president of all the people, and he is basically writing off people he doesn't think about, he doesn't care about.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Politically, he comes across as a detached doofus. And this comment today just feeds into a perception that is about him.


KURTZ: So, are journalists showing their bias against Romney, the rich guy? And what about that huge blunder with Donald Trump?

Joining us now here in Washington: Jonathan Martin, senior political reporter for "Politico"; Christina Bellantoni, political editor for PBS' "NewsHour"; and Michael Shear, political correspondent for the "New York Times".

Jonathan Martin, all this media hyper ventilation over a poor choice of words by Romney -- was it justified, or did it get at something deeper?

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO: Well, I think it's justified in the sense that it wasn't just this isolated gaffe. This is part, Howie, of a collection of misstatements he has made when it comes to issues relating to put his personal wealth, but also just sensitivity towards money in general. And so, I think in that sense it's fair game to talk about what he said.

In terms of this specific episode, we all know than he has used this sort of phraseology before. And so, I think in that sense it's a tad unfair to pile on.

But I do think you have to look at the sort of broader context, over the last three months, how many things like this he has said.

KURTZ: Well, if it's a tad unfair to pile on, Michael Shear, and he talked about the safety net. Why did many in the press play it as "I don't really care about the very poor"?

MICHAEL SHEAR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I didn't disagree with Jonathan's broader point about the broader context, but I think this was not the shining moment for the press here. I mean, I think, you know, there was way too much taking this -- taking the Democratic line on this that what he meant or what he said was that he didn't care about poor people. That's not what he said.

And none of us believe that, you know, that that's really what he said. We've all heard him say that before, and I think that, you know, you can sort of justify as the press -- well, I'm writing about it because it's the broader context.

KURTZ: Right.

SHEAR: But at the end of the day, it got -- it got -- it got reported broadly as he doesn't care about poor people. And I don't think that's fair.

KURTZ: Right.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, PBS: It's the snow ball effect, too, because it's really this tail wagging the dog. And if you near that and you are seeing that every single outlet is leading with this or making this the story, you have to make a decision about how do you cover it. And, you know, in some cases I think it can open up a bigger discussion about, well, is there a safety net for the poor?

KURTZ: Well, let me get to that. But let me just stay with this for one minute. Did this get so much attraction because the feed, a phrase you're using there, that Romney is rich, cold, and aloof on the problems of ordinary folks?

BELLANTONI: Sure. And reporters do that all the time. They try to look for confirming narratives, and that is something that --

KURTZ: Kind of troubling, isn't it? BELLANTONI: It's absolutely troubling. I think that it's a better conversation to talk about the policy proposals under it, but it is difficult when you've got the Democrats certainly exercising this and Romney himself having to address it.

KURTZ: And, of course, he first kind of defended what he said, and then 48 hours later said he misspoke. So, he dug himself a deeper hole as well.

MARTIN: He did. And his folks pushed back really hard, pointing out that he had used this phraseology before. But when the candidate himself says to Jon Ralston, I misspoke in a Nevada interview, obviously --

KURTZ: With the reporter in Nevada.

MARTIN: In Nevada with Jon Ralston, it makes us look justified for jumping on it in the first place.

But may I point, my editor John Harris had a smart piece this week about this faux indignation industry, Howie, that has been created here in the political media culture, and both sides do it now where they jump on something that the opposition says and pretend to be outraged and even offended by it.

But, you know what? They're not outraged or they're certainly not offended. They're gleeful because they've got an opportunity to score political points.

SHEAR: And I think, I think, look, you know, he had -- Romney had no choice by the end after the barrage that had happened for two days but to sort of do damage control. But I think we all could have made the choice that, you know, that John Harris suggested, which is not to -- not to buy into the whole thing and hold back.

KURTZ: Except that journalists that pick up on Jonathan's phrase have a weakness or might even say a strong reference for this faux indignation industry because it gives more inflammatory sound bytes that we can play on television, repeat on the front page.

BELLANTONI: And politicians play right into that, too. They all fundraise off of it on both sides, and context is not the business of politics. It should be our business.

KURTZ: In speaking of context, did we miss an opportunity, most outlets, not all, to do a deeper dive on this whole question of the poor and the safety net? And what would Romney do to that safety net and has he embraced certain proposals like that by Congressman Paul Ryan, that would perhaps further shred or stretch that safety net for poor folks?

BELLANTONI: Well, I will promote the "NewsHour" a little bit because we did have a discussion about poverty the very next night looking at this issue. But it's also an opportunity to look at how Americans see themselves. How many people want to be part of the middle class? They wouldn't want to say, well, I'm the very poor. And so, that's a bigger conversation.

And I would hope that in the next debate, this would maybe get a little bit more than just the back and forth.

KURTZ: You all seem complicated about this. On the one hand, you are saying this is the way the political media culture works. On the other hand, you seem a little embarrassed by it.

SHEAR: Look, I think that, you know, the too often the media gets into a defensive crouch over everything that we do, and, you know, in my opinion and I'm sure, you know, there are some of our colleagues who might disagree, but in my opinion -- this wasn't the best example of what we did.

KURTZ: You may want to get deeper into a defensive crouch because I'm going to move now to the Donald, and the big, big story about who he was going to endorse this week.

Let me start with this chronology. This is the story that moved on the "Associated Press" wire. Quote, "Real estate mogul and reality show star Donald Trump intends to endorse Newt Gingrich's GOP presidential bid, according to a source close to Gingrich's campaign. Trump is set to announce his support Thursday in Las Vegas."

Now, the "A.P." had plenty of company -- "The New York," "The Wall Street Journal," and "Politico" also cited unnamed sources in reporting that the Donald would throw his support to Newt. "The Washington Post" carried the "A.P.'s" story.

And CNN's Paul Steinhauser had this report.


PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: One of our affiliates out there says that Trump will be endorsing Newt Gingrich. We've reached out to the Trump camp. We've reached out to the Gingrich camp. Neither of them are denying this.


KURTZ: Then came the big day with Trump endorsing Mitt Romney.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I got to tell you, I was a little surprised that you endorsed Mitt Romney because over these past several months, not everything you always said about him was positive.

DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MOGUL: Well, first of all, it is political talk. And second of all, he has done a great job. And, you know, I have done a good job, and I've created a big company, and he's done a really good job and put a lot of people to work.


KURTZ: Why would "Politico," among others rely on self-serving sources about who Donald is going to endorse?

MARTIN: Look, well, I think, first, you have to credit Mark Preston here at CNN for getting it right in terms of him endorsing Romney the next day.

Look, I mean, I think, you know, the "New York Times", "Politico," "A.P." -- all of us, were doing what we do. We're trying to break news. And in these circumstances, when you talk to a campaign that is poised to get the endorsement, you are going on their word. And in this case, their word apparently wasn't that good.

But that's what we do sometimes. But it's unfortunate, but I think, Howie, if I could pivot, the broader story and honestly outraged about this as Michael is about the Romney gaffe, why are we enabling Donald Trump so much in the media? And especially I have to say -- especially on TV. We all do it in print certainly, but TV just cannot get enough of this guy.

KURTZ: Well, before we complete this pivot, I want to come back to the original sin here. And, by the way, "Politico" editor-in-chief John Harris said, "I think some sources thought they knew more than they really did," in terms what they were feeding you and other reporters.

So, isn't this a moment for "The New York Times" and others where -- the question really is twofold -- who cares who Donald Trump endorses? And if you're going to care, how about not just taking it from sources close to the Gingrich camp, which had an obvious interest in spinning this thing?

SHEAR: Maybe we should talk about Mitt Romney's poor comment.

MARTIN: It's worse for Newt now, right?

SHEAR: Right. I mean, look, I think, you know, this gets to the question of how many sources, how much sourcing should editors of all of our different organizations have taken a deep breath and questioned the reporters who were coming back and saying I have a source that says this or that. You know, clearly an embarrassment, I think, for those of us who went with it.

BELLANTONI: And don't forget that Herman Cain was going to endorse Newt Gingrich months before he actually did, and there's been a lot of sort of breathless be the first, be the ones to do this, and it happens all the time on Twitter. But when news outlets go with it, it is a problem.

SHEAR: And I'm with Jonathan on who cares what Donald Trump, you know --

MARTIN: It doesn't move one vote.

KURTZ: Well, actually, there's polling in the last couple of days indicating that it was a negative for Romney. The more people said that they would be less likely to support a candidate endorsed by Trump. But leaving that aside, Trump is a big name. He is a showman. He knows how to get press.

At the same time, the reason when you say who cares, we all enable Donald Trump because he is good for ratings, he is good for circulation. He is more interesting to write about than a thoughtful piece about the safety net for poor people.

BELLANTONI: And the American people do pay attention to this. He has a very popular television show.

KURTZ: You're defending him?

BELLANTONI: No, actually. I think it's a mistake. I think the press sort of gives the American people what they say they want to watch, and then we continue feeding that.

And the whole Trump thing from the very beginning, was he going to run for president, was it a big stunt, why are we polling him in presidential polls? This man was never going to be president, and it's just sort of nonsense that we all feed into it because people respond to it.

KURTZ: But coming back to the act of having that story, why take the risk of being wrong when we're all going to find out in a few hours anyway? Is it that we're all afraid that the other guy is going to get their 10 minutes earlier?

MARTIN: Yes, there is that competitive pressure now. There's no question about it.

We are beholden to our sources, though, and when multiple news outlets have solid sources saying that their campaign is going to get the endorsement -- well, typically the campaigns know if they're going to get an endorsement the next day from a public figure, and that's usually pretty solid.

KURTZ: So, didn't your colleagues feel burned by this transaction?

MARTIN: I think all of us felt burned -- absolutely. Look, I think the Gingrich campaign by putting out word that they're going to get an endorsement that they weren't going to get, not only hurt themselves because they looked bad in terms of they didn't get the endorsement, obviously, but also angering the reporters out there who put their neck on the line here.

KURTZ: I'm going to button up this segment with you, Jonathan Martin. You also had an interesting story this week about Mitt Romney's campaign, which kind of parted ways with the debate coach --

MARTIN: Yes, right.

KURTZ: -- Brett O'Donnell, who is credited for helping Romney and those two Florida debates. He did strongly there. Talk a little bit about the campaign's feelings with "The New York Times" over this question of who gets the credit for Romney's debate performance.

MARTIN: Sure. The story on "Politico" on Friday that I wrote was about how the Romney campaign inner circle thought that during the course of the Florida primary this new debate advisor Brett O'Donnell, who was brought on, was getting too much credit in news accounts about Romney's improved Florida debate performances. And so, he was kind of set as an example out there and pushed out.

Part of this story was that big "New York Times" story that Michael's colleagues wrote a week ago Sunday sort of tick tock about how Romney came back and destroyed Newt in Florida. One of the Romney advisors, Stewart Stevens, called Brett O'Donnell when the story was posted online on Saturday afternoon and had O'Donnell call Jim Rutenberg, one of the story's co-authors, to have his, O'Donnell's role, in the comeback, downplayed in the piece.

KURTZ: I thought that was a fascinating behind the scene peek. Usually people try to get more credit, and here's the campaign pressuring the former debate coach to call the "New York Times" and give him less credit.

I've got to take a break here. When we come back, Barack Obama hangs out at Google. Plus, taking video questions from ordinary folks. Is the White House making journalists obsolete?


KURTZ: He seemed to enjoy being interviewed this week, maybe that's because there were no journalists involved. Instead, the president was hanging out at Google Plus, one of the newest social networking Web sites, dealing with questions like this one.


JENNIFER WINDELL, GOOGLE PLUS HANGOUT PARTICIPANT: My question to you is why does the government continue to issue and extend H-1B visas when there are tons of Americans, just like my husband, with no job?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you send me your husband's resume, I'd be interested in finding out exactly what's happening right there.


KURTZ: Christina Bellantoni, to be clear, Google picked the questioners, not the White House. But the people at Google don't pretend to be journalists.

So, what's you feeling about the White House staging this high profile event, and no journalist involved whatsoever?

BELLANTONI: It's not really any different than having a town hall and preselecting people for questions.

The president likes environments like this. Now, I often think that real people and not journalists tend to ask better questions of politicians than we do because they're not thinking about process and thinking about their headline. But this is an area where the White House is far more comfortable being able to do that, and he is able to really showcase the real guy sort of kitchen table conversation.

KURTZ: I like the real people, too, but then one woman asked, well, I've been unemployed for five years, and what are you going to do for me? Well, there's nothing in there that's going to pin him down in any way.

Michael Shear, you have been a White House correspondent. Reporters who cover this guy for a living, they don't get as many opportunities to shout questions at him as under some previous presidents.

SHEAR: Yes. And I think, you know, I think all of us who cover presidents want more access, more opportunities to direct questions.

I will say that, you know, this is one of those examples, though, this Google Plus thing, where even without the -- those of us that do this for a living, he actually made news, right? I mean, his response to that woman's question indicated a sort of sense of surprise that her husband was not, you know -- was not able to get a job and then the Republican candidate Mitt Romney latched -- and then others latched on to it saying, how could he be surprised? That shows he is detached.

I mean, there are ways that news can develop even in these kinds of settings.

MARTIN: Yes. Now, but, look, this is only the latest iteration over the centuries for how presidents find ways to go around the press corps, and this is sort of the latest greatest because it seizes on new technology.

You know, President Bush tried to do with the regional TV interviews --

KURTZ: Yes. But at least there was some semblance of journalistic involvement in those?

MARTIN: Right. But going around White House press corps is what I mean.

KURTZ: Right. Absolutely. But --


SHEAR: Facebook chats and all of these things.

BELLANTONI: The president has made very clear he has no like or real wanting to talk to his press corps, and there are presidents that -- (CROSSTALK)

BELLANTONI: Exactly. Yet, he does want to have, you know, off the record discussions with journalists over lunch just sort of to talk out issues and schmooze, but also just to, like, talk about big thinking instead of actually answering our questions.

KURTZ: Does the average person care whether journalists are involved? I mean, when you look at those YouTube questioners, I mean, it looks like he is taking questions from Americans.

MARTIN: It's funny because the easy answer is no, they could care less. But I think they do want accountability in their leaders. And I think if you probe them, they would say yes. The vast folks that do accountability are journalists.

KURTZ: Well, there will be a journalist talking to the president of the United States today. It's Matt Lauer, because NBC has the Super Bowl this year, and there will be the pregame interview with Obama, which I guess is done every year that he has been in office.


KURTZ: Is this an important -- I mean, given the huge audience -- is this an important outlet for the president? Or is he really just kind of the warm-up act for Madonna here?

SHEAR: I mean, look, it's smart by the White House. He's done that on other sporting venues as well, because it's big audiences. It's sort of a more -- you know, sort of real America kind of audience as well than you might get in a more political show.

You know, I wouldn't expect much hard-hitting, you know, journalism.

KURTZ: Matt Lauer is a hard-hitting journalist.

SHEAR: No criticism of him, but it's not the setting.


MARTIN: I don't know if Matt Lauer if he's going to ask some very super tough questions.

KURTZ: When FOX had the Super Bowl last year, he sat (ph) with Bill O'Reilly.


MARTIN: Bill O'Reilly had some very tough questions for the president, and then quite a back and forth.

BELLANTONI: We have to remember that even in an interview -- I mean, this is a topnotch politician, just like anybody who gets in front of a camera. They're never going to make real news or get into some giant sparring match with whoever is interviewing them, and that just doesn't happen. Obama is going to answer questions, and it will be mildly interesting. Maybe.


MARTIN: -- on the game.

KURTZ: Can you say right now, the last question will be Giants or Patriots? I know he'll probably waffle.

MARTIN: And, by the way, this is good for the president because he actually is a real sports fan. He can actually -- he can talk X's and O's actually before the big game.

KURTZ: He did the basketball brackets on ESPN.

MARTIN: And really introduced (ph) him to sports fans out there.

KURTZ: Jonathan Martin, Christina Bellantoni, Michael Shear -- thanks for dropping by this morning.

MARTIN: Thanks, Howie.

KURTZ: Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, how a media uproar forced the Susan G. Komen Foundation to reinstate its support for Planned Parenthood? Did that amount to some kind of liberal crusade?

Newt Gingrich hits the Sunday shows to declare he's not getting out of the race. But will the media soon start ignoring him?

Plus, Facebook's massive public offering. Is Mark Zuckerberg's operation unstoppable as a new media juggernaut?


KURTZ: It took 72 hours for the Susan B. Komen foundation to apologize for its decision to stop giving money to Planned Parenthood. And that happened, no matter what you've heard elsewhere for one reason only -- media pressure.

The story exploded first on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and then made it to the front pages of the "Washington Post" and "New York Times" and the network newscast.


CLAIRE SHIPMAN, ABC NEWS: And a firestorm erupted when the Susan G. Komen Foundation, as you know, the nation's largest breast cancer charity, announce that it would stop giving funds to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings. And the controversy shows no sign of abating.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: It has blown wide open in the last 24 hours. While some have reacted positively to the Komen decision to cut off funds from Planned Parenthood, most of the vocal reaction has been negative.


KURTZ: Perhaps the most outspoken news anchor to take on the breast cancer group, NBC's Andrea Mitchell.


ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Let me just put out clear, first of all, that I have been very identified and an outspoken supporter and participant in the races over the years, long before I myself ended up being diagnosed with breast cancer. So I just want to put that out there. We've known each other a long time as well, both when you were a diplomat at the State Department.

But I come to you today, you know, expressing the anger of a lot of people channeling through them.


MITCHELL: You see it on Twitter. You see it everywhere.

BRINKER: All I can tell you is that we -- the responses we are getting are very, very favorable. People who have bothered to read the material, who have bothered to understand the issues.


KURTZ: Very favorable. But on Friday, the day after that interview, Komen founder Nancy Brinker announced the group was reversing its decision. But did the media take sides in this hot button dispute about abortion?

Joining us now Michelle Cottle, Washington correspondent for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast"; and Matt Lewis, senior contributor at "The Daily Caller."

Michelle Cottle, do journalists like Andrea Mitchell, we just saw there, essentially forced the Susan G. Komen Foundation into this apology?

MICHELLE COTTLE, NEWSWEEK: Yes, on some level. I mean, a lot of people were involved, but breast cancer is an extremely touchy issue. It's become a big political issue on its own. You know, everybody -- to show that they're pro-woman -- will come up with some full that they can put a pink ribbon on.

The idea that Komen could wade into this and make this announcement, I mean, and Planned Parenthood, you know, it's just absolutely going to become a really big deal. I don't know what they were thinking that they could kind of slide this under the radar.

KURTZ: Have the mainstream taken sides here?

MATT LEWIS, THE DAILY CALLER: I think so. I mean, I think that -- what's interesting, Andrea Mitchell, I thought was supposed to be a journalist, and there are -- I mean, some of us do engage in opinion and opinion writing, but clearly, that was taking a position.

KURTZ: She said she was expressing the anger of a lot of people, and she did sort of make a disclosure by saying that she herself had suffered from breast cancer.

But you're saying that she stepped out of her role too far in your view?

LEWIS: It struck me as chastising them for this decision. And by the way, no one mentions the fact that maybe they shouldn't have politicized their issue to begin with. I mean, there are a lot of conservatives -- you know, Gallup says about 50 percent of women are pro-life. I think there are a lot of people who supported Komen who didn't realize to begin with that they were giving money to the largest abortion provider in the nation. That was going political.

COTTLE: But when you are looking at this and as many women that I know have pointed out to me, you can talk about how money is fungible, but you can also look at this as that money wasn't going to abortions. It was going to screening.

And any time you talk about taking away access to mammography screening for women, you get into a heap of trouble. When the government tried to announce that scientists had suggested you shouldn't be doing it necessarily as frequently as we currently advise, people went crazy as though we were trying to attack women.

KURTZ: Well, first come back to Matt's point about Andrea Mitchell, because I think that interview was a turning point. Nancy Brinker didn't have many good answers to the questions here, and they kept shifting their explanations about why they cut off this money. That didn't help either.

But is it permissible for news anchor to step out of the role of objective interviewer and say, hey, this is what I think?

COTTLE: This is -- would you rather her have kept it a secret that she personally has been involved in this group? Everybody has an opinion. This wasn't a political issue for Andrea. This was a personal issue. You can't confuse the two.

LEWIS: But I think that -- no, but I think that speaks to the problem. This goes back to the whole Pauline Kael "I never knew anybody who voted for Richard Nixon" thing.

Ross Douthat in the "New York Times" has a great piece today pointing out this is very illustrative of liberal bias, the most insidious type, which is a world view.

She doesn't think it's a political issue to say that this group -- that Komen should be giving money to Planned Parenthood. That's the problem that she doesn't think it's political. It's inherently political.

COTTLE: Just because you object to some of the things Planned Parenthood does doesn't mean that some of the other things that Planned Parenthood --

LEWIS: That's like saying my wife only cheats on me three percent of the time. I mean, this is a deal breaking --

COTTLE: That's not remotely like saying that, and Andrea's point was that she has a personal position on the issue of breast cancer.

LEWIS: People who are pro-life -- and by the way, Gallup says half the women, at least in 2009, are pro-life. People who are pro- life believe abortion is murder. That is a deal breaker.

COTTLE: We are not talking about them funding abortion. And I understand the money --

LEWIS: We know money is fungible.

COTTLE: We know the money is fungible, but --

LEWIS: We should all be supporting Komen. It should be a bipartisan issue. We should all be one in breast cancer, but they have now made it a divisive hot button political issue.

COTTLE: Which was stupid on their part, I absolutely agree.

KURTZ: OK. I think we have a consensus on that point. Let me come back to the coverage because there is a sense -- I have read this elsewhere and I have heard this elsewhere, that if you give money to Planned Parenthood, that's not a political act.

But if you take money away from Planned Parenthood, that is a political act. And wasn't that reflected in the coverage regardless of your own news about pro-life versus pro-choice where the media coverage here kind of minimizes the voices of those who work (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

COTTLE: Who said that giving money to Planned Parenthood -- I mean, I understand what we're talking about here.


KURTZ: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) it's a political decision, but it's not.

COTTLE: Yes. Either way, it's a political decision, so Komen was just beyond stupid to make this an issue. I mean, I've had women suggest to me if they had a problem with Planned Parenthood, they should have quietly started withdrawing the money.

Nobody would have ever -- as you say, nobody knew they gave them all this money. I mean, it -- they didn't have to make this big announcement that they were pulling this money.

KURTZ: But was there a collective undertone in the media coverage that this was some kind of outrage that had the affect of taking sides?

LEWIS: I think absolutely. Again, and I like how you make a very good point under tow. I mean, there are a couple of examples that Ross Douthat points out in the "New York Times."

Claire Shipman saying the ubiquitous pink ribbon is sporting a black eye today and you played the Andrea Mitchell quote. But largely, it wasn't anything that I could point to of somebody said this.

It was the overall tone of the assumption that good people are pro-choice and that good people and smart people think --

COTTLE: No, that's absolute malarkey. What the assumption is and you can agree with it or not is that any time you are limiting access to mammography in any way -- and we saw this with the Obama administration not that long ago.

It doesn't matter if scientists recommend fewer mammograms. It doesn't matter if mammograms, you know, are not recommended. You know, in any way you touch these, people go crazy, and that's what happens.

KURTZ: It is fair, it seems to me, to point out that the Komen Foundation got a black eye over this despite its ubiquitous pink ribbons, and then it handled it clumsily.

And look, the Komen Foundation apologized. Apparently, it did something wrong in its handling of this. But it does also seem to me that there was this undertone.

LEWIS: Yes. And here's the message to learn. By the way, this sends a good -- well, not a good signal, but a signal that if you try to take money from Planned -- if you were a nonprofit, and your core mission is as curing or ending breast cancer, there is a signal now that says, "If you take money away from Planned Parenthood, we will come after you. We will make a big issue out of it." It's a chilling effect.

KURTZ: Did the media lead the charge here by making it such a big story, or were the media actually kind of catching up with a lot of outrage that was expressed in plays like Twitter and Facebook?

COTTLE: I got E-mails from friends. I got phone calls from friends. Everybody was fired up about this. In this case, I think social media led a charge here.

And I understand kind of like the question of was the media big (UNINTELLIGIBLE) politicizing it or kind of ideologically politicizing it.

But I still maintain that just any time you are talking about a subject this personal, of course, they're going to go crazy.

KURTZ: And I see that reflected in the --

LEWIS: Well, let me make one last point, Howie.

KURTZ: Briefly. LEWIS: I think the larger point is the disconnect between media elites, people who live in New York and Washington, and the rest of America, and this was indicative of that divide.

KURTZ: Well, it's a divisive issue as you say. We've seen that reflected here in the passion this morning. After the break, Newt Gingrich held a news conference last night, late last night, to proclaim he is not getting out after losing the Nevada caucuses. I thought he didn't like that media elite.


KURTZ: Newt Gingrich finishing a distant second in yesterday's Nevada caucuses. He held a half-hour news conference late last night.

And this morning, he ran into somewhat skeptical questioning on "Meet the Press" and "Face the Nation."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the path for you to win this nomination and what's the rationale?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, what do you see now, Mr. Speaker, as your path to the nomination? How do you do it now if you are, indeed, going stay in?


KURTZ: Matt Lewis, if Gingrich doesn't like the media elite, why does he keep talking on this media elite shows?

LEWIS: It is a love-hate relationship, of course. And look, Gingrich has a real problem right now, which is February is going to be brutal for him. Now, the good news is --

KURTZ: So therefore he needs --

LEWIS: He needs media. Romney won't be getting a lot of delegates, but he will be getting a lot of buzz from winning. Newt needs to make a splash and keep his name out there.

KURTZ: Last night, the first question was, "We haven't seen much of you in Nevada," and Newt Gingrich said, "Did you miss me?" So does he secretly like the press corps?

COTTLE: Newt Gingrich likes attention, whatever gets him attention. And let's remember the reason he has a campaign is because he did well in these debates that were sponsored and broadcast by the media elite.

KURTZ: And taking on the moderators like John King --

COTTLE: Exactly.

KURTZ: Chris Wallace and others. COTTLE: Whipping the media as, you know, the favorite boogeyman is the way he gets his biggest cheers. He is a complete hypocrite on this question.

KURTZ: Hypocrite in the sense that --

COTTLE: You know, to complain about it and talks about how he is going to run a different --

LEWIS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) he likes to complain about it, and that's interesting.


LEWIS: He doesn't really hate the media.


LEWIS: He likes it. This is fun and it shows. And I think it helps him.

KURTZ: It's actually a secret romance.


KURTZ: I want to touch on the role of the conservative media, which as you know, really turned on Gingrich after South Carolina. It looked like he got the nomination.

Here's Rush Limbaugh the day before Tuesday's Florida primary. Couldn't seem to make up his mind.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: And that's why I'm not going to tell anybody for whom I voted. It would destroy my objectivity as a journalist. I'm not going to tell you.

It isn't going to happen, because when this is all over, I am not going to be in a position where my credibility is such that I can't support whoever the nominee is.


KURTZ: Your side, the conservative media side, can't seem to muster much enthusiasm for Mitt or Newt?

LEWIS: They're all flawed, and so there are legitimate reasons why they're splintering. Each one of them has problems, but I think also, at this point, if Rush Limbaugh, who is incredibly powerful, but if he were to give, say, Gingrich a full-throated endorsement and Gingrich didn't win, Rush now looks weak. And the media, of course, would exploit that.

KURTZ: Rush says he doesn't want to compromise his credibility depending on who emerges as the nominee. COTTLE: I'm just stunned at the words "as a journalist" came out of that man's mouth. He spends all his time telling us how he is an entertainer. But now, he is a journalist with objectivity and credibility.

KURTZ: I have never seen Michelle Cottle look so stunned. Matt Lewis and Michelle Cottle, thank you very much for joining us.

After the break, Facebook plunges into the stock market. That means its market value could be 100 times greater than that of the "New York Times" company. Are friends becoming the new journalists?


KURTZ: Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook wasn't created to be a company, but was built to accomplish a social mission. That's what he told investors this week as it became clear that the eight-year-old venture is very much a company.


SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS: Facebook is looking for a few good friends -- friends with money.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Good evening. The brainstorm that was hatched in a dorm room at Harvard eight years ago, the idea that changed what it means to be a friend, is tonight poised to go public in a very big way.


KURTZ: The stock offering could value the social network as much as $100 billion. But here's the question, my friends. How much of Facebook's success is built on a new media model where people trust news and information from their pals more than from professional journalists?

Joining us now from New York, Felix Salmon, business blogger for Reuters. And here in Washington, Mark Potts, former technology reporter for the "Washington Post," now an Internet media consultant who teaches journalism at the University of Maryland.

And Felix Salmon, how much is the information sharing on Facebook becoming in some ways more influential than the old line media organizations?

FELIX SALMON, BUSINESS BLOGGER, REUTERS: Oh, it's already there. And you can see that in the capitalizations. You can see that in the traffic. You can see that in the hundreds of millions of users that Facebook has.

And this is how people get their news. This is where people go to get their news. I mean, historically, we would always turn to our friends to tell us what was going on.

But it was limited by the fact that we didn't actually run into too many of them on a daily basis. Now, we have hundreds of our friends at our fingertips at all times, and that's how we choose to filter the world. It's very effective.

KURTZ: Using the term "friends" loosely when you have hundreds of thousands of friends. Mark Potts, if this stock offering coughs up $5 billion for Facebook, could it become an even greater force in the media world.

MARK POTTS, TEACHES MEDIA ENTREPRENEURSHIP AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Absolutely. And I think if you look at how many times in your show already you've cited Facebook, it's clearly a force. And this just gives it more money to build more things and create more media-like features.

KURTZ: Are you comfortable with people getting -- is it kind of limiting, perhaps isolating, perhaps self-reinforcing to get information from your friends? Are you uncomfortable at all that journalists seem to be cut out of this transaction?

POTTS: Well, I don't think journalists are cut. I think in some cases friends are retransmitting things that are seen in standard journalism.

KURTZ: So it becomes kind of a megaphone for the dinosaur media.

POTTS: Yes. I was afraid you would say echo chamber. But I think, yes, it's a megaphone. It's another way of getting dinosaur media's point across.

KURTZ: Felix, you look at the numbers here and they're pretty staggering -- 845 million users, 270 billion comments and likes where you say you like a particular article or comment each day.

Is this really the new model? And how come, you know, CNN or the "New York Times" or the "Washington Post" or "Time" magazine didn't dream this up?

SALMON: Because they own content, because they were built to own the content and to have tight copyright restrictions over it and to be very jealous about it.

And what Facebook said was, "We don't really care who owns the content. We're just going to let anyone share whatever they like, and we're not going to own it. We're just going to sell ads against what people choose to share."

And that turns out that very kind of light-fingered, loose approach to news and to content turns on the to be a lot more effective than, "This is mine and you have to come visit my site to read what's mine. And if it's not mine, I'm not interested in giving it to you."

KURTZ: So it's very democratic in the sense that it puts the choices in the hands of the friends or the users. At the same time, it can mean that a lot of silly stuff becomes the most popular viral -- SALMON: I don't know about you, but I definitely noticed Facebook -- my Facebook world getting a little bit sillier of late. It's turning into more of a buzz feed or something.

And I worry about that. I think that it's a way of driving page views, but losing certain amount of salience and reputation. I normally trust what my friends share, but Facebook -- my friends now share so much, and everybody's friends share so much that Facebook now has very sophisticated algorithms to show you, like, the good stuff or the important stuff or the stuff that you are just going to click on and the link bait.

And I worry that Facebook right now is moving too far in that sort of sensationalist direction.

KURTZ: Do you want to share your views on this?

POTTS: Well, you know, you I, I think we have 79 friends in common between us. You know, I go another way, which is the brilliance of Facebook compared to the traditional media is that Facebook's content is created by its members.

They're not paying for a lot of content. They're getting it all from people. Your friends are creating the content that you're reading.

KURTZ: I should point out that Facebook is trying to work with journalists. You can now subscribe to journalist pages or news organization pages.

"Washington Post," for instance, created a thing social reader where you follow online what your friends are reading in "The Post" and elsewhere. 6.5 million people signed up. So maybe it also can be a good tool for the old line hacks.

POTTS: Absolutely, I think -- I heard the number is up to eight million in "The Post." They figured out how to monetize it. It's great to have all that traffic. How do you sell ads on it? That's the next question.

But absolutely, it shows there is an attraction of those brands that people like the names that they recognize and they have some credibility with and trust with. And they want to attach themselves to it.

KURTZ: And Felix, what about the rather glowing coverage of Facebook's IPO? The company almost seems to be covered in a rather romantic way by those of us in the press.

SALMON: It's weird, isn't it? When Facebook was this private company, we were all worried that it was evil and it was invading our privacy. And now, you get to say "world's youngest multibillionaire."

Then, suddenly, the world is like, "Ooh, isn't this exciting," and it's all very gushing. And I feel it's sort of standard honeymoon thing. It's probably not going to last very long. Remember that Facebook is a media company. It makes substantially all of its money from selling ads just like all other media companies and it's a competitor. So the coverage isn't going to stay glowing for that long.

POTTS: And let's face it. It's a great story. Kid starts in his dorm room. Eight years later, he's worth $28 billion. Hard to get --

KURTZ: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with that although, you know, a traditional company I think would get more stories like the one in Bloomberg about how the seven members of the board of directors, all men.

Finally, the whole basis for this $75 billion to $100 billion valuation is the people who sign up for free, provide the content sharing, share with their friends. Marks, so if they all decide to go to some other hot site, where does that leave Zuckerberg? What's he got left?

POTTS: Well, this is the risk. We've seen social networks before Facebook flame out. They're kind of like popular bars that lose their attraction. We saw Friendster and Tribe and Orkut before this.

KURTZ: MySpace.

POTTS: MySpace. But Facebook has 845 million users which makes it the size of, you know, all but a few countries. I'd argue it has staying power, but who knows? In five years, something better may come along.

KURTZ: And then the people who hold that stock may have second thoughts about their decision to buy. But it's fascinating. It's a story we're going to continue to cover. Thank you, my friends, Felix Salmon and Mark Potts. Appreciate you joining us.

KURTZ: Still to come, the public radio show falls for an elaborate hoax. How television networks play with the ratings. And what does it feel like to be smacked down by the Muppets? "The Media Monitor" is straight ahead.


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

"Marketplace" is a very smart public radio show that just did a very dumb thing. As part of a series of first-person profiles, it ran a commentary by a man named Leo Webb that turned out to be, well, factually challenged.


LEO WEBB, COMMENTATOR: I was a sniper in the Middle East. I didn't want to do that, but the army finds your talent and that's what I did. I got 17 confirmed kills. I didn't see their faces. I only saw them through the scope and blew their brains out.


KURTZ: As you just heard, Webb claimed to be an army sniper in Iraq, but the army has no record of his having served. He said he once pitched for Chicago Cubs' minor league team. Again, no record of that.

Didn't "Marketplace" do the most rudimentary checking of this bogus report? American Public Media, which produces "Marketplace," and KQED, the San Francisco station that provided the report, have now retracted it and taken the audio down.

First-person journalism can be great, but you can't just take it on faith.

Last week, I challenged the "New York Times" running a story saying that former Yale quarterback Patrick Witt turned down a Rhodes scholarship interview because of an informal sexual assault complaint that never led to any charges.

This morning, "Times" public editor, Art Brisbane writes that reporting a claim of sexual assault based on anonymous sourcing without Mr. Witt's and the woman's side of it was unfair to Mr. Witt. When something as serious as a person's reputation is as stake, it's not enough to rely on anonymous sourcing saying effectively 'trust us.'" He's right.

Now, networks live and die by ratings as you know. And sometimes it turns out they play games with those ratings. Bill Carter has a fascinating report of the "New York Times" and pulls back the curtain on some of its chicanery.

"Good Morning America," for instance, didn't want to be hurt by the traditionally low audience numbers in the last week of 2011. So ABC classified four shows as special programming, "Good Morning Amer(ph)" so they wouldn't count in the Nielsen's.

When Brian Williams moderated a Republican presidential debate, NBC listed the event as an episode of his new magazine show, "Rock Center," so the big audience doubled his usual rating.

There seems to be an everyone-does-it attitude about these gimmicks, but they're a little too slippery for my taste.

Finally, you may have heard about the latest vicious attack on Fox News from a rather unexpected source. It all began when Fox host Eric Bolling took exception to a certain kids' movie.


ERIC BOLLING, HOST, "FOLLOW THE MONEY": "The Muppets" are back and being terrorized by an evil oil executive in their new movie. Is liberal Hollywood using class warfare to kind of brainwash our kids?

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Well, no self-respecting Muppet was going to take that lying down. Let's go to the press conference.


KERMIT T. FROG: If we have a problem with oil companies, why would we have spent the entire film driving around a gas-guzzling Rolls Royce?

MISS PIGGY: It's almost as laughable as accusing Fox News of, you know, being news.


KURTZ: And the reaction at Fox? Unusually restrained.

BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": Well, we still like "The Muppets," but they'd better watch it.


KURTZ: I can see where it's hard to be called out by Miss Piggy, but not much point in picking a fight with such lovable characters, even if they have a hidden liberal agenda. It's "The Muppets," people.

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.