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Santorum Rips Media for Bad Faith; Syria's Dangerous Battlefield; Palin Posse Pans "Game Change"

Aired February 26, 2012 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: The presidential campaign has been filled with stories about birth control and theology and prenatal testing -- a campaign unlike any in my lifetime. Is that the media's fault?


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: It's part of the predictable attempt to impugn Santorum as an absolute religious nut and wacko.


KURTZ: Rick Santorum blamed reporters after this week's CNN debate in Arizona.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But I do get these questions, as John King tried to do, on contraception, and other things that are, you know, sort of outrageous types of questions. And then the next question from the reporter is, why are you talking so much about social issues?


KURTZ: Isn't it fair for journalists to ask the senator about his own words?

The situation in Syria turns deadly for more correspondents trying to cover the violent uprising there.


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We got some breaking news into CNN just minutes ago. Word that the two Western journalists, including an American, have been killed in Syria.


KURTZ: Will the dangers there choke off the flow of news from Syria?

Plus, the sniping has already started over the movie "Game Change" even before it airs on HBO.


JULIANNE MOORE, ACTRESS (as Sarah Palin): You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My God. What have we done?

MOORE: It wasn't my fault. I wasn't properly prepped.


KURTZ: Are Sarah Palin's people justified in going ballistic?

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


KURTZ: The campaign debate over Rick Santorum and the extent to which he should or should not be talking about religion and social issues has quickly morphed into a debate about the media's role in reporting on these hot button controversies and pundits on the left and the right wasted no time choosing sides.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: If Rick Santorum does secure the Republican nomination -- believe me -- he will be portrayed as a puritan witch hunter, as a fanatical religious guy, as a member of the inquisition. That's how the liberal media will tag Santorum.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: People say the media keeps shifting the attention away from the economy to these crazy cultural questions that we thought were long ago put to bed. There he is, Rick Santorum, you could argue he is the frontrunner in the country right now for the nomination of the Republican Party, pushing these issues sharp as nails. He wants a fight.


KURTZ: Santorum did pick a fight with the press over the focus on social issues, in a FOX interview with Sean Hannity.


SANTORUM: It's perfectly clear. This is -- let's be honest. This is standard fair. And for them to continually distort, this is the kind of -- this is the kind of stuff that I think is actually one of the reasons we're doing well in the polls because people see it for what it is.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Let me ask you this.

SANTORUM: They see the national media trying to destroy conservatives.


KURTZ: Trying to destroy conservatives?

Joining us now to talk about this latest chapter of the presidential campaign: here in Washington, David Brody, chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network; Margaret Carlson, columnist for 'Bloomberg News" and Washington editor of "The Week"; and in New York, S.E. Cupp, writes an online column for the "New York Daily News".

David Brody, are the media being unfair to Rick Santorum in reporting to what he says and what he has said on these religious and social issues?

DAVID BRODY, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: Here's -- the honest answer, Howie, is yes and no. Let's face it.

KURTZ: Make a stand.

BRODY: Well, OK. Look, Rick Santorum spoke a long time for many years about these social issues, and so they have a right -- they being the media -- have a right to bring it all back up if he is running for president of the United States. I don't think there is -- there is a but to that, and that is that in the heartland of this country, when, for example, that whole big Satan story we heard about, Rick Santorum's remarks on Satan.

In the heartland of the country, what's the big deal? People know about good and evil and all of that. But within that media culture, that New York/Washington corridor, they don't get it, and, therefore, it seems a little bit out of balance the way Santorum sees it.

KURTZ: Majority of journalists, you are saying.

S.E. Cupp, we just heard Santorum say on FOX News that the media wants to destroy conservatives. Do you think mainstream journalists get up every morning thinking about that?

S.E. CUPP, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Well, I don't think it's that deliberate, but I think there is a culture that David was talking about. You know, religion seems to be the last frontier in political journalism. This unchartered territory.

Folks on the left and the right in the media still don't know how to talk about religion and meaningful and efficient ways. So, you get a lot of sort of weird discussions about religion and cultural and social issues on the campaign trail.

But I got to say -- I've been with Rick Santorum at various campaign stops. I know him well. From the beginning of the campaign, he didn't start talking about contraception. He started off talking about manufacturing and jobs, and the social issues kind of came to him. That doesn't mean he hasn't courted it or exploited it, but he really is a chicken or the egg. He didn't -- I don't think he started this fight.

KURTZ: Well, at the same time, Margaret Carlson, Santorum does spend -- he doesn't duck these questions. He seems to enjoy talking about his faith and things like that, and then he pivots and blames the press for bringing it up.

What S.E. Cupp says that it's awkward for mainstream journalists to talk about religion and religious issues. Do you buy that?

MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG NEWS: I think somewhat awkward. These are delicate, tender issues for many people. So, it's hard to do it in the way we cover, you know, Romney's speech on the economy. It just touches each of us, and everybody thinks they know. We are all experts on these subjects in a sense.

But Santorum, contrary to what he says, if he gets a question, he so relishes talking about gay marriage in so much detail. When the bishops and the Catholic Church and contraception came up, he dove in. He went very deep. He couldn't let it go.

KURTZ: And, obviously, there are some political benefits to the former senator and in the Republican primary by taking those positions.

This came up on "Meet the Press" this morning where Santorum repeated the answer we heard him give Hannity earlier about -- well, you guys asked me, you guys in the press that is, asked me about social issues and you asked me why I'm talking about social issues.

Here's how moderator David Gregory responded to that argument.


DAVID GREGORY, NBC: Senator, wait a minute, you talk about this stuff every week. And, by the way, it's not just in this campaign.

SANTORUM: No, I talk about -- I talk --

GREGORY: Sir, in this campaign you talk about it, and I have gone back years where you have been in public life, and you have made this a centerpiece of your public life. So, the notion that these are not deeply held views worthy of question and scrutiny, it's not just about the press.


KURTZ: Your take?

BRODY: Well, I mean -- yes, I got to tell you, there is some legitimate truth to that because, let's face it, what you were saying, Margaret, before about Rick Santorum is that he cannot answer these questions in 15 to 20 seconds. And the problem is that when Santorum goes over the 45 second threshold, if you will, he is in trouble.

And the reason he is in trouble is because he waxes poetic about everything. And sometimes, you need to be able to pivot, and he's not able to pivot well enough. And honestly, it's a figment of his authenticity. KURTZ: But is it also true -- to come back to the media -- that journalists play up issues like contraception and abortion because you are saying maybe we're a little out of sync with the rest of the country, but also -- I mean, these are divisive hot button issues, which means they make good copy.

BRODY: That's what it is, Howie. It's pure and simple. That the social issues are being brought up because they play above the fold in "The New York Times" and other place.

KURTZ: Let me come back to the CNN debate on Tuesday night in Mesa, Arizona. Moderator John King asked the question, got the answer. Let's remind viewers of that exchange.

We don't have it. OK.

Well, as you will recall, this was more than an hour into the debate, and, S.E. Cupp, John King said, you know, contraception has been in the news, and he asked the question, and Santorum made the distinction between his personal views being opposed to birth control and saying he wouldn't do anything as president or as a lawmaker to impose on everyone else.

And then later, he took a shot at King. Was it not fair for John King about something that had been in the news?

CUPP: It was fair. And I agree to some extent that Rick Santorum really does enjoy talking about these issues. They are his wheelhouse issues.

But again, to remind viewers and voters out there, you know, the HHS mandate is what started this conversation. Rick Santorum did not start this conversation. And then you have the media latch on to the story and lawmakers latch on to the story from both sides, and all of the candidates at some point had to weigh in on this.

And so, then it would come up in the debate and it was completely apropos to the timing of the news cycle, and Rick Santorum, I thought, answered it fine.

KURTZ: So if it's completely appropriate for King to ask, but nevertheless, Santorum scores points by saying you people in the -- you know, liberal media are trying to drag me into this thicket. But, of course, but he seems to enjoy being there.

CARLSON: Well, this is always, you know, what somebody does when they want it both ways, is to blame the media for bringing it up. And David makes a good point.

You know, you do get on the front page if the issues contraception and you don't always get there if it's, you know, the banking crisis.

However, the media needs the predicate. It's not as if we raise it. And Rick Santorum is a zealot. That is his main problem.

KURTZ: In your view?

CARLSON: In my view he --

KURTZ: I think I disagree with that.

CARLSON: -- he can't help himself from going on and on, and deeper and deeper, and at the end contraception is evil. So, he goes there. We don't.

BRODY: I think -- you know, it depends how you define zealot. I don't know I mean, zealot has somewhat of a negative connotation, I would think.


TUCKER: He doesn't debate it. He just --

KURTZ: What's that, S.E. Cupp?

CUPP: It does not -- it does not depend on how you define zealot. Rick Santorum is not a zealot. He happens to be a Christian and a conservative. That's it, end of story.

There is no zealot about him.


KURTZ: Let me jump in here because I want to bring up something that involves you, David Brody. And that is, speaking of bashing the media, Newt Gingrich at the same CNN debate said, in contrast to the issues that the Republicans are being asked about, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.

So, let me play a clip about you asking Obama about that in 2008.


BRODY: We're trying to understand it because there was some literature put out by the National Right to Life Committee, and they are basically saying that they felt like you misrepresented your position on that bill.

BARACK OBAMA, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me clarify this right now because they have not been telling the truth. And, you know, I hate to say that people are lying, but here's a situation where folks are lying.


KURTZ: It has to do with the bill in the Illinois legislature. My point is you raised it. Some other news organizations raised it. So, was Gingrich just wrong that the press gave Obama a pass?

BRODY: No. I think the fact that I raise it, I don't know if I consider myself part of the elite media, first of all, but beyond that --

KURTZ: You were on CNN at the time?

BRODY: I was. And actually, CNN ran the whole clip. So, kudos there.

KURTZ: You are saying by and large.

BRODY: But by and large, there was some sporadic reporting of it. Remember, that came only because conservatives, especially pro- life organizations, were bringing it up.

And so, you know, once again, back to that New York/Washington, D.C./Amtrak corridor, you know, that is not a topic of conversation. They're not reading the Susan B. Anthony list daily talking points every day, and that's the problem.

KURTZ: Let me turn briefly to Mitt Romney who gave on Friday what was billed as a major economic speech, as you probably know by now. He gave it in a stadium called Ford Field. Let's take a brief look at the news coverage of that address.


DAVID MUIR, ABC NEWS: A major speech here today turned into a major photo op for the wrong reason.

Romney outlined his tax plan before an audience of 1,200 surrounded by 65,000 empty seats at Detroit's Ford Field.


KURTZ: Here's a "New York Times" headline for Romney, "A Message Lost in the Empty Seats."

S.E. Cupp, look, it looked terrible. It was a blunder.

But should that be what the media are focusing on as opposed to what Romney said in that address?

CUPP: Well, look, Michigan is coming up, and I think if, you know, Mitt Romney were poised better in Michigan, then it wouldn't matter as much. But he is looking at some trouble in that state. With the primary coming up, I think, you know, I hate defending the liberal media, but I think it is relevant to look at the ethos around Mitt Romney and the support around Mitt Romney going into what is going to be an incredibly important state for him to win.

KURTZ: In just two days.

Now, look, Margaret Carlson, campaign optics matter, and this was an out and out blunder. But the only bit of substance of the Romney speech that actually got covered was when he said, not very wisely, my wife drives a couple of Cadillacs. So, what's --

CARLSON: Well, you know, that plays to Romney to the mime about Romney, which he is not in touch with ordinary people and he brings up these things so casually.

But he, in that address, he broke the first rule of politics, which is always go to a room too small.

And let me just say, correct something, let me say that Rick Santorum speaks with zeal with these issues.

KURTZ: All right. An interesting, perhaps better linguistic choice.

Let me get a break here. When we come back, ABC's Jake Tapper challenges the White House over the prosecution of people who leak to journalists. Did he cross the line into advocacy?


KURTZ: White House spokesman Jay Carney was expressing the administration's condolences for the journalist killed this week in Syria -- we'll focus on that later in the program -- when ABC's Jake Tapper took vigorous exception to his comments.


JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: How does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistle blowers to court? This seems to be a disconnect here. You want aggressive journalism abroad. You just don't want it in the United States.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, again, without address anything specific case, I think that there are issues here that involve highly sensitive classified information, and I think that, you know, those are divulging that kind information is a serious issue, and it always has been.


KURTZ: S.E. Cupp, I like aggressive journalists. Jake Tapper certainly fits that description.

Was he just aggressively challenging the White House spokesman or pushing a point of view?

CUPP: I think probably a little of both. I mean, I think it's always commendable when any reporter challenges any White House administration, right or left, on perceived hypocrisy. So, regardless of the substance of that interrogation, I think Jake Tapper should be applauded for doing that.

It's not an easy task. There's a lot of pressure in that room. And it's not easy to go up against a White House press secretary that hard. And he did.

KURTZ: What do you think, Margaret, about Tapper drawing a contrast between the White House praising people who take risks overseas in reporting, and allegedly opposing it at home because the administration has been aggressive in prosecuting leakers?

CARLSON: There's been a shocking pursuit of leakers by this administration. And --

KURTZ: Why shocking? Because even though journalists love leaks, and I am no exception, but people who have been prosecuted, five such cases here, including a former CIA official who leaked allegedly to the "New York Times'" James Risen. They're leaking classified information, and that is against the law.

CARLSON: But in the Drake case, for instance, which the administration lost -- I mean, Jane Mayer wrote about in the "New Yorker" at length, it was just that the White House did not like that they chose one program -- you know, domestic spying program over another. And the degree to which they went after this guy was, you know, was shocking to me.

And Jake Tapper is bringing up something that, in fact, we don't cover enough.

BRODY: Well, Jake Tapper is also bringing up something that Newt Gingrich and others have brought up for a long time. You know, what the White House says and what the White House does are two completely different things, according to Newt Gingrich and others.

I bring up Newt Gingrich because about four months ago, I interviewed Newt Gingrich, and he said he has never seen a wider gap in what an administration does and what it does than this administration.

KURTZ: But journalists are not neutral on this issue. We like people to be able to slip us information, even classified information, and we tend to get upset when they get prosecuted. But again people take risks and potentially violating the law.

Let me circle back to one minute. We were talking during the break about the way Rick Santorum deals with the press. You have interviewed the former senator.

By contrast, Mitt Romney, who went on the Sunday show again today on FOX News, "FOX News Sunday", he doesn't seem to be doing any Sunday shows on any other networks. Santorum gives all kinds of interviews to all kinds of people, reporters on the trail, networks. So, he may get himself in trouble, but you can't accuse him of being open with journalists.

BRODY: Right. No, and I think this part of the big problem with Romney. He is handled so much, whereas Santorum is not. That was kind of surprising going back to the Ford Field situation that the Romney campaign let that get out of hand because -- I mean, they in essence had the Detroit Economic Club pretty much decide on the venue. I mean, what was the Romney campaign thinking? Because they normally don't do that at all.

KURTZ: Have you interviewed Mitt Romney on this -- BRODY: This is interesting. A whole other show we should talk about that. I have not. And I think there is obviously a key break- away that they don't want to deal with, the evangelicals and social issues -- another topic.

CARLSON: The last campaign, I spent 45 minutes with him totally open. He is in a complete cocoon this time.


KURTZ: This is, and except for FOX.

S.E. Cupp, David Brody, and Margaret Carlson -- thanks very much for joining us.

And coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES:

Covering the violation in Syria. Will the depths of two more reporters there keep the rest of the world from knowing exactly what's going on.

Plus, Sarah Palin's team tries to discredit the movie "Game Change" in advance. The coming media storm over Julianne Moore's role.

And later, Bill Maher says he's no shill for Barack Obama. So, why is he giving a million bucks to a pro-Obama super PAC?


KURTZ: As the media have struggled to cover the escalating violence in Syria, Anderson Cooper spoke by phone on Tuesday to one journalist in that war-torn country, Marie Colvin of London's "Sunday Times."


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: The regime in Syria claims that they're not hitting civilians, that there is no armed conflict, that there is no war inside Syria, that they're basically just going after terrorist gangs.

MARIE COLVIN, LONDON SUNDAY TIMES (via telephone): It's a complete and utter lie that they are only going after terrorists. There are rocket shells, tank shells, anti-aircraft being fired in a parallel line into the city. The Syrian army is basically shelling the city of cold, starving civilians.


KURTZ: Next day came the tragic news.


BANFIELD: Word that two Western journalists, including an American, have been killed in Syria. The American is Marie Colvin, who reported from Syria for us, actually, just hours ago, and Frenchman Remi Ochlik.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS: The two journalists were in this media center this morning when it was attacked by a rocket apparently fired by government forces and destroyed.

LARA LOGAN, CBS NEWS: You couldn't be part of the foreign media world and travel to these places and not know who Marie Colvin was. She was a legend in her own right, and a pioneer in many ways.


KURTZ: So, has the uprising against the Assad regime simply become too dangerous for Western reporters?

Joining us from Beirut: Clarissa Ward, foreign correspondent for CBS News. And CNN's Beirut correspondent Arwa Damon.

Clarissa Ward, let's start by talking for just a moment about Marie Colvin. What kind of journalist was she and why would should take such risks in Syria?

CLARISSA WARD, CBS NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Marie Colvin was without a doubt one of the most brave and one of the most brilliant journalists doing the work that we do. You did not -- every conflict zone you visited, Maria Colvin was one of the sights that you would see. She was always there ahead of the story.

And she was very committed to getting the message out. She knew better than most reporters all of the dangers that -- and all of the risks that she was taking going into a city like Homs. But she felt very passionately that the world must pay attention to what is going on in that city.

KURTZ: Right.

And, Arwa Damon, just last week on this program, we're talking about the death of Anthony Shadid, the "New York Times" reporter who died from an asthma attack while covering under difficult conditions, the Syrian resistance. I'm sure you've asked yourself this question many times -- is this story, is any story worth risking your life?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. It absolutely is. It's something that we're all aware of. I don't think any of us really believes that we're invincible. We are very hyper- sensitive to the risks that we're exposing ourselves too.

But at the end of the day, to truly be able to tell these stories, and that is what Marie believed, that is what Anthony believed, you have to put yourself in the same situation as those civilians who plight you're covering. There is no way to do justice to what people are going through unless you yourself are there as well.

KURTZ: How about you, Clarissa? How do you make that calculation? Particularly in a situation like Syria where the government is hostile and the government doesn't let many journalists in. And so, just setting foot in the country, obviously, entails a great deal of risks for journalists.

WARD: It is a great deal of risk. One likes to think that every step of the way, one is constantly calculating the situation. One always -- always -- has an exit strategy and plan.

Planning is the most important thing. So, you're just consistently reviewing all the information that you have at your finger tips, as it is coming in, reassessing all the time every step of the way. But at a certain point, obviously, there are enormous risks that have to be undertaken in order to get these stories out.

KURTZ: And, Arwa, if you do get a journalistic visa to go into Syria, what that means is that you have got government minders basically following your every step. It makes it difficult to report.

Clarissa -- excuse me, Maria Colvin, for example, got into Syria -- one might say snuck in on a tourist visa. So, she pretended to be a tourist. And that, of course, can be a more difficult situation as well.

So, talk a little bit about the question of whether or not to accept a journalistic visa if indeed one is available and the restrictions that that carries.

DAMON: Well, we went in a few times from Syria on official government visas, and it is incredibly challenging and frustrating because the government is watching you at every single step of the way.

However, once you are in country, there are ways to move around. There are ways to be able to sidestep the government minders and get out, meet activists. Of course, one has to be incredibly careful that they're not being followed because at the end of the day, we would be there officially. The worst that the government could do to us was take our footage. The people at great risk are activists who are taking us around, but believing so profoundly that it was a risk worth taking because the world has to see what it is that they're going through.

When it comes to Marie's last trip into the neighborhood of Baba Amr, she wasn't even on a tourist visa, actually. She had snuck into the country at great risk, of course, because those people taking her around had to try to smuggle her and her cameraman, Paul, through various positions where the government was, in fact, present. It was an incredibly lengthy and laborious process.

KURTZ: Right.

DAMON: I think Syria -- and Clarissa and I were talking about this last night as one of the most challenging assignments that we've had, especially because of the point Clarissa was making earlier, that in many cases, in Syria, that exit strategy, that safe space that you can fall back to -- it doesn't exist.

KURTZ: Right. This reminds me a little bit of the situation in Libya that was also quite dangerous to western journalists. And it's unlike Iraq, which, while dangerous, at the same time, at least journalists could be under the protection on many trips of U.S. troops.

And so, Clarissa, is it your view that Bashir al-Assad's regime wants, by and large, to keep western journalists out so that its violence and repressive tactics against the opposition go unreported?

WARD: Bashar al-Assad's regime has made a very cynical calculation that by making it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for foreign independent journalists to do reporting inside Syria that the world won't have a real window on what is going on inside the country, and, therefore, that they're more apt to forget about or ignore what is going on inside the country.

They want to control the narrative of what is happening there. So journalists entering the country illegally and uninvited are very much a thorn in their side, so to speak.

KURTZ: Arwa, in light of that situation and in light of the deaths of journalists like Maria Colvin and Anthony Shadid, do you think we will see fewer news organizations and fewer reporters taking the risk of going into a place like Syria, thereby basically giving Assad the situation he wants, which is very few eyewitnesses in the -- you know, trying to tell the story of the incredible and mounting violence in that country.

DAMON: I think a lot of people will pause and think about it, again, before actually going in. But I do not think that that is going to stop us from continuing to try to figure out different ways of getting into the country and going into the country itself.

All of us who are in this particular branch of journalism, again, are fully aware of the risks that are involved and are just as dedicated to getting that truth and that story out.

Yes, you will stop and think to yourself. No one actually wants to die while on an assignment, but Bashar al-Assad's tactics are not going to stop us from reporting that story.

KURTZ: I've always admired the journalists in that branch, as you say, who take these risks in order to bring us news from the -- these difficult and often violent situations. Clarissa Ward and Arwa Damon, stay safe. Thanks very much for joining us from Lebanon.

After the break, a little lighter topic. Sarah Palin's posse is slamming HBO's "Game Change" even before the movie airs next month. Is that sort of preemptive strike justified?


KURTZ: The HBO movie, "Game Change," won't be airing for a couple of more weeks, but the media debate -- well, it's already begun. The film about the 2008 campaign features Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin and Woody Harrelson as McCain strategist, Steve Schmidt.

And if this trailer is any indication, it's not exactly a flattering portrayal of the former Alaska governor.


JULIANNE MOORE, ACTRESS: It wasn't my fault. I wasn't properly prepped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown.

MOORE: You're telling me what to say, what to wear, how to talk.


KURTZ: Palin associates are pushing back hard. Her former spokeswoman, Meg Stapleton, telling reporters this week, "This is sick. The media has gone too far. You accepted the false narrative of a couple of people who sought revenge and fabricated a story more than three years ago."

Joining us now to talk about the effort to discredit the film and some other media issues, here in Washington, David Zurawik, television critic for "The Baltimore Sun." And in Philadelphia, Gail Shister, columnist for "TV Newser" and a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.

David Zurawik, you really ripped Palin's people for denouncing this film in advance. But you know, this is going to affect her reputation. Why be so harsh about that?

DAVID ZURAWIK, TELEVISION CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": Well, hey -- well, Howie, they have not seen the film and they've denounced it. I have seen the film and I have to tell you that trailer is what a trailer does. It's going to get people to watch the film.

In truth, they're actually -- look, ultimately, this film says she was a reckless choice by the GOP. They were desperate for something to come up to try to topple Obama's momentum.

They went to her without proper vetting. But also, she wasn't qualified. But within that, Howie, is a more sympathetic portrait. People are going to be surprised.

KURTZ: Do you think they've jumped the -- do you think they've jumped the gun because they haven't seen the movie?


KURTZ: Now, I haven't seen the movie because I'm not on the A- list like Zurawik. So Gail Shister, it's pretty clear from the trailer, though, that Julianne Moore's performance is, shall we say, pretty negative. Why shouldn't Palin and her people fight back?

GAIL SHISTER: Oh, is that for me, Howie?

KURTZ: That's for you, Gail. SHISTER: Oh, I'm sorry. Why shouldn't they fight back? Well, first of all, I would like to make it clear that any list that Zurawik is on, I do not want to be on, so I also have not seen the movie.

But this just smacks of never letting the facts get in the way of a good story. The logic of it is so absurd. There is no logic to make a judgment on anything before you have seen it.

And in a way, it's very counter productive if Palin is trying to be preemptive in this because all it's doing is generating buzz for HBO and for the movie. So HBO must be thrilled about it. And as far as hurting her reputation, I don't know how much more it could be hurt.

KURTZ: OK. But let me turn this back to David. This movie is based on a book -


KURTZ: Written by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.

ZURAWIK: Excellent book.

KURTZ: Yes, which was well-reported, but also relied on a lot of unnamed sources that probably included (UNINTELLIGIBLE) campaign who were happy with Palin.

So it's not like it's made up out of whole cloth, but it is based on -- Palin's people make the point that the movie adopts the view of those who are not Palin fans.

ZURAWIK: Well, you know, that's what they say, Howie, again, without proving that. I mean, they have no evidence for that. You know, I talked to the director of the picture yesterday for over an hour -- Jay Roach.

And I am satisfied that his standards are the same standards that you would use for -- you or I would use for a nonfiction book. They did not invent -- he claims -- I don't know. I mean, I have to take his word on this.

He claims they did not invent dialogue, you know, that the information they have about what happened in a room came from people who were in that room.

And I just want to say this, Howie, because it's really important. This is a more -- there's a scene where Julianne Moore, as Sarah Palin, is sitting on the plane after the Charlie Gibson and the Katie Couric interviews. And she's watching Tina Fey ask Sarah Palin on set.


ZURAWIK: Yes, yes. So that's a very smart thing, but you see past across her face, because Moore is a great actress, the pain she felt seeing herself ridiculed. So they treat her as a human being. They don't treat her as a caricature. And I just think folks should see that.

KURTZ: All right. Well, when we see it, we'll talk about it some more, I'm sure. But Gail Shister, how will this movie be ultimately be judged?

I don't know whether some of the dialogue, as often in these docudramas, is made up or not. But if the compresses, takes cinematic license, I mean, should we regard this as a complete work of nonfiction? It's still a movie.

SHISTER: I think that it's in that gray area of a docudrama. I think that a lot of it is based on firsthand observation and some of it is to serve the dramatic storyline.

So it's up to the viewer to try and find that fine line where you have to get into the world of willing suspension of disbelief. It was a great book.

I trust the book, and I think it's interesting that, all of a sudden, that Sarah Palin is coming out of the woodwork or people are coming out and debating the veracity of something they haven't seen yet. Bottom line is, it's entertainment, and I think it will do very well.

KURTZ: And as you say, probably more people will now tune in because of the advanced controversy. I want to turn now to Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey who was on "Morning Joe" on MSNBC this week.

And he got some questions about -- he had just in the state vetoed a same-sex marriage bill, going to put it to a referendum for the voters of New Jersey.

Liberal "Washington Post" columnist, Jonathan Capehart, challenged the governor on that. Let's take a look at the exchange.




CAPEHART: I heard you say that you have your feet firmly planted next to President Obama on this issue. But the key difference between you and the president is while you support putting the civil rights of a minority for public referendum, the president is certainly not in favor of that. So --

CHRISTIE: Has he said that, Jonathan?

CAPEHART: If you were president --

CHRISTIE: Jonathan, has he said that? I haven't heard him say that? First of all, I used to be prosecutor. I don't know if you did, too, but I'm not going to be cross-examined by you this morning. Secondly -- CAPEHART: I'm having a --


CHRISTIE: I know and you're going to lose, so let's just move on.


KURTZ: At the end, Capehart says, "Well, if I were to get married to my partner -" so tells the audience that he's gay, but you know, I like aggressive interviews.


KURTZ: But did Capehart seem to be pushing a personal issue here?

ZURAWIK: No. You know, I didn't -- that aspect of it didn't bother me at all. You know what bothered me, Howie, when I watched this was the way he seemed so much an advocate for President Obama.

It was like he was championing Obama saying, "Obama is better than you," you know? And that's what I think got Christie mad. Christie -- it was that I don't think people in the press should be -- let the president. He's got all kinds of people to defend him.

KURTZ: On that point, Gail Shister, I mean, it is true that Obama's position and Christie's position is the same in this respect, neither supports gay marriage.

SHISTER: I am not a big advocate of reporters coming out during an interview, because I think that it can give the impression that they are pushing the agenda no matter what they're interviewing about.

I don't think it was necessary for Jonathan Capehart to come out for this particular issue. It would be like --


KURTZ: But why not? He doesn't make any secret of being gay. Shouldn't he just kind of put that on the table in that context?

SHISTER: No. No. I disagree because it would be like interviewing Rick Santorum and telling the audience that you're a Catholic and interviewing him about contraception or birth control. It's not necessary.

In some ways, it's self-indulgent and in some ways it was too emotional, not that I disagree with his stance overall as far as Capehart. I mean, I'm gay, too. I don't announce it during every interview.

I don't see the point. I think that he was getting agitated, and I think he did exactly what Christie wanted him to do. Christie is a former prosecutor. He loves this kind of confrontations. KURTZ: Right.

SHISTER: He took control of it right away. He interrupted him. And he wouldn't let --

KURTZ: Yes. Let me just get a brief response from Zurawik.


KURTZ: Do you agree with her point that you shouldn't say you're Catholic, you're gay, you're left-handed?

ZURAWIK: I don't think you have to. I don't think there's any obligation to do it. And so that aspect of it -- but I don't think you have to.

Questions of identity are very complicated and personal in some ways. And I don't think that needed to be part of that conversation at all.

KURTZ: Yes. All right. For example, we wouldn't --


I'm out of time, Gail..


KURTZ: All right. Let me move on, because -- coming up next, Bill Maher's million dollar gift to a pro-Obama super-PAC. Does that undermine his comedic independence?


KURTZ: Bill Maher makes no secret of his liberal view. And obviously, he is a satirist, but he also conducts a somewhat serious political discussion now and then on his HBO show. So for me, at least, this came as a surprise.


BILL MAHER, COMEDIAN AND HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": I would like to tonight announce a donation to the Obama super-PAC, which has the very unfortunate tongue twister name Priority USA Action. I know. It was named by Borat. But tonight, I would like to give that PAC $1 million.



KURTZ: $1 million dollars. Gail Shister, does this not make Bill Maher look like an Obama shill?

SHISTER: It's hard to make any kind of judgment on Bill Maher. I mean, he is the guy who called the 9/11 terrorists courageous, don't forget and what that stirred up.

This is a guy who has made a fortune by being an iconoclast about everything that there is. And he is constantly changing the rules.

As a matter of fact, his best-selling book is "New Rules" and he's got a book two coming out. I wouldn't hold him to anything about this.

I suspect that he will not lay back on Obama just because he is giving him $1 million. I, too, was very surprised about it because I've heard he is cheap.

KURTZ: Well, he is. Certainly, we learned something about his bank account. But David Zurawik, you know, Maher is not a journalist. But I mean, everyone knows Keith Olbermann is a liberal.

But MSNBC actually suspended him for giving a few thousand dollars to three Democratic candidates. And here's Maher giving seven figures to a group supporting the president of the United States.

ZURAWIK: Yes, you know, I thought about that. And I think the difference with Olbermann was he was flying under the banner of NBC News over at MSNBC.

Any he functioned in at least a quasi-journalist role with his sleeves rolled up and echoing Edward R. Murrow every chance he got.

But -- so I think there's a difference there. Well, a couple of things about this. One, I sometimes think Maher is there to test my commitment to free speech sometimes as a critic with the things he says. But --

KURTZ: Right. He's criticized super-PACs.


KURTZ: And now, he told "The Daily Beast," "I don't like super- PACs, but they exist so everyone's got to play under the same rules. Do you think this undermines him in any way? You seem to not have any problem with it.

ZURAWIK: Listen, to me, it does undermine. I'll tell you one of the ways it undermines him, Howie. You know, he announced it on his concert that streamed on Yahoo, and he's got his series.

His HBO series is coming back with live shows. In some ways, this is publicity. I wish he'd have done it when he didn't have something to sell, because look at the publicity he's already got for this. It's not $1 million, probably, but you and I are talking about it today.

KURTZ: I think that there would be a big fuss if comedian Dennis Miller gave $1 million to a pro-Romney or Santorum super-Pac.

And Gail Shister, we have about a half minute left. When Maher does routines making fun of Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, are people going to say, "Well, he's pushing an agenda"? SHISTER: I can't imagine because the people who watch Maher are not going to accuse him of pushing an agenda. And his fans who love him the most usually are chemically altered, and I don't even think they'll notice.

ZURAWIK: You're right about Dennis Miller, though. I think there would be more push if he would have gotten more heat from the press.

KURTZ: All right. In defense of Bill Maher, I think, some of his fans have got to be sober. And at the same time, you both seem to be perfectly comfortable with it. David Zurawik --

SHISTER: That's perfectly comfortable.

KURTZ: Gail Shister, thanks very much for stopping by. Still to come, ABC gets inside a Chinese factory that makes iPods and iPads. Dick Morris writes about campaigns where he's actively involved.

And the Web site "Mediaite" raises the bar for abject apology. "The Media Monitor" is coming your way.


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

Since "The New York Times" reported on unsafe and overcrowded conditions at the Chinese factories where iPods and iPads are made, Apple has been on the defensive.

So it was a coup for ABC's Bill Weir to get inside the gates of one factory where there have been a number of suicides. But what I really liked was the forthright way he described the network's potential conflicts with this story.


BILL WEIR, ABC CORRESPONDENT: For the record, our parent company Disney and Apple have strong ties. Our CEO sits on their board and the Steve Jobs trust is Disney's largest individual shareholder.

But I only agree to report exactly what I saw on this, the first look inside the i-factory.

(voice-over) And it became quickly obvious that a strange American with a camera crew only gets so much candor.

(on camera) So if there was one thing that you could change about your job here, what would it be?

(voice-over) But plenty of people like Zang Hu Hua(ph) had no problem telling me that the dorms are too crowded and the trees block the sunshine and the food prices are too high.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: ABC may not have seen everything, but this was a serious attempt at covering a secretive company. Dick Morris, the high- profile Fox News commentator, also writes a column for the newspaper, "The Hill."

At the same time, Morris still dabbles in Republican politics. And as the liberal advocacy group, Media Matters, pointed out, the two sometimes overlap.

For instance, Morris wrote a column attacking Indiana Senator Richard Lugar as a RINO, Republican in name only, for supporting the Law of the Sea Treaty.

But last fall, Morris was the headliner at a fundraiser for Lugar's GOP primary opponent, Richard Murdoch. No disclosure.

Morris has also written favorably about Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain. And their campaigns have paid his company to rent E-mail lists.

"Hill" editor, Hugo Gordon, told RELIABLE SOURCES, "The 'Hill' publishes many strong opinion articles from left and right written by well-known people active in partisan politics."

"When we think a specific disclosure is needed, we provide it. We are confident that 'The Hill's' readers are being kept well- informed in this regard." I think, in this case, they should be kept a little more well-informed.

Now, Buzz Bissinger took a few shots on last week's program at Ed Rendell saying it would be a disaster for the former Pennsylvania governor to buy "The Philadelphia Inquirer" and "Daily News."

Rendell got tired of the criticism and vowed to stop talking about the negotiations even if he was waterboarded. Well, that lasted long.

Two days later, he did talk about it again to Buzz on a Philly radio show. Rendell was asked whether, as an owner, he would stop a critical article about him or one of his partners.

BUZZ BISSINGER, JOURNALIST: So if the paper -- if it's a legitimate story involving you or Lewis Katz or Snider or Norcross, it's going to run?

FMR. GOV. ED RENDELL (D-PA): Yes, it's going to run.

BISSINGER: And you're just going to suck it up then?

RENDELL: I'd pick up the phone and go, "Are you guys effin' crazy? Do you know this and that?" But I did that as governor and mayor.

BISSINGER: Yes, but you're going to have to yell at yourself.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: I'd love to hear that phone call. Finally, you've got to say this about "" It doesn't try to sweep its mistakes under the cyber rug.

The Web site had mistakenly accused, Toure, the NBC commentator, of supporting singer Chris Brown, the one who smacked Rihanna around.

After admitting its reporter had misinterpreted a tweet by Toure, "Mediaite" said, "It was shoddy journalism on our part. A look at his feed before and after the comment would have confirmed his true intention, criticizing Brown."

"We went to stress that this was an error, a stupid, lazy error that should never have happened and it's inexcusable. We're putting this apology out with greater force than the original story. I can only hope that Toure accepts our sincerest apologies."

And for good measure, the Web site ran some other tweets accusing the site of lousy journalist., something you might call a self- spanking.

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.