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CBS Newsman Mike Wallace Dies; Morning's Celebrity Shootout

Aired April 8, 2012 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Let me see if I can explain this. "Good Morning America" wanted to stick it to the "Today" show, so it hyped a week of appearances by Katie Couric, who used to work at "Today," you see. But "Today" didn't like this maneuver, so it pulled its own stunt and giving a co-host gig to Sarah Palin, who famously clashed with Katie Couric, and -- well, you get the idea.


KATIE COURIC, ABC NEWS: I first woke up at 1:15 this morning, like, I'm ready to go. I was, like, wait a second. I don't have to get up this early.

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: We also want to mention, it is a pleasure to welcome the former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to our program this morning.

Oh, man. See, she's doing her homework.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Thanks for letting me crash your dressing room and now that I have your hair products --


KURTZ: What does all this tell us about the network morning wars? What's the impact of Matt Lauer re-upping at "Today"?

Keith Olbermann and Current TV are filing scorching suits against each other just days after his firing. In the court of public opinion, Keith takes his case to David Letterman.


KEITH OLBERMANN, FORMER HOST, CURRENT TV'S "COUNTDOWN": I screwed up. I screwed up really big on this.


KURTZ: But is he really taking responsibility for the show's failure or just doing damage control?

Plus, is this it? Are the media officially anointing Mitt Romney the Republican nominee?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER JOHN MCCAIN CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Nothing is going to stop Mitt Romney from being the man. The race is effectively over. The only person who doesn't seem to understand that is Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.


KURTZ: And, of course, the pundits are never wrong.

A horribly racist rant by a "National Review." Has he blown out his career?

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


KURTZ: We'll get to all that, but, first, some breaking news this morning. We learned within the last 90 minutes that Mike Wallace has died. Mike Wallace, the legendary -- and I don't use that word lightly -- legendary talk show host, correspondent for "60 Minutes," really a giant in the broadcast news industry.

He was 93 years old. His son, Chris, of course, is the host of "FOX News Sunday."

Mike Wallace has died. He has been ill for a while, but still somehow the news coming as a shock.

So I'm going to turn to our panel here. Let me briefly introduce everybody.

David Zurawik sitting over here. We even have the time even to go over the introductions. He's the television and media critic for "The Baltimore Sun."

In Los Angeles, Sharon Waxman is the founder and editor in chief of

And in New York, Marisa Guthrie, senior reporter for "The Hollywood Reporter."

And let me start with you, Mr. Zurich. It's hard to overstate Wallace's importance because his career lasted so long, and he did so many different things.

DAVID ZURAWIK, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Yes. You know, Mike Wallace is one of the people -- when you think back born in 1918, that's before radio really. That's how long he has been there. He is one of the true pioneers of American television.

You know, we take all of these things about television for granted being in the living room, but it's people like him who not only make television the medium it is, but made television journalism a force it is in American life. He is a key part of the CBS News when it was the giant. And more and more, I think back to that era.

Look, he was not a great journalist when he came to CBS News. But --

KURTZ: He was a talk show host.

ZURAWIK: Yes. And all of that's wonderful about him. He brought all those skills there. But he worked with great journalists, and he found a great producer in Don Hewitt, and the two of them, their mentor and his tormentor I think is the way he once referred him, "He is my mentor and tormentor." And it's absolutely true.

Mike Wallace really is how you can't overstate what a giant this guy was.

KURTZ: At the same time, Sharon Waxman, he was controversial. He did a lot of controversial stories. His techniques were sometimes controversial.

But what's also remarkable is he continued to work even after several announcements that he was retiring, coming back -- you know, well into his late 80s.

SHARON WAXMAN, THEWRAP.COM: Yes. That was kind of amazing. I mean, we all can track our lives as journalists a bit against the career of Mike Wallace, and he just never seemed to age. He never seemed to flag. I do think that is why it's so sad for those of us who grew up kind of aspiring to do great journalism because Mike Wallace was always there.

And that kind of stamina -- I mean, I met him and got to know him when he was in his 80s, and he was going strong, so, I mean, there's also, like, a whole generation of journalists who were producers for executive producers for him who learned from him and who went out into the world and have done great journalism on television since then.

And the important thing, I think, especially on this show to mention is that this is the kind of journalism that television so rarely does. It's what "60 minutes" established as this enormously credible and enormously important and enormously profitable center of journalism on television. It is unparalleled, as you know, you know, on television. There's no show that comes close to it.

Mike Wallace really epitomized that show.

KURTZ: And, Marisa Guthrie, Mike Wallace began his career in the 1950s as a talk show host and a program called "Night Beat." Then he was there in 1968 when CBS created what was the first news magazine show "60 Minutes," and really along with Morley Safer, Ed Bradley and others. But Mike Wallace really became the face of that program.

MARISA GUTHRIE, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: I think that his death sort of reminds us how rare these brands are in TV news. I mean, "60 Minutes" has been on for more than 60 years. And as Sharon said, I mean, they continue to do amazing journalism.

And I think it's a reminder of how hard it is to really launch brands like that now. And, you know, that this -- that his passing and the passing of Andy Rooney too earlier is just -- it's an end of an era in television.

KURTZ: I've known Mike Wallace reasonably well. I talked to him a couple of years ago on the phone. Even though he was ill and had some trouble remembering things from long ago, his voice was very strong, that unmistakably strong voice. He once interviewed for me for "60 Minutes," and he was a pit bull, as you might imagine.

And he was on this program once -- and a couple of times, actually -- and I pressed him about, why are you still doing this? He was probably, you know, 82 at the time. Why are you still getting on and off airplanes?

And he made it pretty clear -- I mean, he joked around about it, but this is what he did. He didn't want to give it up. He really had this passion for journalism.

But at the same time, David Zurawik, more than anything else, particularly in the early decade or two of "60 Minutes" he became known for the confrontational ambush interview in which he or others would go up to some bad guy, somebody who wouldn't talk to the program and confront him on the street. That later fell out of favor, and even Wallace, I think, you know, moved away from that at a certain point.

ZURAWIK: Yes, Mike was the archetype and it was vital and it had all the energy of an archetype and it created this notion of, you know, you see all of the phony versions of it now. We're on your side. We're the I-team, blah, blah, blah. And, you know, like any archetype, it loses its energy.

When he did, when they did it, it was powerful. And it was, Howie, always, you mentioned -- you just said this about him -- he stood for a tenacious kind of journalism, and he also an accountable kind of journalism.

I remember interviewing him a while ago about the Malcolm X interview, you know? And he went at it. And he stood in there and he defended it. He made a great argument for within the context of that period, the interview he did.

I really -- this is really a guy you have to admire.

KURTZ: I once reported, though, where he had gone too far and conducted a hidden camera interview with another reporter who thought she was just providing some background information to "60 Minutes." He was reprimanded by CBS for that, and he called my a bad name, but he did it in a good-natured way.

Sharon Waxman, some other thoughts about the impact of this man's career. I mean, it's hard to avoid the use of superlatives on him because he did it, he did for so long, and he did high impact stories and interviewed everybody from, you know, presidents to -- he once asked Ayatollah Khomeini whether he was crazy.

ZURAWIK: Good question. WAXMAN: Right. He interviewed Ayatollah Khomeini all the way through Ahmadinejad. At the end, it sort of gives you a sense of his longevity and his ability to sustain, you know, that -- those really hard-hitting interviews. I mean, his mental strength, I mean, really all the way through until he retired was something that was really remarkable.

I'll just recall -- I went -- the first time I met him in person, he was stripped to -- he was bare to his shorts and walked in glowing. It was on a summer day on the East Coast, on Martha's Vineyard. I was at someone's house, and he -- and I met him.

And he came in, and he immediately started peppering me with questions. Who was I? Where was I at? What was -- where did I come from?

He was just a natural interviewer, and he had this dazzling smile. He was late in his 1980s. He was just a remarkable person.

KURTZ: Force of nature.

Final thought, Marisa Guthrie?

GUTHRIE: Well, I think that, you know, the ambush interview -- I mean, he did and later in his career kind of distance himself from those. But I think it also underscores how few interviewers can actually get to the heart of a question, the heart of a matter, and really ask the difficult, tough questions and not give up after one follow-up, but really kind of keep going in there and hammering and hammering. And Mike epitomized that, and it's rare now.

KURTZ: He certainly did.

Mike Wallace, dead at 93 -- remarkable man, remarkable career. We have just learned about this as I say.

When we come back, Sarah Palin, Katie Couric, and the morning show wars.


KURTZ: If you are just joining us, Mike Wallace has died at 93.

And joining us now by phone is a CBS News White House correspondent who worked -- has worked for the network almost as long as Wallace, Bill Plante.

Bill, good morning. Thank you for calling in. Some reflection --

BILL PLANTE, CBS NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Good morning, Howie.

KURTZ: Some reflection on Mike Wallace.

PLANTE: Sorry to hear about this. It's a loss for CBS and for the industry.

KURTZ: What -- when you think about Mike's career, what do you think about, Bill?

PLANTE: The first time I heard Mike on the radio was when I was a kid, and he was doing a show from the Chez Paree nightclub in Chicago with his then wife, Buff Cobb. When I came to CBS, he was doing the morning news show in '64.

He was a tough interviewer, one of his big interviews on his show for Parliament cigarettes with a mob boss whose name I can't remember. And Mike was so tough on this guy that everybody thought that Mike was going to wind out (INAUDIBLE) shortly after the program.

KURTZ: So, was he kind of an inspirational figure for those who worked with those that are a little bit younger perhaps who work at CBS?

PLANTE: Oh, yes. I mean, there was nobody that did better interviews or tougher interviews than Mike. And we all aspired to that.

He was also a very tough colleague. He would ask you questions about your work, and sort of demand to know what you were doing, why and where you got the stuff, and whether there was not something better. And he wasn't even involved with the story. He was just doing this naturally.

KURTZ: And he had sharp elbows when it came to trying to get a good story against some of his competitors --

PLANTE: Absolutely.


PLANTE: They didn't want to get in the way of Mike, between him and a big story.

KURTZ: All right. Well, Bill Plante, thanks so much for joining us for a brief remembrance.

PLANTE: Thank you, Howard.

KURTZ: Wallace was on TV so long, you saw him smoking there when that was widely acceptable.

So, let's turn now to the morning show wars. We showed you a little earlier Sarah Palin doing the co-hosting on the "Today" show." Katie Couric, during the week at "Good Morning America."

And, Sharon Waxman, was this a savvy move by the "Today" show to let Sarah Palin be co-host for "Today," or did it hurt the "Today" brand?

WAXMAN: Oh, I think it was a really savvy move to have Sarah Palin. She's so watchable. Even -- you got to hope that she's going to, you know, say something that's going to be tweet-worthy and buzz- worthy and get you attention.

And, you know, the "Today" show has got to worry a little bit. "Good Morning America" has been gaining on them. I mean, they've had dominance in that morning position for so many years that I think it was the right thing to do. More Sarah Palin, I say.

KURTZ: But I wonder, Marisa Guthrie, whether there was something of a letdown. She didn't come on until the 8:00 hour. She participated in a few segments, but, boy, the level of publicity and hype that surrounded this was incredible.

GUTHRIE: Well, I think that, you know, Sarah Palin isn't quite as white hot as she was, you know, a couple of years ago during right after the election. But, you know, she still is very charismatic, she still is going to draw some interest, and she certainly helped to, you know, promote the "Today" show on a week where "GMA" was pulling out all the stops and, you know, Katie's guest turn was, you know, major news, top trending topic on Twitter.

So, I think that she helped people -- she helped the "Today" show remind everyone, you know, that they're still formidable during a week when they really needed that.

KURTZ: I'm going to tee it up for you. I'm sorry to interrupt you.

GUTHRIE: OK. I can't even -- OK. Go ahead.

KURTZ: I want to play a little bit --

GUTHRIE: OK. Thank you.

KURTZ: I want to play a little bit of Sarah Palin's star turn on NBC's "Today."


PALIN: Oh jeez, Mitt. Nicest lady in the world. She stopped me. Asked me where I was headed. I said 30 Rock. And she said, "Oh, honey, come here. I told you, Tina Fey is here.


LAUER: If you were advising Mitt Romney, would you say go out and get someone who is battle-tested on a national level?

PALIN: I would say it doesn't matter if that person has national level experience or not. They're going to get clobbered by the lame- stream media who does not like the conservative message.

LAUER: Governor, I don't know how much weight you gained during your pregnancies, but would you have -- how would you have felt had someone criticized you for gaining too much weight?

PALIN: I would have wanted to punch them in the neck because, A, it's none of anybody else's business how much weight I gained. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ZURAWIK: I am gagging. Please. Stop it.

KURTZ: You so ticked it off about this that you filed a piece from vacation.

ZURAWIK: Yes, I was. You know, for once I agreed with Jon Stewart. He spent nine and a half minutes attacking this.

I did file from vacation. Here's what it is -- Howie, a couple of things. When you saw that thing where the person she met on the street and said -- that's so phony. It's such a lie. It's such a filthy lie. She's such a hypocrite. She's so unauthentic.

KURTZ: All right. You don't like Sarah Palin.


ZURAWIK: No, but -- no, no, no, but here's why I would respectfully disagree with Sharon. I don't think it was a good move. It showed how frightened they are by the move that "GMA" is making on them, number one. I also think the fact that "GMA" and ABC said we could throw Couric out here occasionally and scared them and rattled them.

But, more importantly, bringing Sarah Palin on that show, even if it got you a little ratings bump for the day she was on and it deflected some attention from Katie Couric, was another case of "Today" cheapening the journalistic brand of NBC news which runs that show. Sarah Palin is incredibly -- if you have a new show, you don't want Sarah Palin on there.

Don't forget, this is --

KURTZ: She's a newsmaker.

ZURAWIK: Fine. Let's get a new news woman on there.


WAXMAN: Wow. I can't -- I couldn't disagree more.

KURTZ: Go ahead, Sharon.

WAXMAN: I couldn't disagree more. I mean, are you actually trying to argue that the "Today" show should try to protect its journalistic brand in the era of FOX News and MSNBC?


ZURAWIK: Yes, Sharon, I would.

WAXMAN: Absolutely. OK. We lost that -- the aura of that journalistic credibility back when Mike Wallace used to -- was in his heyday, honestly. I mean, the news is not about journalistic purity anymore, and the "Today" show really is not the showcase for great journalism. Let's be honest. They're --

KURTZ: All right.

I have a piece on the morning show wars coming out in "Newsweek" tomorrow, and I talk to former "Today" show co-host Bryant Gumbel who told he was embarrassed to see Sarah Palin on his former program.

I do have to say Katie spent the week, you know, at "GMA" as we all have noted, helped "GMA" in the ratings. It was a reminder that she's really, really good at morning television.

But the other big news, Marisa Guthrie, was even though there was a great tease by the "Today" show that Ryan Seacrest, might succeed Matt Lauer because his contract was up at the end of the year, and I thought that was basically a horrible idea. Matt Lauer then now resigning for as much as $25 million a year. So, he'll be around for at least a couple more years. The significance of that.

GUTHRIE: Oh, my goodness. I mean, it's hugely significant. I mean, Matt is the "Today" show, and I think that this -- and they obviously need him more than ever right now because "GMA" is gaining.

He has -- Matt has this ability to do interviews with Sarah Palin, interviews with Vladimir Putin and interviews with Nicki Minaj and feel comfortable and easy and natural, doing all those different kinds of interviews. And that's so important in morning television.

KURTZ: That is a quite range.


KURTZ: All right. Let me great a break here. And when we come back, Keith Olbermann's war against Current TV with Letterman and lawsuits and stack of embarrassing emails. How did this divorce get so vicious?


KURTZ: Exactly one week after Current TV fired Keith Olbermann, he struck back with a stinging lawsuit. It calls Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, the channel's owners, dilettantes portraying entertainment industry executives, and says that Hiatt tried to blackmail him with threats. Oh, and Olbermann is asking for up to $70 million.

And Olbermann isn't only battling in the courtroom. He took to David Letterman's couch to discuss the unhappy demise of "Countdown."


OLBERMANN: I screwed up. I screwed up really big on this. It's my fault that it didn't succeed in the sense that I didn't think the whole thing through, I didn't say, you know, if you buy a $10 million chandelier, you should have a house to put it in. DAVID LETTERMAN, COMEDIAN: I think you're being contrite to almost a fault here because it's my inference from this is they got you over there and they didn't know what to do.


KURTZ: And on Friday, Current TV filed an equally blistering countersuit against Olbermann.

And, Marisa Guthrie, you have been covering this, the "Hollywood Reporter." With all the vitriol being hurled by both sides, did anyone have the upper hand here?

GUTHRIE: Well, I -- it will come down to if Current can prove that Keith had unauthorized absences. I mean, one of the things that everyone always says about Keith is that he actually knows his contract better than the lawyers. So if he is out there pounding the table, as Joel Hyatt put it, he probably knows that he can pound the table.

Will he get $70 million out of Current? That would probably bankrupt Current. So, there probably will be some sort of settlement here.

KURTZ: OK. I want to read a couple of the internal emails that have come out in this litigation. We put the first one up on the screen.

This is Olbermann writing to the current CEO Joel Hyatt after a production snafu. "Give me the name so I know which one of them to kill with my bare hands." And after another production difficulty, Olbermann writes to Joel Hyatt, "Can you assassinate him please?"

Now, Sharon Waxman, these allow for some comedic overstatement, but this lawsuit does paint a picture of Olbermann, of course, who had his bitter break-up with MSNBC just 14 months ago as a bit difficult to work with.

WAXMAN: Yes. The story of Keith Olbermann is it's always about Keith Olbermann. And so, at a certain point -- and I think we've hit that point -- we're tired of hearing Keith Olbermann talk about Keith Olbermann or other people talk about Keith Olbermann.

You are supposed -- you are ostensibly there to entertain us with a fantastic news report, and this is at least the third time where a relationship with his bosses has ended badly. So, at some point, you got to say, well, hmm, maybe it's not the bosses every single time. Not that I'm trying to defend the establishment.

But just -- I think he is just worn out his welcome with the audience. Just judging by the comments on our stories, there's, you know, very few people defending Keith Olbermann, and this huge massive readership saying, can you just go away with this stuff?

KURTZ: Right.

WAXMAN: Just -- we've had enough of it.

KURTZ: Let me put up one more e-mail in which Keith Olbermann is writing to Current president David Bohrman, former executive here at CNN, after Bohrman questioned the purchase of a $5,000 desk for "Countdown". "We can only conclude here," writes Keith, "that you have now moved from unjustifiable egotism and unparalleled incompetence, to outright sabotage of this program."

ZURAWIK: Howie, you know, I couldn't agree with Sharon more about this. Olbermann is really a nasty kind of arrested adolescent, and, his suit -- look, when he left -- when he came over there, I said his audience of a million viewers is not going to go with him, and it's not Current's fault. It's his fault. He never had that kind of loyalty. He only brought an audience of about 177,000 with him, and that's when he started going psycho, when he realized that he was going to be embarrassed by this.

You know, now we have Mike Wallace's death. Let me say two things. Mike Wallace was a mercurial guy as well. You see a career where that was channeled into doing great journalism.

This is a career where he does nothing but self-absorbed craziness that's all about him.

KURTZ: But I want to pushback on this because from Olbermann's point of view, he went to a much smaller network. Maybe he had unrealistic expectations. But there were times when the lights went out, when the cameras cut away in midsentence. There were a lot of production snafus.

So, naturally, he and his team were exercised about that.

ZURAWIK: Well, as someone said elsewhere, why did he take some of the money and put it into that production? Number one.

Now -- but I'll tell you something else, I went back and looked at the opening week reviews, mine included, and you was looking for a cable access bad looking show, and I didn't find it. And Howie, if you go through there, you will find only a few slight mentions of glitches in technology.

It didn't start out that way. This is a guy who hasn't come to work -- I think the lawsuit says 19 of 41 days in January and February.

KURTZ: January and February. Right.

ZURAWIK: That's outrageous.

KURTZ: All right.

ZURAWIK: Listen, this is a child, and the faster they get rid of him, the better off they are.

KURTZ: But what I would say is that when you hire a pit bull who knows how to growl on TV and, look, he is a talented broadcaster. He knows how to draw an audience, whether you like him or not, you can't be surprised that he claws the furniture at home.

Sharon Waxman, what about going on Letterman? Is he out there, and he is telling his story in public, and he is being a little bit funny and self-deprecating. Al Gore isn't out there on television. Does that give him an edge?

WAXMAN: Yes. I think -- you know, again, I think it goes back to whether or not he has crossed the line. Yes, that was smart to go on Letterman.

And he has this massive Twitter following, and I'm sure you followed him, and we all follow him. He is putting out these tweets. You know, every five seconds saying how terrible Current is and all of that.

KURTZ: Right.

WAXMAN: The question is how much credibility he has overall with this kind of stuff, and I just think that he is just over the line on that one.

KURTZ: Brief comment from you, Marisa.

WAXMAN: That's it enough times.

GUTHRIE: I think that, you know, what happened -- the inconvenient truth of this situation is that -- sorry. I couldn't resist -- is that Current, they tried to tame one of the -- you know, wildest, most outspoken, most difficult personalities in TV news.

They get this guy. They know his background. They put him in there. He is demanding. He is difficult.

KURTZ: They give him a management role.

GUTHRIE: Exactly. They give him a management role. And they are surprised when he behaved in a way that they don't quite know how to handle.

KURTZ: All right. We got to leave it there. But thanks so much. This story obviously is not going away.

Marisa Guthrie, Sharon Waxman and the mild-mannered David Zurawik here in Washington.

Up next, my two cents on the "National Review" writer's racist rant. And Rupert Murdoch's Sky News Channel, defending the latest scandal to hit his empire -- hacking into e-mails.


KURTZ: John Derbyshire has been a columnist for "The National Review" for 11 years. And based on his latest writing, he is a full- fledged racist.

He recounts on a Web site called "Talkies Magazine"(ph) the advice he has given kids about black people.

This includes, "Avoid concentrations of black not all known to you personally."

"Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods."

"If planning a trip to a beach or an amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date."

"Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks."

"Do not settle in a district or municipality run by black politicians."

Now, his latest yesterday afternoon, "National Review" editor, Rich Lowry, was trying to get by a brief post saying, "No one at the magazine agrees with Derbyshire's appalling views."

But last night, Lowry fired him. Rich Lowry writes, "His latest provocation, in a webzine, lurches from the politically incorrect to the nasty and indefensible."

"We would never have published it, but the main reason that people noticed it is that it is by a 'National Review" writer. Derb is effectively using our name to get more oxygen for views with which we'd never associated ourselves otherwise."

"So there has to be a parting of the ways. Derb has long danced around the line on these issues, but this column is so outlandish, it constitutes a kind of letter of resignation."

Lowry did the right thing in separating the publication founded by William F. Buckley from this racist trash.

And another outrage across the Atlantic when the phone hacking charges surfaced at Rupert Murdoch's "News of the World" tabloid, the company tried to portray it as the work of a rogue reporter.

Well, that was far from true as a spate of high level arrests has shown, but the company is making no such claim now about a new scandal at Sky News, Murdock's British satellite channel.

JULIET ETCHINGHAM, ITV NEWS: Sky News, which I'm told Tuesday, was under the chairmanship of James Murdoch, admitted today that it had twice hacked into private E-mails to get stories.

One case resulted in a report about the runaway canoeist, Johns Darwin, which was nominated for an award.


KURTZ: That's a case in which a man faked his own death in an insurance scam. And Sky News obtained E-mails from his wife who was later sent to jail.

The Sky News shenanigans were reported by "The Guardian" which also led the way in the phone-hacking debacle.

Now, you might think that Sky News would be remorseful over doing something that is against British law, especially since the E-mail hacking laws approved by its managing editor, John Cole.

But Sky News says in a statement, "We stand by these actions as editorially justified and in the public interest."

"We do not take such decisions lightly or frequently. They require finely balanced judgment based on individual circumstances and must always be subjected to the proper editorial control."

Excuse me, but that's bloody rubbish. The folks at Murdoch's channel are saying they reserve the right to break the law whenever they think a story is worth it.

But why stop at E-mail hacking? Why not break into someone's house to get the goods? The failure to recognize right and wrong here is as troubling as the hacking itself.

When we come back, we'll turn our attention to politics. And it looks like the pundits and the prognosticators are declaring the Republican race over. That's in a moment.


KURTZ: Breaking news this morning is that Mike Wallace has died. I have just been handed a statement from CBS News about the irrepressible "60 Minutes" correspondent.

Les Moonves, the chairman of CBS Corporation, says, "His extraordinary contribution as a broadcaster is immeasurable."

And Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News talks about Wallace's iconic style, "We loved him and we will miss very much." Mike Wallace, dead at 93.

Turning now to the campaign, the biggest story in politics this week was Mitt Romney sweeping the primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland, and D.C., and their collective verdict of the media establishment.


STEVE SCHMIDT, FMR. JOHN MCCAIN CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Nothing is going to stop Mitt Romney from being the man. The race is effectively over.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rick Santorum has won 11 states. That's nothing to sneeze at.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You have to say, he is running a very credible campaign. He remains a credible candidate, but I think it's all but over.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED POLITICAL COLUMNIST: Two minutes are left, and he is out of timeouts. It's really over. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: What is the impact of these journalistic pronouncements? Joining us now to scrutinize coverage of the campaign, in San Francisco, Debra Saunders, columnist for "The San Francisco Chronicle."

And here in Washington, Erin McPike, national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics. And John Aravosis, the founder of ""

Debra Saunders, sure, Mitt Romney is very likely to win the GOP nomination, but where does the press get off declaring this thing over?

DEBRA SAUNDERS, COLUMNIST, "THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": Well, I think the public declared it over. I think people are so tired of this race. And I mean, in terms of the delegates, it's over unless there's a solar flare-up or something.

And have you to start deciding how you want to cover things. Ron Paul came to "The Chronicle" for an editorial board meeting on Thursday.

And I have to tell you, I didn't treat him as if he were a viable candidate. I mean, he is the like the candidate emeritus now. He is out having a great time talking to college students, but everybody knows that he is not going to be president in 2012.

KURTZ: Right. All right. And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) piece in the "Washington Post" this morning, "Why are Newt and Santorum still running?"

John Aravosis, it seems like the media can now kill off a candidate just by cutting off his oxygen.

JOHN ARAVOSIS, FOUNDER, "AMERICABLOG.COM": I think that's true. I think, as a reporter, though, you have a problem where, if you want to analyze the news and you truly see that the guy doesn't have a chance, what do you do?

Do you not say it? Sort of like the exit poll controversy we had in the past, where now we don't release exit polls early because we're afraid people won't go out and vote.

Same thing now. It is true. If you prematurely call a candidate dead, is he dead? Well, probably, because you called it, but what do you do if he is dead?

KURTZ: And every time that Santorum goes out and campaigns now, Erin McPike, he is peppered with questions, "When are you dropping out? Why are you still in the race? Won't you lose your home state of Pennsylvania?" We don't let him talk about anything else.

ERIN MCPIKE, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "REAL CLEAR POLITICS": No, we don't. I talked to the campaign about this yesterday, actually.

And their point to me was there are 3.2 million people who voted for him, and they're certainly not calling for him to get out of the race, so it's not fair to those voters.

KURTZ: Do you agree with that?

MCPIKE: I'm sorry?

KURTZ: Do you agree that it's unfair on the part of journalists?

MCPIKE: I think so, but there's a point I would make about this versus 2008. When we were looking at the primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, we were much more interested in the math and showed the math to the voters.

Tim Russert did a lot of this with this whiteboards. We don't have him around this time to be doing that for us, so it's based on a lot of presumptions this time, which does seem more unfair.

KURTZ: You know how I know that the quest is absolutely, positively, officially and unofficially declared as over? Listen to the chatter about what we all now call the beef-steaks(ph).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did Paul Ryan's vice presidential stock go up or down today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's much more likely that he picked someone like, say, Sen. Portman.

PIERS MORGAN, HOST, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": I'll start with you, Amy. Who should be Mitt Romney's running mate?


MORGAN: Interesting. Ben?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very likely to be Rubio.


KURTZ: Debra, I don't want you to predict who you think will be the running mate. I do want to know what you think about five months before the Tampa convention journalists are now just playing this speculation game.

SAUNDERS: Well, I think this is an area where journalists end up often get burned that we look sort of silly, because, usually, we have no idea who they're going to pick.

Karl Rove, in his book, talked about how, as a practical joke, they leaked the name of one person to a staffer who they thought was too friendly with the press. And sure enough, all these stories tumbled out. Sometimes, the media are right. You were right about Biden in 2008. But sometimes, they just play us because they like to throw out names and see what happens.

KURTZ: Anybody want to disagree that this is silly, especially this far out, and Romney probably doesn't even have a shortlist?

ARAVOSIS: I don't think silly, though. I mean, I think media is at its best when we actually have intelligent, informed people who are helping us understand what's going on.

I think there's been a lot of criticism lately that people say to me is biased or people aren't informed. But I used to like watching the Sunday shows because I liked watching smart people who actually knew more than I did about politics.

And I would say, "Well, that's interesting what he or she thinks is going to happen." Now, I agree. If you go too far, you could tell people what's going to happen, and then they don't vote. Fair enough.

But I think that's our job is to help people analyze what's going to happen.

MCPIKE: Well, assuming that Mitt Romney is the nominee, which we all think eventually he will be, the thing is Boston and the campaign hasn't said anything about who he might choose as his running mate yet. It's all conjecture.

KURTZ: You just wait. It's all conjecture. That's my point. And it's going to get worse, believe me. Let me ask you about this one other huge story this week when Ann Romney, the candidate's wife, was interviewed on a radio show.


CLARENCE MITCHELL, WBAL RADIO: Do you have to fight back some criticism, like, "My husband isn't stiff, OK?"

ANN ROMNEY, FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: Well, you know, I think it -- I guess we'd better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out because he is not.


KURTZ: An important moment for journalism?

MCPIKE: Ann Romney has been making this point before. She said --

KURTZ: Using a different verb perhaps?

MCPIKE: Using a different verb. I mean, she did say to Piers Morgan, "Look, I wish the rest of the country would see what I see. I wish the media would see what I see." So she was just making that point with different language. KURTZ: Well, I mean, look, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And she is much looser than he is, and I enjoy lisping to her, even if sometimes she says things that maybe are a little off color.

I want to turn now to President Obama, and this was widely reported. But I kind of think the press let the president off easy on this one.

And these were his comments about the Supreme Court where he talked about the health care case, that the justices overruled on it, talked about unelected justices and how it would be unprecedented for the court, the high court, to overrule a duly passed law adopted by Congress and a largely party line vote.

Bill Plante on CBS who, ironically enough, we talked to about the passing of Mike Wallace's, got into it with Obama's press secretary Jay Carney. Let's take a listen. Hope we have that.


BILL PLANTE, CBS REPORTER: You're standing up there and twisting yourself because he made a mistake and you can't admit it.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, no, no. I'm acknowledging -- you're sharing in a righteous indignation here.


KURTZ: So Debra Saunders, Plante saying the president made a mistake. And he later walked it back somewhat and you can't admit it.

And I'm just wondering whether you think that more might have been made about a sitting president seeming, at least based on his initial words, to challenge the authority of the Supreme Court.

SAUNDERS: I think there is something to be made of it. I don't want to get too huffy about it, but --

KURTZ: Oh, go ahead.

Saunders: And by the way, he also said, Howie -- but he also said a strong majority in Congress passed it, when the House vote was seven votes apart, so that's not exactly true.

The thing is he is a former constitutional law professor. He knows better than to say that this would be unprecedented.

At the same time he is saying that the court shouldn't overturn a law passed by Congress, he is trying to get the court to overturn DOMA, the marriage act, so he is being hypocritical. He is talking like a conservative. But most important, it wasn't a smart thing to do.


SAUNDERS: He is signaling he thinks -- KURTZ: I didn't mean to cut you off --

SAUNDERS: He is signaling he doesn't think it's going to happen.

KURTZ: OK. I know what John Aravosis thinks because he is rolling his eyes. The camera didn't pick it up. But we had the same old partisan split where this was a very big story on Fox News.

And MSNBC -- people who are either defending the president -- pundits, I should say -- or saying this was a phony controversy. It's not a phony controversy. Words matter.

ARAVOSIS: Yes, words do matter. And this morning, I reread what the president said. He said the court ought to give deference to Congress and realize that real people are being affected by this law.

That isn't the same thing as Newt Gingrich saying, "We're going to send the marshals in," which he did in December, "and eradicate any courts we disagree with."

OK. That's controversial. Obama, if anything, showed a wee bit of backbone. And I agree that should be a story because if the president shows a little ire, I think that's great.

But come on, let's look at what he actually said, Howie. I don't think it's that controversial.

KURTZ: I wonder if the media would have actually been different, Erin, if George W. Bush, for example, had said "I'm confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented extraordinary step of overturning a law passed by a strong majority. The court has done this on numerous occasions.

MCPIKE: That's true, but I disagree with you a little bit on this, because I have a slightly different perspective in that. I spoke to a number of Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill shortly after oral arguments.

And they went a lot further than the president in saying things like, "I think the court is patriotic enough not to create the kind of chaos that would come from overturning this law."

KURTZ: But what is your disagreement?

MCPIKE: I think that the president was more measured in (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KURTZ: I don't to grade whether -- so the president was more measured and therefore the mainstream media were justified in not making it a bigger story?

MCPIKE: I think it was enough of a story and I agree that he did show some backbone. And most of what he was saying was based on precedent, a little less political than what I heard from Democrats on Capitol Hill. ARAVOSIS: I do think it is news, however. I read that quote from the president when it first came out. And thought, wow, he is actually kind of standing up to the court a little bit. That is news worthy. I don't think it is extreme.

KURTZ: All right. Well, I'm going to disagree on that.

SAUNDERS: But he is a former --

KURTZ: Go ahead, Debra.

SAUNDERS: Former law professor and what he said was inaccurate about it being unprecedented.


KURTZ: But we do have --

ARAVOSIS: But unprecedented is extreme? Come on.

KURTZ: We do have to point out that the president backtracked on this which meant he didn't say exactly the way he wanted to say it. I still think it should have been a bigger story.

I want to get to one more element here in this segment, and that is the president held a day-long, at least a lengthy event at the White House about women, trying to make the case the administration has cared a lot about this important voting bloc, and the Republicans perhaps not so much.

And moderating a discussion over at the White House was MSNBC co- host of "Morning Joe," Mika Brzezinski. Let's take a look.


BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: I thank Mika for helping moderate today and proving on your show every morning that women really are the better half.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI, COHOST, "MORNING JOE": We are going to be looking at the accomplishments of this White House as it pertains to women and the economy.

We have clearly a lot of work still to do and many challenges before us. And the key is to talk about them, address them and overcome them as soon as possible, but also to celebrate what has been done, especially in the past few years by this administration.


KURTZ: Debra Saunders, should an MSNBC anchor be moderating a White House event and talking about celebrating what the administration has accomplished?

SAUNDERS: No. She shouldn't be doing it.

ARAVOSIS: You know, Fox hosts do this and they have in the past.

KURTZ: Not the White House.

ARAVOSIS: Not the White House, but they go to campaign events. I don't necessarily like it. I think what -- I agree with you to some degree, OK?

Mika Brzezinski on a show which leans right, obviously, so maybe the White House thought, hey, we're getting somebody from a right-wing show, so there's the balance right there.

I do think that it depends how she carried herself. If she was a real journalist and asked them tough questions, then I think it is good.

KURTZ: Well, Mika Brzezinski is entitled to have opinions. She's on an opinion show. She's no longer a reporter for CBS News. But I just think the optics of moderating at the White House are not ideal.

I'm going to cut it off right there, Erin McPike, John Aravosis, Debra Saunders. I do want to mention in the last segment, talking about the firing of John Derbyshire at "National Review."

We put up the picture of the editor of the "National Review," Rich Lowry, except we put up the wrong picture. I'm sorry for that.

Perhaps the right picture we can put up now, to correct that mistake in real time. There is Rich Lowry. Sorry for that misidentification.

Still to come on this program, NBC finally admits a terrible mistake in the Trayvon Martin story. A Fox Anchor tweets out a bizarre conspiracy theory. And HBO ready to air a new drama about a crazy cable show. "Media Monitor," straight ahead.


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

Well, it took more than a week but NBC News has finally apologized for selectively editing the 911 tape in the Trayvon Martin case.

As I said on last week's program, what the "Today" show did with George Zimmerman's call shortly before the shooting was blatant distortion. It's worth another look.


GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, VOLUNTEER WATCHMAN WHO SHOT TRAYVON MARTIN: This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black.

911 OPERATOR: Did you see what he was wearing?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes, a dark hoodie.


KURTZ: And here is what NBC cut out from the middle, this question from the dispatcher.


911 OPERATOR: This guy -- is he white, black or Hispanic?

ZIMMERMAN: He looks black.


KURTZ: So Zimmerman was actually responding to a question. NBC says its investigation found, quote, "an error made in the production process that we deeply regret."

NBC on Friday fired the veteran producer involved but refused to identify him. NBC News president Steve Capus tells Reuters that several staffers were disciplined and the network apologized to viewers, but not to Zimmerman.

Heather Childers is a Fox weekend anchor who's been rather active on Twitter. There was, for example, this message, "Thoughts -- did Obama campaign threaten Chelsea Clinton's life to keep parents silent?"

I am not making this up. Childers linked to an article on a fringe Web site making the ludicrous charge that Bill Clinton knows that Obama doesn't have a legitimate birth certificate.

These and related messages have been taken down and Fox senior vice president Michael Clemente says the tweets have been addressed with Heather and she understands this was a mistake. Passing on conspiratorial garbage? I'll say.

Finally, Aaron Sorkin, famous, of course, for "The West Wing" and the Facebook movie, "Social Network," has given us a sneak peek at his upcoming HBO series, "The Newsroom," which features a volatile anchor, actor Jeff Daniels, taking on his critics in a polarized culture.


JEFF DANIELS, ACTOR: You're jumping a sinking ship.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You had a grant.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: We are trying to do a good news show and make it popular at the same time.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What can possibly go wrong?

DANIELS: Good evening. I'm Will McAvoy(ph).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Can you move your Blackberry off the desk? UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Make sure everybody knows this is what blowing it looks like.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Get it together down there.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: He is trying to do good and he is risking a lot to do it.


KURTZ: I'm not saying this is based on any one cable hot head, but Sorkin did spend time hanging with Keith Olbermann.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media.

"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.