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Romney Hits "Left-Wing" Media; Huffington's Pulitzer

Aired April 22, 2012 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: When Newt Gingrich was denouncing the debate moderators, when Rick Santorum accused "The New York Times" reporter of B.S. -- I thought, well, I thought at least Mitt Romney hasn't engaged in media bashing. That is until this week.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think you're absolutely right that there will be an effort by the, quote, "vast left wing conspiracy."


KURTZ: Romney accuses many in the press of doing Barack Obama's bidding. Does he have a legitimate beef?

Plus --


DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: He got sick, right?

ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: Once. We traveled all the time, and he ate the turkey on the counter. I mean, he had the runs.


KURTZ: More on the family's infamous car trip. Is campaign coverage going to the dogs?

A breakthrough in the Pulitzer Prizes with "The Huffington Post" and "Politico" winning the coveted awards. We'll talk about the new era of digital journalism with Arianna Huffington.

And behind the scenes with North Korea, conversations with ABC's Bob Woodruff on reporting in that secretive country under the eye of government minders.


BOB WOODRUFF, ABC NEWS: Wherever you go, they are there with you. You can go 20 yards away, 50 yards away, but not much beyond that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: And whether "The L.A. Times" should have published those possibly inflammatory pictures of American soldiers posing with mutilated Afghan fighters.

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


KURTZ: Mitt Romney has done six cable news interviews in the last four weeks, five of them with FOX News. Now that he's emerged as the unofficial Republican nominee, Romney is still keeping the national media at arm's length, still granting little access to the reporters who cover him -- and now, in an interview with Breitbart TV, accusing journalists of being in the tank for the other guy.


LARRY O'CONNOR, BREITBART NEWS: These organizations who are attacking you were nonprofit and they're working with the campaign. Hopefully, we can call on you to -- or have you call on an investigation for them?

ROMNEY: I don't know how much is related to breaking the law and how much is this related to the fact that many in the media are inclined to do the president's bidding and I -- you know, I know that's a battle, that's an uphill battle we fight with the media generally.


KURTZ: So what should he make of this more adversarial stance, and what about the recent reporting on Romney's religion?

Joining us now in New York, Ben Smith, editor in chief of And here in Washington, Jennifer Rubin, author of "The Washington Post" "Right Turn" blog; and Bill Press, host of Current TV's "Full Court Press" and his Sirius XM radio show.

Ben Smith, Romney hasn't been, as I said, a big media basher. Just three weeks ago, he was saluting the newspaper Association of America, responsible, accurate, relevant press.

So, now that he has taken this shot, does he risk further alienating the people in the press?

BEN SMITH, BUZZFEED.COM: You know, I think that old line about not alienating people who buy ink by the barrel is long gone. You see, it's almost part of politics now to attack the press. Barack Obama did it constantly in 2008. Sneered at the cable news cycle in particular.

And I think for Republicans right now to say to the press, I think it's almost part of the party platform that the press is biased against you.

KURTZ: Jennifer Rubin, Romney has been doing a lot of interviews with local television stations.


KURTZ: But, can you run in a general election as opposed to Republican primary mainly by dealing with the conservative media?

RUBIN: No. I don't think so. And actually, he hasn't been very friendly to the conservative media either. He's -- as you have written and I have written, he had a rather hostile relationship with them.

KURTZ: You interviewed him once.

RUBIN: I interviewed him once. Many on the conservative side, "National Review" has interviewed him. Many others have not.

I think this is a mistake. It has been a mistake. I have written him throughout that he should be more accessible.

He's a pretty good spokesman for his own cause.

KURTZ: So, why is he so wary of the press in general and even the conservative media in particular?

RUBIN: I think this goes to the overall caution of the campaign, the desire not to make any mistakes. But I think by restricting him, it highlights each and every incident so that if he makes a small mistake in one, it really stands out. If he did more of these, it would sort of blend into the background.

KURTZ: I think you're right. When you do so few, then everyone becomes more of a tension-filled event.

And, Bill Press, reporters shouldn't treat Romney any differently even though they're spending all their employer's money to fly with him around the country, and he barely does any press availability, but inevitably, this is kind of an undercurrent of resentment, is there not?

BILL PRESS, CURRENT TV: Well, there is. But I have to tell you -- you know what? I am just sick and tired of all these politicians, all of them, whining about the media. Give me a break.

You know? Look,, first of all, I also want to say that Romney has been treated poorly by the conservative media. I mean, Joe Scarborough says he doesn't know one Republican that he talks to that thinks Romney is going to win.

Now, that's not like helping his case. So -- I mean, Santorum and Gingrich complain about FOX. Not so long ago, they were on FOX's payroll, and now Mitt Romney -- I think the truth is they all have gotten pretty fair treatment. Better than they deserve in most cases.

RUBIN: Well, I would like to second that, and I have made that rant on this program as well that conservatives -- at least candidates, whine about this way too much. And they sound like victims. Voters aren't interested in this. It's fine for all of us to critique and the media should be held to a standard.

KURTZ: Right.

RUBIN: But for candidates themselves, I think it comes across as kind of whiney.

PRESS: And can I just point out? It wasn't a reporter who said the trees are just the right size in Michigan.

KURTZ: Here we go --

PRESS: I mean, all of those things, they say them.

KURTZ: He says some things that he'd probably wish he hadn't said.

Let me turn now to something that's been kind of below the radar. Maybe it's now coming above the radar, and that is a focus on Mitt Romney's religion.

I want to play for you a couple of clips, including an interview that he did do this week with a member of the mainstream media, ABC's Diane Sawyer.


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN: Now that Mitt Romney is the likely Republican nominee, he may need to begin talking about his Mormon faith. It would help clear up some lingering questions about Mormonism, a religion that still seems odd and insular to many.

SAWYER: People think you're reluctant to talk about being a Mormon?

ROMNEY: Of course not. I don't think there's anyone particularly in the Republican primaries that doesn't know that I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.


KURTZ: Ben Smith, you ran a piece the other day by McKay Coppins, who is a Mormon, saying that new voices are demanding that Romney talk more about his religion and particularly his history of discrimination against blacks.

But isn't it basically the media that are demanding this?

SMITH: Well, I think part of a presidential campaign is this kind of broad conversation about everything around the candidate. I mean, it's almost like this is where we talk about stuff, race and religion in America. And when people talk about a national conversation, much of it is the presidential campaign.

I think this is a huge part of Romney's life. He is a major donor to the church. He was a lay leader in the church. It's also, I think, there's all this nonsense about sinister Mormonism sort of floating out there. You showed a clip of this. I mean, I don't quite understand where that's coming from. It's this great American religion that I think people are learning about, and I don't see -- I think the media's role is to explain it.

I don't think Romney has kind of any moral imperative to do one thing or the other, but it is our job to cover him, write about him, sort of in the fullness of who he is.

KURTZ: And yet, Jennifer Rubin, you described this piece on BuzzFeed as an effort to portrait Mormons as weirdly out of step and unmodern. But, of course, as I mention, the author is a member of the LDS church.

RUBIN: Well, I don't, for a moment, subscribe to the notion that people of a certain religion can't make mistakes or show intemperance regarding their own faith. We don't say that of Jewish reporters or Persian reporters.

KURTZ: Why was this a mistake?

RUBIN: My concern about this piece was that it made a specific action -- Ann Romney's decision to stay home -- a function without talking to her, without interviewing her, without contacting the campaign, a result of her Mormon faith. And then went on to cite chapter and verse of a lot of Mormon ideology.

And making that inference I think is unfair. What motivates Mitt Romney is fair game, but simply to juxtapose her views or his views and Mormon theology I think is unfair and really not representative of what these people actually think and actually do in their public lives.


SMITH: Well, interviews with Ann Romney are hard to come by, although I think Jen did score one. But -- this was -- this came after a week of largely inane speculation about Ann Romney's decision and, you know, what it all meant, and this huge missing piece of it had been that this is a church that very specifically values and to this day in its sort of orthodox central stream values, women staying home and put a lot of stress that does it in a way that's different from others. It's a choice. It's an equal partnership. Not -- it's not a matter of subordination or submission.

I think, you know, this was something I didn't know, and I was glad to read the story and learn about it.

PRESS: You know, Howie, I have to say, I think it's true. Let's accept that all religions have weird beliefs, OK? I mean, I'm a Catholic. Can I tell you about the virgin birth, for example? You know?

So, I think we should in the media basically give all faiths a pass and not dwell on his Mormonism, unless -- if I can -- I think that's where you are going. Unless we find out his faith is dictating his beliefs on like what public policy --

RUBIN: Right.

PRESS: -- ought to be.

And if that's the case with Ann Romney, we don't know it's the case with Ann Romney --


KURTZ: Yes, he would be the first Mormon president, in the sense, that's newsworthy. But there is a focus his religion and a curiosity in the media about his religion that you simply wouldn't see if he was a garden variety Christian.

RUBIN: I think that's right, but I also --

KURTZ: I understand Mormons are also Christians.

RUBIN: Yes. Now, there have been two very expansive pieces. One in the "New York Times", one in "The Washington Post" on his relationship with the church, on his mentoring, on his responsibilities as a lay leader. And I think that was helpful in kind of flushing out who he is.

But I do agree with Bill that simply talking about the liturgy of a religion, juxtaposing that with a candidate and assuming that all of his public actions flow from that is really unfair and does provoke this sort of -- I think religious intensity and this religious combativeness that we would be better off without.

PRESS: In a sense, Howie, I think it's parallel to John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic who had a serious shot to the presidency. So, there's more focus on Catholicism and his relation with the Pope at large.


PRESS: Orrin Hatch has been a good public servant. Harry Reid has been a good public servant. They're both Mormons. There's no reason why Mitt Romney can't be a good president.

KURTZ: I want to move on.

But, Ben Smith, have you gotten much pushback on this particular piece?

SMITH: We got some pushback notably from Jennifer. Also, if you read the comment section of the piece had Mormons saying, wow, this is a great piece. I'm going to use it in my sermon on Sunday.

KURTZ: I tease this at the top, but among the many topics covered in the interview that Mitt and Ann Romney did with Diane Sawyer, was this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SAWYER: We got two questions most often. First about Seamus, which as you know is out there forever. Would you do it again?

M. ROMNEY: Certainly not with the intention --


SAWYER: You said it was the most wounding thing in the campaign so far.

A. ROMNEY: It's crazy. The dog loved it.


KURTZ: I'm going to go back to Ben Smith on this one. I mean, this was 30 years ago, and I said a few months ago and it's perfectly amuse, but I hope it's not going to take over the campaign, but yet, the media keep -- I'm not going to keep metaphors. Anyway, the media keep on this.

Why? Haven't we had enough of this dog story?

SMITH: I mean, to me the basic point as I wrote the other day is if this is the worst thing Mitt Romney has done in his life, he's in pretty good shape.


KURTZ: And conservatives --

SMITH: Which isn't to say it's not a fun running joke.

KURTZ: And you have been joking about it on Twitter. I'll come to you in a second.

But conservatives now pointing to Barack Obama's memoir. He ate dog meat at the age of 9 when he was living in Indonesia, and that is terrible, and that has been a way of barking at the president.

PRESS: Yes, I want to make a big confession right now, all right? When Carol and I were raising our kids, there were times we left them in the car in the car seats and went in a restaurant and had dinner. We could get arrested for that today.

You know, this -- I think what Romney did with the dog was dumb. It was wrong. It was a different time. He ought to just say, boy, we would never do that again today. And Ann Romney should stop saying that Seamus loves it.

KURTZ: Loved it.

PRESS: Fine.

For conservatives to keep it alive by comparing what a grown man in America did to a 9-year-old did in Indonesia in a different culture, I think, is absurd, and they're just keeping it alive. KURTZ: The media is spending more time on this than the Buffett Rule.

RUBIN: It's insane.

KURTZ: It is.

RUBIN: And, you know, I did a piece to try to sort of lump all these stories, Ted Nugent and the dogs and eating the dog, the whole thing. And it really is a really terrible disservice to the public. It really --

KURTZ: Is it hijacking the campaign?

RUBIN: It hijacks the campaign.

KURTZ: Who is at fault?

RUBIN: The media, for covering these idiotic storylines, for assuming that the small things tell says great big things about the candidates, which they don't.

PRESS: But Ann has to stop defending it and saying Seamus loved it.

KURTZ: I think we have a rare consensus on this the dog issue, one of the great issues facing the country.

When we come back, the New York tabloid that published a picture of an alleged prostitute in the Secret Service scandal and how the rest of the media are handling it.


KURTZ: The press has been all over the Secret Service prostitution scandal this week with "New York Times" obtaining the first interview with one of the alleged call girls in Colombia, who said one of the agents tried for stiff her by offering her just 30 bucks.

The coverage took an unusual detour when New York's "Daily News" published what it said was a picture of this alleged prostitute. You can see that here. CNN is blurring out the woman's face.

Bill Press, the scandal is about the Secret Service agents and what they did or did not do. Not the prostitutes playing their trade. Would you publish those pictures?

PRESS: Sure.


PRESS: First of all, this woman says she's not a prostitute. She says she's an escort, which means you can take her out to dinner first. It's more expensive. She has hired a lawyer. She's going to sue the Secret Service, she says, and one of her friends is saying, you watch. She's going to be on the cover of "Playboy" before this is over. She is --

KURTZ: Her friend saying.


KURTZ: You are saying she has made herself part of the story?

PRESS: Yes, exactly. So --

KURTZ: All right.

Ben Smith, now most TV news shows did what I just did there and blurred the pictures. But a couple of exceptions, CBS this morning, "FOX and Friends," but they're all over the web. I think if BuzzFeed is one.

SMITH: Yes, I think we did. And I don't -- yes, I think I agree with Bill. She is very much part of the story. I mean, this doesn't strike as the most momentous news decision in the history of news decisions. But yes, I don't see any problem with running the pictures.

KURTZ: But the contrast to me was, what about the agents who are being accused of the misconduct? Now, "The Washington Post" apparently was the first to name a couple of the agents, Jennifer Rubin, and it showed David Chaney's Facebook page which had with him a picture from the 2008 campaign, him standing behind Sarah Palin, with the notation, "I was really checking her out, if you know what I mean?"

That prompted this response from the former Alaska governor.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: This agent who was kind of ridiculous there in posting pictures and comments about checking someone out. Well, check this out, bodyguard. You're fired. I hope his wife kicks his okole and sends him to the doghouse.



KURTZ: You know how to translate that for me.


KURTZ: I don't blame her for fighting back.

RUBIN: You don't.

KURTZ: But using an agent's Facebook page, if he is dumb enough to do this in public, that give you any pause? RUBIN: No, again, he put himself out there. These guys are in a heap of trouble. They brought disgrace on a part of our government that ranks in very high esteem with the public, that is known for its professionalism. These guys screwed up badly, and the pressure to report it.

PRESS: You know the story here is, that was -- those are of 2008. That was on his Facebook page long before Colombia. So, where was the oversight on the Secret Service?

Somebody should have jump odd that guy and said, hey, wait a minute, this is not who we are. This is not professional. And he got away with it.

KURTZ: What's interesting is that the "Washington Post" this morning has an interview with a senior Secret Service supervisor, Paula Reid, who is said to have taken control of the situation, banished the agents from Colombia during President Obama's visit there. I think in an effort by the agency to kind of get out ahead of this story and show that it is aggressively investigating.

But I wonder, this has gotten a lot of coverage, Ben Smith, deservedly so. It's a damaging scandal. These people are charged with protecting the president.

But is the coverage in any way unfairly tarnishing the whole agency for the actions of a relative handful?

SMITH: It's not that relative a handful. I mean, this strikes me as the sort of thing for which an agency ought to be tarnished. It's -- you know, this was the core team protecting the president in a foreign country, doing something that I'm not sure if it endangered the president's life. It was certainly a huge embarrassment and, you know, was involved in their on duty, you know, in country actions.

I would just add that we also, a reporter created creepy Secret Service mime, to which anyone can contribute if they'd like.

KURTZ: Anyone disagree with the notion that --


KURTZ: I mean, a lot of people in the Secret Service do their jobs and they don't go around with hookers.

PRESS: No, I don't think it's tarnishing the reputation of the Secret Service. It's the worst thing that's happened to them in a long time. No more than the 11 military -- let's not forget -- who are being investigated and tarnishing the reputation of the Pentagon or the United States military. These are 22 individuals who acted monumentally dumb and deserve to lose their jobs, as far as I'm concerned.

KURTZ: Before we go, you mentioned Ted Nugent --

RUBIN: Yes. KURTZ: -- the aging rock star, if I can still call him that, who made those comments about President Obama and we have to charge the voting booth and chop their heads off. The Secret Service talked to him.


KURTZ: Do you think the media played that up a little too much?

RUBIN: A little bit. Even the White House wouldn't jump on this one. They said, listen, you know, we all have millions of supporters who say stupid things all the time, and I think we should begin to distinguish between people who are actually representatives or who have some standing in the political community and people who are just celebrities saying dumb things.

KURTZ: But, of course, he is a celebrity.

All right. Bill Press, Jennifer Rubin, Ben Smith, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Up next, Arianna Huffington on her Web site winning a Pulitzer Prize. Is "The Huffington Post" getting more serious about journalism?


KURTZ: When Arianna Huffington launched her Web site seven years ago, she drew her share of snickers, was this just a vanity project for her and her rich Hollywood friends?

Well, "The Huffington Post" has grown into a traffic monster, was bought by AOL, and this week, won its first Pulitzer Prize for a 10- part series by reporter David Wood on the struggles of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

What does that mean for online journalism?

Joining us now from Los Angeles is Arianna Huffington, president and editor in chief of the Huffington Post Media Group.


And let me start by asking you, you know, it's only one prize, but it's a prestigious prize. Do you see this as something of a breakthrough?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTON POST: Well, it definitely is a breakthrough. It's something that we're grateful for. The newsroom was elated, and it means a lot both for "Huff Post," for all our reporters and editors, but also for online journalism. It's a demonstration that great journalism can be practiced on any platform.

In fact, what we showed with this 10-part series is you can bring in all the different elements that go into a great story on the web -- video, info graphics, commenting, the participation of our readers. Beyond the stories themselves we had dozens of contributions from vets and families that read David's great, moving and very empowering stories. Because at the end of its story, there was a whole list of things that people could do to help with that.

KURTZ: Right. Because I was going to ask you, David Wood is somebody who spent most of his career in newspapers. And a 10-part series kind of feels and sounds more like something a newspaper would do than an online digital site.

So, I'm wondering if you think in some ways that "Huffington Post" as an example of new media and old media are moving closer together, that might have seemed the case five, six years ago?

HUFFINGTON: I do actually. We've always said from the beginning, back in 2005, that we want to embrace the best of the old and the best of the new. That's what we've done, and that's what we want to continue to do.

To be both a very vibrant journalistic enterprise with about 500 journalists and reporters now, and a growing number of international editions, and to also be a platform with thousands of contributors over 30,000 bloggers, thousands of submissions every week so that basically we are really the place where conversations start.

And a series, even an ambitious one like David Wood's on the struggles of returning vets, or the poverty series that we're in the middle of right now, where we have 26 reporters all over America covering different aspects of poverty in America. But, again, that's still just the beginning.

What really makes a "Huff Pos" story is all the contributions that come from people who are reading and want to share their own experiences.

KURTZ: Now, your staff, Arianna, does original reporting, as you've just indicated and this Pulitzer Prize, it clearly indicates. But on many days, your lead story is rewritten summary of something that's in the "New York Times," "The Washington Post," "The Wall Street Journal," or elsewhere.

And this is an old debate, but as you know, you've gotten criticized from some of the old media types that are being sort of a free rider, that the other newsrooms paid for this reporting, and you get to repackage it on your site -- as other sites do as well.

What's your latest thought on that?

HUFFINGTON: Well, clearly, a newsroom of 500 journalists is no free ride, and devoting the resources we devoted to be on the battlefield, which meant David Wood working on the series for eight months, traveling everywhere, talking to dozens of people is no free ride.

But beyond that, we actually believe that the kind of journalism that "Huff Post" practiced is a combination of original reporting, aggregation, and blogging and commenting, participation from the community.

And, you know, Howie, even if I had an unlimited budget, I would always be aggregating because our promise to our readers is that we are going to bring you the best of the web. And we are not producing everything --

KURTZ: Sure.

HUFFINGTON: -- and -- that appears online.

And as long as our readers know that they come to "The Huffington Post" and read a great story that you wrote on "The Daily Beast," so that as someone wrote in "The New York Times," as we had a story they did about Wal-Mart story, that's our splash yesterday.


HUFFINGTON: And by linking back to you or to "The Times," we're driving traffic that you guys can monetize.

KURTZ: All right.

Yes, that Wal-Mart about the bribery scandal in Mexico is quite a story by "The Times."

But, as you know, "The Huffington Post" is also known for celebrity gossip and wardrobe malfunctions. Just in the last couple of days, you've had Pam Anderson in a skimpy onesy and Katy Perry's dress falling off.

Does this Pulitzer help change the perception that a lot of your traffic -- I'm sure some of your traffic does come from that. Will it help change the image of "The Huffington Post"?

HUFFINGTON: We've said, again, all along that we are a mixture of the high and the low, high brow and low brow. The truth is that most human beings consume news in that way. We want to read the big, in-depth stories on poverty or the struggles of returning vets, and we also want to read the latest things about Lindsay Lohan or Pamela Anderson. And if we don't, we don't have to.

That's why everything is clearly marked and indicated on the site. The right-hand side, the right-hand column is our light stuff, comedy, celebrity. If somebody wants to skip that and only read the serious, in-depth series, that's available to them. We now have 66 sections, and we cover everything from books and arts --

KURTZ: Sixty-sections. That's remarkable.

HUFFINGTON: Yes, books and arts. And, you know, another great thing, Howie, is that, tomorrow, for example, is the French election. Increasingly, our international editions are acting like bureaus for us. Our French editors have a whole plan with our English and American editors and Canadian editors about how to cover the French election with translators at the ready to bring in in real time what is going to be happening in France tomorrow. KURTZ: Clearly --

HUFFINGTON: That's what is happening in Spain, in Italy, et cetera.

KURTZ: Clearly -- clearly, the Arianna Huffington empire is going global. But now since your site was sold to AOL, I should say, for $315 million about a year ago, I have now read reports recently that you have expanded your AOL empire to include communications and marketing and other divisions.

And I have also read reports that you have been demoted because you are no longer overseeing other AOL sites like "Tech Crunch," "Endgadget" and "Moviefone." So which is it?

HUFFINGTON: Well, what's happening is that as "The Huffington Post" has been growing. Internationally, we're launching a streaming network, as you know, at the end of June.

We felt it was important to bring in all these functions -- technology, marketing -- under one umbrella because it makes it easier for us to scale faster. In the course of time, we're going to decide what other parts of AOL should be more freestanding brands.

We haven't made the decisions on all that, but we're in the process of making them.

KURTZ: All right. I have some breaking news that I would be remiss in not mentioning. You have a piece up today talking about a new app, new application that you are working on with some partners called "GPS for the Soul."

It measures stress levels in various ways. But you write something that really caught my eye, something personal. You said, Arianna, that, "After years of overwork and over-connectedness, there was a time when I passed out."

"I broke my cheek bone and got five stitches over my eye." Yet, now that you have this role at AOL, as well as "The Huffington Post," I don't have the sense that you have slowed up much.

HUFFINGTON: No. But you know, I have become much more conscious about sleeping enough. We have a dedicated section on sleep at "The Huffington Post" about that --

KURTZ: There goes another plug.

Huffington: I'm plugging and recharging. And the "GPS for the Soul," which is an app we're going to be launching in the next two months, is really to help all of us realize when we are stressed and find the right steps for us to course correct and get back to that place of relaxation and ultimately wisdom, too. That's the place from which we make our best decisions.

KURTZ: All right. I have less than a minute, but you and I have talked before about the political tone of "The Huffington Post," and how many of your commentators are left-leaning.

Still, since going to AOL, you haven't felt the need to balance it by having more conservative voices?

HUFFINGTON: Oh, we are very open to conservative voices. We are actually serializing David Frum's book right now. We have had dozens of blogs on conservatives including Conrad Black. And we see our coverage as beyond left and right.

Honestly, the major issues that matter in this country at the moment, including Afghanistan, including poverty, are not left-right issues. And to continue to see them through that obsolete prism really does a disservice to the country.

KURTZ: All right. Congratulations, again, on the prize. And thanks for getting up early in L.A. Arianna Huffington, thanks for joining us.

HUFFINGTON: Thank you so much.

KURTZ: After the break, ABC obtains a picture of a bloody George Zimmerman which casts over the early commentary on the Trayvon Martin case in a very different light. A look at the coverage, that's next.


KURTZ: When the national media finally got around to reporting on the Trayvon Martin case, there was a sense of disbelief that a neighborhood watch volunteer could fatally shoot an unarmed teenager.

But there was also plenty of anger and outrage and histrionics by folks who portrayed George Zimmerman as a cold-blooded murderer. He may be that. I don't know.

We in the press didn't have all the facts then and we don't have all the facts now. What I do know is that some pundits and television lawyers engaged in a rush to judgment based on a narrative that has gotten more complicated especially with this report from ABC News.


MATT GUTMAN, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Never-before-seen-publicly pictures seem to support George Zimmerman's assertion that he felt he was in a life-and-death struggle with Trayvon Martin that night.


KURTZ: Now, we can't show you the picture because CNN hasn't purchased the rights from ABC, but you have probably seen it. The shot of Zimmerman's badly bloodied head soon after the shooting doesn't prove it was justified, but it does show there was a serious struggle.

Meanwhile, the defendant was granted a $150,000 bond on Friday after a prosecutor questioned whether he was playing to the press with his apology. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, NEIGHBORHOOD WATCHMAN WHO SHOT TRAYVON MARTIN: I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son. I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am. And I did not know if he was armed or not.

BERNIE DE LA RIONDA, ATTORNEY FOR THE PROSECUTION: So that's really addressed to the family where the media happens to be, correct, Mr. Zimmerman?

ZIMMERMAN: No, to the mother and the father.


KURTZ: So while Zimmerman remains behind bars for now, the airwaves are filled are arguments over whether he should be released. And thanks to the cameras in the Florida courtroom, this is shaping up to be the next O.J. trial.

I know this may sound old-fashioned and out of step with our "pop off first, ask questions later" culture, but this isn't like arguing over politics or sports.

It's a criminal trial, not some cable soap opera for our amusement. We just inflame things in this racially-charged case by convicting or acquitting the defendant in the court of public opinion.

Our on-camera experts might keep that in mind that they've already gotten out ahead of the facts in this tragedy.

In a moment --


KURTZ: Very few western journalists get to see North Korea from the inside. But a handful were recently admitted when the communist regime, defying international pressure by attempting to launch a rocket. One of them was ABC's Bob Woodruff.


BOB WOODRUFF, ABC CORRESPONDENT: You know that this country is a very isolated place, but every once in a while they really like to put on a show. So they invited us to witness what could be a great triumph, but instead they are desperately trying to change the topic.


KURTZ: So what are the obstacles of reporting from perhaps the world's most secretive society? I spoke to the ABC correspondent earlier from New York.


(on camera) Bob Woodruff, welcome. WOODRUFF: Great to be here with you, Howard.

KURTZ: Great to have you. It is relatively rare for North Korea to invite western journalists in. I know you have been there before on this trip.

NBC's Richard Engel and CNN's Stan Grant also got to go. How closely supervised were you by government minders during your time in Pyongyang?

WOODRUFF: It's been the same in some ways every time I've been there. This time, it was a little bit more relaxed. Without question, though, wherever you go, they are there with you.

You can go 20 yards away, 50 yards away, but not much beyond that since it's very, very restricted.

KURTZ: The irony is you went over for this rocket launch. And yet, reporters in New York found out the rocket had been launched before you guys did. How was that?

WOODRUFF: Well, you know, the U.S. is watching this from space, but the rest of us, we were there in this -- really in this journalistic spot where, you know, we got the news from phone calls and E-mails that came in from us from those of us reporting from the Pentagon.

So we knew that was going to be the case. What we knew we were going to have is the reaction of the people there in Pyongyang, in the capital of North Korea. We knew we were not going to be the first ones with this information because we didn't have access to the Pentagon of what they're seeing from the air.

KURTZ: There was a little bit of pushback from the White House on this trip. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor(ph) telling Politico you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know this is a propaganda exercise. Reporters have to be careful not to get co-opted. Is that fair?

WOODRUFF: Well, if you are talking about going to the site where the launch was going to happen, they wanted -- they said if you bring an expert with you, then we'll let you in.

It really doesn't do you much to bring an expert because you can't really see much inside the rocket. You can just see it from the outside.

In fact, there was a possibility that in the parade where they brought another kind of missile in the back, whether that's real or not -- we don't even know if that's real or if it's just an image for the propaganda.

But we knew this is propaganda, but the thing about all stories where the government brings you in for propaganda is you can get a lot of things in terms of you -- of what's occurring in a country like that better than anybody else that's never been there before. KURTZ: And what were you able to get? What did you learn on this trip? Were you able to meet any average people and get a sense of the society under this new young leader?

WOODRUFF: I would say more than we did before. We had our minder with us wherever we walked, but you know, they have cell phones there now.

We saw people walking around with cell phones. And with cell phones, they can talk to each other, their friends inside the country, and it's only those that have enough money to buy one of these phones, which is about $250.

So we were able to talk to them. I also -- there's a new -- there's a pizza restaurant there where they had music in it.

And it's actually a joint venture to create this and we were able to sit down and talk to some real North Koreans that are working there as waitresses and all that, which is something we never really were allowed to do before.

KURTZ: That's going to be my headline, "Pizza now served in North Korea." I didn't know that.

WOODRUFF: Actually, now, there's two pizza restaurants there.

KURTZ: All right. I stand corrected.

WOODRUFF: If you go, then you'll have something to eat.

KURTZ: After the colossal failure of this rocket launch, you were brought to a massive celebration presided over by Kim Jong-un. Were you supposed to be wowed by this?

What did you take away from the fact that -- was this something you think in a way was partially staged for the western media?

WOODRUFF: These parades have been exactly that. I mean, the last time I was allowed to come in is when they first introduced Kim Jong-un.

He is the one that stood up there on the balcony with his father, Kim Jong-il, so that all of us had a chance to see, and that was back in 2010.

That was right at the same parade, and they let us stand right next to it to show this whole parade. It's incredibly impressive.

If that's their training is to do goose-stepping, then they're about as good as anybody else has ever been in terms of military (UNINTELLIGIBLE). That's part of it, and we know that's happening.

But we're able to see things. For the first time, we were able to hear for 20 minutes Kim Jong-un speak where his father Kim Jong-il almost never spoke. In fact, it's only one little sentence back in 1992. That was the only time we ever heard him on tape, on video ever. And now his son did that.

So we were able to, you know, see that and see what people's reactions were to it. And we didn't really care much about the parade.

KURTZ: Let me ask you as a veteran war correspondent about the controversy involving the "Los Angeles Times" publishing those photos from Afghanistan over the Pentagon's objection showing U.S. soldiers posing with the body parts of dead Afghan suicide bombers.

The paper getting a lot of criticism. In fact, let me play you something that we aired on Fox News the other day -- Ret. Lt. Col. Ralph Peters.


LT. COL. RALPH PETERS (RET), FOX NEWS STRATEGIC ANALYST: The real scandal is that "The L.A. Times" is desperate to survive, creates a scandal, publishes the pictures over the Pentagon's objections.

The real scandal is that the establishment media leaps on another chance to trash our troops.


KURTZ: Did the "L.A. Times" create this scandal by publishing these pictures?

WOODRUFF: Well, would it have been completely invisible and not even known about, whatsoever, if they did not report? I don't know.

I mean, that's a decision that's always made, but I think that's -- so much has been reported. I don't really know what would have happened differently.

KURTZ: Well, you know, critics say that these kinds of photos could incite violence against U.S. troops, and why not report the story and not show the pictures? If it was up to you, would you publish those pictures?

WOODRUFF: You know, that's an interesting thing to ask me that right now. I think I would have to think about that for a while.

KURTZ: OK. But the paper's editors -- and we invited them on, and they declined. They did delay the publication for several days while talking to the Pentagon. They only ran two out of the 18 pictures that they had.

And here's the interesting point because you have dealt with a lot of soldiers in places like Iraq where you were once injured in Afghanistan.

The pictures were provided by a soldier who was concerned about dysfunction and a breakdown in discipline in the military.

So at least somebody within the bowels of the military felt that this should get out. This effort to paint the media as anti-U.S. Military, you know -- I wonder if you would agree with that.

I mean, one can agree or disagree with the decision to publish a picture. It doesn't necessarily mean a callous disregard for the safety of U.S. soldiers, does it?

WOODRUFF: Well, I mean, when you talk about it that way, you are almost looking back at my lie or something where this was -- clearly, there was a position that the journalists had about the stories that they want to tell about the war.

I think there's been remarkable balance about reporting and these two wars compared to the past and I think many reasons, as you know, about that. This is a -- you know, there's not a draft in this situation.

There's a voluntary military. Your own children don't have to go. You don't have to go. There is a huge amount of respect for those that are serving in this.

So when somebody comes and makes the decision to put this in a report, I think it's more a question of journalism as opposed to their personal feelings about the military.

I think that's much different than it was in the past. I think they feel there's an obligation in terms of journalism to tell stories which other countries, where there's not this kind of freedom, to report it.

And my personal feelings that those within the military, most of the friends that I know would not disagree that you need to report what is reported, whether the one who leaked this out had an anti- military condition or was it somebody who was absolutely unique and different from them, somebody that would do what was done in those pictures.

So, I don't really know if this is an anti-military position by the "L.A. Times." I could assume probably not. I think it's more of a pursuit of truth and coverage in a country like we have.

KURTZ: It goes in a long-running debate in military coverage similar to the Abu Ghraib photos which also brought some criticism when those were made public by the media. Bob Woodruff, thanks very much for joining us and filling us in on your trip to North Korea.



KURTZ: I'm personally always happy to see Bob Woodruff on the air after what happened half a dozen years ago when he was badly wounded by an exploding bomb when he was covering Iraq. And it's nice to see how far he has come and resume his career. Still to come in this program, Bill O'Reilly goes after one of our guests. A top California official gets his talk show. Huh?

A look at why people with the most Facebook friends may be, yes, lonely. And why "Good Morning America" is celebrating this week. The "Media Monitor" straight ahead.


KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. Here's what I like -- the Atlanta cover story on Facebook and loneliness. It's an intriguing look at the proposition that people with the most online friends may feel the most isolated.

Stephen Marsh(ph) asked some difficult questions here, writing, "It may be that Facebook encourages more contact with people outside of our household at the expense of our family relationships -- or it may be that people who have unhappy family relationships in the first place seek companionship through other means including Facebook."

A fascinating take on why people use this hugely popular social network.

One of the Pulitzer Prize winners this week was Sarah Ganim of the "Harrisburg Patriot News. We spoke to the young reporter last November after she had broken a number of stories about the Jerry Sandusky child abuse allegations at Penn State.


SARAH GANIM, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING REPORTER, "HARRISBURG PATRIOT NEWS": It was all local journalism going to my sources, you know, digging around, knocking on doors, talking to them.

I spent a lot of time knocking on doors and getting shooed off properties. But a few times, you know, we did get through to people. And people were able to tell us that these rumors were correct.


KURTZ: It's nice to see the Pulitzer board recognized old- fashioned door-knocking reporting.

Well, our program last week caught the attention of "The O'Reilly Factor." We were talking with Julia Mason of Sirius XM about what I described as the dual role played by CNN's Hilary Rosen and other cable contributors who are also party activists.


JULIA MASON, SIRIUS XM: You saw Glenn Beck on Fox News and Bill O'Reilly. And I do think that that damages the Fox News brand.

BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": Well, it can't be too much damage to the Fox News brand as the fact the highest-rated primetime news program in the country.

Ms. Mason is obviously woefully uninformed. Dick Cheney won't come on the program. John McCain hasn't been interviewed by me when he ran for president.

I give you scores of other examples of Republicans who don't want any part of "The Factor."


KURTZ: Well, Julia Mason isn't a loon as O'Reilly suggested, but I think she missed the point. O'Reilly, love him or loathe him, has spent his career in television news.

And the reason I didn't argue with her, as Bill insists I should have, is I was trying to steer her back to talking about Hilary Rosen, James Carville, Karl Rove and the like, people with political agendas who also double as TV pundits.

Julia Mason now says she was talking about all partisans. But the highly-opinionated O'Reilly has never worked for a political party.

Speaking of dual roles in cable news, Current TV has now gone a step further by hiring an incumbent. Al Gore's channel has given a weekly talk show to California's lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom. He says he'll give his salary to charity and his position will help him line-up guests.


GAVIN NEWSOM, CALIFORNIA LIEUTENANT GENERAL: I'll help pull those folks in and engage them in a way that complements my job as lieutenant governor and doesn't take away from that job.


KURTZ: Is he serious? This is Current TV giving free airtime to an elected Democratic official. What is next, "The Obama Hour"? "The Biden Broadcast"? "Romney and Friends"?

Finally, for 16 long years, the "Today" show has won the morning awards every single week until now. Shortly, after bringing on Katie Couric for a week, it was Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos who enabled "Good Morning America" to snap NBC's streak.


ROBIN ROBERTS, CO-HOST, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": We are so grateful to you, you there at home, the viewers, for making us the number one morning show in the country last week.

And while it's exciting for us this week, of course, we tip our hat to our colleagues over at NBC for their amazing streak that they have.


KURTZ: Now, it's true that Matt Lauer was off that week, so it goes in the record books with an asterisk. But we'll let ABC celebrate until the next ratings come in.

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

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