Return to Transcripts main page
CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Obama, Osama, and the Press; Deep Throat Questions; Murdoch Called "Not Fit"
Aired May 6, 2012 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: It was a rare moment of national unity one year ago when the man behind 9/11 was killed. Now, a divisive media debate is raging over whether Barack Obama is politicizing that moment when it was exacerbated by the president's surprise trip to Afghanistan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Is Mr. Obama exploiting the death of bin Laden for political purposes?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But are media outlets falling for a phony argument and those who defended George Bush's wartime exploits?
An author reports that Ben Bradlee harbored doubts long ago over Bob Woodward's depiction of his famous Watergate source Deep Throat. Is that fair after all these years?
Rupert Murdoch drawing a major rebuke from a British parliamentary committee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK AUSTIN, ITV NEWS: Rupert Murdoch unfit to run a major company, the damning indictment from the M.P.'s report into phone hacking.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: How will this impact his media empire on both sides of the Atlantic?
And Dan Rather still at war with CBS.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN RATHER, AUTHOR, "RATHER OUTSPOKEN": We reported the truth, and that is that President Bush, later President Bush, when he was in National Guard service, he was at least AWOL.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: The ex-anchor still insisting that his story, based on unproven documents, was accurate -- despite the fact that CBS apologized and retracted the report.
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: It was inevitable that news organizations would mark and to be honest celebrate the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death, and it's hardly shocking that the Obama White House would push that storyline. When the president's campaign posted a web ad that suggested Mitt Romney might not have made the same choice to go after bin Laden, conservative commentators, and even a few on the left recoiled in horror.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
O'REILLY: Is Mr. Obama exploiting the death of bin Laden for political purposes?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, THE HUFFINGTON POST: To turn it into a campaign ad is one of the most despicable things you can do.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN: After telling the country you don't spike the football, you come off as a hypocrite when you then go out of your way to spike the football.
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: The Obama camp has decided to be aggressive on national security and keep telling the story. They are putting the president's record out in front and it's working.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Republican challenger disputed the notion that the president made a gutsy call to send Special Ops forces after the world's top terrorist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Would you have given the order, Governor?
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, that media debate was interrupted when Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan and delivered a primetime television address. But that hardly silenced the critics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One year ago, from base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The goal that I set to defeat al Qaeda and deny it a chance to rebuild is now within our reach.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: For the past several days, President Obama and his re-election spin machine -- well, they've been taking a victory lap, glossing over who the real heroes are.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: So have the media been evenhanded in covering the sniping over the presidents' record on al Qaeda and Afghanistan?
Joining us now: in New York, Chrystia Freeland, editor of "Thompson Reuters Digital", and here in Washington, Dana Milbank, columnist for "The Washington Post", and Jonah Goldberg, editor at large of "National Review Online," a FOX News contributor, and author of the new book, "The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas."
Chrystia Freeland, why have the media made such an issue about whether it was somehow unseemly for President Obama to trump at the fact that he approved the mission that killed Osama bin Laden?
CHRYSTIA FREELAND, THOMPSON REUTERS DIGITAL: I guess because we love issues and we love political fights.
But you asked earlier, Howard, was this -- is this a phony war? I think it absolutely is. I mean, there is an election campaign going on. This is absolutely a reasonable thing for the president to brag about, and let's remember that Democrats very, very often are accused of being weak on national security. So, I think it's fair enough for him to say, look, I'm not.
And this president in particular is someone whose ability to make these kinds of calls were questioned. Remember, Hillary Clinton in the 3:00 a.m. ad. So, I think that it's absolutely fair, and, you know, the Republicans are complaining because, you know, this is the president showing that he is strong in what is traditionally their territory.
KURTZ: Jonah Goldberg, as everyone recalls, George W. Bush put on a flight suit and landed on an aircraft carrier when he thought the Iraq war was over. Some of your fellow conservatives are now feigning that Obama is touting his record. And even if he is bragging as Chrystia put it, what's wrong with that?
JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: Yes, I think the way you are framing it is exactly wrong and exactly the way the mainstream media has been framing it, which is that I don't remember there was a lot of complaining simply about the -- I mean, there's a lot of eye rolling and, you know, grumbling. But there wasn't a lot of the serious complaining about Obama trying to take some credit and celebrating the fact that he did this.
The complaining really started where in that ad you have Obama saying Mitt Romney wouldn't have done this, which is a completely unfalsifiable charge based on a quote out of context. KURTZ: Well, out of context. So, let's give people the quote. In 2007, Romney said it's not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person, meaning Osama.
GOLDBERG: Right. And then the next day when he was asked about it in one of the presidential debates, he followed up and said, of course, you take your shot at bin Laden if you had it, but don't design the war on terror just to get one man -- just like you wouldn't fight World War II just to after Adolf Hitler, to fight the war on terror to go after -- to win the war on terror. That was the point he made back then.
KURTZ: Now, Dana Milbank might agree with you because you wrote, Dana, that the Obama ad was sleazy. Of course, here's the "New York Post" with a "Ka-Bull" headline saying he spikes the bin Laden football.
So, should the press hold Obama to a higher standard than Bush was when he was running quite explicitly on the war on terror?
DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think the press should be consistent, and I think in large part we have this time. I don't think anybody begrudges -- well, Jonah may begrudge, but most people don't begrudge the president making a trip to Afghanistan.
GOLDBERG: I don't at all. I don't at all.
MILBANK: I don't think we should call it a surprise trip. I think the FCC should fine people when they say surprise, because it's not really a surprise. It's unplanned.
GOLDBERG: I didn't know about it.
MILBANK: It's not a huge surprise when the president shows up in Iraq or Afghanistan. If he showed up in Iran, that might be a surprise.
But I think to go further and say when this president puts out an ad like that, it's similar. Maybe it's not exactly to the same degree, but it's similar to the thing we were whacking George Bush about for all these years. I for one would not feel consistent and fair if I didn't point out whether he is doing that or whether he is doing the excessive fundraising that we also whacked President Bush for.
GOLDBERG: I would also point out, look, I think the "mission accomplished" thing is a perfectly legitimate thing to beat up on George W. Bush about. That was overdone.
But there's another sort of consistency problem here. John Kerry was running as sort of the anti-war guy in 2004. There was a sharp policy difference.
There is no sharp policy difference, at least rhetorically. It's not like Mitt Romney is the anti-war guy in this contest. And the way they're framing it, it makes it sound as if there is this -- they're trying to manufacture a policy difference.
Mitt Romney supports going after bin Laden. I mean, it's not -- I mean, we know that. Every Republican in the Republican Party supported going after bin Laden.
FREELAND: But, come on -- I mean, one of the things that the president does get attacked on, and I think actually quite rightly when it comes to some of the economic policy decisions, is that he is not a leader. That he is not an executive. That he is not able to take tough decisions.
And I think to this kind of point of character, it's fair enough for him to say, look, one of the toughest decisions, I took it.
FREELAND: The thing that really bothers me about this whole debate that we're having is where I think that we are giving the president a pass and we really shouldn't is actually on Afghanistan. It's not about did he kill bin Laden or not and is it OK to brag about that. It's about what is going to happen in Afghanistan, and that is the real issue, and the real lacuna right now I think in foreign policy.
KURTZ: Let me jump in here now. I want to turn this back into the media coverage by talking about Brian Williams of NBC, bringing his cameras into the Situation Room at the White House. It's never been done before. For this how far-long special on "Rock Center" in which Williams got to interview Obama, Biden, Hillary, and others about this very subject.
Let's roll a clip from that show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Here it is. There you are.
OBAMA: Here I am sitting right here.
WILLIAMS: That is an intense look on your face, and everyone is intently watching that screen.
OBAMA: This is -- if I'm not mistaken, Pete, this picture was taken right as the helicopter was having some problems, but you may not remember.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't say.
OBAMA: That's what it feels like because I remember Hillary putting her hand over her mouth at that point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: This was a story the administration obviously very much wanted told and gave NBC the access. Do you think that program was too soft? GOLDBERG: I think it was celebrate other. Look, it's also a fascinating story. I mean, I don't blame NBC News if they get a chance to do this that they're going to this documentary about it. It came across to me as celebratory, but not surprisingly so.
KURTZ: FOX's Sean Hannity, Dana, called it an infomercial. And right after he said, he played an actual Republican ad. Your take on the "Rock Center."
MILBANK: Well, I mean, I think people are surprise to learn there's a Situation Room in the White House, and it's not just Wolf Blitzer's set. So I think it was useful to remind them that there was the original.
KURTZ: There's branding going on.
MILBANK: Exactly. No, no. I mean, look, the president is entitled to -- we're going to do those one-year anniversary things anyway. He is entitled to benefit from that to some extent and he went ahead and did it. This election is not going to be about foreign policy anyway.
I mean, it may give him some marginal advantage, and, sure, let people holler that they've been too soft.
KURTZ: Chrystia, you talked earlier about the president and Afghanistan. So the trip -- I have to call it an unannounced trip according to Dana, that he took, he was there for a few hours, he gave the speech.
Was that covered by the media as a serious foreign policy visit, or a political victory lap?
FREELAND: Political victory lap. And that is where I do think that we are falling short, and it's a danger because the U.S. election is hugely, hugely important. It's the dominant story here/
But other things are happening in the world. Afghanistan is going to exist after the election, and that's really where I think we need to be thinking and talking about because it's far from clear to me that things and actions that make sense in the election campaign when it comes to talking about Afghanistan are actually going to make sense on the ground the day after the election.
KURTZ: Jonah Goldberg, it was something of a political stunt in that the president's trip was timed to the exact one-year anniversary of the bin Laden death. But he did sign the agreement with Hamid Karzai for the U.S. withdrawal or transition. And so, to some extent didn't that force the press to play it straight?
GOLDBERG: It forced -- it gave the press a second paragraph to write about the story. There was some substance there. But really the agreement was an agreement to have an agreement about an agreement, as far as I can tell.
I also want to put one more factoid into all of this. This is not the first time the Obama administration has tried to politicize and get political gain and domestic politics from the killing of bin Laden. Last year, in May, right afterwards, you had Jay Carney going out in front of the press, you had David Axelrod out there, saying that Obama's divisiveness in killing bin Laden proved that we should support his domestic agenda on green energy, and all this kind of stuff, and he did get a free pass on all that.
KURTZ: But doesn't every president tout whatever accomplishments he can wrap his arms around and try to build support for the administration? It just seems to me that there's nothing unusual here.
MILBANK: No, it's not particularly unusual. I think what --
GOLDBERG: Did Bush take the toppling of Saddam as a reason to support his education policies?
KURTZ: Did Dick Cheney say the decision in this election 2004 was -- could determine whether we get hit again? I mean --
GOLDBERG: That's the question about foreign policy. It's not a transfer in foreign policy to domestic policy.
FREELAND: Jonah, to your point, I think that Bush absolutely tried and sought to translate his, you know, strength and leadership and decisiveness in foreign policy to have people say and he is strong in decisive in domestic policy, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
KURTZ: Let me spin back to the media. Obama goes to Afghanistan. He gets a lot of coverage. He gets primetime coverage. That's an advantage that incumbent presidents have in election, though.
MILBANK: I think this president is politicizing foreign policy maybe 10 percent or 20 percent as much as President Bush did. But --
KURTZ: You still don't like him?
MILBANK: Because he came in and said, "I'm going to do things differently." Same thing with the fundraising, he said, "I'm going to do things differently," and we -- he wanted us to have this walk on water standard for him, and that's why he is being punished. It's the expectation.
KURTZ: Here is an interesting fact. The morning of the trip, when we did not know about this unannounced visit to Kabul, an Afghan television station tweeted it, and a White House spokesman started calling around to news outlets that picked up that tweet. BuzzFeed took it down. The Drudge Report did not. And the White House at that point was saying, no, President Obama is not in Kabul, which was technically true because he had not gotten there yet.
Look, they were trying to protect the security of the visit. Does that bother anyone?
MILBANK: No, not all. I think they could lie outright in that case.
KURTZ: Lie outright.
MILBANK: Nobody would -- no, of course.
KURTZ: I hope they don't take you up on that and extend it to other areas.
FREELAND: I think we officially know they can lie outright to Dana.
MILBANK: That would not be a first.
KURTZ: When we come back, Mitt Romney holds an off the record meeting with conservative bloggers and pundits. Is he finally starting to court the media mavens?
KURTZ: Mitt Romney, who did little to court the press during the primary, held an off-the-record meeting this week with conservative pundits and columnists and bloggers.
And, Jonah Goldberg, I understand, you were invited, you couldn't make it. How did it work out for Romney?
GOLDBERG: It depends on who you talk to. I think at the end of the day, the Romney camp -- first of all, I think the Romney camp is going to have a hard time switching from primary mode to general election mode. Just as it was a communication operation -- the rapid response thing on the China Chen I thought was a sign that they were responding as if President Obama was Rick Santorum, and I think that their approach to the blogger thing was overdone. They had a lot of mainstream sort of top level press reporter -- print reporters, and they also had just about every right wing blogger you can imagine.
I love the right wing bloggers, but I don't think it was -- it was -- you guys should be cheerleaders for us kind of approach, and I don't think that sat well with a lot of people.
KURTZ: There were folks there, Dana Milbank, from "National Review," "Daily Caller", "American Spectator," "Red State", "Power Line", "Pajamas Media" and some other less well known blogs. But how do conservative commentators who rip Romney during the primaries now evolve into supporters for the fall election?
MILBANK: I don't know. My invitation was lost in the mail to this, so I can only guess.
But I think what this indicates is that -- and rightly so, that Romney is still not very comfortable with his base, at least in the conservative media. So, he needs to continue to do this sort of outreach.
It's not that crazy a thing to do. President Obama meets with sympathetic liberal journalists in the White House. I think it says more about Romney's insecurity there and his need to pivot.
But I think he is making an assumption that just because he is not Obama, the conservative media is going to rally to him. That may be true eventually. But it's not such an easy thing.
KURTZ: We'll see with how much enthusiasm.
Also this week, Chrystia Freeland, Romney foreign policy spokesman, Richard Grenell, who is openly gay, resigned, and this came after some criticism from anti-gay conservatives about his hiring. Should the press have challenged the Romney campaign on why the candidate didn't stand up for the guy?
FREELAND: Yes. And I think the press, you know -- I think this was covered, and I think people, you know, did challenge it. Here we are talking about the fact that he is openly gay and suggesting maybe that's the reason that he was, and I think we're right to ask that question, particularly because there were conservative groups that called themselves pro-family that had challenged his appointment when it was first announced. So, yes, I think that's an important story, actually.
KURTZ: Now, Grenell had other problems. He had a whole series of offensive tweets before he joined the campaign in which he attacked the appearance of Rachel Maddow and Hillary Clinton and said that Callista Clinton looks like she snaps her hair on, but he was hired anyway. And so, clearly, it seemed to me at least, it was his sexuality that forced him out.
GOLDBERG: Look, I haven't gotten to the bottom of this yet. If it was sexuality that forced him, you wouldn't have the Romney campaign declaring to all the world that we begged him to stay. And I think it's ludicrous to say thaw can't have a foreign policy spokesman who is gay. I mean, I just think that's ridiculous.
And Bryan Fischer, the head guy of the Family --
KURTZ: American Family Association.
GOLDBERG: American Family Association -- is now going around and saying, hey, if Romney -- if he is a pushover to me, how is he going to stand up to Putin? Which shows that appeasing these guys is like feeding an alligator one at a pop.
KURTZ: They did a press call with reporter, and Grenell wasn't allowed to speak, which showed how (INAUDIBLE) he had become in their own eyes.
MILBANK: As my colleague Ruth Marcus pointed out, this was an opportunity for Romney to have his Sister Soulja moment. It shows in the press what give him a very favorable treatment if he were to do that, but I think it shows he is still not comfortable enough to do that.
KURTZ: Explain what that means for people who don't remember Bill Clinton.
MILBANK: Just to say, look, I realize -- excuse me, look, I realize the conservative base is -- wants me to sack this guy, but I'm not going do it because I feel otherwise, and I think he'd take a few pops on the right, but he gets some credibility --
GOLDBERG: I don't know that it's the whole base. It's one segment of the base.
FREELAND: I would just say quickly, putting these two strands of the conversation together, I think this underscores how tough this moment is for the Romney campaign because on the one hand, they still feel they need to consolidate that conservative base. They need to prove to those guys -- you know, we are your champion. Please support us.
But, on the other hand, they do need to have their Sister Soulja moment and move to the middle and show they can be centrists.
KURTZ: Chrystia, what about the other burning issue, the fact that Ann Romney went on CBS this morning and it was noted that she was wearing a $990 shirt. Is it fair for the press to keep bringing this up? OK. They're wealthy. We get it.
FREELAND: Yes, sure. Sure, it's fair. I mean, Michelle Obama gets bashed if she wears expensive clothes. So, yes, I think that's fine.
KURTZ: All right. We see the videotape there from CBS.
Jonah Goldberg, before we go, in a couple of sentences, tell us the thesis of your book, "The Tyranny of Cliches".
GOLDBERG: Well, I wanted to write a funny book, and that's part of it. But the basic argument is that conservatives are honest that we're ideological. Libertarians are honest that they're ideological.
Liberals claim to be empiricists and pragmatist who only care about what works. That's not true. They have a perfectly honorable ideology. It's one they should defend.
When they go around saying that they're not ideological at all, they're lying to themselves, as everybody else.
KURTZ: All right. Sounds like a good topic for debate.
Jonah Goldberg, Chrystia Freeland in New York, Dana Milbank here -- thanks for stopping by this morning.
Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES: new controversy over Bob Woodward and Deep Throat, nearly 40 years after the fact; Dan Rather still swinging away at CBS; and Rupert Murdoch battling a stinging verdict from British lawmakers. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KURTZ: They are arguably the most famous reporter and source in journalistic history, a relationship enshrined in this iconic movie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen, I'm tired of your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) games. I don't want hints. I need to know what you know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cover up had little to do with Watergate. It was mainly to protect the covert operations. It leads everywhere.
Get out your notebook. There's more.
I think your lives are in danger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But author Jeff Himmelman reports in a new book, "Yours in Truth," that long-time "Washington Post" editor Ben Bradlee had doubts about some of Woodward's claims. Not the reporting itself, but some of the colorful details about his meetings with the FBI's Mark Felt, a confidential informant dubbed Deep Throat.
Those doubts were expressed in an unpublished interview 22 years ago. So, is this much of a story?
Joining us now here in Washington, Fred Francis, former NBC News correspondent and co-founder of 15seconds.com. And Mark Feldstein, former CNN reporter, now a journalism professor at the University of Maryland and author of the book about Watergate, "Poisoning the Press."
Fred Francis, Jeff Himmelman finds this old interview in which Bradlee says the following, and I'm going to read it: "Did that potted plant incident ever happen?" This was Woodward moving the flower pot (INAUDIBLE) see him and meeting in some garage.
"One meeting in the garage? Fifty meetings in the garage? I don't know meetings in a garage. There's a residual fear in my soul that this isn't quite straight."
Is this a big deal?
FRED FRANCIS, 15SECONDS.COM: I think it's a tempest in the teapot. I mean, the fact is --
KURTZ: It's tempest in a flower pot.
FRANCIS: In a flower pot, indeed. I think when you weigh the body of Bob Woodward's work against this one did he lie, did he mislead Ben Bradlee -- the fact is that everything was true, OK? If he didn't tell Ben Bradlee everything many my view as a journalist, I have never told my producers or my editors everything. You know? I mean, I work for the late great Tim Russert. He always quizzed me about sources, and I always kept one source back that I never told him about in 15 years. So, whether he told Ben Bradlee or not, I just don't think it matters because he still, in my view, is the greatest journalism -- greatest journalism of our time.
KURTZ: Was done by Woodward.
Mark Feldstein, Bradlee, even in those remarks, he isn't challenging the reporting in the "Washington Post" that Woodward and Bernstein did. He is saying the atmospherics about the parking garage and the flower pot, maybe that wasn't quite right. Your assessment, is this significant story?
MARK FELDSTEIN, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Certainly not to use the Watergate lexicon, a smoking gun that proves Woodward embellished. I mean, I think what Bradley was doing was musing aloud the way all of us in Washington and across the country were. This was a story so dramatic, so theatrical that everybody was wondering if it's true.
KURTZ: And the reason people wonder and the reason we know these details is because of the book and the movie we just saw "All the President's Men" that, you know, famously depicted it with Robert Redford in Woodward role, the interactions between Woodward and his source.
FELDSTEIN: That's right. If you look at both the Watergate reporting and then "All the President's Men," the book, and "All the President's Men," the movie, you know, it gets less and less cautious as to its -- you know, how strictly it is moored to the truth. The movie has much more dramatic embellishments than the book, and the book has more than the reporting in "The Post".
FRANCIS: But the bottom line, was it all true? OK? And did they fudge the ball one way or the other?
I mean, I think -- you know, I can speak for a lot of investigative reporters. Sometimes you get so aggressive, you do fudge the ball a little bit. You do do a few things outside the zone to get the facts. You don't use those unless those facts are correct.
KURTZ: But this isn't about fudging the facts.
FRANCIS: Well, it is about fudging the facts.
KURTZ: It is, in the sense that was Woodward's relationship with who we now know to be Mark Felt embellish for dramatic purposes? If that were proven to be true -- Bradlee is not saying it's true. Bradlee is saying he had some doubts.
FRANCIS: He had some doubts.
KURTZ: That would -- wouldn't that hurt Woodward's reputation a little bit?
FRANCIS: I don't think so. KURTZ: You don't think so?
FRANCIS: I'll tell you something -- because of the body of his work. In 40 years, how much of his work, a few things have been criticized, but how much of his work has been criticized? Very, very little.
KURTZ: Also in this book, Woodward and Bernstein, back in the mid-'70s talked to someone who was a Watergate grand juror, which, of course, is a no-no -- you can't tamper with the grand jury.
And then it was explained that Bernstein, they claim, didn't know she was a grand juror when he went to knock on her door.
FRANCIS: That's the weakest part of the Woodward and Bernstein argument today about Himmelman's book, that they didn't know they were -- grand juror.
Let me -- you know, as an investigative reporter in Florida, I talked to a few grand jurors. I broke the law, OK, and I never said anything about it to protect me and to protect them.
KURTZ: You're acknowledging on this program that you broke the law.
FRANCIS: I broke the law.
KURTZ: And you're saying it's not unusual in journalism or it's just a fudge?
FRANCIS: No, I'm just saying so long the story is true and accurate, as long as you don't use that as a one source and they did not, OK, I think it's correct.
KURTZ: One of the interesting things here -- there's an excerpt in "New York Magazine" -- is Woodward's very strong reaction to Jeff Himmelman putting this in the book.
He tried to press him to not use those quotes from 1990 from Ben Bradlee. And I talked to Jeff Himmelman yesterday. Here's what he told me. He said, "Bob pretty much taught me everything I know. When he gets onto a story, he pushes the story at whatever cost."
"Personal allegiance is not the yard stick he uses. I felt an obligation to report it." Himmelman got his start, Mark Feldstein, as a researcher for Woodward.
MARK FELDSTEIN, AUTHOR, "POISONING THE PRESS": Right. There are, you know, supreme ethical overtones to this story, whether it's the relationship between Bradlee and Woodward or the relationship between this author and Woodward.
You know, I do think -- and yes, I have talked to grand jurors also.
FRANCIS: Guilty. FELDSTEIN: I know you're not supposed to do it. And yes, you sometimes do camouflage this source to protect -- what I think this does illustrate though is the difficulty with the Woodward method.
It's a "trust me" method of journalism. And there is no independent way to authenticate the veracity of some of the things Woodward just said. Mark Felt is dead. Did he use the pot or not, flower pot?
By the time Mark Felt came forward, he was seen -- so we have to rely on Bob Woodward's words.
FRANCIS: I think the only thing I find very interesting about this is that Bob Woodward seems to be stung by Himmelman using that "fly on the wall" kind of technique that Woodward has made so famous as a journalistic style, but it worked.
KURTZ: Himmelman started out to help Bradlee write his own book. That went away. Himmelman wrote the book himself. Just to be clear, there was another interview with Bradlee just a year and a half ago in which he said, "Do I think Woodward embellished? I would say no, but he did nothing to play down the drama of this. "
It's all in the book, clearly though because Watergate has a place in our culture. I think it's one of the reasons we're talking about it here this morning.
Up next, Dan Rather has a new book with an old argument, that he was right and CBS was wrong over that George Bush National Guard story. Why won't he let it go?
KURTZ: He is 80 years old now. His four-decade career at CBS behind him, but Dan Rather isn't done talking about his former network.
The ex-anchor has been making the rounds to promote a new book, and he continues to defend the 2004 story about George W. Bush and the National Guard which led to his departure from CBS.
DAN RATHER, FORMER CBS ANCHOR: We reported a true story. I'm not at CBS now because I and my team reported a true story. It was a tough story, a story a lot of people didn't want to believe, and it was subjected to a terrific propaganda barrage to discredit it.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ANCHOR, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": There was no way to know the entire truth, is there, without all the documents?
RATHER: No, no. Well, on what story does anybody ever know the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth? But we reported the truth, and that is that President Bush, later President Bush, when he was in the National Guard service, he was at least AWOL.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Why is Dan Rather still pushing and defending this story, this discredited story?
FELDSTEIN: I'm going to defend Dan Rather on this one. You know, yes, the documents can't be authenticated, but the fundamentals of the story that Bush received preferential treatment in the National Guard to avoid Vietnam.
KURTZ: That's not the fundamentals of the story. We already knew that.
FELDSTEIN: Well, what's the fundamentals of the story?
KURTZ: The fundamentals of the story --
FELDSTEIN: Washington, "Texas Monthly," "Boston Globe" -- they have, you know, all done -- this is a new article in the "Texas Monthly" that says it. He is defending it because he believes it.
FRANCIS: You know, to use a Ratherism, you know, Dan Rather would rather walk through a furnace in a gasoline suit than admit that he made any mistake.
I mean, the fact is that you don't go on the air crediting a president with being a slacker and being AWOL without having proof, and he had no proof.
I'm not saying the story may not -- the elements of the story may not have been accurate. But if you are going to go on the air with a story, you need documentation, and the documentation was forged. And all these years later he continues --
KURTZ: Well, we don't know definitively that the documentation was forged. But as someone who spent a lot of time with this -- let me just take a moment to remind people, Rather's key source, the guy who got these alleged national memos, he admitted on camera that he had lied to CBS.
The secretary of the National Guard Office said she never typed those documents in question. CBS' own handwriting experts raised red flags about it.
And so yes, Rather is continuing to defend what were at least suspected forgeries. And I just don't understand why he doesn't let it go.
He is doing fine work for Mark Cuban's HD Net. And he is still out there with this book, making an issue of the story that was probably the biggest debacle of his career.
FRANCIS: The biggest problem he is having is saying that CBS News politicizes and fired him for partisan politics. I mean, there's absolutely no evidence of that whatsoever.
They fired him for putting -- for airing a story that embarrassed CBS News.
FELDSTEIN: He's done what every other anchor does, which is front for the work their producers do and blame it on his producers. And he had the courage to stand up tall and say that he believed in it, and he was backing his producers.
And it's more you can say for the glorified actors who read the news and don't know a damn thing about what they're even talking about.
KURTZ: Do you agree with Fred's point that it's not fair for Dan Rather to charge that CBS caved to political pressure when CBS, after an extensive investigation, concluded it couldn't prove or corroborate the story that had it had to apologize and retract?
FELDSTEIN: I think it's an overstatement to say that there's a caving to pressure. The fact that Dick Thornburgh, the attorney general for the first Bush, was on the panel that indicted Rather is a little suspect, and I can understand his concern about it.
And I think the fact that CBS has paid the executives for their silence to gag them smells not of a news corporation trying to engage in transparency, but smells of a cover-up.
FRANCIS: Let me tell you what they should have done, OK? And this happened at my network, NBC, when they -- in 1992, they aired a story about a GM truck, which -- gas tank exploded causing fires in a wreck.
KURTZ: And it was rigged.
FRANCIS: And it was rigged. NBC Dateline rigged that fire under that truck.
FELDSTEIN: It is inexcusable but the fundamentals of that story were true also.
FRANCIS: That is, in fact, correct.
They held on to it for two days. Hold on. No, no. Here's the difference. They held on to it for two days saying they didn't do anything wrong, but the story was true.
And then they went, you know something, everybody got fired. And Michael Gartner who was not a much-loved president at NBC News, stood up and said, "My fault." And he fired himself, admitting the story was wrong. That's what Rather and CBS have done.
KURTZ: Let me bring this back to Rather and ask you this. We invited him on this program and he did not respond to that request.
Is he, by still continuing to push this, ensuring that this will play a more prominent role when people write the legacy of his career when his eventual obituary is written?
FELDSTEIN: There is no way this is not going to appear in the first sentence of his obituary. KURTZ: Who said -- not even the second paragraph?
There were things the guy did in his career that were good.
FRANCIS: It's a lead.
FELDSTEIN: It's in there. And you know, give the guy credit for having the courage of his convictions.
FRANCIS: I don't give him credit because he didn't have the courage to admit he was wrong. He'll go to his grave admitting he was right, saying he was right.
KURTZ: Saying he was right. We've got about a minute. I want to touch on a story that ran in Politico a couple of weeks ago.
We didn't it touch on this program because I didn't think there was anything to it. It was a "New York Daily News" photographer who was in Columbia investigating the Secret Service sex scandal tweeting that the "New York Times" who scored a couple of exclusives on this story was paying people for information.
The photographer, who is Todd Maisel, later apologized. He didn't have any evidence. "Politico" ran a story on the charge, asked for comment.
Now, according to the "Washington Post," "New York Times" spokeswoman saying that "Politico" was irresponsible to do this. Was "Politico" -- you know, do you use one tweet when somebody hurls a charge with no evidence?
FRANCIS: Shame on "Politico" for using this erroneous tweet, you know, plucked out of the ether out of the 350 million tweets a day.
KURTZ: From a rival.
FRANCIS: From a rival --
KURTZ: Who is getting beaten on the story.
FELDSTEIN: I don't disagree there. I mean, the more interesting thing is this is a natural outgrowth Web site. It's up to the minute.
And they actually get an economic advantage for this because there are more clicks. Even if they're wrong and then they correct it, more people are going to be clicking in, and their revenue goes up. So is this a new business model or is this a one-time slip?
FRANCIS: The very fact is, you know, 15-Seconds, we teach our clients, monitor social media 24/7, because you get a minute or two to correct something when you see it wrong. A minute or two.
(CROSS TALK) KURTZ: You shouldn't necessarily publish in 15 seconds. Fred Francis, Fred Feldstein, thanks very much. After the break, a British panel pronounces Rupert Murdoch unfit to lead a major media corporation. We'll look at the fallout in a moment.
KURTZ: The scandal at Rupert Murdoch's media company has been building for years from the phone hacking that led him to shut down the "News of the World" tabloid to the E-mail hacking at Sky News.
Plenty of people had been arrested. And in London this week, a political verdict.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS: Media baron, Rupert Murdoch, was blasted today by members of the British Parliamentary Committee investigating the phone-hacking scandal.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: A media empire may be hanging in the balance tonight after a blistering criticism of the man in charge, Rupert Murdoch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So how much have these British revelations hurt Murdoch and News Corp.? Joining us now from New York, Emily Bell, director of Tow Center the Digital Journalism at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and a former digital director at London's "Guardian." Welcome.
EMILY BELL, DIRECTOR, TOW CENTER THE DIGITAL JOURNALISM AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY'S GRADUATE SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM: Hello, Howie.
KURTZ: This was party line vote. No conservative members of parliament voted for that language, not fitting, and yet it still seemed to echo around the world.
BELL: Well, it's a pretty strong statement to say one of the major business figures of the late 20th and early 21st century, which is that he is unfit to run his corporation.
This was the outcome of what I guess is best known here as the "parli panel"(ph). This is the parliamentary select committee where you saw Rupert Murdoch was being pried almost a year ago.
Once the findings have been very resonant and reported around the world. It doesn't actually mean a whole heap in terms of a direct threat to his governance of the company.
KURTZ: Could this, though, create, generate, accelerate a serious push to shove Murdoch aside as head of News Corp? You know, he is 81 years old. And clearly, his image and that of his company have sustained some damage here. BELL: Well, there are several threats there. First of all, the Parliamentary Select Committee report is coruscating, but it doesn't really have much power over the company.
However, in the U.K., there's a parallel investigation going on through Ofcom, which is the regulator that does have the power to revoke broadcast licenses.
They are also looking at the fit and proper nature of News Corp as a steward of Sky. So it may have an impact on that. Whether this hastens Rupert Murdoch's exit from his own company, it's still a family company.
And in the sense that it's a family company, one of the things that this scandal has really done is disrupt the succession plan. So this idea that there could be a smooth transition from Rupert Murdoch to somebody else in the family --
KURTZ: Like James Murdoch?
BELL: Like James Murdoch. That really is in complete disarray. So this is almost -- this is like a pass the parcel of nasty surprises for News Corp.
And nobody quite knows what is in the center of it because it hasn't stopped unfolding yet.
KURTZ: In the United States, the FCC almost never yanks a television company's broadcast license. Isn't that a real long shot that the British regulator, Ofcom, would do that to News Corp?
BELL: It is a very long shot. They've done it once in their existence, Ofcom, where they revoke the license of Persian TV.
It is really very hard to imagine that something as established and actually generally respected as Sky TV would actually have its license yanked. But none of this narrative helps.
There is going to be more revelations this week. You have former News Corp executives up in front of a third investigation committee, the Leveson Inquiry, where you have senior executives who will be talking about their relations with the conservative government in the U.K. in a pretty candid fashion.
And what it does is it just creates this long-term uncertainty about where this is going to end.
BELL: I have to say, it is pretty isolated from the U.S. businesses at the moment in that you look at all of this mayhem going on in London. And then you look at the share price here and it is up a couple of percent.
KURTZ: I was going to ask you about that. You anticipated my question. But first, let me mention this interesting twist where Rupert Murdoch's "New York Post" in reporting on this British parliamentary verdict or at least criticism of the boss took a completely different (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
You see the headline there, "Probe: Myler Lied." Colin Myler is former editor of "News of the World." And yes, he was criticized in this report as well.
But Murdoch, the boss, the guy who runs the company -- he wasn't mentioned in this "New York Post" report until the 11th paragraph.
Since you mentioned the impact on this side of the Atlantic, Sen. Jay Rockefeller has sent a letter seeking evidence of whether any Americans were involved in any of the hacking that went on in any of these News Corp properties.
Do you think this will reverberate in the United States? Or do you think it's pretty much a British scandal and a British story at this stage of the game?
BELL: I think it's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reverberated some point in the States. And I'm surprised that, in a way, it hasn't so far. The Rockefeller letter to the committee I think is a significant move.
But I really doubt whether the evidence that exists at the moment to London, which has been very specific around one or two of the Murdoch papers is actually going to be able to deliver anything concrete there.
So, in a way, it will -- I think it will take a separate kind of spike of momentum here to really push the story on. But the disruption to the heart of the Murdoch family is really the key thing now.
KURTZ: Right. All right. This story just doesn't seem to go away for Murdoch and News Corp. Emily Bell, you are certainly fit to appear on this program. Thanks for helping us walk through this morning.
BELL: Thank you, Howard.
KURTZ: Still to come, a presidential biographer finds an old Obama girlfriend. A Virginia paper sits on stunning news involving its own reporters. And vindication at last for a World War II correspondent. The "Media Monitor" is next.
KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.
Here's what I like, David Maraniss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, is coming out with a biography called "Barack Obama: The Story."
And in a provocative "Vanity Fair" excerpt, he discovers an ex- girlfriend named Genevieve Cook who wrote in her diary 37 years ago, "His warmth can be deceptive. Though he speaks sweet words and can be open and trusting, there is also that coolness."
That does sound familiar. And Obama, who said in his memoir, "Dreams From My Father," that some characters were composite, told Maraniss the New York girlfriend described in the book was indeed a composite.
This led to an overheated "Drudge" headline, "Obama Admits Fabricating Girlfriend in Memoir." More like literary license.
In Norfolk, Virginia, a white man and a woman were attacked on the street by black gang, beaten and kicked, out of work for a week.
But the local paper, "The Virginian Pilot," never ran a news story on the assault on Dave Forster and Marjon Rostami despite the fact that they are reporters for the newspaper.
The news surfaced in an opinion column later on. Forster described what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID FORSTER, REPORTER, "THE VIRGINIAN PILOT": We got knocked to the back of my head by my ear. My ear was swollen. That is when they were reaching in and also hitting her, getting her in the head and they scratched her in the eye.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Editor Denis Finley defends his decision to keep it out of the news pages.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DENIS FINLEY, EDITOR, "THE VIRGINIAN PILOT": Does an event rise to the level of a news story? And this one did not. This was a simple assault, been accused of burying the story because it is racially motivated. We have no idea what motivated it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Finley added in a memo to the staff that there was no cover-up, "We bend over backwards to treat ourselves the same way we would treat any other member of the community."
"In fact, we go overboard at times to make sure there is no perception that we have treated ourselves favorably because of our position. Did we go too far here in holding to this standard? I don't know. I will always ask myself that question."
Let me answer it. "The Virginian Pilot" blew this one big time. The attack was absolutely undeniably news. Finley says the reporters did not want to be named in the story and that should not matter.
That smacks of special treatment. The paper should not have kept this story from its readers. Finally, it was a scoop of historic proportions -- the end of World War II in Europe. Associated Press correspondent Edward Kennedy reported, a full day before everyone else, that the Nazis had surrendered in France.
Kennedy's reward? The AP fired him for defying U.S. Military censors. Harry Truman and Winston Churchill had agreed to suppress the news for political reasons, not military ones.
Now, the wire service is apologizing with president Tom Curly calling what happened in 1945 a "terrible day for the AP. It was handled in the worst possible way."
Well, it took 67 years, but one of the last injustices of the Second World War has been rectified.
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.