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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Media Embrace Same-Sex Marriage Story; "TIME's" Breast-Baring Cover
Aired May 13, 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: Like most people in the press, I have always been skeptical of President Obama's claim that he was merely evolving on the issue of same-sex marriage. With good reason, it turns out. From the moment Joe Biden embraced gay marriage on "Meet the Press" last Sunday, the coverage intensified to the point that the president decided to offer himself to ABC News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: Tonight on "World News," a historic ABC News interview: President Obama takes a stand on same sex marriage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Why did Obama choose to go public with Robin Roberts? Has the coverage been strikingly sympathetic to the president's position, despite the fact I won't push for a change in state laws? And how should gay journalists approach this divisive issue?
"TIME" magazine runs a cover shot of a mom breast-feeding her 3- year-old son.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMIE GRUMET, MOTHER ON COVER OF "TIME" MAGAZINE: I do understand why "TIME" chose this picture, you know, because it's going to be such -- it did create such a media craze to get the dialogue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But was it nothing more than a cheap stunt?
A torrent of leak as the administration foils an al Qaeda plot to take down an airplane? Has that compromised national security?
Plus, Tom Brokaw rips the White House correspondents' dinner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BROKAW, FORMER "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS" ANCHOR: I didn't want to sound like a cranky old uncle at the Thanksgiving table, but I do feel strongly that it's gone way too far.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Well, he is right, isn't he?
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: I was watching when David Gregory asked Joe Biden the question last week and it was instantly clear that the vice president's passionate answer would trigger a media frenzy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: Are you comfortable with same-sex marriage now?
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I -- look, I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The obvious question, as CNN's Anderson Cooper noted, did the president agree with his number two? And if so, why wouldn't he say so?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: The White House insists what he said was not a departure from President Obama's position. They say he didn't say anything the president hasn't said before. Keeping him honest, though, the president's position on same-sex marriage is anything but precise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Administration officials, Biden hadn't really said anything new as Cooper noted, which was ludicrous, but it took just two days for the White House officials to tell "Good Morning America" that the president was available for an interview and "wink, wink," no topic was off limits.
So, Robin Roberts popped the obvious question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: Mr. President, are you still opposed to same-sex marriage?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have been going through an evolution on this issue. At a certain point, I've just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The president's embrace of same-sex marriage was huge news, hailed on MSNBC, but drawing a mixed reaction on FOX News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: The President Barack Obama today became the first American president to say he approves of same-sex marriage.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: If you are in favor of gay rights, the Barack Obama administration has been great on the issue of gay rights.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: This was all about politics as usual. Not principle.
SHEPERD SMITH, FOX NEWS: If Republicans would go out on a limb and try to make this a campaign issue while sitting very firmly without much question on the wrong side of history on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, did the media pressure drive this story? And are most journalists or otherwise backing the president's decision?
Joining us now here on Washington: Terence Smith, veteran correspondent for the "New York Times", CBS News and long-time media reporter for the NewsHour on PBS; Nia-Malika Henderson, political reporter for "The Washington Post"; and Lauren Ashburn, founder and editor in chief of daily-download.com and a contributor to "The Huffington Post".
Lauren Ashburn, when you look at how the media framed this story, "The Washington Post," becoming the first U.S. president to fully embrace that level of civil rights for gays -- was the message right on?
LAUREN ASHBURN, DAILY-DOWNLOAD.COM: It was an historic moment. No question about it. I think that the media coverage was appropriate, and I think that the attention that was paid to it was well-deserved because when of the last time that you saw a sitting president make an announcement like this? Number one.
Number two, there was the intrigue behind it. Did his number two say something that he wasn't prepared to say and was he forced to say it?
KURTZ: On this question, Terry Smith, of whether there was a tilt in the coverage -- let me put up a cover of "Newsweek" just out this morning, my magazine. There we see the multi-colored halo above the president's head.
ASHBURN: I didn't see that. KURTZ: Imagine the tone. Imagine how different the tone would have been if Obama had said, you know, I have thought about this, and I don't believe in same-sex marriage. Wouldn't the media tone been a lot more skeptical?
TERENCE SMITH, NEW YORK TIMES: I didn't think so, except the halo. The halo tilts it now. Entirely. I agree, 100 percent.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would we have had horns?
SMITH: Look, I tend to agree with Lauren. I think it was legitimate. It's a big story. And it was basically well-covered.
Was it over-covered? Perhaps. Was it over-covered because the media or many people in news organizations favor that same position? If they may, but I don't honestly think so. But it's a source of conflict between the president and Mitt Romney, the presumed candidate. Nothing the news organizations love better than conflict.
KURTZ: I don't believe it was over covered. I do believe that there may have been a tilt in the coverage.
And, Nia-Malika Henderson, how unusual was it when -- you have covered the White House -- for White House officials to tell ABC, hey, we'll give you an interview, to volunteer the president and ask for Robin Roberts as the anchor?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WASHINGTON POST: Well, it was incredibly, you know, different and odd, and I don't think I have ever seen anything like that. And certainly they were tipping their hand as to what was going on. People by that morning knew what was going on. The choice of Robin Roberts, obviously, symbolic in some ways -- an African-American journalist.
So, it was a very odd sort of roll-out, but I do think that the coverage was appropriate. Again, this was a sitting president who was coming out on the side of same-sex marriage, but I do think, you know, we immediately turn to the politics of it. What it means for his re- election?
We also, I think, ask questions about how cynical a decision this was for him to make. And I do think we probably should have had more scrutiny in ourselves, because I think it was an open secret that this president favored same-sex marriage, and we let him get away with this evolving stance --
SMITH: What about ABC simply agreeing that the White House could select the correspondent? Does that bother anybody?
KURTZ: Well, Robin Roberts is, of course, the co-host of "Good Morning America".
SMITH: As is George.
KURTZ: As is George Stephanopoulos. And I was going to ask you, but you kind of preempted it. A lot of people including myself, observed that, first of all, she's -- she knows the Obamas. She's a non-confrontational interviewer, but that she's African-American.
KURTZ: I was going to say, is it fair to point it out, but you did point it out.
HENDERSON: Yes, I did. And I do think there was symbolism in there. As you said, they have a good relationship. She's interviewed Michelle Obama. I would always sort of complain internally when I would cover Michelle Obama that she would always give the interviews to Robin Roberts when I covered Michelle Obama.
So, I think in some ways -- but, yes, I do think it was significant that she was an African-American.
ASHBURN: But in the press room, you look at this every day. The president will call on certain people who are on a list and that list is predetermined by who? The president. By whom? The president.
I think that they get to choose whoever they want. He is the president.
KURTZ: Right. But, you know, had they -- had the White House tried to pick someone else, I suppose ABC could have pushed back. But it was an obvious confluence of interest. They were perfectly happy to have Robin Roberts do the interview.
Let me play for you something that Bill O'Reilly said just the other day about the coverage of this issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: The media, of course, very happy about the president's change of heart. In fact, largely because of the press it sounded just about impossible to have an honest debate about gay marriage. If you oppose it, you're a bigot, a homophobe, you are a terrible person. Most of the media will not even consider the traditional point of view on marriage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Are the media disdainful of those, including many Catholics, who for religious or other reasons believe strongly in traditional marriage?
ASHBURN: I'm Catholic. I'll say it right now. I think that there are a variety of views in the media. He may, Bill may think, that the coverage is slanted. That's his opinion. He is entitled to that.
But I happen to know personally a lot of people who do not agree with same-sex marriage, and I think that, yes, they may be a minority, but that's why we have different outlets. Make a choice. Watch FOX News.
You know, everybody loves a boxing match, and that's what this is. You have very passionate people on one side, and you have passionate people on the other.
KURTZ: According to the polls, they're not a minority. The country is roughly evenly split.
But, Terry, as some people in the media predicted, Republicans would really exploit this, and yet, the reaction from Mitt Romney on down has been rather muted.
SMITH: Very muted, very measured, and very careful. I think Mitt Romney who, after all, supports certain rights for same-sex couples, such as adoption, is walking a very careful line. You saw that in his speech at Liberty University. He is, I think, somewhat afraid of this issue.
ASHBURN: I think he is afraid of a lot of issues, that he doesn't want to come out. He is still trying to find his foot and his voice.
HENDERSON: But notable that, you know, when he first addressed this, he called it a tender and sensitive issue. I think that is going to be his sort of guiding framework in dealing with this. He said that people, you know, the different parties shouldn't be raising money off of it.
But he is going to have to deal with the fact that Tony Perkins and some social conservatives want to make this an issue.
KURTZ: I'm so struck by the coverage because I remember the 2004 campaign where President Bush ran on the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Romney also has said he supports, about the I didn't even realize that because never talks about it.
KURTZ: Let me ask you about this extraordinary cascade of leaks from the White House administration officials about what went on behind the scenes and the Daily Beast was able to publish this as well. You had people saying not (INAUDIBLE) of course, Obama felt that Biden had forced his hand by going out front on "Meet the Press." Then White House aides were ticked off at the vice president that Biden had later apologized to the president. I don't think I've ever seen that before.
HENDERSON: Yes, I didn't get -- I mean, because the White House doesn't often let us behind the scenes and sort of give us a sense of what the process was, and in some ways I think if they wanted to make this a big bold move for the president and were down to his credit, it's odd that they've given us this sort of behind the scenes look at the process of it. So, I'm not really sure why they necessarily did that.
They also came out to say, well, he was going to do this anyway. I think his venue was supposed to be "The View" at some point, before the nominating convention in North Carolina. But it's very odd that they have given us so many details about this.
SMITH: I mean, you know, Maureen Down pointed out this morning that the White House aides ought to remember that the opponent in November is Mitt Romney and not Joe Biden. So they were -- they are sort of tackling Biden, and it's a strange sight to see.
KURTZ: Maybe Biden gets credit for forcing this out, but, of course, the timing was not what the White House had in mind.
Let me pick up on a point that Nia-Malika made a moment ago. Was the press soft on Obama for a couple of years when he claimed to be evolving on this issue? We all basically knew that he favored gay marriage and didn't want to say so in public.
Should more journalists have pressed about that, or is it -- is it difficult to do that?
ASHBURN: They were more busy talking about the economy, right?
KURTZ: Serious issues.
ASHBURN: Yes. The press really gets on to those issues. I mean, you know, take a look at the etch-a-sketch issue. Take a look at the Hilary Rosen flap.
KURTZ: Beating up Ann Romney.
ASHBURN: Ann Romney, right, for saying things -- you know, when she said to her she's never worked a day in her life, right. Exactly.
Those kind of flash in the pan single moments are what journalists -- many, not all -- live for. The rest of us are talking about the economy and the 8.3 unemployment rate.
KURTZ: Another way of looking at this -- I think it's now 8.1 -- another way of looking at this --
ASHBURN: Right, it is, went from 8.3 to 8.1. See, what do I know.
KURTZ: Another way of looking at this, have the press been soft in this way. With some exceptions, Joe Scarborough on "Morning Joe" and MSNBC made this point. If Obama believes strongly, as the coverage suggested, that this is such a moral issue, why isn't he saying I will press the states to change their laws?
It's a whole question of states rights when the issue was segregation, for example, played very differently in the press.
SMITH: Clearly, he has taken a very comfortable position here personally. You heard that word. Personally I'm for it, but it's up to the states to decide the issue. So he is clearly not going to get out and campaign for it on a federal level.
ASHBURN: It's duck and cover, right?
HENDERSON: In some ways. I mean, that sort of explains why he chose Robin Roberts for the interview. Not that she's not a great interviewer, but you imagine if it were David Gregory or George Stephanopoulos. They may have pushed them on this, and, sure, he came out and personally backed this, but he is not going to put any real political capital on the line.
KURTZ: And on to the politics of it. The coverage was mostly about -- the president as presidents often do, framed the terms of the debate by saying this is a moral issue for me. This is the conclusion you've reached.
But then the campaign started beating up on Mitt Romney for not supporting same-sex marriage, set out emails to supporters, put up an ad.
ASHBURN: OK. Here's -- you have to remember and I'm sure we all do, that a week before that, Romney's foreign policy advisor left Romney's campaign because he says he was being pressured by the social conservatives and didn't feel comfortable as a gay man --
KURTZ: Richard Grinnell.
ASHBURN: Right, Richard Grinnell -- to be working for Mitt Romney.
HENDERSON: I mean, they -- I think the White House definitely wants to make this a campaign issue because if they can force Mitt Romney to the right on this and they know he is going to alienate independents.
KURTZ: So, then the press should hold him accountable for playing the politics of it. He has ever right to do that in election year, but it's more than just a moral decision. It's a political decision as well.
HENDERSON: Yes. And maybe that's the next chapter of it.
SMITH: I don't think they will push this thing politically any more than they already have. In other words, it's a winner right now for Obama. He didn't lose a vote that he was otherwise going to get. I stress the second --
KURTZ: I also have just struck by the personal reaction by some journalists. For example, Craig Crawford of "Congressional Quarterly," who has been an occasional guest on this program, used the occasion on his blog -- if we can put that up -- to announce that he had proposed to his boyfriend. So for some journalists, this is a very personal issue as well. When we come back, a story about Mitt Romney bullying another student back in prep school, is that fair game?
And the harsh reaction of "TIME" magazine's provocative breast- feeding cover.
KURTZ: "The Washington Post" reported the other day that Mitt Romney was involved in a pretty mean-spirited prank back in high school. The paper cited on the record interviews with four former students as saying that a posse tackled one student with long bleach blonde hair who later came out as gay while Mitt cut his hair with a scissors. The Republican county was asked about this on the trail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't recall the incident myself, but I've seen the reports, and I'm not going to argue with that. There's no question, but that I did some stupid things when I was in high school, and obviously if I hurt anyone by virtue of that, I would be very sorry for it and apologize for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Nia-Malika Henderson, what troubles me about this story by your newspaper is that it's 47 years old. Is there no statute of limitations in the media on this sort of thing?
HENDERSON: Well, you know, I think it was a pretty thorough exploration of Mitt Romney's years at Cranbrook, and we will do more of these stories, sort of biographical stories. We did it in 2008 looking back at Barack Obama's time in Hawaii.
I think it was a fair story, thoroughly reported. Jason Horowitz.
ASHBURN: Four out of five of the people quoted were on the record, and, wait, but in the beginning, they also gave you all of their political affiliations.
KURTZ: The accuracy of the story is not in doubt. Jason Horowitz is a very good reporter who was a long and very textured story. But in terms of that anecdote, the Washington Post itself was so worried about appearing to pile on Romney on the day when Obama was on the front page for making his same-sex marriage declaration that it held the story out of the paper, published it only online and put it in the paper on Friday.
ASHBURN: And what good does that do? They have, what, 10 million unique a month at "The Washington Post"? I mean, they put it out there as a story, and I think that holding it back -- I don't know what happened behind closed doors at Marcus Brauchli's office, the editor of "The Washington Post". I don't know what happened there, but I do feel confident in saying that there was no conspiracy. Journalists do want to get it right, and they're often afraid of being beat to the story. Maybe that's when they lined up all the final sources.
But I think this whole conspiracy of noting to give the Obama campaign a lift is baloney.
SMITH: I do think the story was too long in my opinion but -- much too long. But it actually -- they had a problem in the reporting. They had a quote that they had to correct.
KURTZ: It wasn't a quote. It was a characterization.
For people who haven't read it. It was a characterization that one of the former students at this prep school had long been haunted by the incident with the scissors. It turned out he had only found out about it a few weeks ago, so he had only been haunted by it a short time.
Bu that's a relatively minor misstep in the story. I'm interested in your take on -- because some people are reacting to this by saying, well, you know, Obama said in his autography that he had shoved a girl in class when she was 9. Do people care about this, and are we collectively making too much of this ancient incident?
SMITH: No, I think there is a legitimate topic which when you become a candidate for president of the United States, it is legitimate to look into your youth, your background, almost every four years one candidate or another says when I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish.
ASHBURN: Irresponsible. Right.
SMITH: And irresponsible and so forth. So this fits in that genre, and I think fits fairly.
ASHBURN: I also think we need to take a look at David Maraniss' "Vanity Fair" piece where he has talked about President Obama and they have a girlfriend who is saying he was very cool. I think the treatment is the same.
KURTZ: Cool but distant. He has a diary, yes.
ASHBURN: Cool but distant, right.
KURTZ: But that's a fair question.
And also, whether you think the story should have been published or not, the anecdotally -- I have some qualms about -- is it fair to examine -- we just saw there Romney's tepid reaction. I don't think anybody really -- I think people have a hard time believing he doesn't remember it all, and should he have made more of the fact that not just I did stupid things, but that bullying is wrong.
HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, I think people sort of turned from the story to Mitt Romney's reaction, which I think some people saw as lacking empathy and in some ways straining because on the one hand he says he doesn't remember, but, yet, he doesn't argue with it, and he is also sorry for something that he doesn't remember.
So I think in some ways they -- you know, may have made a misstep in terms of how they handled it, because it's such a big deal.
ASHBURN: It's going define him because he hasn't defined himself yet.
HENDERSON: You're right. That's a story just basically filled up a vacuum because people don't really know who Mitt Romney is.
KURTZ: That maybe a political reality, I still have to stop in 1965.
Let's turn to this "TIME" magazine cover. Are you mom enough? You see the picture air. We can put it up. A lot of attention here for this. And in fact, the mom went on the "Today" show." We played that earlier.
Editor Rick Stengel was asked about the cover photo on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you wince when you look at the picture?
RICHARD STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, TIME MAGAZINE: I don't wince when I look at the picture. I think it's provocative. I think that it's a little whimsical too
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: A little whimsical?
ASHBURN: OK. Whoa. Let's take a look at this picture, if you haven't seen it. Here is a mother with her hand on her hip. Her elbow is back. The children's hands are by his side.
She's looking at us defiantly, and that is supposed to symbolize attachment parenting where -- you know, the photographer himself had a bulletin board filled with pictures of Madonna and child, and that was going to be what defined the cover? And look at it. It is the opposite of attachment parenting, and it is a ratings or a viewership stunt.
SMITH: Well, it surely shows --
SMITH: That news magazines are having a hard time selling on newsstands these days. It's not unlike the picture of Demi Moore --
KURTZ: Pregnant, right.
HENDERSON: Recently, "Newsweek," Tina Brown has been an expert at that, the aging of the Princess Di cover, the Michele Bachmann cover.
KURTZ: But they had their shirts on.
HENDERSON: That's true. I mean, they --
ASHBURN: She has a shirt on.
HENDERSON: The most attractive 26-year-old woman who breast- feeds her 3-year-old --
KURTZ: You what bothers me about this? This woman, you know how much she's in the story? There are two sentences in this whole cover devoted to her. The rest is about a guy named Dr. Bill Sears who studied and encourages attachment parenting.
HENDERSON: It's a little bat and switch I think.
ASHBURN: Of course, it is. You know, as far as this is concerned, what makes me so sad and angry about this cover is that no one is paying attention to the 3-year-old. What kind of impact that is going to have on him.
HENDERSON: I think that's right. He had to use -- he was forced to look into the camera.
ASHBURN: And in 12 years what are kids going -- you want to talk about bullying? What are kids going to say? Nobody is looking out for -- not even the mother -- the right of that child.
KURTZ: She has the right to pose with her breast out if she wants.
ASHBURN: It's not about breast, though, Howie.
KURTZ: The 3-year-old -- well, it's about displaying in the camera.
ASHBURN: Right. It's about the 3-year-old child. It's -- that whole thing is posed.
KURTZ: I am agreeing with you that the person who really isn't able to give informed consent for the situation is this 3-year-old kid, and that to me I think is --
ASHBURN: You know what? In the end --
SMITH: The cover is supposed to get your attention.
ASHBURN: They did it. But is that what "TIME" has come to? You just want my attention? You want me to be talking about that? What about the serious issues?
HENDERSON: I would say happy Mother's Day, though, to my mom who was actually not feeling well today, but I wanted to get back to you and happy Mother's Day to you as well.
ASHBURN: Happy Mother's Day to my mom as well.
KURTZ: Such a nice note to end on.
ASHBURN: I know.
KURTZ: Nia-Malika Henderson, Terry Smith, Lauren Ashburn -- thanks for coming in this morning.
Up next, a debate over the coverage of same-sex marriage which has taken some sharp twists and turns even at FOX News.
KURTZ: We're continuing our debate now about the President Obama's announcement on same-sex marriage with the following guests in Chicago, John Aravosis, who is the founder of Americablog.com, and here in Washington, Matt Lewis, columnist for the Daily Caller.
John Aravosis, it was your colleague at Americablog, Joe Sudbay, who asked President Obama in 2010 about his position on this issue. The president said he was evolving. That became a word we all used. Were you as a commentator and as a gay man disappointed in Obama until now?
JOHN ARAVOSIS, AMERICABLOG.COM: You know, I think that's kind of a big question. I mean, I think I was disappointed in Obama the first couple of years, but not just on marriage. Over the last couple of years, I think things have turned around a lot, starting with don't ask, don't tell, and certainly culminating with his I think rather forceful -- I would call it courageous -- you know, decision on marriage to sort of stake out a solid position. So I'm very pleased now. I was tepid before. But I've been improving, and now I'm pretty happy.
KURTZ: Matt Lewis, you say to me --
ARAVOSIS: I think a lot of people in our community are too.
KURTZ: Clearly. You say the media coverage, Matt, of the Obama decision has been simplistic. Explain.
MATT LEWIS, DAILY CALLER: Well, first of all, I do think it has been favorable, but I think it's also this Manichean idea that you are either with the angels or with the devil. And the truth is that even among conservatives, there's a lot of nuance, a lot of texture. There are conservatives, for example, people like Dick Cheney, who are actually in favor of gay marriage. There are conservatives who believe that they're in favor of gay marriage because they think it will have an effect of making gay people more bourgeois, more conservative, so to speak.
KURTZ: Stable, long-term relationships.
LEWIS: Exactly. And then there are conservatives who think government should be out of it. In other words, government shouldn't be sort of saying that this is an institution for heterosexuals or homosexuals. It should be just a religious thing.
But let me say, there are traditional conservatives who believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. I think that is a completely legitimate standpoint.
KURTZ: And do you think, John Aravosis, the media have tended, at least some of the media, have tended to demonize those who oppose same-sex marriage? I know it's a very personal issue for you, obviously, but at the same time it's failed in every state referendum, including this week in North Carolina.
ARAVOSIS: I don't think they've demonized at all. If anything, looking back at the coverage-- because I looked back at it to come on the show today -- and I saw the media consistently talking about it being historic. I think you even called it cataclysmic or something like that -- meaning it was sort of an epic, historic moment. But I didn't see a lot of them saying this was a good thing. If anything, the irony was one of the most positive statements you showed earlier was from Shep Smith at Fox News, of all places, who actually said Republicans were sort of behind history on this one, which was more subjective, but in general I've not had the sense that the media has said "and Obama is correct on this issue, and, you know, the conservatives are wrong." They haven't said that.
KURTZ: Let me play for you a clip from the Daily Show, Jon Stewart put together the evolution of some pundits on Fox News and the way they've talked about this issue from several years ago to today. Let's roll that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: If you change the variables and say that it doesn't have to be a man and a woman, it can be a woman and a woman and or a man and a man, why not a man, and a woman, a woman, a woman? It may sound crazy.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: I don't care about gay marriage, like here you go. This is the slippery slope. You legalize gay marriage, gay sex, and all of that, then anybody who wants to marry five people can do it, commune people can do it, you can marry a turtle.
GRETCHEN CARLSON, FOX NEWS: Let's not make any mistakes about this, folks. This is about getting reelected in November, plain and simple. MICHELLE MALKIN, COLUMNIST, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Because every position that Barack Obama takes is an evolutionary composite of dozens of poll tested or campaign donor approved positions. And that's what's really driving this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: It was striking to me, Matt Lewis, that nobody on Fox that I saw said now -- as opposed to those earlier clips -- that gay marriage was wrong, it was immoral. It was all attacking Obama on the politics of the issue, which is perfectly fair.
LEWIS: Yes, look, I think some of it may be a product of people like Glenn Beck, who are no longer on Fox News. Some of it may be a product of pure strategy. If you buy the argument that Fox is trying to get Mitt Romney elected, clearly Mitt Romney wants the election to be about the economy. He doesn't really want to talk about the social issues for a variety of reasons.
But look, it may also be that there was some evolution taking place amongst conservatives or at least more nuance taking place. I think a lot of conservatives would be in favor of civil unions. Like gay people, for example, should certainly be allowed to have hospital visitation, but the fight is over the redefining marriage, and that's a little bit more nuanced.
ARAVOSIS: But I think, Howie, I think what's important is -- and I would agree with Matt on this -- I think conservatives may be -- as a group, have moved a little more to the left on this issue, if even tacitly so, meaning the Republican leadership isn't as interested in talking about gay marriage and gay issues in general, and it's not just because they want to talk about the economy. I think there's also maybe a growing recognition that going after the gays might not be great politics.
What that means for the media is if you are looking at the issue, you see Democrats on one side being pro-gay. You see Republicans on the other side -- at least in Washington -- not wanting to really talk about the gays. So what's the middle ground? Being moderately accepting.
KURTZ: What about the argument, and Matt made this in his column, John, that if we are going to say, OK, a man can marry a man or a woman can marry a woman, where do we draw the line? Why don't we just legalize polygamy?
ARAVOSIS: Well, you know, it's -- we've all heard that argument before, but I mean, you could have made the same argument when we legalized interracial marriage. You know, well, a black guy can marry a white woman. Why can't he marry a turtle, like somebody said on Fox I guess in the clip you just played? It's, I don't know where to --
KURTZ: It's O'Reilly (inaudible).
ARAVOSIS: But people still make that argument today. You know, I'm not sure how that fits in with our --
ARAVOSIS: Well, yes. I think it's a goofy analogy, only because, look, we're talking about two people getting married. Period. If people want to talk polygamy, then we can talk polygamy, you know, until -- the Mormons can (ph) talk about it, but that's not really the issue.
LEWIS: I always find it a little bit offensive when people try to make an analogy between the civil rights struggle and the gay marriage struggle. I mean --
KURTZ: You find it offensive?
LEWIS: I think it's -- first of all, at the very minimum, I think it's a false analogy. Look, my point is --
ARAVOSIS: Coretta Scott King disagrees with you on that one, but Coretta Scott King said it absolutely was an analogy between gay rights and black civil rights, absolutely. I've got them on the site, repeated articles from the woman. So I disagree, and so does Coretta.
LEWIS: Be that as it may, we'll concede that Coretta Scott King has a different opinion than me. I think it's entirely different, but, look, just skip past all the partisan bickering and stuff. I would just say that once you start redefining marriage, you have to question. Mitt Romney's ancestors left America because they were not allowed to marry -- practice polygamy, and it was a tenet of their faith, and I think is that a good thing? Was it good that America --
ARAVOSIS: Wait, wait, wait, wait. We redefined marriage for Mitt Romney's ancestors, and you just said redefining marriage is a bad thing. So--
ARAVOSIS: -- redefining marriage away from polygamy?
KURTZ: Hang on.
LEWIS: Any time there is a public policy--
ARAVOSIS: We shouldn't redefine marriage away from racism?
LEWIS: I don't know whether or not it was--
ARAVOSIS: We should not have redefined marriage in the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision? That was redefining marriage, which it was, and it was wrong?
LEWIS: Is that your position, or are you playing politics?
(CROSSTALK) ARAVOSIS: I absolutely think redefining marriage -- I absolutely think redefining marriage was acceptable in circumstances such as Loving v. Virginia or in polygamy. Absolutely.
KURTZ: John, we have got to go. John, we've got to go, but I want to ask you one more question. Without naming names, because I don't approve of that, there are a number of prominent journalists who have been involved in talking about and writing about this issue, who most people kind of know are gay, but they're not public about it. Does that bother you? Or is that an individual decision?
ARAVOSIS: You know, it's interesting. I think you've got one issue, which is sort of gay pride. Do you think people should come out? I think more on the journalistic ethics side, it gets interesting when you say someone is gay and you don't know they're gay, but they're interviewing someone about gay topics. What becomes troublesome is when you think, well, OK, if you are black, does it matter if you are interviewing somebody about a black topic, a race topic? If you are Jewish, should you not do coverage of Israel? I don't know. I think it starts to get sticky, because everyone has biases, so to speak. Maybe they should be upfront, one could argue. You know? But it gets sticky.
KURTZ: It gets sticky indeed. I've got to go. John Aravosis, Matt Lewis, thanks very much for this discussion.
Coming up, Tom Brokaw steps up his attack on that celebrity studded Washington event, the White House Correspondents Dinner.
KURTZ: Tom Brokaw has no shortage of opinions about the television news business that he has been a key part of for so many decades now. I sat down with the long-time NBC anchor this week at a celebration of the centennial of Columbia journalism school for a video interview for "The Daily Beast."
We talked about what he described as a disconnect between the public and politics, aided and abetted, Brokaw said, by the media.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Does the polarization that we see particularly in cable news, strong opinions of and ideological things on FOX News, MSNBC, does that add to the sense, because I wonder whether people in America are as divided as it would seem from watching the pundits go out?
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: I don't think that they are as divided. I think that the great moveable face of American politics are the independents, that group in the middle.
KURTZ: But is it more profitable for cable television to cater to the people on either side, who like to have their opinions reinforced and not worry about the mass in the middle?
BROKAW: Well, that's always been the case, Howie, well before cable television. There were the tabloids, and they had a distinct point of view. And you know, it was a gotcha moment in those days in print as well. I remind people before Rush Limbaugh there was Walter Winchell, for example, or Dorothy Kilgallen.
KURTZ: But it's more pervasive today because of technology.
BROKAW: It's much more pervasive today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: We also talked about the high profile media dinner a couple of weeks back that drew so much attention and criticism.
KURTZ: You are a former White House correspondent, there were some comments the other day about perhaps the celebrity-filled spectacle that the White House Correspondents' Dinner has become. And it's become quite an industry.
People bring the most famous folks they can find from Hollywood -- this year it was Kim Kardashian, it was Lindsay Lohan. You said maybe it's time to rethink that. What about it? Are you offended by it?
BROKAW: But I didn't want to sound like a cranky old uncle at the Thanksgiving table, but I do feel strongly that it's gone way too far.
KURTZ: You did say you wanted to meet Charlize Theron.
BROKAW: Well, of course. Who wouldn't, if you're a male? That evening, which is the biggest evening in Washington -- in the Washington press corps life that says it's let them eat cake.
We're pouring Cristal champagne, we're more interested in the celebrity than we are in the concerns of real folks who are out there and I think it's just the worst kind of symbolism. Now it's gone beyond that. It's look at me, look at me, look at me, and it seems to be an exercise simply in hedonism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Strong words from Tom Brokaw who told me as we were leaving that he just doesn't go to the dinner anymore.
After the break, should news allies have published all those leaks about the failed terror plot to take down an airplane? Mark Mazzetti of "The New York Times" in a moment.
KURTZ: When the Associated Press learned that the CIA had foiled an Al Qaeda plot to blow up a plane on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death, editors held the story at the request of the White House and CIA.
The administration argued that sensitive intelligence operations were still underway. Once they were over, the AP ran the story despite an administration request that it wait one more day for the official announcement.
But soon there were more leaks, what appear to be authorized leaks about how the CIA cracked this case. Joining us to talk about this is Mark Mazzetti, national security correspondent for "The New York Times." Welcome.
MARK MAZZETTI, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Thank you.
KURTZ: So the AP gets the story about the Al Qaeda plot, holds it for days at the government's request, even though it's eventually going to be announced. Was that the right call?
MAZZETTI: Sure. I mean, I don't know what actually happened in the negotiations, but it happens frequently where, I mean -- whether you are covering the CIA or covering city hall, you always call for a comment before your story, and that gives the CIA or whomever the chance to sort of weigh in and if they think that there is really sensitive information being disclosed to ask you to hold the story.
That then goes sort of way above my pay grade, the pay grade as the reporter. It goes to the editors. They have to make the call.
But it is not -- it very frequently happens where you will wait a day or so on a story, not to spite the story, wait a day or so and still be the first to report it.
So not being privy to the negotiations, it sounds like they made the right call.
KURTZ: And then after that, there was just a whole torrent of stories, at major news organizations, including yours, about how the CIA in this case had benefited from a double agent who was working with Al Qaeda but also working with Saudi intelligence.
And I was surprised to see such sensitive intelligence details leaked in real time, this was attributed to administration on foreign officials. Were you surprised?
MAZZETTI: Any time you find out about a double agent inside a terrorist organization, it's rare. My sense is that by the time the stuff leaked out, for the most part, the agent was, you know, outside of Yemen. He was either in Saudi hands or whomever, and so the operation was largely over.
The -- even in the spy world, success can have a thousand fathers, and British papers were reporting about an MI-5 connection, the British intelligence, seems like there were a lot of people taking credit for this very real intelligence coup.
KURTZ: And I think credit is the key word because the Obama administration, like the Bush administration, has denounced leaks and in some cases, attempted to prosecute those who leak and yet seems willing to dish inside details when there is a successful anti-terror operation for which the administration can take credit.
MAZZETTI: Well, you know, we have to know more about exactly who was talking in this case, it's not always just an officially blessed leak. I think that this was a ship that was leaking from many different places and it wasn't just the White House deciding to leak out information about an intelligence coup.
KURTZ: Various politicians now, some Republican members of Congress, are calling for a leak investigation of this.
KURTZ: But do these tend to go anywhere?
No, usually not. The Defense Department has routine leak investigations about their leak of their own material. The CIA, CIA information leaks out, it gets referred to the Justice Department.
As a national security reporter, we are sort of trading in classified information all the time and some of it we don't report, but a lot of it we do. And as I said, we will always generally call anyone for comment before we run a story. But our default position is that we are going to run the story.
KURTZ: I have got half a minute. I did want to ask you about -- so you seem to be saying that maybe people like me are jumping to conclusions about the motivation behind leaks because this looks like a case of taking credit for successful operations.
MAZZETTI: There may be some of that but there's always conspiracy theories about any time there's a scoop or, you know, a torrent of information coming out, that there is an agenda and it is very calculated. It is usually not that simple. It is usually more of a complicated scenario.
KURTZ: Could it be interagency rivalries?
MAZZETTI: There's a lot of that.
KURTZ: Mark Mazzetti from "The New York Times", thanks very much for joining us.
MAZZETTI: Thanks a lot.
KURTZ: A jam-packed "Media Monitor" is straight ahead.
KURTZ: Lots to get to in the "Media Monitor" this week. MSNBC anchor Tamron Hall got really ticked off the other day and cut off a guest's mike but all the "Washington Examiner's" Tim Carney did was challenge her coverage of the report on Mitt Romney's bullying incident back in prep school.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TIM CARNEY, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": What you're doing here is a typical media trick. You hype up a story and then you justify the second day coverage of the story by saying, oh, well, people are talking about it, here is how Romney responded to it. No, let's move on to substance --
TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: You don't have to answer a single question I ask you. You do not. And you didn't have to accept the invitation to come on. You knew what we were going to be discussing. You're not going to come on and insult me. You're not going to come on and insult the network when you knew what you were going to talk about. Done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I'm sorry, it was Tamron Hall who was being insulting by silencing him. Carney was perfectly entitled to say that, in his opinion, the story was being hyped. Does Hall only want guests who agree with her handling of every story?
Did you see that weird story about the dentist in Poland who was dumped by her boyfriend and took the revenge by pulling out all his teeth? You might have read it in the "L.A. Times," the "San Francisco Chronicle," FOX News, "New York Daily News," "New York Post," or "Huffington Post." There was a reason it sounded too good to be true. A Polish television station says it was a hoax. Ouch.
This one's weird but true. The "Houston Chronicle" fired reporter Sarah Tressler after the rival "Houston Press" revealed that she works on the side as a stripper. Oh, and she writes a blog, diaryofanangrystripper. Tressler has filed a discrimination complaint against the "Chronicle" and hired Gloria Allred.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH TRESSLER, FORMER "HOUSTON CHRONICLE" EMPLOYEE: I don't believe that I should have been terminated because of a claim that I did not disclose on my employment application that I worked as an exotic dancer. There was no question on the form that covered my dancing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Could the "Chronicle" just have been red-faced over her outside employment?
As the New York Rangers were to face off against the Washington Capitals in the NHL playoffs, the "New York Post" carried this article, "A Cap on the Season? Loss in Game 6 sends D.C. home for summer," except some hockey fan of the tabloid was skating on thin ice. The Caps wound up winning game 6 but they did lose the series last night, so now the "Post" can gloat.
Finally, BBC Scotland carried a very special weather forecast this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES, PRINCE OF WALES: Well, it is an unsettled picture as we head towards the end of the week. This afternoon it will be cold, wet and windy across most of Scotland. We are under the influence of low pressure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Well, Prince Charles was a little stiff but not bad for the new bloke on the block. That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz, happy Mother's Day to my mom and all the moms out there. Join us again next Sunday morning, 11 am Eastern, for another critical look at the media. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.