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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Holder Held in Contempt?; Media Vetting Veep Candidates; Morsi Wins; Aaron Sorkin's Neurotic Newscast
Aired June 24, 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: The story's been kicking around for more than a year, a botched Justice Department investigation that's been a cause celebre for conservatives and an occasional story for the mainstream media until now. FOX News pounds Eric Holder after a House committee votes to hold him in contempt, while MSNBC acts as the attorney general's defense lawyer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK MORRIS, DICKMORRIS.COM: Nobody in the mainstream media was paying any attention to this scandal. FOX News was. Nobody else was covering it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Well, not quite. But have journalists blown the story, or is this scandal manufactured by the right wing media?
And we'll tackle these television topics. Ann Curry appears to be on her way out at the "Today" show. Why was her partnership with Matt Lauer such a flop?
"20/20" sits down with Rielle Hunter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think he wanted the baby?
RIELLE: I think that he thought the timing was terrible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Do we really need to hear more from John Edwards' mercurial mistress?
And Aaron Sorkin's HBO series, "The Newsroom," debuts tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't know people didn't like working for me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you care?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Of course I care. Anybody would care. But honestly, I don't.
I do. I am a perfectly nice guy. I have the focus group data to prove it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Does it capture the craziness of television news?
I'm Howard Kurtz. And this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: We want to begin by showing you live pictures of Tahrir Square in Cairo. Egyptian authorities this past hour announcing that Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, has won the presidential runoff election.
Thousands of people there favorable to the Muslim Brotherhood cause celebrating that announcement. Candy Crowley will have a live report later this hour.
It's not that the media have utterly ignored "Fast and Furious", the Justice Department sting involving guns in Mexico that tragically resulted in one agent's death. It's been mentioned at least 30 times in "New York Times" stories and 40 in "The Washington Post."
But as the case has ebbed and flowed and Republican Congressman Darrell Issa has demanded more and more documents, the case has been a fixture on conservative Web sites and on FOX News. And when President Obama invoked executive privilege to withhold the documents and Issa's committee voted that Eric Holder should be held in contempt, the story played out in very different ways on the cable networks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Not only is the administration not willing to provide requested documents in the "Fast and Furious" investigation, it seems that their testimony is also less than truthful.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: Tonight, is President Obama hiding something? If so, what and why?
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: Republicans are trying to take out President Obama at any cost. Today, the United States attorney general was collateral damage.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the way this highly partisan battle has been covered -- in New York, Amy Holmes, anchor for "The Blaze" on GBTV. Here in Washington, Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" and now CNN contributor. And Dana Milbank, columnist for "The Washington Post."
Ryan Lizza, were the mainstream media a bit slow on this "Fast and Furious" investigation or has it simply become a classic, ideologically-driven controversy?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there seem to be these controversies that both sides become really, really interested and obsessed in and pound the media for not covering. And at a certain point, it becomes inevitable it gets widespread attention because it plays into the back and forth between the Republicans and the Democrats.
And for a long time, this issue was isolated to the conservative media because it was -- essentially, there wasn't much administration response. So, there wasn't this sort of food fight nature that, you know, cable and the newspapers thrive on. Once you have Issa pushing the contempt vote in his committee and you have the White House responding, you have -- you know, you have your classic left/right partisan spat. That gets a lot more coverage.
KURTZ: Amy Holmes, is that right? That now that it is a left/right partisan spat and you have accusations of a cover-up, that it's now easier for the rest of the mainstream media to sink their collective teeth into?
AMY HOLMES, GBTV: I think once the White House got involved with trying to assert executive privilege or suggest it, then yes, it did bubble up to the mainstream media.
But I have to disagree with Ryan in terms of this just being a partisan battle, the administration not being much interested.
You know, Attorney General Eric Holder is a member of the administration. He's our attorney general. He's testified up on the Hill over half a dozen times.
I think at this point, it seems like it's a bit in the weeds. You have timelines. What did he know? When did he know it?
But now the mainstream media is really going to have to grapple with that and, you know, not just a he said/she said story, but what's the real truth of the matter?
LIZZA: Well, one another point on this. I will say, one lesson from covering the Clinton era is: do not ignore fringe stories, right? The fringiest stories of the Clinton era eventually led to that man's impeachment. And so, these stories eventually burst into the mainstream media and they don't go away.
KURTZ: You know, let's be fair in just pointing out, that underlying this investigation is a very serious matter in which many guns were let loose in Mexico, supposedly monitored by Justice Department officials. One agent, Brian Terry, ended up getting shot and killed.
But I've been struck, Dana, the way in which FOX News has been pounding this story for months and months, even weeks like nothing was going on. And now, of course, the theme we saw a little at the top was: what is Obama hiding? DANA MILBANK, WASHINGTON POST: Right. I think to say the media isn't interested in scandal is preposterous. We love scandal. I love scandal.
That's the thing that really drives us.
KURTZ: What's wrong with this scandal?
MILBANK: Because it is a scandal, but it's a scandal of government, and it's not a political scandal. When you take it and you say, what's the worst case here? Well, the Obama administration was continuing something basically that was going on under the Bush administration. You know, did they try to cover up some embarrassing things afterwards?
There's just -- there's nothing conceivable that would bring this into a major political scandal here. I think that's why people have been slow to get on board. It's not an ideological thing. I think the media would love to have an Obama scandal to cover.
KURTZ: I would agree to this extent. Eric Holder doesn't look like a classic non-cooperating witness. He's testified a number of times; just 7,000 page documents not enough, or not the key documents according to Issa.
But let me toss it back to Amy with this question. When the president invoked executive privilege, the media certainly reported. But I would say didn't pounce on videotape of candidate Barack Obama accusing George W. Bush of hiding behind executive privilege.
HOLMES: Indeed he did. I thought you were going to play the tape. President Obama, then-Senator Obama, pouncing on President Bush.
So, yes, the media got interested in this idea of hypocrisy. I think we saw Jon Stewart made great fun of it.
But in terms of the mainstream media and their interest in this story, I think part of the reason really is the partisanship of the media. I mean, Brian Terry should be a household name. This man died at the hands of guns that had been illegally pushed to Mexican drug dealers across the border without the Mexican government's knowledge of this.
And when Dana is saying that it started under the Bush administration, that's actually a little bit spin by the administration, that the operation under the Bush administration was different from this one. I wonder if it's too technical in terms of these details. But in this story, we actually do have a smoking gun quite literally.
KURTZ: A little bit of spin?
MILBANK: Well, I mean, you know, they had -- the program had other names. It's technical. But this notion of gun walking started in 2006 and has been going on since then. I think Issa's committee was terrific and sensible in doing this investigation. But it's interesting the fight over executive privilege now is not about anything that led up to agent Terry's death. It's about things that happened months after agent Terry's death. So, by definition, it's not about the core scandal.
KURTZ: And I want to follow up again on Amy at one point. So, when you say -- you're accusing the media of partisanship, are you suggesting because Brian Terry unfortunately was killed in the line of duty, border patrol agent, is not more widely known because the media were covering up or minimizing this on behalf of the Obama administration?
HOLMES: Well, I think there's been a minimization because it's being led by Republicans against the Obama administration over an issue of -- you know, some could say gun control or walking guns across the border. But really at the heart of this is someone whose life was taken by illegal gun selling being pushed by the administration.
You know, I don't want to get into the details exactly of this case. However, I think if this were under the Bush administration in this exact same instance, I think the media would be all over this. They would be exploding these characters.
HOLMES: We know exactly who's who. I mean, we see these missing girls in Aruba and we know more about that.
KURTZ: Go ahead.
LIZZA: Why the media spends a lot of time on missing girls a whole separate issue, right, Amy? But I think one of the things that, you know, these things become so partisan so fast.
KURTZ: And that was true when Democrats were demanding Democrats from the Bush administration.
KURTZ: I covered controversies during the Reagan administration where Democrats were demanding documents.
LIZZA: And both sides become entrenched and marshal arguments just to sort benefit their side. And frankly then the facts get a little bit out of control. I mean, there are allegations now that the administration was pursuing this policy to somehow crack down on gun control in the United States.
LIZZA: So, you know --
KURTZ: Pushed by the NRA among others. I don't want to get too entrenched.
So, I want to move on briefly to the veep stakes, which of course, the media seems very fascinated by. You had a report on ABC News by Jonathan Karl this week about the status of one senator, Marco Rubio, which is Romney campaign reacted to rather quickly. Let's roll it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: ABC's Jon Karl learned that one of the most highly touted and popular choices, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, is not even being considered right now by the Romney team.
JON KARL, ABC NEWS: That's right. And this is a surprise, George.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The story was entirely false. Marco Rubio is being thoroughly vetted as part of our process.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Dana Milbank, when ABC said Rubio had not been asked to turn over hundreds of pages of paperwork on his financial and other interests, and then Romney comes out and says, no, no, he's being vetted. All depends on the meaning of the word "vetted". I mean, did he really knock down that story or not?
MILBANK: Well, I don't think so. I mean, this is the whole reason why it's preposterous for us to spend to these few months speculating on who the vice president --
LIZZA: I agree.
MILBANK: There's one person who knows this, maybe one person, that would be Romney. Maybe he shares it with somebody leading his search committee. So, we have no ability to report on this sort of thing. Maybe it was true when ABC reported it. But Romney can instantly make that untrue.
We have no power over this. Inevitably we speculate, come up with dozens of names. In the end, the vice president will be somebody else.
LIZZA: I agree. The veep stakes -- way too much reporting on the veep stakes and who's being vetted and who's not being vetted. I mean, it's certainly important to look at the actual candidates who are in the mix. Look at their records, and especially the ones that might actually be in the running.
MILBANK: Fictional short list which is a list probably --
MILBANK: Yes, we just kind to invent. So and so is being mentioned.
You know, "Politico" went pretty heavy -- I get Amy Holmes back in -- pretty heavy a day or two later saying that Tim Pawlenty, of course, his presidential campaign didn't last very long. Now, he's the favorite guy of the Romney advisers.
I'm reminded of 2008 when nobody thought it was going to be Sarah Palin.
HOLMES: Absolutely. I mean, you know, the scorecard on this is not good in terms of media speculation.
No one saw Sarah Palin coming. No one saw Dick Cheney coming when George Bush chose him.
When Bill Clinton chose Al Gore, the conventional wisdom was he would never choose a fellow baby boomer from the South. He wants geographic diversity.
But I looked at this story and I was thinking, you know, this is the kind of thing that Lindsay Lohan does every day. I mean, head of hopper would have been proud of this.
You have campaign manipulation, media hype. It's a win/win for everybody. Marco Rubio's selling a book. The campaign is selling a storyline. The media is selling newspapers.
KURTZ: I would not have expected the Lindsay Lohan reference.
HOLMES: Always like to work her in.
KURTZ: It gives me a chance to move on. When we come back, "Politico" suspends its White House reporter for some negative cable comments and tweets about Mitt Romney. Was he way out of bounds?
KURTZ: Joe Williams is White House correspondent for "Politico". He's now been suspended for what the Web site's editors call "conduct that fell short of our standards for fairness and judgment, in especially unfortunate way."
Part of this has to do with what Joe Williams said on MSNBC. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE WILLIAMS, POLITICO: Romney is very, very comfortable, it seems, with people who are like him. That's one of the reasons why he seems so stiff and awkward in some town hall settings. Why he can't relate to people other than that. But when he comes on "Fox and Friends," they're like him. They're white folks who are very much relaxed in their own company.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Dana Milbank, did Joe Williams go too far as a reporter in what he just said about Mitt Romney?
MILBANK: Well, I think he's wrong in the sense that Romney is equal opportunity uncomfortable with all people. So, on the merits, I think he was wrong.
I suspect that that comment by itself would not have gotten him into trouble. I think it was in combination with other things he had done. You could see how -- look, when we're saying things unfiltered on live television, you can sometimes say something that's not quite right in a way that wouldn't happen in print with editors.
KURTZ: You're saying there's a pattern?
MILBANK: Well, that's certainly what his editors at "Politico" were saying, that there was a pattern. That's a different matter.
KURTZ: Amy Holmes, when Williams says there are white folks very relaxed in their own company, did that strike your ear as being somewhat racist?
HOLMES: I don't know about racist, but not particularly insightful. It doesn't really give us any insight into Mitt Romney. Agree with Dana in terms of him being awkward and stiff, isn't that Mitt Romney's rap? You don't need to throw race into the mix to try to inflame the situation.
But, you know, it sort of reminds me, too, back in 2008 and the coverage of president, then-Senator Obama, and the idea he was so comfortable with groups. Yet at the time, Mike Allen told me that actually President Obama was quite stiff and cool and aloof when it came to reporters.
So, in terms of people's public versus private persona, there can be a real difference and divergence of personas there. But what does it really tell us about the candidate? I'm not really sure. I think that that was pure speculation and frankly inflammatory.
KURTZ: What's striking here, Ryan Lizza, is that Joe Williams didn't get into trouble for anything he wrote for "Politico" but comments he made on MSNBC and on Twitter.
LIZZA: Look, I'm really reluctant to criticize people who say something off on television.
KURTZ: Because tomorrow it could be you?
LIZZA: Yes, tomorrow, it could be you.
And, you know, we all -- we speak a lot. We tweet a lot. And sometimes you're going to say something that's, you know, is off.
Look, "Politico" encourages their correspondents to go on television.
KURTZ: Yes. LIZZA: They encourage them to tweet. It's a very different environment than when you're writing, right? One of the things that prevents bias and makes sure that reporters are doing things in a fair way and in a publication is many layers of editors reading the copy and getting that stuff out.
You go on TV or on Twitter and you're much more unfiltered.
KURTZ: If a number of your comments are all in the direction of being somewhat negative toward Romney and not negative toward President Obama --
LIZZA: Yes, and I'm not excusing --
KURTZ: -- and you're a White House correspondent, you've got a problem.
LIZZA: I'm not excusing it. I think one of the issues is when you go into the lair of a very ideological host, whether it's on MSNBC or FOX, sometimes the questions are geared to sort of bait the reporter into being much more ideological than they would be in print. I don't know exactly if that was the case here.
But, you know, Martin Bashir is a man of the left. He may have baited Joe a little bit on that. That doesn't excuse him. But I think it's a danger for beat reporters who try and avoid that in their --
MILBANK: It points to a much larger problem we're all dealing with now. That is when you tweet something or when you make some remark on the show, well, I'm saying that for the "Washington Post" or for "The New Yorker" or in this case for "Politico". And people may not make a distinction that -- well, what you write in the newspaper or the magazine is actually edited and careful. Otherwise, you might just be popping off. It's treated the same.
KURTZ: Let me briefly touch on one other issue here in this segment, and that is you had this odd coincidence where "The Washington Post" and "New York Times" on successive days had front page stories about Bain Capital. "New York Times" saying Bain got big fees when companies it bought failed and -- or went bankrupt or lost a lot of money. "Washington Post" talking about companies taken over by Mitt Romney former firm, Bain Capital, outsourcing jobs overseas.
Ed Gillespie, the Romney adviser, saying on "STATE OF THE UNION" this morning the "Post" report was shoddy journalism and he didn't think it had enough details.
What do we make of this, Amy Holmes?
HOLMES: Well, I would say, pajama clad bloggers unite. These sort of technical he said/she said -- we've talked about this before -- stories tend to be left all over by the blogosphere and the mainstream media is sort of catching up.
What we see so often in the campaign is that one camp makes an accusation. The other camp rebuts it. And the media only reports on the back and forth but doesn't actually get into the meat of the matter.
KURTZ: This was -- we were short on time -- this was real reporting about a company -- the experience which for Mitt Romney is one of his central credentials running for president, whether you think the stories were overplayed or not.
LIZZA: I think it's legit if you're going to run on your record at Bain and that you're giving that as the central reason why you could get this economy moving in a way that Obama hasn't, basically every aspect of that record should be picked over.
MILBANK: And both candidates have made Bain an issue, on both sides. It's completely fair game.
Bain has jumped into this and is defending their record. In fact, in the case of "The Post" story, Bain was working with them extensively on that. I don't think the Romney campaign wanted to get involved. Maybe they should actually get involved in that.
KURTZ: So, you reject the charge of shoddy journalism?
MILBANK: There has never been one column mention of shoddy journalism in the "Washington Post."
KURTZ: All right. Thank you, everyone, for stopping by. We'll bright back.
KURTZ: Ryan Lizza of "The New Yorker" and CNN still with us. You said the other morning -- excuse me -- you said in a recent interview that Twitter and forms popping up online popping off are basically ruining political journalism. What did you mean?
LIZZA: That's the danger of giving an off-the-cuff interview while riding Amtrak.
KURTZ: No more off the cuff.
LIZZA: So I just finished this long piece about Obama and --
KURTZ: Second term.
LIZZA: Second term. Talking to a lot of White House officials, campaign officials. And the experience of getting administration officials, campaign officials on the record is harder for me than it's ever been. I've been doing this for 15 years.
And people don't want to sit and have a conversation like we're having right now, because they live in fear of making a gaffe. They live in fear of saying -- especially the policy people. They live in fear of saying something stupid that gets the campaign in trouble.
KURTZ: The private sector is doing fine. LIZZA: The private sector is doing fine. The general election so far since the primaries ended, it's basically been a gaffe a week, right? And that's what gets covered.
So, I wasn't saying that Twitter specifically is the problem. But it's one more, you know, 24/7 medium where stuff gets amplified and the campaign has to spend all their time pushing back on stuff.
KURTZ: But if there were no Twitter and --
LIZZA: It's not just --
KURTZ: You're part of the problem. You're on Twitter. You're part of the problem. I'm part of the problem.
If there were no online forums like that, cable news specializes in jumping on the gaffe of the day, the gaffe of the hour.
LIZZA: Yes, that's what I'm saying. I didn't just mean to pick on Twitter, right?
KURTZ: You're backpedaling. OK.
LIZZA: It's a cable news problem. It's a blogging problem. It's the obsession with the political press corps of grabbing a quote often out of context and hammering these guys when quite frankly I think we know better. Because the two campaigns do it to each other, we cover that. We get into the middle of food fights.
KURTZ: So, you're saying collectively it's our collective fault as journalists that politicians won't talk to the media or won't talk to the media in an unguarded way because they fear this kind of selective headline-grabbing.
LIZZA: You know, I think a little bit. I've done enough TV to know that when you do a big interview with a politician, what's your goal, your goal is to break news right there.
KURTZ: Because they're trying to stay on the talking points. And you're trying to get them off message.
LIZZA: And there's nothing wrong with breaking news. But sometimes, the breaking news is: let's just get them to say something a little off and that will go viral. You know, I understand the sort of incentives for that.
But, look, I do it, too. I remember running a piece last year where there was a line in the piece, "Obama is leading from behind" quote.
KURTZ: Which became very famous.
LIZZA: I would defend that quote in the original context.
KURTZ: It was in the context of Libya and not moving more aggressively. LIZZA: It was a very specific context. Totally defensive.
KURTZ: That's the only thing anybody remembers about this piece.
KURTZ: How long the details --
LIZZA: Twelve thousand words. And that just went viral on the right and conservatives picked it up and they hammered the administration. So, I think, well, you know, I'm part of the problem, too.
KURTZ: But you're making the case just briefly to administration officials, this is a long, seriously reported, seriously thought out piece. Come talk to me.
And they are skeptical or hesitant because of this --
LIZZA: It doesn't matter if they trust you 100 percent to get the context.
KURTZ: This is not only you.
LIZZA: You can do a transcript. You can post a transcript. It doesn't matter. It's going to get ripped out and go viral.
And these campaigns are message -- they're all about message discipline, right, for both sides. Anything that strays from that message, they live in fear of.
KURTZ: All right. Well, Ryan Lizza, we'll see what of this conversation gets tweeted out and see if we can find something out of context.
LIZZA: If I still say something that's controversial.
KURTZ: Thanks very much for joining us.
Ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, the "Today" show prepares to dump Ann Curry. Did NBC give her a fair chance?
And Chris Cuomo sits down with Rielle Hunter. Was John Edwards' mistress worth an hour of primetime on ABC?
CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, "STATE OF THE NATION": Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi, is the winner of Egypt's presidential election. The announcement by Egypt's presidential election commission came just about an hour ago and was met with massive cheers in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Morsi defeated pro-military candidate Ahmed Shafik who served as prime minister under former President Hosni Mubarak. Joining me is CNN's foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty as we watch these continuing live pictures from what could have been a very different scene had the former prime minister won.
The question is, how does the administration take this? We haven't heard from them yet.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Not yet. And you know, there's likely, we believe, to be some type of statement coming from the White House.
But I think you'd have to say, if it had been Shafik, who was the former prime minister, you would have had probably a much more guarded reaction.
After all, right before that election, the military had taken over again. They had dissolved the parliament. They had taken things back into their hands.
If Shafik had won, you would have been going down that direction of the military still controls things. Where did democracy go? So with Morsi, the voice of the people is there.
So it's easier for the administration to say, democracy continues, we hope. Of course, they're not going to jump on a band wagon immediately.
CROWLEY: Isn't that the big question now?
CROWLEY: Isn't the big question, does democracy continue? Will the military cede control to him? There's no reason actually looking at this to believe they will.
DOUGHERTY: You're absolutely right. In fact, what they did before was they took a lot of power away from him. The president - any president right at this point, would have much less control.
The military crucially, at least at this point, control the budget. They control who is going to be writing the Constitution.
And the president, basically, as one reporter in our briefing at the State Department said, he can order lunch. So -
CROWLEY: Next big question just quickly. What do we need to know next?
DOUGHERTY: I think you need to hear from Morsi. What does he plan on doing? Does he feel he has any power? And does he really move forward on the Democratic issues that they need to move on?
You know, Candy, he does have to work with a coalition. And in parliament, the Muslim Brotherhood still needs other parties to do what they want to do. CROWLEY: Jill Dougherty, our foreign affairs correspondent will be with us at noon. CNN will provide continuing coverage of developments in Egypt throughout the day. RELIABLE SOURCES with Howard Kurtz will return after this break.
KURTZ: Ann Curry had been passed over once before. So it was in her contract that if Meredith Vieira left the "Today" show, she would be become the co-host. That one year ago is what happened.
MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, THE "TODAY" SHOW: Welcome to "Today" on a Thursday morning. I'm Matt Lauer.
ANN CURRY, CO-HOST, THE "TODAY" SHOW: I'm Ann Curry in for, I guess, nobody this morning. Me, myself and I.
LAUER: It's nice to be able to say that, isn't it?
CURRY: I know. It's crazy. I can't believe it. It's such a thrill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Curry had been known as a hard news reporter parachuting at the trouble spots around the globe and interviewing world leaders.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CURRY: I know people, Mr. President, who I believe were innocent, who were tortured.
MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translator): It's possible. I don't have such information.
KURTZ: But Curry and Matt Lauer never looked like a comfortable pairing. This week, NBC began negotiating with Curry for a new assignment. So what exactly went wrong?
Joining us now in Chicago, Maureen Ryan, television critic for "The Huffington Post." In New York, Adam Buckman, who is a television critic for "XFinity." And here in Washington, David Zurawik, media and television columnist for "The Baltimore Sun."
David Zurawik, Ann Curry is a world-class journalist. She once told me she was, at her core, a hard news reporter. Why is "Today" easing her out.
ZURAWIK: Well, ratings is the answer, you know. As everyone has reported -
KURTZ: "Good Morning America" is catching up with the "Today" show.
ZURAWIK: "Good Morning America" is catching them. Even though it was only for a couple days in the last 16 years or whatever, that's psychological.
KURTZ: A couple of weeks ago.
ZURAWIK: Yes, that made a big, big difference in terms of what they can sell advertising for over at ABC. And we know the morning is the ball game in terms of news divisions as profit centers. You have to get that right.
So the psychology of morning television, where you have this kind of family and people have to feel comfortable with it -
Yes. And if that doesn't work, they know it. So even though she's only been in there a year, NBC has a right to make this move. I wouldn't criticize them. What I'd criticize them for is the way they're handling it right now.
KURTZ: WE will come back to that. Maureen Ryan, well, Matt Lauer is clearly the megastar at the "Today" show after years of getting it done. It often seems in these situations like it's the woman who takes the fall.
MAUREEN RYAN, TELEVISION CRITIC, "THE HUFFINGTON POST": Well, I - you know, I'm alive to that possibility. But it seems like, you know, Katie Couric obviously did amazingly well there for many years.
I just think it's a very strange skill set to have. It's like a very distinctive thing to be able to do, to have that warm presence in the morning.
Honestly, it's no reflection in my mind on Ann Curry. I think it's just a reflection of this is a very specific skill set and a specific mood and tone that people are going for in the morning.
And I feel like you kind of either have it or you don't. And I think she's a good reporter and an excellent person to have.
And I would agree with David that I do feel, to some degree, she's been hung out to dry. And that's not really that fair to her.
Although, you know, NBC has to look at this in the bigger context of things at NBC have not been going well for a long time. And I actually think giving her a year was fairly generous in some way.
KURTZ: OK. So the reality, Adam Buckman, is that a hard- charging, very successful correspondent is not necessarily a great morning host because you have to be able to flip from world crises to doing the cooking segment.
ADAM BUCKMAN, TELEVISION CRITIC, "XFINITY": But she was not inexperienced in this. I mean, she was the second tier, you know, substitute on the "Today" show for, what, 12 or 15 years.
She was not an unknown quantity. And I think she's being scapegoated because she has been a part of the "Today" show family for years and years and years, was always a credible substitute, always seemed to get along on air with Matt Lauer.
And frankly what I've seen of the "Today" show lately has been that many of the segments are stale and ill-considered. And I think the show has major sort of general problems, and I don't think Ann Curry was the problem here.
KURTZ: Right. Let's keep in mind that it's still the number one show, but I'm not disputing what Adam says. You hinted at this before.
Is it humiliating that the story leaked to "The New York Times." NBC hasn't commented. And so her status is - NBC certainly hasn't denied that she will be gone. Isn't this kind of a weird limbo?
ZURAWIK: Howie, I don't have a lot of sympathy for a lot of people on television. But seeing last week when the "Ladies' Home Journal" excerpts came out from an interview she had done -
KURTZ: I have that right here. I'll just put it up on the screen and make you part of the other side. Before of course, the news broke about her likely to be leaving, Ann Curry said, "It's hard not to take it personally," talking about criticism, "You worry, 'Am I not good enough? Am I not what people need? Am I asking the right questions?' When people say negative things or speculate, you can't help but feel hurt."
ZURAWIK: And she talked about being there, I think, five years or 10 years, sort of her down-the-road plans for it. So now, you take away this whole PR spin where they can say, "Oh, it was a mutual move," or whatever.
And it's really embarrassing. Also that little graphic, the little script that ran under her by mistake -
KURTZ: I think we have that. If we can put that up while David is talking.
ZURAWIK: It may have been a total accident.
KURTZ: "Here today, gone tomorrow." Ouch.
ZURAWIK: And then in the snarky, mean media world in which we live online, they just pound her every day. Oh, did Ann Curry show up for work today? You know, that's horrible for her to have to go through that, Howie.
KURTZ: And Maureen, does NBC risk this becoming a messy breakup? I can't help but remember the Deborah Norville situation 20 years ago when she came on and was perceived as a home-wrecker after Jane Pauley had left the show. Is this a potential problem from a PR point of view for the network?
RYAN: I think so. I think she's - maybe it's turned out to not be a great fit for whatever reason. And I do think there are other possibilities of other problems within the "Today" show. So I don't at all - I wouldn't at all put this al on Ann Curry. But I think NBC has had a lot of PR problems over the past few years. I think in the grand scheme of things, NBC has done wrong.
I don't think it's going to rank up there in the top 10, but that's a pretty insane top 10. But I do think that there's going to be a perception problem that they - that who's in control here?
They can't control the story and it's playing out very messily very publicly. Sort of like the Conan O'Brien situation, but in the morning. And I think it's very unfortunate.
KURTZ: Ah, we all the feasted on that. Let me jump in here because I want to play a clip from something that aired on ABC's "20/20" on Friday night.
This is an hour long interview with Chris Cuomo's with Rielle Hunter. Let me show you that and we'll talk on the other side. That would not be the clip -
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CUOMO, CORRESPONDENT, "20/20": What do you think the reaction is when the woman who's sleeping with the husband starts talking about the wife who is now dead from cancer?
RIELLE HUNTER, MISTRESS OF JOHN EDWARDS: There are a lot of people that'll go, "Wow, I understand. I get it." And there are a lot of people who will be outraged.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Adam Buckman, ABC, to its credit, no longer pays for interviews. But is an hour on primetime with John Edwards' mistress worthy of that kind of prominence?
BUCKMAN: Well, you know, the reason we're talking about this today is because this is a program that deals with, you know, television news and talking about what things were appropriate and what things were not.
And you know, yes, that show came out of the ABC News division. But it was really no different than, you know, an entertainment show that would air, you know, in primetime on a slow Friday night in the summer.
It was preceded by an hour of a collection of videotapes of people caught on tape losing their tempers, including a lot of celebrities such as Alec Baldwin recently.
In the context of that, it was just another television show, sensationalistic, really broken no news and was really aired for the purposes of promoting her book.
KURTZ: Right. Exactly. Let me jump in here because we're short on time.
ZURAWIK: Giving her an hour was 60 minutes too many in primetime, and especially how ABC News had that blocked because of "20/20" programming. Jerry Sandusky news breaks, 10 minutes into the story, and they don't pull away from Rielle Hunter -
KURTZ: They had a graphic showing he'd been convicted on 45 sex abuse charges.
ZURAWIK: Right. Honest to god -
KURTZ: What did you think - what did you think of Chris Cuomo's questioning?
ZURAWIK: I thought -
KURTZ: Not an easy situation.
ZURAWIK: No, no. I thought Chris Cuomo did a decent job of it. What could he do with these moony answers she gave him? Honestly, outside of stop everything and say, "This is crazy stuff. It's not OK to do this stuff for love."
KURTZ: Well, Rielle Hunter is on the book tour now. She'll be on "PIERS MORGAN" this coming week.
After the break, critics are ripping Aaron Sorkin's new HBO series about cable news. Are journalists being a tad sensitive to criticism?
KURTZ: Producer Aaron Sorkin is famous for "The West Wing" and the movie about Facebook, "The Social Network." Now, he's taking on cable news in a series on HBO, part of CNN's parent company called "The Newsroom." It debuts tonight. Take a glimpse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't talk to me unless you absolutely have to.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I absolutely have to. I thought this would be a good time to get a couple things straight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm on TV in 90 seconds. I don't think this is a good time to get a couple of things straight.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, Honey. But I think it's the best time to get a couple of things straight. You've got my contract, but the thing you have to know is that between 8:00 and 9:00, you are completely mine. For an hour, five times a week, I own you.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: She is his producer and his ex-girlfriend. The plot revolves around that. Maureen Ryan, did this Sorkin series, what you've seen of it so far - did it capture the gestalt of cable news or the real newsroom in any way?
RYAN: To me, it really didn't. I mean, there are certainly aspects of it of people in conflict. They're reporting stories that seem familiar.
But it's all about the greater glory of the news anchor, which I don't know that that's necessarily - I feel like the age of that sort of news anchor as star who's going to set us all straight.
They keep referencing Cronkite and Murrow and this kind of giants and so forth. But I feel like the news industry operates in a very different way.
You know, earlier in the program, people were discussing, you know, Twitter and Blogs and, you know, online journalism and so forth.
And I don't think Aaron Sorkin really cares about that world. He's kind of recreated the news ecosystem from the '90s. And I don't know if that's really that accurate to me anymore.
KURTZ: Adam Buckman, Jeff Daniels plays that whacked-out anchorman. And Sorkin says this has nothing to do with Keith Olbermann, even though he spent time hanging out with him as he was getting ready to do this. But the anchor is one strange dude. Does this work as television?
BUCKMAN: It didn't REALLY work as television for me. I mean, I watched the first episode, and I thought, well, this is OK for a premier episode, a television pilot.
Sometimes they get going in episode two, and for me, when I watched the second episode a couple of days ago, actually, I really found it difficult to actually get through the episode.
The characters are given to a lot of Sorkin-esque speech making. And this has worked before on shows like "The West Wing" in the White House.
But for me, it didn't ring true as far as what I know about news rooms, whether they're in television or in newspapers that people sort of speechify and sermonize with each other and are that earnest about the stories they're working on. There was none of the cynicism that I am accustomed to.
KURTZ: I'm sure you and I are going to disagree about this. But those long, endless, windbag pompous speeches by these people who are so self-absorbed - I'm not saying that people in television don't have big egos.
But they just went on and on and on. I thought it just drained the energy out of the program.
ZURAWIK: Windbag, pompous - I think you might have given away your feeling a little bit. You know -
KURTZ: I refute it.
ZURAWIK: You're very clear about it, but I read the review.
KURTZ: I wanted to like it. I really did. I like Sorkin and I like doing something on cable.
KURTZ: Boy, these speeches -
ZURAWIK: Howie, I do like it. In fact, I think it's one of the best 20 pilots I've seen in the last 20 years. And here's why I think Adam - it doesn't resemble any newsrooms he's seen today because I think Sorkin is reaching for something very way up there that's hard to reach for.
And I think he gets enough of it for this to be an outstanding series. That's a newsroom and an earnestness and a sense of purpose that we have lost in the media.
I don't think it's just cable news. I think it's across the board and I think it's particularly true in the national press.
You know, in the reviews that have criticized them primarily have said, "Oh, it's so - it's like a high school speech when they say, 'We are here to serve democracy.'"
Well, maybe it is like a high school speech, but that's why we're here. And if we remember that - if we remember that, almost everything else makes sense. And today almost nothing makes sense to most people.
KURTZ: You need a television series. Maureen, is there anything to the notion that it's basically journalists reviewing this and journalists are maybe a little offended by the ways in which cable news is denigrated on the show?
RYAN: You know, I completely reject the idea that people are reviewing this negatively or in a mixed way because it's striking too close to home.
Are you telling me a guy who won an Oscar for a movie I really liked or made a TV show I really liked, that I had it out for him? That's completely ridiculous to me.
RYAN: And here's a guy who comes out and wants to make the media look good. I'm all for that idea. I just don't think it works as drama.
KURTZ: OK. OK. Got to go. Thank you, everyone. Still to come on this program, MSNBC mangles a tape of Mitt Romney. A "Slate" columnist reveals long-ago incidents of sexual abuse. And a "New Yorker" writer engages in plagiarism of himself. "The Media Monitor," straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time for now for "The Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.
Emily Yoffe, who writes the advice column for the "Slate" did something brave this week. She disclosed three incidents of sexual abuse involving serious groping and fondling before she was 20.
One, she says, involved her congressman, the late Fr. Robert Drinan, who grabbed her breasts and tried to tongue-kiss her until she ran out of the car.
Yoffe did not report the incident at the time and says, quote, "I'm aware that I'll be assailed for besmirching the memory of a distinguished man."
But as the mother of a 16-year-old daughter, she finally felt compelled to go public and that took guts.
Ever since George Bush, Sr. seemed surprised by a supermarket scanner, the media had been on the lookout for out-of-touch candidates. MSNBC appeared to catch Mitt Romney in such a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take a look at this. Mitt Romney has not been in too many Wawas along the roadside of Pennsylvania.
MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was at Wawas. I went to order a sandwich. You press a little touchtone keypad or ID to touch that. And you know, the sandwich just - you touch this, touch this, touch this. You pay the cash. There's your sandwich. It's amazing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's amazing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But as first pointed out by a blogger named Super Mexican, here is the problem. That clip was deceptively edited. Romney had started out talking about a doctor being entangled in government paperwork. And here is how the supermarket anecdote actually ended.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: There's your sandwich. It's amazing. People in the private sector learned how to compete. It's time to bring some competition to the Federal Government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So Romney wasn't amazed by the touch screen, but by the contrast between a supermarket chain and the government. That kind of editing is enough to give you indigestion.
Now, Andrea Mitchell played the full sound bite the next day, but expressed no regret for the earlier editing.
We told you last week that a couple of Fox News shows repeated a bogus account, which began on a conservative Web site, that the EPA was flying unnamed spy drones over Midwestern farms.
To her credit, Fox's Megyn Kelly aired this correction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: We identified and discussed the aircraft as being unmanned drones. In fact, the EPA is flying these missions and taking pictures from manned aircraft. We apologize for the confusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: At the risk of droning on, journalists can avoid many of these mistakes with a single phone call. Here is an existential question, can you plagiarize yourself?
The answer appears to be yes. Jonah Lehrer did a post for "The New Yorker" that lifted material he had written for the "Wall Street Journal."
After that report by blogger Jim Romenesko, other examples of Lehrer's recycling quickly resurfaced. "The New Yorker" slapped an editor's note on his blog post expressing regret.
And Lehrer told the "New York Times" it was a stupid thing to do and incredibly lazy and absolutely wrong. On that point, I have to agree.
All newspapers make typos, but this one was a doozy. I mean, how do you screw up the most famous double byline in modern journalistic history?
Yet, there was "The Miami Herald," a piece marking the 40th anniversary of Watergate by "Carol Bernstein and Bob Woodward." Maybe a young copy editor never heard of them.
That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. By the way, if you miss a program, you can now go to iTunes on Mondays and download a free audio podcast or buy the video version.
I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us here next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.