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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Murdoch Takes on Mitt; Coming Out Quietly; Interview with Joe Williams
Aired July 8, 2012 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: It wasn't exactly stunning news, but it was news he had never before publicly acknowledged. And when Anderson Cooper said, "Yes, I'm gay," he didn't do it in front of the television cameras where he makes a living but in an e-mail.
"I've always been open and honest about this part of my life with my friends, my family, my colleagues. In a perfect world, I don't think it's anyone else's business. But I do think there is value in standing up and being counted."
So is it any of our collective business? And why did the CNN anchor finally feel compelled to come forward?
Rupert Murdoch chides Mitt Romney on Twitter, and his "Wall Street Journal" follows up by slamming the candidate. Is the media mogul leading a right-wing revolt against Romney?
The "Politico" reporter who lost his job after making racially charged comments on MSBNC. We'll talk to Joe Williams about what happened.
Plus, we all thought we knew the story of Barack Obama's early years. But thanks to four years of relentless reporting, David Maraniss has cast it in a whole new light.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID MARANISS, AUTHOR: What obsessed me were two things to start with -- the world that made him, sort of the randomness of his existence, and the ability to write about the whole world through that story. And then how he remade himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: A conversation about his book on the president.
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: I am starting to get the distinct impression that Rupert Murdoch isn't a huge fan of Mitt Romney. Maybe it was this Twitter message from the media mogul: "Mitt Romney last week, tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends and hires some real pros, doubtful."
I'm sure it was a coincidence, but days later, "The Wall Street Journal", which just happens to be owned by Murdoch, spanked Romney in an editorial, saying the Republican nominee is slowly squandering a historic opportunity to beat Barack Obama and letting the president paint him as an out-of-touch rich man.
Now, other conservative pundits are piling on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: The Romney campaign squandering a big, fat gift. Over the past week, the campaign has lost the momentum created by a terrible Obamacare ruling and instead it managed to create a new media narrative of GOP confusion and dissent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Is this not so friendly fire having impact or just some venting in the dog days of summer?
Joining us now here in Washington: Julie Mason, host of "The Press Pool" on Sirius XM Radio; and Matt Bai, chief political correspondent for "The New York Times" magazine.
Julie Mason, what is Rupert Murdoch trying to accomplish with these 140-character swipes at Romney?
JULIE MASON, SIRIUS XM RADIO: Oh, my God, Howie, the dignity has gone out of this. Rupert Murdoch tweeting it Mitt Romney and the editorial, you didn't mention William Kristol, who also -- who doubled down and compared --
KURTZ: We'll get to that.
MASON: OK, we'll get to him. I read in "The New York Times" that -- that Rupert Murdoch wanted Chris Christie to run. So, there seems to be part of that.
KURTZ: Is Murdoch an important figure, Matt, in Republican politics? Does his criticism matter?
MATT BAI, NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: Sure it matters. He controls a big bullhorn in the media. And he's look to -- look to see just he put out a tweet. I mean, I put out a tweet like that and no one would look at it for a year.
But, look, there's a surfeit of historical analogies in our business, but, you know, and most are lame. But having put that disclaimer out there, this reminds me so much, this campaign, in many ways of 2004. So many similarities between Romney and John Kerry and the situation they faced, they're from the same state. They have similar weaknesses, personalities.
One of the things going on here so similar to Kerry, the base of the party, right, the ideological base of the party, never believed he was resolute enough. They saw him as the best acceptable alternative, the best acceptable vehicle out there. But they were always ready to pounce. And I think the same thing is true of Romney now.
KURTZ: And no secret that many of these conservative commentators didn't support Romney in the primaries, didn't want him to be the nominee.
But let's take a step back, Julie. Should the head of a giant global media company be meeting privately with the presidential candidate, giving him advice, then criticizing him, then following up with another tweet saying of course I want him to save us from socialism? What position does that put his reporters in?
MASON: No, I t think there's still the dividing line between the editorial page of even a powerful newspaper and major personality like Rupert Murdoch and the reporters at the "Wall Street Journal" who are just nonparalled excellent.
KURTZ: OK. I believe that, you believe that. But in terms of the image this created, doesn't it seem like the guy who runs the company certainly has made up his mind and he's actually a player in this process?
MASON: Right. He wants to be a player, but so many editorial boards, heads of newspapers, want to be players. I just -- I don't think it's a problem. For -- I think it's a problem a Mitt Romney, I don't think it's a problem for the credibility of the "Wall Street Journal."
Was that your question?
KURTZ: Yes. I'm not sure I agree. I mean, people who already want believe that FOX News is biased will say look at what Rupert Murdoch's saying.
Let's take "The Journal" editorial page, though. You know, it's kind of the Bible for conservatives, ripping Romney for floundering on the question about the health care mandate that was upheld by the Supreme Court, whether it's a penalty or a tax. I don't know that the average voter cares about that. But I do think "The Journal" editorial page, you know, carries considerable weight.
BAI: It does. Yes. I mean, there's nothing new about media moguls wanting to weigh in on -- Robert Kennedy went to Indiana in the primaries in 1968. The paper that -- major newspaper, refused to acknowledge his existence in the state because the publisher didn't like him.
MASON: I mean, not Ben Bradley, of course, another one.
KURTZ: Well, Ben Bradley was the editor of the newspaper. And ""Newsweek's"" bureau chief during the John F. Kennedy years.
MASON: Right, and was very close to JFK, played a role -- had a role, had a voice.
BAI: But I think there's also something going on. Remember the old "Saturday Night Live" skit with Jon Lovitz where he says, he's Michael Dukakis, "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy."
I think, you know, in this day and age, the base of the parties are so convinced, it seems so self-evident that the guy they're running against is completely hapless and unqualified. They can't understand why you're not up by 10 points.
BAI: I think some of this is a frustration of Murdoch and Kristol and others saying, I can't believe we're not beating this guy.
KURTZ: Keep in mind that Murdoch's News Corp contributed $1 million last cycle to the Republican Governor Association. So the play is on the financial end, as well.
But on this whole thing about a tax and a mandate and Obamacare, 45 percent in a new Pew poll said that, you know, they didn't know which way the Supreme Court had ruled or thought the Supreme Court ruled the other way and struck down the law, which makes me realize that things that we obsess on in the media sometimes are not breaking through to people in the dog days of summer.
You mentioned other conservative commentators Bill Kristol likening, you've talked John Kerry, likening Mitt Romney to Kerry and Dukakis, two other Massachusetts natural pol (ph), shall we say -- I'm really struck by the way that they seem to be turning on their guy, or something -- not cheerleading.
MASON: Right. Exactly, and that's the salient point here. Not whether or not it's a tax or penalty. I think most people don't care about that. That's a Washington hobnob or rhetorical debate. But this idea of the party leaders, men of name like Kristol and Murdoch, not liking Mitt Romney underscores a lot of the uneasiness that the rest of the party has about him. And I think that's where the trouble is for Mitt Romney.
KURTZ: But is that an inside the Beltway/inside New York thing, or could it actually shape perceptions around the for general election voters?
BAI: Oh, I think it does shape perceptions because people sit around and talk about it. I also think it's worth that campaign listening to that, because a lot of people -- Bill Kristol said something I thought very interesting. He said -- and I think the same was true, and I wrote about it with John Kerry in 2004 -- that Romney wants to get from point A to point B with excessive caution, without having to risk, to take the risk of putting out ideas or debating the points. That he thinks the president is unpopular enough that he should be able to glide through.
I think John Kerry made the same mistake. I think if the Romney campaign is actually listening to that criticism as opposed to getting their back up over it, they might actually -- might benefit from it.
KURTZ: And speaking of perceptions, Mitt Romney with his family taking a vacation this week at his lakeside retreat in New Hampshire. And here it is on the front page of "The New York Times," Julie, contrasting Romney with the jet skis. We see that on the screen now. With Barack Obama talking about the -- having once taken a bus trip vacation with his grandmother and staying at Howard Johnsons.
The press really seems obsessed with Romney's wealth. So, he has -- he has four houses. He's rich, get over it. Why this obsession?
MASON: The car elevator. Because he's not like the rest of us.
And also, yes, Barack Obama talked about his trip on the bus and everything. But the startling contrast was that Barack Obama canceled his annual trip to Martha's Vineyard. The optics of that would be untenable. They all need the time to campaign.
KURTZ: Let the guy take a vacation. I think journalists make too much of this. Everybody knows that Romney is a wealthy man. He made the money himself.
KURTZ: And yet, you see this theme come up in stories again and again and again. Is it a fair thing to harp on?
BAI: Yes. And I'll tell you why. I don't think -- I agree with you that I don't think the wealth is a defining characteristic. I think you should be able to be wealthy and serve the public. We should actually welcome that.
What you can't do -- I think -- is provide no context for who you are or your candidacy. Not do interviews, not talk to the press, do very limited availabilities.
Again, it goes to the point of excessive caution, just trying to get from point A to point B without taking the risk of people knowing you or what your ideas or your core are. And then say, well, you're harping on the small part of me, I have a car garage.
Well, that car garage has no context. Give people context for who you are, and I think you get a break for things you probably ought to get a break for. Right now he's a rich guy running for president and he's not giving anybody a more complete picture than that.
KURTZ: Well, Romney did do an interview with CBS this week. But he often doesn't answer the questions when pressed on specifics. That's something that frustrates me in all presidential campaigns.
Julie Mason, thanks very much.
MASON: Thank you.
KURTZ: Matt Bai, stick around.
When we come up, Matt will explain why he doesn't always pay attention to the media.
KURTZ: We're back with Matt Bai of "New York Times" magazine.
And the first thing that most reporters do when they get an assignment is pulling the clips, see what's already been written. You told me you don't do that. Why?
BAI: I don't do that because particularly I want to stay away from the commentary. I do want to know the news. I want to know what someone has said.
You know, I think the biggest challenge in our business, one of them certainly, is to not fall into the rut of one side's argument or the other's, to be away from the conventional wisdom. People say, it sounds like the same thing over and over. How do you get beyond it?
I think the only way to get beyond it is to not have stuff, for me anyway, is to not have that stuff floating around my head. I want to know what happens. I want to know what's in the news every day.
But I'm not interested particularly as a writer in what's being said on Twitter, what's being said on blogs, what's being said on cable TV, because I think my experience is that if you go out and talk to people with an open mind and actually ask questions and actually try to figure it out yourself, where you stand, nine times out of 10, not all the times, a little bit of risk to it -- you might end up right where conventional wisdom is.
But nine times out of ten if you don't know the arguments, the partisanship and the carping, you don't have that in your head, you will come to a place that -- that is different and that is more complex.
KURTZ: Do you avoid watching cable news when you're not on it?
BAI: I do. I don't know that avoid is the right word. I have a lot to do, I got my job and my kids, I don't know what people find all the time.
KURTZ: You have a life, we've established that.
BAI: But I don't pay a lot of attention to punditry.
KURTZ: But a lot of the circus of politics is played out precisely for the TV cameras, the cable news, even on Twitter where the top officials snipe each other. If you're removing yourself from that, aren't you missing part of the context of today's political combat?
BAI: No, because I'm interested in the yesterdays and the truth of the debate and where it affects the country on a policy and political level. I'm not interested in where it affects the media debate. In fact, that's my opening. That's -- excuse me -- as a magazine writer that's my opportunity because everyone is watching the show.
And something to the side of the show, or behind the show is something that matters I think a lot more to voters, a lot more to the process. And -- if you can keep yourself free of all of that -- first of all, I think you have happier quality of life because you're not constantly engaged in this debate.
But I also think you -- you know, you come to conclusions that are different and more complex than --
KURTZ: So, in a way, this amounts to -- I know you don't intend it this way, but it amounts to an indictment of what many of us in the press do, that we are engaged in a group think or conventional wisdom that often turn out to be wrong or perhaps beside the point.
BAI: Well, I don't intend it that way, because I have a different job than those folks do.
BAI: Right? I mean, there are folks whose job, many here, elsewhere, whose job is to make sense of it instantly for people and to put it in the context -- in the political context.
KURTZ: And you have the luxury of time.
BAI: I have the luxury. I have the responsibility to actually put it in some deeper context for a magazine. And get beneath that side of the debate. And also to not make it a game -- to actually to try to focus on what is it here that matters and how close can we get to the truth of it.
KURTZ: Refreshing approach. Matt Bai, thanks very much for stopping by this Sunday morning.
BAI: Anytime. Thanks, Howie.
KURTZ: Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, Anderson Cooper confirms what everyone pretty much knew, he's gay. Why is that such big news?
Plus, journalist Joe Williams on the words that led to his departure from "Politico".
And later, how did David Maraniss dig up so much information about Barack Obama's early life?
KURTZ: You might have thoughts that if Anderson Cooper was finally going to address rumors about his homosexuality, he would have done it on his syndicated daytime show and made a big splash. Instead, Cooper made the announcement in an e-mail to his long-time friend in the gay community, "Daily Beast" blogger, Andrew Sullivan.
While he's long felt journalists had the right to keep their private lives private, Cooper writes, "It's become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I'm trying to hide something, something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it's simply not true. The fact is, I'm gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn't be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud."
So, what should we make of Cooper's decision and the extraordinary media coverage surrounding it?
Joining us now in Philadelphia, Gale Shister, columnist for "TV Newser", writing fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, and member of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association Hall of Fame.
In New York, Michelangelo Signorile, host of the Sirius XM radio show, and editor at large of the "Huffington Post" "Gay Voices".
And in Tampa, Eric Deggans, television and media critic for "The Tampa Bay Times."
And, Eric Deggans, Anderson Cooper did everything he could to downplay this, not only announcing by e-mail by waiting until he was on assignment in Africa to go public. Yet it was still a big story, why?
ERIC DEGGANS, THE TAMPA BAY TIMES: Well, I think it's important -- for a couple of reasons. "The New York Times," for example, noted that he is now the most visible gay journalist on American television. And there's also a sense that it's a sign post. It's a sense that, you know, we're advancing in our acceptance of homosexuality and gay people in public life.
What was interesting to me was to see the tension for Anderson Cooper between wanting to do it feel right personally and also doing something to serve a larger cause --
DEGGANS: To serve acceptance of gay people in society and deal with the fact that some people are still stigmatized and still bullied and still harmed by anti-gay prejudice.
KURTZ: Which sets up my question for Mike Signorile, which is you say that the vast majority of TV, media, and Hollywood personalities are still closeted. Why do they stay in?
MICHELANGELO SIGNORILE, HUFFINGTON POST: Well, you know, for years they've been told by the powers that be in Hollywood, in the media, in politics, as well, that it's going to harm your career. It's going to hurt you. It's going to be something terrible for much of your working life.
And I think that's changed. Certainly, we've seen with many of the actors who have come out, performers, Ellen DeGeneres, and other. And I think we really sort of moved quickly on so many issues regarding gay life that suddenly a lot of these people started looking at it and saying, wow, not only would it be Ok but, in fact, it's an embarrassment now to be in the closet.
And I think that's one reason why Anderson and others -- I wrote a piece on "Huffington Post" about how the new trend is, doing it low key because I think there's an embarrassment to having been in the closet. And they just want to kind of slip out.
KURTZ: Let me jump on that for a minute. Why should it be an embarrassment for somebody who happens to be in the public eye maybe because they make a living in front of the cameras to keep their sexual life private? Why should there be pressure on them to go public?
SIGNORILE: Well, it's not about their sexual life. And certainly nobody's talking about anything regarding sex. And you know, that should be the same way with heterosexuals.
It's about who you are. It's about something so much a part of your core being. And people like Anderson, people like many of the other stars who have come out, they've been living their lives openly among their colleagues, certainly in their social life. It just is the public that didn't know. And I think for them that really starts to look like they're hiding something, and it became uncomfortable.
KURTZ: Gail Shister, Anderson Cooper said before he changed his mind, that he felt that s private life was no one's business. Was he right?
GAIL SHISTER, COLUMNIST, TVNEWSER: I think at a certain period of time, that was true.
But I think that to answer your previous question about why so many gay people are in the closet and it's embarrassing, is because they're on the wrong side of history. I think that the trend is absolutely changing. We're in the midst of a cultural sea change in terms of same-sex marriage, "don't ask, don't tell". It's only a matter of time before it's legalized al over the country. They just don't want to be seen as completely out of touch with the mainstream.
And I'd also like to make a point here, Howie, which is why are so many so-called celebrities coming out so quietly. It's because people were making a lot of noise about coming out, like me for example, 40 years ago, that we were the people, and Michael, were the people that were breaking down the walls so we would be at the point as a society where you can come out quietly. But if the walls hadn't been broken very loudly first, we wouldn't be in that position.
KURTZ: Eric Deggans, weren't we at the point in the media where everybody basically knew that Anderson Cooper was gay, but we weren't allowed to say it or write it? And I certainly abided by this because we felt it was his choice, whether he wanted to publicly acknowledge it or not?
DEGGANS: Well, I don't know if everyone knew. There was a sense that we all assumed that we knew that he was gay. Some people knew definitively. But I think a lot fewer people -- I don't know Anderson personally. All I know is what I read about him in the press. I assumed he was gay, but I didn't really know.
"The New York Times" had an something story on one of its blogs talking about how Anderson's coming out has inspired an activist in China to suggest that there might be a day in December where all the homosexuals in China might come forward. And also come out.
It's much more dangerous to be out as a gay person in China.
So there's a resonance to this coming out that even goes beyond what we know in the United States. And I think assuming that people knew he was gay without it being reported is a dangerous assumption.
I want to point out one other thing. There's a dynamic that academics talk about called "linked fate" in which people in minority groups sort of judge their actions according to how they will affect the entire minority group. And we're used to seeing that with black people. And I think that's happening in the gay community, as well. And I think that's something that Anderson Cooper was struggling with how does his actions affect the overall group versus what he would prefer to do in his personal life.
KURTZ: Right. And, Mike Signorile, you've written an adult public figure living in the closet is often seen as sad and pathetic and living a lie. I don't know that I agree with w that, but I do wonder about why there is so much endless media speculation about those who are assumed or believed or maybe they're gay.
You know, why -- it seems on a certain level that it's gossip as opposed to an issue that we ought to stick our noses into.
SIGNORILE: Well, when I -- when I talked about how it was now seen as sad and pathetic, we're really talking about -- and Gail pointed to this -- decades of gay activists really making the case that the closet is not a place where people can feel happy and comfortable and live their lives openly in the way that heterosexuals do. Heterosexuals do not live in a closet.
In terms of how it's reported in the media, we live in, yes, a celebrity-obsessed culture. We live in a culture where everybody in the public eye has talked about. But again, heterosexuals are not given this sort of, you know, place where they don't have anything written about their heterosexuality and it's all kept quiet. With gays it is, and it sends a message, particularly to young gay people that there's something to be shameful about.
I've had callers to my radio program, moms and dads, saying this is great because with Anderson, that glass closet where so many people knew he was gay was sending a message to their kids, their gay kids that, hey, I should be ashamed.
KURTZ: I see your point.
SIGNORILE: And now they feel they can be open and proud. KURTZ: Interesting phrase, glass closet.
And, Gail Shister, what made me sometimes uncomfortable because Anderson has a segment on his show called "Keeping Them Honest," and he's devoted time to bullying of gays. And, you know, I always felt like he was leaving out a pertinent fact. Maybe that was unfair of me, but it did seem like it would be nice if he could acknowledge it which he has now done.
SHISTER: I think that was part of the pressure on him is that I think arguably he more than any journalist in the United States over the past year has dedicated more coverage. And it's been almost a crusade against bullying of gay youth. And I -- he reached a critical mass where there were just no more excuses for him.
And there's another point, too, here, Howard, I'd like to bring up which is -- there's -- quickly, there's a paradox. On the one hand he comes out big deal. On the other hand, look how many headlines it generated all over the country. So there is a disconnect there.
KURTZ: Yes. I think he's basically gotten positive price. Thank you very much, Gail Shister, Mike Signorile, and, Eric Deggans, for this interesting discussion.
Up next, he was cut loose by "Politico" after some loaded words about Mitt Romney. Joe Williams is here, in a moment.
KURTZ: As a White House correspondent for "Politico," Joe Williams was starting to draw attention, not so much for what he was writing as for what he was saying on cable news and on Twitter.
That led the Web site to suspend Williams for conduct the editors said, quote, "fell short of our standards for fairness and judgment in an especially unfortunate way." Days later, "Politico" announced he reporter was leaving his job. And Joe Williams is here to talk about it now. Good morning.
JOE WILLIAMS, FMR. REPORTER, "POLITICO": Good morning.
KURTZ: Let's start with this - did you want to stay at "Politico"?
WILLIAMS: I thought it would have been a better opportunity to stay at "Politico" than leave, especially under these circumstances. But I understand their decision, and I understand what led them to have us come to this conclusion in the situation.
KURTZ: So you were forced to leave? You didn't have a choice?
WILLIAMS: I had a choice, but the choices weren't good. I think that "Politico" said for me to come back and be - have them have confidence in me and for me to return would have been a little tricky, especially after all this had come out. KURTZ: All right. Just to give people the context, let me play what you said on MSNBC with Martin Bashir about Mitt Romney which kind of triggered this whole firestorm. We'll talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Romney is very, very comfortable, it seems, with people who are like him. That's one of the reasons why he seems stiff and awkward in some town hall settings, why he can't relate to people other than that. 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: "They're white folks" - how is that comment not biased against Mitt Romney?
WILLIAMS: Because it's something that was very much proven, something that seems obvious to everyone. And a lot of people who I talked with about my suspension said, "Well, we don't understand what the big deal was. This is something we have observed. This is something other people reported." This is something my own paper had reported.
KURTZ: As a White House reporter whose job it is to be fair to both sides, was it a dumb thing to say?
WILLIAMS: I would say it's inartfully phrased thing to say. I don't think it was anything that was revelatory or anything that was slanderous. I think it was probably artfully put and that drew the most attention to it.
KURTZ: So what I'm hearing from you, Joe Williams, is that you don't really think you did much that was wrong. And you kind of feel like you got a bum rap?
WILLIAMS: I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that it was a context thing. I'm saying that there were a couple things that happened. The first was that a lot of what I had said earlier had drawn attention of some conservative Web sites.
And I said a week earlier on another cable news show that the conservative press and conservative communications are very, very much good at pushing back and pushing back hard against reporters who they feel are biased.
Now, that statement in alone and itself was not necessarily controversial. You couple that with saying that I believe Mitt Romney is more comfortable around other white people who are like him, and that was an impetus for them to push back hard at me. And that's what made "Politico" uncomfortable.
KURTZ: But that leads to my next question, which is you - and what you have said and written since then. You have blamed your problems to a large extent on what call the right-wing noise machine.
But you provided the ammunition. These are your words and tweets that are being thrown back at you. So it sounds like you're blaming others for your own missteps.
WILLIAMS: No. That's not what I'm doing at all. In the context of what I wrote and if you read carefully what I wrote, I said that I alone take responsibility for what I did. I was careless, I was - I heeded warnings too late and was not especially judicious in what I was doing and saying.
So that part I take responsibility of completely. What I do say is that the right-wing media machine is very good at pushing back and creating an image that causes one thing to be the story and not the other.
Certainly, in my writing and in what - the work I've done for "Politico," I don't think anybody's called into question my bias or fairness or my ability to give both sides of the story.
Certainly, the White House has had criticism with some of the things that I've written about them for "Politico." So to say that I'm biased purely on what I said on television and not examine the entire context and my work, I think is unfair.
KURTZ: You've gotten a lot of unwanted media attention including problems -
WILLIAMS: To say the least.
KURTZ: Including to problems in your personal life. Is that unfair?
WILLIAMS: I think my personal life was brought into the situation unfairly. I think it was much analogous to Anderson Cooper talking about how his sexuality had become an issue and he wanted to dispel that.
That really doesn't have all that much to do with what he is reporting and how he does his job. I don't think what I have to do, what my personal life involves, has anything to do with how I do my job. Has everything to do with how I protect my children, how I protect my - other people involved in the situation. That I believe crossed the line.
KURTZ: But didn't you make yourself fair game? In other words, once you become scrutinized, people are going to look at all aspects of not just your journalism about your life.
KURTZ: They are fairly or unfairly. But I think the difference here is that the media on the right that decided that this was an issue, decided and did so without context, again, without giving an opportunity for a fair response, and without examining the entire context.
KURTZ: When you talk about the right wing noise machine, when you talk about Romney being comfortable with white folks, when you talk about false equivalency in the press where Republicans are being obstructionists but journalists don't want to write that, you sound like a pretty liberal guy.
WILLIAMS: I wouldn't say liberal. I mean, I would say that if you look at my record as a whole, I've worked for a conservative publication, "The Richmond Times Dispatch." I've worked for publications that are at the center, which I guess you would consider "The Miami Herald" or "The Boston Globe" -
KURTZ: I'm talking about opinions that are coming out, not about what you write in "Politico," which I don't think people have questioned when you talk on cable where you're a little more free to engage in analysis. It sounds like what you really believe is coming out.
WILLIAMS: I wouldn't necessarily say that either. I say that what I am talking about is what I have observed. Journalists are very much committed to writing and - examining the truth as they see it, without spin, without fear of favor.
Now, I think that in cable news, the problem that was most difficult for me is that I have an organization behind me. And that organization is being represented by me on camera as well as -
KURTZ: And speaking of that organization - I've got about a half a minute. You are probably the most prominent African-American journalist at "Politico." Does "Politico" need more diversity?
WILLIAMS: I think the Washington press corps, as a whole, needs more diversity. I think a lot of reasons why this has gotten big press is because of the diversity problem we have in an era with a president who doesn't look like all the others, and the fact that in the right wing media, diversity and race issues are the favorite chew toy. They love to go at this stuff. And I just happened to provide them a good opportunity to do that.
KURTZ: Joe Williams, appreciate you coming on this morning. I know it's difficult circumstances. Thank you for being here.
After the break, David Maraniss contradicts Barack Obama's own book about his life. A conversation with the author, next.
KURTZ: The story of Barack Obama's unlikely rise has already been told by the president himself in a pair of memoirs. The journalistic challenge for Pulitzer Prize-winning author, David Maraniss, was to dig deeper from President Obama's Kenyan relatives to high school years in Hawaii to his college experience in New York.
The result of that reporting is the book, "Barack Obama: The Story." I spoke to him earlier here in the studio.
(on camera) David Maraniss, welcome.
DAVID MARANISS, AUTHOR, "BARACK OBAMA: THE STORY": Thank you, Howard.
KURTZ: You spent four years researching the early years of Barack Obama. And what made headlines was his drug use and the journal of his old New York girlfriend. Does that bother you?
MARANISS: You know, I have to - I don't want to whine about it. I knew that that would happen. But yes -
KURTZ: How did you know? The nature of the beast?
MARANISS: Just the nature of the media beast. Yes, I mean, the way that the culture's changed so much since my last book, you know, with the social networking and people looking for something and getting most hits right and all of that.
So I wasn't going to whine about it. I knew it was coming. Of course it bothers me because I spent four years trying to get the context and the real story. And when you just cherry pick things from it, you know, I mean -
KURTZ: Suddenly it's 140 characters.
MARANISS: Yes, exactly.
KURTZ: I want to get into the way you tackled this reporting challenge. So why, for example, did you spend so much time reporting on Obama's relatives in Kenya?
MARANISS: Well, first of all, I do a book that I want to do. That's the first rule, you know. So what obsessed me were two things to start with? The world that made him, sort of the randomness of his existence, and the ability to write about the whole world through that story, and then how he remade himself.
So in studying the world that made him, you see echoes and threads that go through his own life. You know, his Kenyan relatives, for instance, were considered outsiders in Kenya.
You know, so they were called "jadoc"(ph), the word for outsider. So that sensibility, you can see, obviously, carried through to President Obama.
KURTZ: Was it hard to get them to cooperate with this project?
MARANISS: To get the Kenyans to cooperate?
KURTZ: Some it was. Obama's step grandmother, Mama Sarah, who is a major figure in his book - when I went to interview her, I had to - you know, she's now like the queen mother of Kenya.
So there are gates around her compound. There's souvenir trinket sellers outside. And then there are officious factotums who are vetting you before you get an audience.
MARANISS: So - you'll be interested in this one. So I'm sitting there and this young man says, "So, how much profit did you make from your Bill Clinton biography?" Maybe he wanted kickback. I don't know.
And then he said, "David, Mr. David, is that Christian or Jew?" To which I could answer both because I'm half Jewish. And also the name is, you know, both. So - but yes.
KURTZ: I thought handlers were only - it was an American phenomena, and you had to pass a series of hurdles.
KURTZ: All right.
MARANISS: For the most part the Kenyans were wonderful, and I got what I needed. I found the real relatives miles away.
KURTZ: All right. Now, you spent a lot of time on Obama trying to make the starting lineup in his high school basketball team.
KURTZ: And you also had this former girlfriend, Genevieve Cook. How much can we learn from those episodes? She, for example, gave you old journals in which she wrote that young Barack's warmth can be deceptive. Though he speaks sweet words, there's also that coolness. But he was 22.
MARANISS: He was 22, but yet, you see the echoes of that in President Obama. You know, obviously a journal of someone - a future president, someone observing a future president, is inherently going to be fascinating.
And, you know, you can look at it as being salacious. But I found actually her journal to be perceptive, that she was seeing in that young man his search for self-identity, and also some of the characteristics that are on display still today.
KURTZ: You eventually got a chance for an Oval Office interview. What were the first words that Obama said to you?
MARANISS: Well, I said to him, "Charles Woodson got here before me, but I'm glad we both finally made it," because he's a Bears fan. I'm a Packers fan. The Packers won the Super Bowl.
KURTZ: Thank you for explaining the reference.
MARANISS: Yes. So there's some (UNINTELLIGIBLE) exchange. But then, I let him read my introduction because I want him to understand where I'd been, what I'd found, and some of my general conclusions. He did read it. And he said, "David, you know, this is very interesting that you call my book 'fiction.'" And I basically looked at Jay Carney, the press secretary, because I didn't.
And he's scrambling looking through the - actually, he called it literature, which is a compliment. But then, we went through various example in his memoir where - he conflated events or used -
KURTZ: I want to go through that. But will you describe his tone in that conversation as defensive?
MARANISS: Slightly. Not overly. Not like Bill Clinton would be.
KURTZ: I want to talk with you for eight hours and not just an hour-and-a-half. But among the larger conclusions, you said that in his autobiography written, you know, well before he was even a politician -
MARANISS: I would call it a memoir.
KURTZ: All right.
MARANISS: I think there's even a difference -0
KURTZ: All right. Memoir - good catch, "Dreams of My Father," that he consciously played up race to a greater extent than you believe race played in his young life.
MARANISS: Yes. Well, I think the original proposal that he wrote for that book was called "Journeys in Black and White." And the whole point of the book was to sort of view parts of his life through the lens of race. So he did.
And there were characters in his memoir who were relatively minor figures really in his life, but who he enhances to make certain points about race. And then there are others that - you know, that are part white or composites of various people that he uses.
KURTZ: And there was a significant discrepancy, to put it mildly, involving his grandfather.
MARANISS: Involving his Kenyan grandfather.
MARANISS: Yes. And his Indonesian step-grandfather - both. The Kenyan grandfather, in his memoir, he passed along the family mythology that he had been imprisoned by the Brits and tortured for about six months during the early stages of the Mau Mau Rebellion in the late 1940s.
You know, there's a shred of possibility that that happened. There are no documents that show it. And I interviewed six people who knew the grandfather well. And they all said, "No, that didn't happen."
KURTZ: How about his death?
MARANISS: This is the step-grandfather in Indonesia.
KURTZ: I'm sorry. OK.
MARANISS: Yes. That's OK. Yes, that one's great. I mean, that one's just hilarious, really, I mean, although he dies. But the family story was that he, again, was fighting colonialism, the Dutch in Indonesia during the revolution against the Dutch and that he died a martyr for the revolution.
In fact, I discovered that he died falling off his stool, changing the drapes in his living room, slightly different.
KURTZ: A little less dramatic. And you also report that the young Barack Obama was a heavier user of dope that he had even acknowledged in his memoir.
MARANISS: Well, in his memoir, he does talk about drug use in high school and college. What I basically did is found the real story, which he sort of invites by writing about it himself. So you know, what really was it?
And you know, there was a group of guys who played basketball and smoked dope. They called themselves the "Choom Gang."
And unlike Bill Clinton who said he never inhaled, Obama had actually earlier acknowledged on "Jay Leno" or somewhere, said, "That was the point, wasn't it?" Well, it's not just the point, but they had what they called T.A., total absorption, meaning you couldn't let any marijuana smoke get free and ruffies and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It was pretty serious dope.
KURTZ: So when you bring these threads together, didn't you prove, whether you set out to do this or not, that Obama's book was highly misleading?
MARANISS: I wouldn't draw that conclusion, Howard.
KURTZ: So conservative critics are using your book -
MARANISS: They certainly are, yes. And, you know, people can draw from it what they want. What I drew from it was that his book was a valuable insight into his internal thinking during that period, which you don't usually get from politicians. But it's not rigorous biography or historical fact.
KURTZ: You usually don't get publishers writing their own books.
MARANISS: Nicer, too. Yes.
KURTZ: My sense is you found a mosaic, and there were a lot of damaging threads in that mosaic, but that you didn't pound away at this as you might, say, if you were writing a newspaper story because you -
MARANISS: But that wasn't the point of my book.
MARANISS: But what I'm trying to do -
KURTZ: But you sort of admire the president in a way?
MARANISS: Well, I'm not going to go that far. But what I would say is that I was just trying to get the right story. Where I found that the right story as I could report it different from his memoir, I point it out.
KURTZ: Do you have an obligation as an author to not just unearth these facts, but to reach a judgment about the future president's veracity?
MARANISS: I think that's up to other people, honestly. I mean, when you're writing biographies - I mean, in my introduction, I talk about that. I say that he claims that all of these compressions and composites are simply to smooth out the narrative.
And I say no, there's more to it than that, and there is. But to call him a liar or say that he fabricated his life story, no. He was writing a memoir about race, and the internal valuable insight, but you don't trust it as rigorous factual account.
KURTZ: And finally, many conservatives firmly believe that have shared this with the rest of the world that the media did not properly vet Barack Obama in 2008. Do they have did they have a point?
MARANISS: Well, he came along awfully fast. And a lot of people relied on his memoir for sort of the thread of his story.
KURTZ: Don't the media have an obligation, even when a candidate appears out of nowhere, to dig deeper and go further than the account that he himself presents?
MARANISS: So you know, the conservatives who make that claim also are the ones claiming he wasn't born in the United States or that he's a secret Muslim.
KURTZ: Some of them. In fairness, some of them.
MARANISS: Yes. So I mean, yes, I think that's always a valid point. But you can't just - I couldn't just do this in a month or a week. This took years for me to get to the depths of this story.
KURTZ: So in other words, beyond the reach of the daily journalism, you think?
MARANISS: Well, I think there are a lot of different valuable parts of trying to find a story. Some of it is daily journalism. Some of it is, you know, weekly or, you know, it takes a few months. Some of it takes years.
It's all part of - it's all part of the journey of finding the truth of somebody's life.
KURTZ: Enormous amount of research in this book. Thanks very much for joining us.
MARANISS: Thank you.
KURTZ: Maraniss learned his trade at "The Washington Post." It's refreshing in this age of instant punditry when somebody goes out and does this paid work of old-fashioned reporting and unearths new information even about a president.
KURTZ: Still to come, Dr. Drew's secret moonlighting. Columnist Clarence Page has to return some money. And Bill O'Reilly says he's an idiot and doesn't think much of me either. "The Media Monitor" is next.
KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. Drew Pinsky, better known as Dr. Drew, is a major media figure for shows on HLN and the CW network and his radio program, "Love Line."
But we are just learning about something highly questionable that he did 13 years ago. Federal authorities say Dr. Drew talked about anti-depressant drug, Wellbutrin, as being helpful with the patient's sex drive, without revealing that the manufacturer, Glaxo Smith Kline, had paid him $275,000 over a period of just two months.
The information emerged in a settlement in which Glaxo agreed to pay $3 billion for promoting uses for its drugs that were not approved by the FDA. Dr. Drew acknowledged being part of the Glaxo campaign, telling "Forbes" magazine that, quote, "My comments were consistent with my clinical experience."
But that misses the point. He took a big payday while passing himself off as an independent expert. Glaxo, by the way, says it now discloses such financial relationships. Dr. Drew says he is no longer involved in such arrangements.
And HLN says in a statement that the network, quote, "reviews Dr. Drew's outside business relationships and requires any relevant disclosures be made to our viewers."
It must have seemed like a sweet deal for Clarence Page, $20,000 and a trip to Paris for a three-minute speech. "The Chicago Tribune" columnist was speaking to an Iranian committee, rallying for a controversial group that is on the U.S. Government's list of terrorist organizations.
"The Tribune" says Page violated its policy by not obtaining permission in advance and has ordered him to return the speaking fee and expense money.
Now, Page told me after taking his 40-year career into account, "My editors decided it could be viewed as an aberrational incident and we could resolve this with a letter of reprimand."
"We can move on with me promising to run any future speech invitation past my superiors which is what I should have done this time. I am embarrassed and sorry and apologized to my colleagues."
Attention, I'm going to give Bill O'Reilly some credit, that is before I get to the part about him being ridiculously thin-skinned.
He poked a little fun at O'Reilly on last week's program for having made this vow involving his prediction of the Supreme Court which struck down Obama-care's health care mandate and then not following through.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": AND it's going to be five to four. And if I'm wrong, I will play your clip and I will apologize for being an idiot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: On his Fox show this week, O'Reilly addressed his faulty prediction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'REILLY: I'm not really sorry, but I'm a man of my word, so I apologize for not factoring in the John Roberts situation. Truthfully, I never, in a millions, thought the chief justice would go beyond the scope of the Commerce Clause debate and into taxation. I may be an idiot for not considering that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Good for him. But then he takes a shot at me, your humble correspondent, for playing the clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'REILLY: I do think, though, that a guy like Howard Kurtz who has a background in journalism - I mean, the MSNBC people and, you know, the left-wing bloggers and all of that - we don't really care what they say. But Kurtz does the bidding of "Media Matters."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Oh, come on, bill. I didn't even know that the liberal group, "Media Matters" had zinged O'Reilly over this. I saw it on a number of Web sites.
The man with a huge multimillion-dollar contract has an irresistible urge to portray himself as the victim and drag working journalists into these feuds, not even fox analyst Bernie Goldberg was buying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERNIE GOLDBERG, FOX ANALYST: Howard Kurtz does a media show, so of course, he's going to mention that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I've interviewed O'Reilly a number of times. I've actually been quite fair to him, but I guess he wasn't in a great mood that night having to call himself an idiot and all, which is far harsher than anything I said.
That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. By the way, if you miss a program, you can now go to iTunes each Monday and download a fee audio podcast or buy the video version.
Join us again here next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.