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Media Blame Game on Attacks; Conservative Pundits Slam Romney

Aired September 16, 2012 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: It was a stunning tragedy, an ambassador and three other Americans killed in Libya. And yet, in the heat of this campaign season, the media immediately gravitated toward the sniping between the candidates -- almost to the point of overshadowing the horrifying attack itself.


ARI MELBER, THE NATION: In this case, Mitt Romney and the Republicans are making something, something very ugly out of something that should have been a time for unity.

SARAH PALIN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: The media is going along with some of the Obama administration pretending like this is a protest on some phantom video on YouTube. No.


KURTZ: Was the press justified in pouncing of Mitt Romney's quick trigger assault on administration, or deflecting attention from the larger story?

Pundits on the right pounding Romney after the convention, saying he's blowing the race.


LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: If you can't beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party. Shut it down.


KURTZ: Why are these commentators mounting this preemptive blame game?

Plus, Katie Couric makes her daytime debut, trying to move from CBS News to syndicated success.


KATIE COURIC, HOST, "KATIE": Now, I have to admit I'm a little nervous. And just before I came out here, a few folks tweeted me with some advice, like, pee first -- check. Wear great shoes -- check, I hope.


KURTZ: Can a former morning show host and evening anchor make it in the afternoon?

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


KURTZ: When Mitt Romney met reporters in Florida on the morning after the attacks that killed four Americans in Libya, there was little doubt that the press focus would be on his criticism of the administration. The journalists even discussed it beforehand.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: I would just say do you regret your question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Your question? Your statement?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: I mean your statement. Not even the tone.

No matter who he calls on, we're covered on the one question that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Do you stand by your statement or do you regret your statement?


KURTZ: Once Romney took questions, the journalists wanted to know how he could unload on the White House as details of who was killed were still emerging.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: -- it was very toughly worded statement last night, do you regret the tone at all given what we know now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Governor, some people have said you jumped the gun a little in putting that statement out last night and you should have waited until more details were available. Do you regret having that statement come out so early before we learned about all of the things happening?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I don't think we ever hesitate when we see something which is a violation of our principles.


KURTZ: President Obama hit back in one of his favorite forums, a sit-down with Steve Kroft for "60 Minutes."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shot first and aim later. And as president, one of the things I've learned is you can't do that.


KURTZ: It wasn't long before the pundits were waging ideological warfare over Romney's move and the tragedy seemed reduced to fresh fodder for coverage of the campaign.

Joining us now here in Washington, Ryan Lizza, reporter for "The New Yorker" and a CNN contributor; Clarence Page, columnist for the "Chicago Tribune". And in New York, Amy Holmes, an anchor of Glenn Beck's GBTV.

Ryan Lizza, should the media have taken this tragedy, this undeniable tragedy and turned it into a kind of narrative finger- pointing between the candidates?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, the people who covered the campaign cover the campaign, right? So you don't necessarily have foreign policy expects that are sitting there day in and day out traveling these, you know, ridiculous hours with Mitt Romney. You've got campaign reporters.

And when Mitt Romney comes out and gives a statement that's critical of the president, you know, the natural inclination is going to feed that into the campaign narrative and ask questions that are much more related to the campaign.

I think the one question that didn't go asked and that should is the policy question of what is the Republican/Romney position on the response to the Arab Spring.

KURTZ: I'm going to come back to that.

But, Clarence Page, Romney started it by putting out that late night statement it turns out before we even knew the magnitude of this strategy. And, of course, that's the story.

But for the next, what, 36, 48, 72 hours, the press made him the issue. Was that fair?

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, yes. Well, it's hard to keep control over something like this when you've about got two stories that are really part of the one story and will one distort the other one. That's my only concern here because what happened overseas is one part of it, but what is our response to it.

And in the middle of a presidential campaign, we might have a new president named Mitt Romney coming into office. How does he respond to this kind of a situation? And do we fairly compare this to four years ago when John McCain responded too quickly in regard to the Wall Street meltdown and it became a big issue in his campaign.

So I think what happened here was quite legitimate as we sort this out. Mitt Romney's reaction to it, the questions overseas is just as important as the question itself.

KURTZ: Let me see if Amy Holmes disagrees with the press focus on Romney and his early some thought misguided criticism of the administration over these attacks.

AMY HOLMES, GBTV: Well, I'm sure you can guess. I think Ryan is correct that you have the campaign media that focuses on the campaign and the horse race. But they can also focus on questions of substance and policy.

And by the way, Mitt Romney didn't start this. Crazed jihadists in the Middle East started this. You had the Cairo embassy statement that came out that morning and Mitt Romney had a response to that.

It's -- you know, we've talked about it a lot on this show about how during the campaign season, the media gets so focused on tactics, optics, instead of the substance of these questions and now it appears the media has put itself in a position of being the referee. And during a time of crisis, foreign policy crisis, our embassy being attacked, riots spreading through the Middle East, the media decides the person to ask, who looks presidential, Mitt Romney, and not the man at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

And to me, it's shocking that the most important events unfolding in the Middle East and at our State Department, by the way, what did they know, when did they know it, were they properly prepared?

KURTZ: Right.

HOLMES: This was coming from the foreign press, not from the American press.

KURTZ: Well, let me point out that it turned that that controversial statement initially issued by the U.S. embassy Cairo were issued before there were any attacks, before the protests even took place.

HOLMES: Correct, but it was foreign policy that had this back- and-forth, whether or not it was proper for them to put it out --

KURTZ: I understand, that's why I'm asking -- that's why I'm asking the question.

HOLMES: Right.

KURTZ: Let me take a moment to play some of the reaction on the tube as we saw the typical, you know, liberal and conservatives split -- although some conservative commentators were actually critical of Mitt Romney. But on MSNBC, the phrase "Lehman moment", a reference to the financial meltdown four years ago that ended hurting John McCain's campaign, pounded hour after hour. Let's take a look.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: The tragedy in Benghazi that caused Ambassador Stevens' life unfortunately has been overshadowed by the desperate reach by Mitt Romney to secure political advantage.

AL SHARPTON, MSNBC: Tonight's lead, disgraceful. Mitt Romney's crass effort to use the tragedy in the Middle East to score political points.

PEGGY NOONAN, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I don't feel that Mr. Romney has been doing himself any favors say in the past few hours perhaps since last night. Sometimes when really bad things happen, when hot things happen, cool words or no words is the way to go.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Our embassy is attacked, our flag is ripped down, they're chanting for Osama bin Laden, they're chanting "No God but Allah" on our property, we give this country $2 billion a year, and then for the first 10 to 16 hours, we go out and apologize?


KURTZ: Clarence, I'm sure you were shocked to see that MSNBC wanted to talk about Romney and FOX basically wanted to talk about Obama.

PAGE: And FOX wanted to talk about apology, which did not occur, did not exist, and is a favorite Romney talking point nonetheless.

I mean, let's face it. The media are media. We are the vehicle through which people get information and opinions, and what happened here is -- well, why aren't the conservative media asking what Mitt Romney's response, as what Ryan Lizza mentioned, what is Mitt Romney's foreign policy, what is his military policy? We'll get that in the debates finally. But this was the time that Romney was going to talk about what should Obama have done, what should the administrative have done. This was the time to do that. All he wanted to do was beat up on the administration.

LIZZA: I don't mean to be flip but I have to chuckle a little bit when I see Al Sharpton say that he can't believe someone would jump on a tragedy for political purposes.


LIZZA: I mean, Al Sharpton has done a good job as a broadcaster. But let's remember where Al Sharpton comes from.

KURTZ: Well, before I go back to Amy, what about that clip -- we showed some of it. A lot of people said reporters conspiring about which questions to ask and how to ask it before Romney's brief press conference? Does that look a little unsavory?

LIZZA: I don't think that's conspiring. If you're sitting there with your colleagues beforehand, you know, I actually think we should do that a little more. Most of the time, at press conferences, you know, everyone is their own island, they've got their own question in their head and it's really easy for the president or White House spokesman to sort of play people off each other because they know you're not going follow up. So, being a little bit strategic with your college and your press, to me that's not -- it's not technically conspiring. But it's nothing -- I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

KURTZ: But it looks --

LIZZA: If you're trying to get this guy on the record, you're trying to ask tough questions, if you talk to your colleagues about that, what's wrong with that?

KURTZ: I understand that. But there were only a few questions that Romney took at that appearance in Florida.

But, Amy, to a lot of people, it looked like the press was determined to make the story line -- Mitt Romney responds to his criticism of the criticism of the administration.

HOLMES: Right. And I think it was very instructive for American consumers of the news to see how the news sausage is made and exactly how the press gaggle works in those situations. I mean, I was sort of happy frankly as a woman to see Jan Crawford as the ring leader of the boys in the Washington press corps. It was sort of fun for me but --

KURTZ: Jan Crawford of CBS News.

HOLMES: Yes, exactly.

KURTZ: It was an NBC reporter, an NPR reporter. What about --

HOLMES: Right. I think it was the one question that was asked over and over from a certain perspective, and not enlarging the story, not advancing the story, and learning more about Mitt Romney.

But I also want to get back to this idea we saw a lot on MSNBC about carrying the water that this was all on a video YouTube. This is when you know you're in full media meltdown when the media is speculating about curtailing the First Amendment in order to protect this administration's policies and keep the focus on the critics of the administration instead of the administration itself.

PAGE: Well, President Morsi of Egypt himself said the administration should do something about this video. I think it was important for our State Department, for Hillary Clinton, to respond that we don't do things that way in this country. That is part of the story.

KURTZ: What about -- there was a media consensus I feel very comfortable in saying that emerge in the first couple of days that this entire episode, unfortunate and tragic as it was, and of course the protests continued, spread to something like 20 countries, that this helped Obama in the campaign because he's commander-in-chief.

Maybe that's not right, and maybe as this goes on, the president looks like he's on the defensive. Maybe we were too quick to declare him the winner of the -- LIZZA: Yes. It's an easy sort of pundit thing to say, like, look, if you look at pools, Obama always has the advantage on foreign policy. So, if the debate turns to foreign policy, you know, the easy pundity thing to say is, oh, this benefits him.

The truth is we never know while things are happening what's really having an impact on the election. Just look at -- in 2008, we would all say, oh, Lehman was the turning point in that campaign. You know what? If you look at the tracking polls, it's still not clear that Lehman changed that campaign. So, you never actually know in the middle of it.

KURTZ: What about Amy's point -- and I'll get back to Amy Holmes in a second -- that the focus should not be so much on the political tactics but Obama's foreign policy tour of the Muslim world, and whether or not he has been too weak. It seems now, Sunday morning I see some newspaper stories questioning that, but we were awfully slow in getting to that.

LIZZA: There were big policy questions which did come out 48 hours, 24, 48 hours later are on Romney, what is your position on the Arab Spring? Do you care about democracy first and foremost, or do you care about close U.S. relationships with the leadership? That's the big sort of Republican question on Arab Spring.

For Obama, the big question here is, protection of our embassies. What did this administration do if anything wrong in terms of the security of the embassies? Those questions were asked. They were asked a day later. There's no doubt --

KURTZ: And there were some -- yes.

LIZZA: We have way too many reporters covering the campaign in politics. There's just no doubt about it. It's an over-covered issue and everything gets through this horserace lens.

KURTZ: And, Amy, you would say that the focus on the second part, about U.S. foreign policy, about the Obama administration, about embassy security, that that got short shrift and was pushed to the back burner during the opening day to this?

LIZZA: Very short shrift. And let's face it -- we all know that journalists in Washington, D.C, have a good relationship with the Saudi embassy, the Yemen embassy. Go to your sources, find out what is going on in the Middle East.

Americans were tuned in and reading their newspapers sort of go, what is happening over there? What happened to our State Department? Where was our ambassador? Did we have advance warning? Was this -- was there a call to this kind of protest?

Apparently, August 30th, who what, when, where and how of the Middle East, instead of Mitt Romney.

KURTZ: I can't avoid the feeling that this tragedy with four American diplomats killed was just overshadowed by the intense focus on the Romney gaffe, if it was a gaffe. It certainly should have been covered, but I thought the volume got up a little too high.

When we come back, why are all these conservative pundits turning on Mitt Romney?

Plus, NBC blows off a moment of silence for 9/11 and pays the price.


KURTZ: Commentators really started beating up on Mitt Romney after the conventions and many of them from the right. Take a look.


BILL KRISTOL, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Mitt Romney used the term "jobs" 25 times think in his acceptance speed. He didn't mention Afghanistan, he didn't mention the troops, didn't even thank the troops for their service.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Matthews was saying -- I don't know when, Friday or Saturday on PMSNBC -- "If Obama wins, it's the end of conservatism."

No. If Obama wins -- let me say it once again though -- the Republican Party and there's going to be a third party that's going to be oriented toward conservatism.

INGRAHAM: If you can't beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party. Shut it down.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: And yet unemployment is still over 8 percent. Two out of three Americans still believe we're going in the wrong direction and that our guy is still losing.

How do you lose under these circumstances? It's maddening to conservatives.


KURTZ: Amy Holmes, why are all these conservatives on your side of the spectrum trashing Romney?

HOLMES: Well, if you were following the GOP primaries, this apparently has been a long process for conservatives, but I also think you're seeing something very interesting here, is that conservatives, myself included, regard themselves as separate from the Republican Party. The Republican Party is a tool and instrument of policy and governance, where conservatism is a feeling of ideology and a world view and conservatives are feeling very frustrated that the Republican Party is fumbling it.

I don't think you necessarily see the same sort of, you know, differentiation between the Democratic Party and its liberal elements.

KURTZ: It is absolutely true, Clarence Page, that these people seem more committed to the conservative movement that to the party's nominee, and we're not fans of Mitt Romney in the primaries.

But Obama has a pretty good convention. He's up a few points in the polls, and these folks are jumping ship.

PAGE: Howard, I feel the Yogi Berra line, deja vu all over again. Back in '60s when Barry Goldwater went down to a crushing defeat after conservatives divided the Republican Party, you saw finger-pointing going every which way that we lost because we were too conservative. No, we lost because the candidate wasn't conservative enough.

We're now in this modern-day media age seeing those arguments before the election. They're pointing fingers back and forth saying the same thing. And you're seeing a certain sense of panic that indeed Obama should be 10 or 15 point behind conventional wisdom, but he's not.

And so, that's why you're seeing the finger-pointing back and forth. There is a strong division in the Republican Party. The disarray is continuing.

KURTZ: Right.

PAGE: It will get worse if Romney loses.

KURTZ: This preemptive analysis almost baked into the cake is Romney's probably going to lose, so let's get out front now and explain why. It's not because of conservatism. He wasn't conservative enough. But it's a pretty tight race.

LIZZA: It's a pretty tight race but there certain good argument that you should be able to beat Obama in this climate.

KURTZ: In this economic recovery, yes.

LIZZA: Romney's relationship with the media, you can write a whole book on this, right? I mean, ever since he was sort of stepping out of the governorship and dipping his toes into presidential waters, he's been trying to woo conservatives, he's been trying to suck up to them.

KURTZ: He said he was severe conservative.

LIZZA: Severe conservative -- and none of it's really worked. Conservatives still have a great deal of doubt about him as some of this commentary shows, even after he picks the conservative favorite Paul Ryan.

KURTZ: Exactly. And yet, you would think that they because they certainly prefer Mitt Romney to Barack Obama, would line up behind him. And it's starting to happen for a while, but now, it's a sense of panic.

LIZZA: You're right that you're seeing already the setting up of the debate if he loses, right? Obviously, conservatives will argue lost because he wasn't conservative enough. They'll say he was just like John McCain and what we need to do as a party, Republicans need to do is move right as you go into 2016.

I'm not sure if that's going to be the right analysis if Romney loses but that's what you're already seeing from the Rush Limbaughs and Laura Ingrahams and maybe the Amy Holmeses, but I let her speak for herself.


KURTZ: Quick thought, Amy.

HOLMES: Well, Ryan, I think he said something important, which is that the Romney campaign has had a somewhat tortured relationship with the conservative media, whereas the White House seems to work very closely with liberal media, with talking points media, Media Matters. Media matters even have meetings at the White House.

The Romney campaign has, I think, been a little bit uneasy about the relationship they want to have with the conservative media so they haven't necessarily been gung-ho, rah-rah for the Romney campaign.

KURTZ: Right. That the candidate has been talking more to national view among others.

Let me move to something else that happened this week, and that is the 11th anniversary of 9/11. It was marked by plenty of television coverage recalling the events of that terrible day.

Here's how the morning shows handled the traditional moment of silence at 8:46, the time the first plane hit the World Trade Center.


NORAH O'DONNELL, CBS NEWS: President Obama and the first lady will be marking the 9/11 anniversary with a moment of silence on the South Lawn.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: And on this 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we pause now to remember that moment when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

KRIS JENNER: It was so important health wise to remind women that, you know, check your expiration date because it's a health risk.


KURTZ: That was Kris Jenner of the Kardashian family. NBC's "Today" show not pausing for that moment of silence and then defending it the next day, saying it's not something we do.

But, finally, NBC News president Steve Capus giving this statement to "The New York Times." We can put that up.

"We made an editorial call resulting in the September 11 moment of silence not being seen. While we dedicated a substantial amount of airtime to anniversary events, we still touched a nerve with many of your viewers," speaking to his affiliates of the network, "and for that we apologize."

Was that a mistake by the "Today" show, Ryan Lizza?

LIZZA: You know, I don't know. Look, at a certain point in time, these things do not have the same resonance. December 7th, 1941, we don't all stop on --

KURTZ: To remember.

LIZZA: -- Pearl Harbor Day and remember it. And I don't know -- and we used to, right? I don't know in history at what point that stopped but that is something that, you know, news networks have to grapple with. At what point does it become -- does it not have the same emotional resonance and does that specific moments, you know, the moment of silence become the thing?

As Capus points out, look, the rest of the show was devoted to 9/11 coverage.

KURTZ: Not the entire show, but --

LIZZA: There was some. And you know, is that enough?

KURTZ: Go ahead, Clarence.

PAGE: I can tell you, it was about 1987, I was at the news desk on the "Chicago Tribune," when we got several angry calls from people that we have not commemorated December 7th. So, I mean, that was what, 40 years later, but it was starting to fade at that point. But folks stop having their moments of silence, et cetera.

So, we're a lot closer to that than 9/11. So I'm not surprised that people were upset this time.

KURTZ: I was really struck, Amy Holmes, because the newspaper coverage of 11th anniversary, which was not a major anniversary in numerical terms, was much more restrained, no front page stories in the big paper, is at least on the day. Some did it the day after.

But television did it pretty much all day with the "Today" show taking that detour during the moment of silence and I wonder, is that because they're much more concerned about the anniversary or is that good programming to build something around the remembrance of that awful day?

HOLMES: Well, for tragic reasons 9/11 was a very visual event for so many Americans. I mean, that's how we experienced 9/11, was turning on our television sets and seeing the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, on the Pentagon and then, of course, United flight 93.

But getting back to NBC, at the moment of silence, I think we're maybe casting this issue too narrowly. Why did NBC book Kris Jenner to discuss her boobs on 9/11? I mean, this is -- I think a lot of Americans are reacting to that as well, and this blending of celebrity culture and the news culture and it seems that the media is, you know, differentiating that less and less. Chris Jenner and her family on a reality show, that's one thing. On NBC "Today" show on 9/11, that's quite another.

KURTZ: That is a question only history can answer.

Briefly, Ryan Lizza, MSNBC kept replaying the attacks, the actual footage, from 2001 and I wondered whether that was necessary. We all remembered what happened.

LIZZA: I know. I have two minds about this. I've come around to the view that it's good that people remember what this looks like and we shouldn't sanitize it. For a time I thought it was taboo on television to show those attacks.

KURTZ: Right. Yes.

LIZZA: I have two kids. I want my kids to know and remember what in reality happened.

KURTZ: At the same time, you were saying, maybe, you know, the world can't stop every time September 11th rolls around the calendar.

LIZZA: Every news network has to decide how they'll cover it. A moment of silence is not the only way to let your viewers know that this is an important anniversary.

KURTZ: Clearly, NBC got a lot of heat from its affiliate stations, leading to that apology by Steve Capus.

Ryan Lizza, Clarence Page, Amy Holmes in New York - thanks very much for stopping by this morning.

Up next, we'll turn our critical lens on the initial reporting of who is behind that anti-Muslim web video that helped spark the anti- American riots and how the media got it wrong.


KURTZ: We're coming to you from our new state-of-the-art studio, which has a lot of room. It's a pleasure to be here.

Just who was behind the anti-Muslim film that seemed to spark these attacks in Libya and Egypt? News organizations quickly set out to answer that question, and the Wall Street Journal and Associated Press said they had found the filmmaker, and those reports ricocheted around the world.


KRYSTAL BALL, MSNBC: Protesters are allegedly fuming over an anti-Islam video produced by an Israeli Jew living right here in the U.S.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN: According to the Wall Street Journal, the man is 52-year-old Sam Bacile. He wrote and directed and produced the two-hour movie, adding that he is an Israeli-American. CNN has been trying extraordinarily hard to reach Mr. Bacile since yesterday.

CATHERINE HERRIDGE, FOX NEWS: Described by the AP as a California real estate developer, who self-identifies as an Israeli Jew.


KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the initial reporting on this story is Paul Farhi, media reporter for the Washington Post.

Let me just read a line from that Wall Street Journal report that was being quoted along with the AP. "The movie "Innocence of Muslims" was directed and produced by an Israeli-American real estate developer, who characterized it as a political effort to call attention to the hypocrisies of Islam." That is the supposed guy, Sam Bacile. What happened with that?

PAUL FARHI, WASHINGTON POST: Well, there is no Sam Bacile, first of all. He appears to be a Coptic Christian, and he's not Jewish, besides, and he's apparently not Israeli. He appears to be Egyptian -- Egyptian-American.

KURTZ: He's actually Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.

FARHI: That's right.

KURTZ: Who's since been questioned voluntarily by police in California. So from what you just described, it sounds like those initial reports by those two organizations were wrong on every possible count.

FARHI: They were absolutely wrong. And the reason was they were steered wrong by Sam Bacile/Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. He told them who he was. They bought it. They went with it, and it turns out to be wrong on every count.

KURTZ: What do you make of, in a volatile situation like that, taking the word of somebody you just talked to over the phone who says I raised $5 million from 100 Jewish donors. All of this made it seem like a Jewish plot or conspiracy, when it turns out that was not the case. How serious a mistake was that?

FARHI: That is a very serious mistake in this context, because clearly the Middle East is in flames over this particular film, and to blame it on or to cite Jewish sources for this film is kind of a blood libel that goes to centuries of animosity between Muslims and Jews and Christians.

KURTZ: And I'm not sure the subsequent stories ever quite caught up with the initial reports we just played snippets of, of what was on TV. It was on websites, of course, all around the world.

The Wall Street Journal did run a correction. What happened when you asked the AP whether the story was (inaudible)?

FARHI: The AP actually got around to it about two days after the fact, and said that their initial report had been wrong. They corrected the record.

KURTZ: Why did it take two days?

FARHI: I think they had to investigate what was going on themselves. They had to figure out whether to correct their initial reports.

You know, this is a very fluid story. It's moving very, very quickly. The details are coming in from everywhere. I think they wanted to be sure that they knew what they were talking about when they made the correction.

KURTZ: As opposed to be resisting, saying we got it wrong, because there were AP stories saying, OK, Bacile was a pseudonym, and it's actually Nakoula, but no story initially saying and by the way, that previous report turned out to be erroneous?

FARHI: You know, in a fast-moving media world, where the Internet is constantly being updated, the stories are constantly flowing, updates tell you the next new bit of information, correcting implicitly the old information.

KURTZ: Yes, but implicitly should not be the standard. I think -- I make mistakes, you make mistakes, we all make mistakes -- but we ought to stand up and say we got it wrong. And maybe it was understandable in the incredible chaos of those opening days that when you get a telephone interview with the guy who says I am the guy, I made the film. I don't think I would have gone with it without meeting him face to face.

What about, you raise another question in the piece you did in the Washington Post, what about the movie itself? Is there a movie? All we know about is a 14-minute trailer that appeared on Youtube.

FARHI: So far -- and I've looked at many, many reports about this. There doesn't seem do be any more than one individual who's connected with this film who has actually seen a two-hour movie. There was one AP report saying that theater employee had seen this screening of this two-hour movie sometime this summer of this year, but there seems to be no evidence that there is a two-hour movie. There seems to be about 14 minutes of Youtube clips and only 14 minutes.

KURTZ: And, you know, I've seen so many headlines saying anti- Muslim film sparks riots, sparks attacks on Americans, inspired, although it seems like the protesters in Libya were very organized.

So the mere fact that the film caused these riots, is that something that the media should embrace as fact? .

FARHI: Well, first of all, it's not clear that the film did spark these riots. Certainly the Benghazi riot or the attack on the consulate there may have been inspired by Al Qaida. It may have been planned. The administration believes that this was a plot that really had nothing to do with the movie. But the movie does seem to have triggered the film, the clips, whatever you want to call them. It does seem to have triggered a number of reactions across the Muslim world.

KURTZ: Right. I just think apparently or something, and maybe I've fallen into this too, it's not a fact that the movie is behind this. As Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic put it to me, movies don't kill people, people kill people, in this case tragically so. Paul Farhi, of the Washington Post, thanks very much for stopping by.

Up next, author Michael Lewis gets to hang out with President Obama, but first there was a little deal that had to be made. My two cents in a moment.


KURTZ: Michael Lewis, the author of "Moneyball" and other bestsellers got incredible access to President Obama for his latest books. Over the period of eight months, says an excerpt in Vanity Fair, they played basketball, flew on Air Force One, rode in the presidential limo, walked around the White House, and spent lots of time talking -- every journalist's dream scenario.

But there was one catch. As Lewis himself disclosed this week at a panel discussion in New York, he agreed in advance to let the White House approve all quotes.

There was one particularly emotional exchange he wished he could have used, but Lewis says he got to publish 95 percent of the comments he wanted. That's nice, but let's be clear. This was a devil's bargain. Lewis was asked about his White House entree on the "Today Show."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Access is a great thing, but is too much access something that impacts the final product?

MICHAEL LEWIS, AUTHOR: He gave me a great privilege. He let me get to know him. And over a long period of time, he really let me get to know him. And that made my job very easy. I didn't feel any obligation to him. Once it's done, you kind of wonder what he thinks about it.


KURTZ: No obligation except to let him approve the quotes. Michael Lewis ceded at least partial control of the story to Obama's handlers. Maybe, from his point of view, it's a pretty favorable piece, the trade-off was worth it, maybe it allowed the president to feel comfortable around him. Knowing he could veto anything later on. Would I be tempted to make that trade and play hoops with Obama, sure, but in the end I couldn't do it. It makes me uncomfortable to give that kind of leverage to any source even if he occupies the highest office in the land. Before we go to break, a little bit of changing of the guard. Last night on television "Saturday Night Live," the impersonation of President Obama, which had been done by Fred Armisen they've got a new guy, Jay Pharoah. Let's take a short look.


JAY PHARAOH: Before we start, Sasha, Malia, go to bed. I do that to remind you that I have two adorable young daughters and not five creepy adult sons.


KURTZ: Now that's an improvement, but still a work in progress. Ahead on "Reliable Sources," Katie Couric makes her syndicated debut. Does the former anchor have the right stuff for daytime television?


KURTZ: When I spoke to Katie Couric before she launched her daytime show this week, she described the new program as tackling some topics not that different from what she did on the CBS EVENING NEWS, but in effort to appeal to the largely female stay-at-home audience, the show has been heavy on girl talk and celebrity chat, such as when Couric sat down with Sheryl Crow.


KATIE COURIC, ABC ANCHOR: You say you are middle age. You turn 50 this year. Can I just say you are so smoking hot?


COURIC: No, I'm serious. I saw Sheryl in her dressing room, and I was like, damn girl, you look good.


KURTZ: And when Heidi Klum was the guest, Couric asked about her break-up with the singer Seal.


COURIC: He accused you of, quote, "fornicating with the help" implying that you were having an affair with your bodyguard while you were married.

HEIDI KLUM: I don't love (ph) that. And obviously, it's not true. When, you know, I've never looked at another man while I was with him.


KURTZ: So what will she make of the new Katie and will the new venture backed by ABC be a hit? Joining us now, on our new Washington set, Gail Shister, columnist for "TV Newser" and senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and in New York, Adam Buckman, media reporter for TV Howl, and the XFinity TV blog. Gail Shister, how did Katie Couric do?

GAIL SHISTER, TV NEWSER: Can I just tell you, Howie, that you're smoking hot?

KURTZ: You were the first person ever to say that. Thank you.

SHISTER: How did she do? I think she did the job of a good talk show host. She -- there were no surprises in my book except the guests. I did not know who her first guest was going to be, and so when she introduced a big celebrity who just had a baby, and my first thought was Beyonce. I really thought it was going to be Beyonce.

KURTZ: Instead?

SHISTER: Jessica Simpson walks in and I thought it was a big yawn, and then she talked non-stop for the next three segments about Weight Watchers. I think Weight Watchers should have paid the show for the that free infomercial.

KURTZ: And it actually ran a commercial that Jessica Simpson made for Weight Watchers. Adam Buckman, did this program and the ones that you've seen this week, rise above the usual celebrity chit-chat and self-help stuff?

ADAM BUCKMAN, TVHOWL.COM: Well, they rose above the other talk shows that are vying for attention in syndication in afternoon this fall. I watched the debuts of Jeff Probst and Steve Harvey and Ricki Lake and Katie Couric. And it's no surprise to observe that Katie Couric is the best of the four as far as, you know, just basic broadcasting is concerned. It met all expectations in the sense that we knew Heidi Klum was going to be on on Wednesday and we expected Katie Couric with her news background to press Heidi about her divorce and we expected her to talk to Jennifer Lopez about her own relationship and why she left "American Idol." These are not exactly pressing issues in the world today, but she met all expectations, got great viewership on the first night and then it declined about 40 percent by the end of the week.

KURTZ: I wonder, Gail, whether some critics at least are holding Katie Couric to a higher standard because of her journalistic background whereas if she was -- somebody who always sort of had been on the entertainment side of the business you'd expect her to be chatting up Jessica Simpson and Heidi Klum and J. Lo.

SHISTER: Of course holding someone to a higher standard on the talk show scale is a relative term ...


SHISTER: So is she the next Oprah? I don't think so. But I did -- I have to admit. I had higher expectations because of her news background, but then I came to realize that the two formats don't fit. There's not that much of an overlap when you're focusing on celebrities. How hard hitting-- KURTZ: What were your higher expectations? What did you think she might have done that she did not do?

SHISTER: I was hoping that her guests were not all celebrity- type guests on the debut. And they were. I was hoping that she didn't position herself as one of you, i.e., just like you, the women in the audience because she's not.

KURTZ: Why not? She wants to be America's girlfriend.

SHISTER: She wants to be America's girlfriend, but not every America's girlfriend that makes 15 million a year or however much she makes.

KURTZ: Well, she made that at CBS, I don't think she's making quite as much now.


KURTZ: Now, though, she owns the show, and if it's successful she will make a lot of money.

SHISTER: A lot more, actually.

KURTZ: A lot more, indeed. Adam, Katie Couric, look, is a very skilled interviewer, very charming, very easy to watch, but does she have the big personality needed to carry an hour day after day?

BUCKMAN: Well, that's a big question and you raise a good subject which with these talk shows. It's certainly valid to come here on Sunday and talk about the first five shows that she did, but doing shows like this is a real grind and whether she, you know, graduates from Jessica Simpson to interview guests such as, you know, former president Bill Clinton or even Mikhail Gorbachev, you know, it remains to be seen, though I kind of doubt that those two will come on the show any time soon. So, the big question with Katie, for me is, once upon a time on the "Today" show she really seemed to be America's sweetheart, then she left to go to CBS, and -- it was -- and she anchored the third place newscast, and something seems to have happened to her popularity between the heyday of the "Today" show and the current day. And I think her big challenge is to win back people who used to like her in the 1990s and that's a big challenge for her.

KURTZ: I think she needs to get Sarah Palin on her new show. Go ahead.

SHISTER: I have a question, which is -- I noticed that the audience was about 99 percent women, the studio audience, and that all the women seemed to be wearing pastels.

KURTZ: I noticed that, too.

SHISTER: And I am wondering if that's a request that goes out to guests.

KURTZ: Well, on this point about the personality, I mean you don't want to be too dominant. But I did notice that when Katie Couric mentioned something personal about herself, or a family, she kind of slipped it in rather than seizing the moment. But you mention Oprah Winfrey who, of course, dominated for years in this genre, in this afternoon slot, Katie Couric told me she wanted to explore issues like Oprah, but can there really be another Oprah in this fragmented syndicated market?

SHISTER: Not unless Katie starts giving away free stuff and lots of it. She has got to give away cars, washing machines, vacations. I think she could get real popular real fast.

KURTZ: But Oprah's popularity was built on more than that. Yes.

SHISTER: On a serious side, what really bothered me the most about it vis-a-vis Oprah, was that they had over a year to prepare for this launch. Over a year. And the best they could do for the topic was the quintessential, quote "women's topic, "which is weight loss. And I was hoping when you asked a higher standard, yes, I was hoping for something a little more original.

KURTZ: But Adam, when you are doing weight loss and this one on body image, and next week she's got a program on hair. You are speaking to the audience, mostly women who stay at home, that are interested in these sort of things. Your thoughts, we have got about a half minute?

BUCKMAN: Well, and it is an ever shrinking audience of women who are at home, perhaps they are young moms with young children. And I guess if you don't try and cover the topics that perhaps they're reading about in their magazines and tabloids, then you're really going to miss the boat. And I think that topic wise, I think they chose the right ones. I mean whether they'll ever grow the ratings to be, you know, 6 million a day like Oprah had, it remains to be seen. And frankly, it's probably pretty doubtful.

KURTZ: Well, she's off to a good start, and we should give her more than a week to find herself on this new show. Adam Buckman, Gail Shister, here in Washington, thanks for joining us.

Still to come, the anchor who wouldn't let Paul Ryan off the hook. Glenn Beck's return to TV. And the paparazzi strike again with an embarrassment for Kate Middleton. "The Media Monitor" is straight ahead.


KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," a weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. And here is what I like. CBS's Norah O'Donnell filling in on "Face the Nation" refused to let Paul Ryan off the hook when the V.P. nominee criticized the administration on the looming automatic cutbacks in Pentagon spending.


NORAH O'DONNELL, CBS ANCHOR: Congressman, these defense cuts are part of the Budget Control Act. You voted for the Budget Control Act ...


O'DONNELL: And now you're criticizing the president for those same defense cuts that you voted for and called a victory.

RYAN: No, no, I have to correct you on this, Norah. I voted for a mechanism that says a sequester will occur if we don't cut $1.2 trillion in spending in government.

O'DONNELL: You said a trillion dollars in defense spending, and you voted for it.

RYAN: No, Norah.

O'DONNELL: You voted for it.

RYAN: I voted for the Budget Control Act.

O'DONNELL: That was -- included defense spending.

RYAN: Norah, you're mistaken.


KURTZ: Actually O'Donnell wasn't mistaken, she was just -- wouldn't let Ryan talk his way out of the vote he cast.

Glenn Beck has made plenty of money since leaving Fox News, when his online venture called "The Blaze", but his impact on the national conversation has dramatically declined. Now he is coming back to TV, sort of. His Web show will be available to satellite subscribers at the dish network. I kind of suspected that we hadn't heard the last of Glenn Beck. Now, this is a new low. The "New York Post" ran an ad this week rejected by other papers that was headlined "Obama's Big Lie Revealed." And what was this alleged lie? That the president's real father isn't Barack Obama Senior, but Communist Party propagandist Frank Marshall Davis. That is the outrageous, completely unverified claim of a DVD that was released earlier this year. Newspapers should accept ads with opinions they don't agree with, but not with made up facts.

Finally, there seem to be no boundaries anymore. The French magazine "Closer" has made global headlines with some pictures of Princess Kate.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The royal couple told this morning, just this morning, that a French magazine has published topless photos of the princess on a private vacation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The word of the photos came as the couple were having breakfast shortly before their visit to a house of worship, and prompted a quick response from the palace.


KURTZ: Did the one member of the royal family who has seemed to maintain her dignity really deserve this? The family reacted to the embarrassment with this statement. "Their royal highnesses have been hugely saddened to learn that a French publication and a photographer have invaded their privacy in such a grotesque and totally unjustifiable manner. Kate and Prince William have filed suit. Good luck with that.

Now, the chief executive of "Closer"s parent company, Bauer Media is ripping the decision saying we deplore the publication of these intrusive and offensive pictures as a gross intrusion on their royal highnesses privacy. The company says it's reviewing the terms of its license agreement with the magazine. But while it was a cheap stunt, by this French magazine, I have to say, if you're one of the most famous people on the planet trailed by the paparazzi, maybe it's not a good idea to take off your top outdoors. Kate wasn't exactly cavorting naked in the Las Vegas hotel like Prince Harry a few weeks back, but why tempt fate with so many photographers stalking you?

Which brings me to a producer on Aaron Sorkin's HBO show "The Newsroom." Allison Pill, who plays the producer, posted a topless picture of herself on Twitter. She says this was a mistake, and joked about it saying ugg, my tech issues have now reached new heights, apparently. That's a smart approach, and it did double the number of her Twitter followers, but unlike in the case of Kate, there is no one else to blame, reminder that in this wired world, digital damage can be self-inflicted.

Well, that's it for this edition of "Reliable Sources." I'm Howard Kurtz. If you missed a program, you can now go to iTunes on Mondays, check out our free audio pod cast or download a full video episode. You find this in a non-fiction TV show section of the iTune stores. Join us again back here next Sunday morning, 11 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media. " State of the Union " with Candy Crowley begins right now.