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Media's Petraeus Frenzy

Aired November 18, 2012 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: It has been challenging to say the least for the journalists to keep up with the David Petraeus soap opera. What begun with the CIA director stepping down over an affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell has now mushroomed into a tangled tale of a shirtless FBI agent, questionable emails between another general, and the other woman drawn into the Petraeus mess, and the media just can't get enough.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: One of the officials describes some of the emails as sexually explicit and the equivalent of phone sex over email.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Apparently 20,000 to 30,000 pages of e-mails with Jill Kelley who set the FBI on Paula Broadwell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Petraeus affair.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Biographer and mistress Paula Broadwell.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN: Sexual shenanigans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Florida socialite Jill Kelley.

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Some very explicit e-mails.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Friendly, perhaps flirtatious.


KURTZ: Is this story serious or just salacious? Has there been too much reckless speculation and has the coverage overshadowed not just President Obama second term agenda but the investigation into the CIA's role in a fatal attack in Benghazi?

Plus, a high level shakeup at "The Washington Post". The executive editor steps down and Marty Baron of "The Boston Globe" is taking over. Can he jump-start a paper that's been through tough times? We'll ask him.

I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

(MUSIC) KURTZ: It is for the media the perfect storm when the combined sex, scandal, war, spying, and gossip, not to mention an FBI investigation and secret e-mails. The coverage of the Petraeus scandal has been relentless, sometimes breathless -- a tabloid tale in which the facts are often murky.


BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: The extramarital affair, we're told, was with one Paula Broadwell.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: The FBI opened an investigation into whether Broadwell had improper access to Petraeus' e-mails or other computer access.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN: Jill Kelley is apparently the woman who is being called the other woman.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: The FBI began investigating harassing e- mails sent anonymous to another woman Jill Kelley.

REPORTER: Petraeus has told friends that he had no romantic involvement with Kelley.

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: Marine Corps General John Allen who has apparently been exchanging e-mails with the woman at the center of the Petraeus affair.


KURTZ: What is it about David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell that continues to mesmerize the media nine days after the scandal broke?

Joining us now in New York, Tara McKelvey, a fellow at Harvard Shorenstein Center and contributor for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast".

And here in Washington, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, senior correspondent and associate editor for "The Washington Post."

Rajiv, you've covered the war in Afghanistan extensively. Did you get invited on some of these overseas trips with David Petraeus? How well did you know him and has that shaped your approach in covering this scandal?

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, WASHINGTON POST: I've covered him off and on for about 10 years now, first back in Iraq when he was a division commander up in northern Iraq and then more recently when he was top commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. And in that later job, I did travel around the country with him.

He would give remarkable access to journalists. Oftentimes it was under very strict ground rules that certain things were off the record, but he did open himself up to press coverage because he thought it was important for the mission to get recognized out there, but also I believe because he also liked to see himself at the center of the coverage.

KURTZ: So that remarkable access paid dividends for Petraeus' image. And would you say, would you argue with the notion that many of the journalists who dealt with him, who know him, have tended to go easy on him on this unfortunate scandal?

CHANDRASEKARAN: I think some have. Others have been a little harder edged and fairer, but, look.

Look, that access could be intoxicating. You were in that exclusive bubble. He would bring you in to meetings he would have with subordinate commanders, at times even into sessions that involved secret material that you were told you couldn't write about. You get to zip around the battlefield on Black Hawk helicopters, popping into frontline bases.

It's a thrill traveling with a four-star, and for the journalists who got to be in there, there was a sense that you were getting to see an aspect of our modern wars that your colleagues or competitors weren't otherwise able to see. It was, you know, a revealing remarkable glimpse -- and so, sure, that built friendships.

It wasn't just that. Petraeus was an assiduous e-mailer, Howie. You know, I joked there were tons --

KURTZ: Yes, we learned something about that.

CHANDRASEKARAN: Well, yes -- and it wasn't being to crack a joke here, but, you know, there were times I would joke to my wife that Petraeus would respond to an e-mail faster than she would respond to me. If you had a question about something, certainly on a story that had something to do with him, he'd get back really quickly, often times with a couple of paragraphs.

He would, you know, generally, you have a few clear ground rules on how you could use it --

KURTZ: Right.

CHANDRASEKARAN: -- but, you know, at one point, it sort of pop a thought in my head, boy, don't you have a war to run here?

KURTZ: This is what I would call a different kind of seduction, seducing the press.

Tara McKelvey, you write in "The Atlantic" that Petraeus was the director of a media charm campaign in Washington. Explain.

TARA MCKELVEY, HARVARD SHORENSTEIN CENTER: He was really good at it, just from what Rajiv was saying. Petraeus spent a lot of time with the journalists and he pulled them into his world, and he was really fun to be around. I mean, I met him at a party and he was a lot of fun to talk to and I can see how intoxicating it would be.

KURTZ: You also say, Tara, in that article that Petraeus was a flirt. MCKELVEY: Yes. Totally -- he was a total flirt, both with men and with women and, you know, people respond to it. They like to be flattered, and he was good at it.

KURTZ: Rajiv, in a piece this week, you said that Petraeus, in having to resign as CIA director and, of course, he became famous as a general and commander, that he had fallen from a self-built pedestal. But it's a pedestal that the media helped him built, as you were describing a moment ago.

CHANDRASEKARAN: Oh, indeed. I mean, there -- both sides in some way are culpable here. Both sides are responsible for building him up.

Yes, Petraeus grasped before many of his fellow generals, the power of the media narrative in shaping the modern battlefield story and he reached out to the journalists, to authors, and not to think tank experts and others bringing him to Iraq and Afghanistan to observe what was going on. He understood that the stories of the wars would not be shaped just on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also among the chattering classes in Washington.

And what he did there was sort of -- it's now sort of become accepted wisdom within the military but back in the early day of Iraq, it was sort of pioneering.

KURTZ: There was a distance between the people running the war and the journalists who were covering the war.

Tara McKelvey, you have an acquaintanceship at least with Paula Broadwell? Excuse me, Paula Broadwell. She was at your house last year for a social function. Talk a little bit about that.

MCKELVEY: Well, when Paula was over at my house, I guess it was around the time she was sending the e-mails to Jill Kelley. I mean, she's -- Paula didn't talk to me about it, but that's what I've read in the newspaper accounts.

And she and I talked about Petraeus. And Paula, she sort of talked about him in a way that made me wonder about their relationship. It wasn't the way I talked about my sources.

KURTZ: Did you think that she was being indiscreet?

MCKELVEY: It's not that she told me anything or anybody else at the party about Petraeus, what he was doing, but there was some kind of hint that there was a relationship that usually doesn't exist. And I just kind of wondered what was going on.

KURTZ: And in the avalanche of coverage over these last nine or so days, where certainly some journalists are portraying Petraeus as kind of a heroic but flawed figure, do you think that Paula Broadwell has been depicted unfairly and many people kind of blaming her for what happened?

MCKELVEY: Savage. The coverage of Paula has been savage. People have been questioning her entire professional career, looking back and going through her academic work and dissecting it, and trying to determine whether or not she really was qualified to be doing the kinds of things she was doing.

KURTZ: And the coverage as well very personal, Rajiv, in terms of the focus on her attire and that sort of thing, kind of painting her as if she drew David Petraeus into this relationship against his will. And, you know, I guess I would say it takes two to tango.

CHANDRESAKARAN: It certainly does. And some of that coverage as Tara has been saying I think is beyond the pale. But some of it was relevant.

You know, I'd assert that what she was wearing when she was going off to forward operating bases or in Kabul, in the capital of a Muslim country, suggested that she was perhaps dressing inappropriately. I think that is important. And in fact it was relevant because it attracted the attention of General Petraeus who at one point told an aide to get her to dress down.

With regard to her past -- look, she holds herself up as a scholar, as a biographer, as a national security expert. And so it is only relevant to look back and say, what are your bona fides? What are your credentials here?

Petraeus' record has scrutinized now for some years. Going back and looking at Ms. Broadwell's past I think is a relevant thing to do, particularly in light of a book that she produced -- a book that while -- a product of remarkable access to General Petraeus -- was laudatory. It's been described as hagiographic. It didn't include much criticism at all or counterpoints of view with regard to his tenure in Afghanistan, his leadership of the war.

Having covered that war, I can say, you know, without much equivocation that there were aspects of his leadership of the strategy that he was leading over there that were controversial, that there were multiple points of view and that really didn't get surfaced very profoundly in her account.

KURTZ: I think it's fair to say she was an admirer of David Petraeus.

Tara, you had a fascinating sociological observation in your piece. You talked about Washington being a place where classified information is used as a pickup line. What did you mean by that?

MCKELVEY: Yes, I knew you were going to ask me about that. Well, I really can't reveal anything more than that.


KURTZ: I want to make clear that we don't know part of the fog of war here, so to speak, in the coverage, whether or not any important classified information ended up on Paula Broadwell's computer but certainly that's become part of the story.

Tara's going to be tight-lipped about this one.

One thing more thing I want to touch on, and that is these 20,000 or 30,000 pages between General John Allen, who has been running the war in Afghanistan, and Jill Kelley, the Tampa socialite, for lack of a better phrase. You reported based on sources, Rajiv, that there were only a few hundred of e-mails over the couple of years and that most of your sources say were routine. I heard other accounts that say there were a lot e-mails and they were sexually charged.

Do you worry about being spun here and we're not getting -- you know, we're having to rely on people not the principals, but people around the principals, who find out what the nature of that relationship was?

CHANDRASEKARAN: Indeed. And I think maybe the truth rests somewhere in the middle of all of this. Those e-mails are not bottled up at the Defense Department, in the inspector general's office. It's going to take some time before that report comes out.

Certainly people close to General Allen are saying -- trying to play this down saying not so many e-mails. You know, the wording of them was more innocuous than has been suggested. But for the defense secretary, Leon Panetta, to refer these e-mails to inspector general investigations suggest that they saw something in them that was potentially very concerning and to delay his domination to be the top commander in Europe.

So it remains to be seen exactly what was in there.

KURTZ: There are some missing pieces in here.

And, just briefly, Tara, you talked about Paula Broadwell being savaged in your review. What about the tone of reporting on Jill Kelley?

MCKELVEY: I guess I'm called in for like the female perspective on the female coverage.

I mean, there's no question that's been particularly savage for both of the women. It's also funny to hear about the e-mail, like what constitutes flirtatious e-mail and so on. It all -- sometimes found that odd in the context them -- you know, the coverage.

I saw something in "The New York Times" where they described Paula as Mr. Petraeus' lover. You know, it's like it's something that "The New York Times" has to sort out how to deal with this type of sex scandal. Like just -- the tone is very strange.

KURTZ: A lot of us have to sort out the brief observations?

CHANDRASEKARAN: Yes, both with Broadwell and with Kelley, there were aspects of what they were doing that I do believe were very legitimate and get lost in all of this. When Paula Broadwell had a genuine concern for veterans and military issues and getting more women involved in national security matters, and with Jill Kelley, I think she really did care about the issue of wounded warriors and military families down there in Florida.

KURTZ: I'm glad you pointed that out.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Tara McKelvey, thanks for joining us.

Up next, is the saturation of the two generals and the two women running roughshod over the facts? We'll explore that further.

Plus, President Obama holds his first news conference in eight months. We'll look at the questions in a moment.


KURTZ: The sheer velocity of the Petraeus sex scandal has been head-spinning for media organizations that have sometimes gotten out ahead of what can be confirmed. Were there 30,000 e-mails between General John Allen and Jill Kelley? Were they flirtatious, sexual, or benign? Did Paula Broadwell threaten Jill Kelly in her unanimous e- mails or not?

All of this prime fodder, of course, for "The Daily Show."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just a second. I think we're getting some breaking news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just the e-mails were flirtatious in nature from a senior defense official --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jennifer working with her producer there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This just in that a senior U.S. defense official does tell us that the e-mails with Jill Kelley between General Allen and Jill Kelley were flirtatious in nature.


REPORTER: Further complicating the case, officials say the FBI agent who first launched the investigation, a friend of Kelley's, is now the subject of himself a probe for suspected inappropriate behavior, including sending Kelley shirtless photos of himself.



KURTZ: So is the coverage out of control?

Joining us now here in Washington, Amy Holmes, anchor of "Real News" on "The Blaze". Terence Smith, former correspondent for PBS' "NewsHour", CBS News and "The New York Times". And Margaret Carlson, columnist at "The Bloomberg View" and former columnist at "TIME" magazine.

Terry, what do you make of all the pressing accounts -- the number of e-mails, what's in the e-mails, were there classified information linked to Paula Broadwell? Is it good journalism?

TERENCE SMITH, FORMER PBS CORRESPONDENT: It's obsession is what it is. It's Hollywood on the Potomac. I mean, it is -- Washington loves a sex scandal.

And you notice the way -- there was an election. Are you aware of that? It dropped out of the headlines, out of the news. Fiscal cliff -- boring, difficult, numbers no good.

So what I was struck by, though, was the obsessive quality of the coverage. I know of one young woman who actually interviewed Petraeus at a think tank on the stage. She got a call from "The Washington Post" saying, did he grope you in the green room?


SMITH: That's fishing. That's a fishing expedition.

AMY HOLMES, THE BLAZE: "The Post" or --

KURTZ: In the -- in all of this whirlwind, Amy Holmes, have the media been much harder on Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley than on the two generals?

HOLMES: I should say so. We seem to know a lot more about this biographer bunny and the nutty Tampa twins than we do about the four stars who they got involved with, who, by the way, were the actual public servants, the people who were supposed to be putting their attention on running wars, not on parentally this blizzard of e-mails to a doctor's wife in Tampa.

KURTZ: But you were complimentary a moment ago, these nutty Tampa twins.

HOLMES: Yes, indeed. And believe me, I'm the first to say -- I love a good sex scandal, but only if Susan Rice was involved, maybe the press would be just interested into getting to the bottom of that.

KURTZ: You know, the problem for journalists, Margaret Carlson, is that the principals aren't talking. So, what we get are these bits and pieces, self-serving leaks from aides, friends, people around them, and we still don't know.

And there was always clashing accounts about how many e-mails, what was in the e-mails, was it classified information? It's a hard story to report but we haven't shown much restrain either.

MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG VIEW: Wait, there are two things that work. One is that David Petraeus does have a press coterie, and he does have people now anonymously defending him.

KURTZ: Or not so anonymously in the case only some columnists.

CARLSON: In the case of some. So you have him over here. Now, how many witnesses before Congress get to come and go without a picture? I mean that's the kind of bipartisan cooperation that could help with the fiscal cliff.

But the other thing about the women is that, you know, we're dealing with a party planner with diplomatic immunity, you know, who seems to have gotten all kinds of, you know, generals courting her in a certain way because she raises funds for them. But this is a larger than life person to cover. So you go there because she's a character.

KURTZ: By the way, you're referring to Friday when former General Petraeus testified in a closed door hearing on Capitol Hill about the attack in Libya, was not asked about the affair and there were no pictures. As you said, he was kind of escorted in and out.

I would argue that, yes, it's obsessive, the coverage. But there's no question that when the head of the CIA resigns and says in his resignation that it's because of an extramarital affair, that that's a big news story and legitimate news story -- and it does raise the questions of was any national security compromised, et cetera. So, yes, it's obsessive.

KURTZ: Absolutely, but -- there is. But it seems all the stories about privacy of e-mail and national security and all of that is a little bit of the fig leaf for the more salacious stuff like the shirtless FBI agent. That was pretty band then we got the picture. It looks like a joke of a photo.

HOLMES: It is sort of -- it's human nature. I mean, you know, you think of "Vanity Fair" and a Becky Sharp character, never seems to be one in this one. But there hasn't been the same sort of scrutiny again on General Allen or General Petraeus in their personal life in the same way there has been on these women.

KURTZ: And what do you make of this whole cascade of public service journalism stories about seven tips for having an affair, how to avoid getting caught, how to keep your e-mail.

HOLEMS: I think that's kitsch. I think it's a way to get attention. I mean, we know list, and now we have this type of list. Obviously, it gets a lot of clicks and a lot of readers.

CARLSON: But there is also this element that but for the grace of God go I with the Gmail. I mean, love is fleeting. E-mail is forever. We forget that.

We're always put our femoral thoughts down. It's like a nationwide addiction. So, that's interesting.

And then there is the serious part about the FBI. You know, topless rogue agent manages to set off a series of events.

KURTZ: And he was a friend of Jill Kelley --

CARLSON: -- who topples a general, yes.

KURTZ: -- who triggered this investigation, yes.

CARLSON: This is huge. And do we want the FBI to have an agent who's able to do this in a series of actions?

SMITH: And there's still questions, serious questions about the BI procedures in this. If indeed they concluded early on that there was no national security or criminal issue here, then why didn't it stop right there?

CARLSON: And why did Director Clappers --

SMITH: Why did it become public? I'd like to know.

CARLSON: And why didn't director James Clapper say at that point say there is no reason -- no, no, there is no reason to resign.

KURTZ: Oh. You're saying why didn't he say that? He's the White House official who essentially pushed Petraeus out.

Let's come back to the media coverage, because I see these stories because there's an attempt to keep the story alive. Jill Kelley visited the White House three times. Well, once was a White House tour, two when she was having lunch in a mess with some lower level official.

So, even things that are technically true are getting blown up now because we're all enjoying a good wallow in this incredibly juicy story. True or false?

HOLMES: I would say that's true but it was also to the question of what type of access does Jill Kelley have to all these high-ranking government officials? And we still haven't really gotten on the bottom of how did Paula Broadwell know or think she knew about that CIA annex and perhaps where militia was being held there? Do we take it at face value that she didn't hear it from General Petraeus or it was completely made up? I don't know.

KURTZ: What about the stakeout at Kelley's home in Tampa? The point that she has e-mailed the mayor and complained about the press and also taking a shot at Paula Broadwell.

I mean, what exactly did Jill Kelley do? We don't know at this point that she did something terribly wrong but all of these reporters are camped out on her lawn.

HOLMES: Well, she's set off this chain of events that is by the time the CIA director. I think a lot of people would say there's not very much that's terribly sympathetic about this woman. If you make this bed, you sleep in it, to use a phrase.

CARLSON: Exactly.

KURTZ: What about, you know, the thing that Petraeus was testifying about, the attack in Libya? You know, conservative pundits say the mainstream media is much more interested in sexual and salacious aspect of the story involving these two generals and being protective of President Obama on the very serious fatal attack that left four Americans dead? SMITH: Well, Howie, there's been endless coverage of the Benghazi affair and Susan Rice performance, what was said, what wasn't said, and it was largely political. It's been pushed by one party over the other.

KURTZ: In order to turn it into a scandal.

CARLSON: Right. They want to turn a possible secretary of state nominee into this vehicle -- all that stands for Benghazi -- when in fact the same senators said nothing and were actually favorably disposed towards Condi Rice when she was really secretary of state and really relying on intelligence.

KURTZ: Right.

I would have thought, Terry, as student of the media, you'd be a little more critical of some of these coverage. You seem to most people be saying, you know, let's enjoy it.

SMITH: Look, I am -- there are excesses. I don't dispute that for a minute. But I just wanted to make a point -- there are substance in here too, serious issues in here too, and, hey, it's Hollywood on the Potomac.

KURTZ: All right. Let me get a break. Up next, Mitt Romney won't talk to the press but a leaked conference call puts him in a rather unflattering light. Here we go again.


KURTZ: I was in the east room this week when President Obama met the press for his first post-election news conference and I was wondering how many questions will be about David Petraeus.

The first one was about the scandal and some other subjects came up before NBC's Chuck Todd circled back to topic A.


CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: Potentially there was a national security breach with your CIA director. Do you believe you should have known sooner?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Chuck, what I'll say is -- it is also possible that had we been told then you'd be sitting here asking a question why were you interfering in a criminal investigation?


KURTZ: Margaret Carlson, does the president have a point that the press would hang him either way if there had been an early notification by the Justice Department about the Petraeus probe?

CARLSON: Yes, pretty much either way, I would say. And, you know, most of our problems come from the idea that the Justice Department is in cahoots, the attorney general is in cahoots with the president somehow, every administration. So that's what you have to be careful about.

KURTZ: You know, with all the media noise about this, to tie this up, it may be that there's no criminal wrongdoing by anyone.

HOLMES: That could be. I think there are still more questions to ask. But I think there you saw the president being very clever, something he does very often, which is to play media critic.

So instead of answering the question directly, he turns it around on Chuck Todd, say, no, we actually want an answer, not a critique of how we ask questions.

KURTZ: On balance though, Terence Smith, beyond the Petraeus questions, there were questions about fiscal cliff, about Iran, Syria, climate change --


SMITH: I thought it was all right. They covered most of the principal stories of the day or the week. I was most struck by the difference in President Obama himself.

This was a more confident, relaxed, even assertive president or person than we had seen before. And he staked out his position on taxes and, then, of course, he rolled it back.


CARLSON: He was impassioned in his defense of Susan Rice, something we rarely see from the president.

KURTZ: Right. So winning another four years will do that for you. Let's contrast that with the loser of the election, that's Mitt Romney. He hasn't given any interviews or offered any positive forward looking statements.

Instead he did a conference call with donors, which as you know leaked out, the "New York Times" among the organizations able to listen in. And Romney was quoted not directly as having said that Obama won the election by giving gifts to favored constituencies gays, women, younger people, African-Americans for example. Free contraceptives were very big with young college-age women. Is Romney really getting beat up by the press because all we have are these comments that kind of make him look bitter?

CARLSON: Well, he made them.

KURTZ: Just like the 47 percent.

CARLSON: Yes. It reinforces that 47 percent. Where's Waldo? He's gone completely underground. We don't know where he is or what he's doing. There's simply -- there's nothing coming out. That's all we have. KURTZ: And his running mate Paul Ryan did give one interview, in which he talked about urban turnout being surprisingly high. He says that's the reason his ticket lost the election. I'm just wondering whether or not -- OK, they lost. They're probably unhappy about it. But don't they have any ability to look forward as opposed to being defined by these leaks?

HOLMES: Well, you know, with friends like these in terms of the donors leaking these stories to the press. But I want to get back to the press's focus on Mitt Romney versus President Obama and that press conference with President Obama.

Let's contrast that with the press conference that was led by Jan Crawford where the press coordinated the questions with Mitt Romney with regard to the 47 percent comment and asked him relentlessly to explain himself and defend himself for that closed door remark -- this was during the campaign.

Fast forward, here we are this week, and we have these sort of ping-pong questions about global warming when the real question here is Benghazi, Libya, what happened. We now have the Petraeus scandal and Susan Rice, which you're now saying was at your direction when she didn't have the facts.

KURTZ: The president was asked by ABC's Jonathan Karl a tough question about the criticism by Senators McCain and Lindsey Graham --

HOLMES: Did we see the coordination of the press then asking --

KURTZ: If there had been coordination, you would have been criticizing them.

HOLMES: I was actually supportive of Jan Crawford in that instance.

KURTZ: CBS correspondent Jan Crawford.

HOLMES: Absolutely. Where were the follow-ups where the president revealed that he -- that the White House sent Susan Rice on to those Sunday shows?

CARLSON: Well, it's much harder to coordinate a presidential press conference than it is a gaggle of reporters on a campaign trail.

HOLMES: That may be, but I think he got a pretty easy press corps that week.

SMITH: Romney absented himself from the public stage and to save this one leaked set of comments, which reaffirms the 47 percent. This is his philosophy, I would judge from these statements. And, you know, many people put it down as sour grapes.

KURTZ: And in that same conference call, Terry, later came out he talked about the primary debates and he said, well, next time they shouldn't all be done by CNN and NBC showcasing liberals beating the heck out of us. First of all there were a number of debates hosted by Fox News, and second of all, now it sounds like he's blaming the media for the questions at those debates?

SMITH: Anybody but himself.

HOLMES: And the Republicans are supposed to be the party of personal responsibility, and I think that this does give an insight into how Mitt Romney is a process person instead of looking at a greater vision and what his campaign is about. And he's doing these snippets, and we saw this "Wall Street Journal" op-ed by Karl Rove making that similar point.

KURTZ: You know, Newt Gingrich got a lot of attacking the press in those debates, but by and large, I think the questions were fair.

CARLSON: He won every debate.

KURTZ: It actually helped him.

CARLSON: Yes, and let's be a graceful loser here. It's such the redoubt of somebody who loses that you blame the media. You know, the Republican governors' meeting this week got a lot of coverage by the media that's racing off to do 2016 and looking who among here is the candidate. They were far more critical of Romney.

KURTZ: At least they did it on the record.

CARLSON: On the record, yes.

KURTZ: Amy Holmes, Margaret Carlson, and Terry Smith. Thanks for stopping by this Sunday morning.

After the break, Aaron Sorkin on David Petraeus, HBO's newsroom and his next major movie project.


KURTZ: I talked to Aaron Sorkin the other day, the creator of HBO's "NEWSROOM." He told me he is not a political junky and those far less than people think.

Sorkin jokingly said he might work me into the plot again after my brief mention on the program last season. When Sorkin was interviewed by my boss Tina Brown at "Newsweek's" Hero Summit, the subject turned naturally enough to David Petraeus.

Sorkin said he would love to include the sex scandal in the upcoming season, but alas it's not to be.


AARON SORKIN, WRITER/PRODUCER: Our timeline ends the day before the Petraeus story broke and I can't include it, otherwise I would have loved to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Otherwise you would go there.



KURTZ: What struck me is the way that Sorkin talked about heroes, that is he's only interested in the ones who are flawed, like Petraeus, a man he admires. Sorkin says he wasn't sure the idealistic characters he created for his '90s series, "The West Wing," would work in this snarky age.

Sorkin's next project is a guy who certainly qualifies as a brilliant, but flawed icon -- Steve Jobs. Sorkin's making a film about the Apple founder, which he described this way.


SORKIN: This entire movie is going to be three scenes, three scenes only all taking place in real-time, the first one being the Mac and the second one being next after he had left Apple, and the third one being the iPod.

Basically my goal is -- I don't know if you remember the ad campaign that he did. It was the "Think Different" campaign, here's to the crazy ones. That's how it began.


KURTZ: Job was a genius and also a harsh human being. No wonder Sorkin who once helped him with the commencement speech, is drawn to his story. As for "Newsroom," if you're looking for larger-than-life figures with out-sized flaws, what better field to scrutinize than the media.

Coming up, a shake-up at "The Washington Post." A new editor coming to town. We'll talk to Marty Baron next.


KURTZ: This was a job that was held for 43 years by Ben Bradlee and Len Downie. Marcus Brauchli has been the executive editor of the "Washington Post" for the last four year, but he is stepping down in the midst of a disagreement with the publisher.

And this week his replacement was announced, "Boston Globe" editor, Marty Baron. He joins me now here in the studio. Welcome.


KURTZ: In the interviews you've down so far, you've talked about the tough choices awaiting you at "The Washington Post," which has gone through a lot of shrinkage, voluntary buyouts, declining circulation. Everybody knows the drill. What are the tough choices?

BARON: Well, news organizations like "The Post" are under tremendous financial pressure and so we have to choose what we want to do. We have to make choices under circumstances like that, and so I'm not prepared yet to talk about what the choices will be. I want to have conversations with the people on the staff about that and with the entire organization.

KURTZ: But you have said that some of these will be painful choices.

BARON: Well, of course. Look, there are revenues of news organizations like "The Post" and "The Globe" and other news organizations like that as they decline, those will be tough choices because those revenues are declining.

KURTZ: "The Post" writes this morning that Marcus Brauchli who had done -- who had disagreed with a publisher over both the size and direction of the budget cuts either resigned or was forced out. I think it's fair to say he at least got a nudge. Is that a difficult environment for you to step in as a new editor?

BARON: Well, I'm not so sure it's a difficult environment. I recognize that we're under pressures. I recognize that we have to make choices. I recognize that the amount of resources we have will be dependent upon the revenues that we have. And so that's true at "The Post" as it is at every other news organization like "The Post." So we have to do that. We have no choice.

KURTZ: In the old days, a new editor would come in, you get to hire a bunch of hot shots and make your mark. These days given these considerable financial pressures and people even questioning whether newspapers have a feature, why would anybody want this job?

BARON: Well, it's "The Washington Post" and "The Washington Post" has played a defining and distinctive role in politics and policy and world affairs and I think importantly in its own community. It's a superb, talented staff in the newsroom of "The Washington Post" and for me it's a great honor to be a part of it.

KURTZ: I worked there for many years as you know. Everyone says digital is the future. The post web site unlike "The Boston Globe" and others doesn't charge anything, there's no pay wall. Does that have to change at some point?

BARON: Well, that's not for me to say. That's for the people on the business side to say. I'm sure they've looked at it very closely. I imagine they're continuing look at that. So far they've decided not do that, but I don't what they're going to decide in the future.

KURTZ: The print edition of "The Post," which I still read every morning brings in 75 percent of the revenue even though everybody talks about digital and clicks online and all of that.

But that requires a sizeable staff to cover not just the District of Columbia but Maryland and Virginia. Is it important to protect that local franchise even though it's a national news organization?

BARON: Absolutely. As I mentioned before, "The Post" has played a defining role in a variety of coverage including its own community. It has to cover its own community. It's a local paper as well as a national and international paper.

KURTZ: When you went through some of these cutbacks at the "Boston Globe," where some of the issues are the same, how do you keep morale up when people are seeing some of their friends leave and seeing the ambitions curtail and "The Globe" used to do more national reporting than it does now. It's become more of a local paper. Does that take a take a toll on the attitudes of the staff?

BARON: There's no question that it does take a toll. People have certain expectations about what the staffing ought to be. We have to face the reality of our current business environment.

So I think morale is held up by the quality of the journalism that the newsroom does. There's no question that "The Post" does extraordinary journalism day-in and day-out and it will continue to do extraordinary journalism with whatever resources it has.

KURTZ: But at the same time, Marty, you are saying that they can't do everything. They can't afford to do everything, a plight not similar to that of many news organizations, so you have to pick some priorities here?

BARON: I'm sure that I will have to pick priorities. I think people do that in every business, every enterprise. They have to do that in news organizations as well. I am not prepared at the moment to say what the priorities should be.

KURTZ: You know, it sounds unremarkable when you say it is a business. You have a balance of expenditures. But there's a great role of the newspapers, somehow, you know, the work we do that somehow somebody else will take care of the financial problems. Now it is the editor's job to worry about the business side. You spend a lot of time on that I am sure in Boston.

BARON: Sure. I believe in the romance. I see the romance of the business. That's why I'm still in this profession and I think what we do is extraordinarily important, but it is also a business, and certainly editors are having to get much more involved in business affairs than they did at one time. Maybe I wish that weren't so, but it is so. And I have to deal with it like every other editor in the country.

KURTZ: This is the profession we have chosen. I've got 20 seconds. Was it a hard decision to personally leave the "Boston Globe?"

BARON: I love my colleagues at the "Globe." I think they have done extraordinary work in the decade plus I have been there, but "The Washington Post" as I said has played an extraordinary role in this country and in American journalism, so ultimately it was not a hard decision to make.

KURTZ: All right, well, good luck at your new home. Marty Baron, glad you were in town this weekend to stop by. Appreciate the chance to talk to you. BARON: Thank you very much.

KURTZ: All right, still to come, Nancy Pelosi pushes back hard against a reporter's question. A White House correspondent tries to push the president into overtime, and the TV chef that cried foul over an unappetizing review. The "Media Monitor" is straight ahead.


KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. Rupert Murdoch likes to stir up troubles especially now that he is on Twitter, but last night he went beyond outrageous to offensive.

With Israel undertaking air strikes against Gaza in response to a long series of rocket attacks by the Hamas government, Murdoch who is strongly pro-Israel doesn't like some of the coverage. Now the owner of Fox News and the "New York Post" tweeted that with Israel's position precarious, the AP and CNN are being biased.

All right, he is entitled to his opinion, but it is impossible to evaluate his charge because his 140 characters contained no specifics. But then came this tweet, why is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis? That is appalling.

The coverage tilts against Israel is fair game for the debate, but Jewish owned press? Who is he talking about, other than perhaps the Salzburger family, which owns "The New York Times," most major media outlets are owned by such public companies as Comcast, Viacom, Disney, and in CNN's case Time Warner.

Beyond that, this media mogul who isn't shy about interfering in his own newsroom is suggesting that Jewish-Americans have a hidden agenda in which their religion trumps their commitment to journalism. That's atrocious and it's beneath Rupert Murdoch.

It is now clear Luke Russert has some of his father's brass. When Nancy Pelosi announced the other day that she was staying on as House minority leader, the MSNBC reporter asked a question related to her age and she didn't like it one bit.


LUKE RUSSERT, MSNBC: Some of your colleagues privately say your decision to stay on prohibits the party from having a younger leadership and will be hurt the party long term. What's your response?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: You always ask that question, except to Mitch McConnell. I think what you will see, and let's for a moment honor it as a legitimate question, although it's quite offensive.


KURTZ: I'm sorry, Congresswoman, it was a legitimate question and Russert asked it respectfully.

Speaking of questions, President Obama was wrapping up his White House news conference this week when Bloomberg correspondent Hans Nichols tried to send it into overtime.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of the conversations --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That was a great question, but it would be a horrible precedent for me to answer your question just because you yelled it out. So thank you very much, guys.


KURTZ: Nice try, but Obama had taken questions for more than 40 minutes. Just won another four years, you get to set the rules, even with the most persistent reporters.

It was a pretty tough review by any standard, "New York Times" critic, Pete Wells took a meat cleaver to Guy's "American Kitchen and Bar" launched by celebrity TV chef, Guy Feiri. He writes were you struck by how very far from awesome the awesome pretzel chicken tenders are? And why did the toasted marshmallow taste like fish? Fieri fought back on "The Today Show."


SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: What was your reaction when you read this review? It must have felt like a punch in the gut.

GUY FIERI, FOOD NETWORK: Punch in the gut, I thought it was ridiculous. I mean, I've read reviews, there's good and bad in the restaurant business, but that to me went so overboard, it seemed like there was another agenda.


KURTZ: Well, the review was pretty vicious, no question about it, but newspapers have a right to do that, and sometimes restaurant owners, even famous ones, have to swallow it.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I am Howard Kurtz. If you miss a program, go to iTunes on Monday and check us out, the free audio podcast or you can buy the video version in the nonfiction TV show section of the iTunes store.

We're back 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.