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Split-Screen State of the Union; Marco Rubio's Water-Gate; A Showdown with Bill O'Reilly

Aired February 17, 2013 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: The networks were all geared up for that big Washington event, the State of the Union. The pundits all suited up to analyze what Barack Obama was going to say and then --


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: We're focusing on two people tonight -- this guy, Christopher Dorner, and the president of the United States. One is giving his State of the Union address and the other is, perhaps, in that burning cabin.


KURTZ: Should the cable news channels spent so much time on that fatal California shootout with a cop killer?

As for the Republican response -- the moment everyone was talking about.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Some are jokingly calling it water, yes, water-gate.

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: Seriously, why was the water so far away? It makes no sense.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At that point, it's better to have no water.


KURTZ: Why was the press so upset with Marco Rubio's water bottle?

It was a battle of the titans. I head into the no-spin zone for a one-on-one showdown with Bill O'Reilly.


KURTZ: I already won this round on points because the other day with Bernie Goldberg, you said, yes, I guess I should have mentioned it. The NBC's scoop was the elephant in the room that kick-started this debate. BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: OK. Number one, I said to Goldberg, I should have mentioned it only because it would have avoided all of this nonsense. All right?


KURTZ: But who's right about the media coverage of the president's drone warfare?

Plus, "Esquire" lands a gripping series of interviews with the former Navy SEAL who shot and killed Osama bin Laden. But did the magazine leave out crucial facts? We'll ask the author, Phil Bronstein.

I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.


KURTZ: The murderous rampage of Christopher Dorner had already drawn national coverage in part because of his bizarre manifesto popping of on -- among other things -- television pundits and anchors. And the manhunt came to a deadly climax in the hours before President Obama's annual address to Congress.

The networks left facing a dilemma, which story to cover and practically until the minute the president started speaking, the one in California won out.


MATTHEWS: We're going to go now to probably the biggest story of the night, which is clearly the story we planned on covering on MSNBC and my colleague Rachel Maddow is going to be going picking up in a minute for NBC's coverage of the president's State of the Union address.

BLITZER: We're also following breaking news out of California right now. We're going to get back to the president's State of the Union address. But authorities are now telling CNN that the fugitive ex-policeman Christopher Dorner is dead.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: We'll get ready to hear from the Republican response, Marco Rubio. We want to update you on a story we've been bringing you all night here on FOX News Channel. The fugitive LAPD cop wanted in connection with a shooting spree, is believed to be barricaded inside a burning cabin in Big Bear Lake, California.


KURTZ: So, was that the right call, or did important national news get overshadowed by a fleeting tale of crime?

Joining us now here in Washington: Jane Hall, associate professor of American University School of Communications, Frank Sesno, director of the school on media and public affairs at the George Washington University and a former CNN Washington bureau chief.

And in New York, Paul Farhi, media reporter for "The Washington Post."

Frank Sesno, should the cable networks gone virtually wall-to- wall with the Christopher Dorner drama as the president was getting ready to deliver the State of the Union?

FRANK SESNO, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, they didn't have a choice actually because the drama was playing out and this is the world of cable.

KURTZ: They didn't have a choice?

SESNO: When you go wall-to-wall --

KURTZ: Executives make choices every single hour.

SESNO: What they didn't do, they didn't interrupt the speech itself. They didn't split screen the speech itself. So, the speech itself stood there.

Now, would I have liked to have seen more about the president and what was going into the State of the Union? Yes.

Is there a clash here? Fundamentally right, the Dorner story is a local story, mostly. But it was getting national attention. So, it was both. The presidential story was a global story.

This is -- this is O.J. on steroids. I mean, we've been here before.

KURTZ: The reference, of course, made to Bill Clinton's 1997 State of the Union which was split screen with the O.J. Simpson verdict in that civil trial.

OK, local story, Jane Hall, national attention. Why is that?

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, I think some people try to portray him as some sort of Robin Hood. And I think while we're in the midst of a serious debate about gun control, that amount of coverage inevitably glorified this man publishing his manifesto.

And then, basically, you know, it's attention. I agree with Frank, you know, newspapers didn't have -- won't have to choose as much as cable does.

KURTZ: They can just split the --

HALL: They can split the screen. If they had split the screen, they would have been saying Christopher Dorner, a murderer, is equal to the State of the Union address by the president of the United States. That would have been pretty awful.

KURTZ: Although in the hours before President Obama spoke, there was a lot of split screen. And, Paul Farhi, let me ask you this -- is there an argument that the Dorner drama, the shootout and manhunt, the fire, was actual news, whereas the hours before the State of the Union is kind of pregame chatter?

PAUL FARHI, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think you could probably argue that there was a public safety issue here. There is a guy running around with a gun who has killed three people. It puts the people of southern California, at least, in jeopardy until we knew exactly where he was. Maybe it expanded the view on that.

But, you know, I agree with Frank here. TV news is often about TV more so than it's about the news. And, in this case, you had so many elements that made it such a great TV story. You had car chases and cops and fire and so many elements that were riveting to viewers, even though the news value beyond southern California wasn't great.

SESNO: Let me just play on that for just a minute because Paul is absolutely right. And this is CNN learned and this was paved by the O.J. Simpson case. When the famous O.J. Simpson story took shape, CNN went wall-to-wall with it. That was really the first time cable went wall-to-wall like that, with a story like that.

KURTZ: With a trial.

SESNO: No, no, I'm talking about the car trace, the chase and all of it. And what we saw, because I was anchoring a show here at that time. My show was preemptive every day when we went to trial by the trial.

KURTZ: You're still angry about that?

SESNO: No, I was fine with that. The ratings for the trial were 20 times what the ratings were for the show that I did ever day. I was a terrible anchor, by the way, which must have been way, but you know?

HALL: But, I mean, Frank, I mean, where's the part where we just say no. I mean, it was really bizarre to watch the nightly newscast, you know, with all of their people assembled basically say we're not going to talk about the state -- what all these people are going to be talking about. We're going to go out here. I mean, it was a local story which was catnip to people. That you know --

SESNO: That's a conflicts that Paul was just talking about.

HALL: Yes.


KURTZ: The other note here though is that there wasn't a lot of new information for hours about what was happening with Christopher Dorner and the shootout and another police officer was killed in that shootout, all we have was the static shot of the cabin and a lot of anchors killing time. Let me go to what happened after the president's State of the Union and the next day, in particular, we had a lot of this having to do with the guy who delivered the Republican response, Marco Rubio.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Nothing has frustrated me more than false choices like the one the president laid out tonight.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: I've got to ask you about that water bottle last night. Twitter went a little bit wild. You tweeted out the water bottle yourself. You got it there, again.


KURTZ: Paul Farhi, was the level of attention given to this moment when the senator felt like he had to take a sip. It was played like 155 times on MSNBC. Was that warranted?

FARHI: No, but, you know, again, the news is in many ways what's unusual and what's unusual here is exactly what you're showing, again, for the 156th time.

It lit up Twitter. Everybody remembers it. It will be the only thing remembered about that speech in four years when Marco Rubio is a presidential candidate. Remember when you gave that response to the State of the Union and you took that drink of water? He'll be asked about it forever.

SESNO: Nothing is too trivial to trivialize.


SESNO: And I think that's what we saw here.

KURTZ: But we're having fun with it. I mean, there's something about it that's profoundly depressive.


KURTZ: Obama gave himself a speech, and it's all about the Poland Spring.

SESNO: If you want a mood, it shouldn't be depressed. It should be outraged.

I mean, the fact of the matter is that we are having -- I mean, State of the Union Obama and Rubio engaged --

HALL: Some ideas.

SESNO: -- the big clash of what government should do and what it should be all about and how it's going to play out, and we're talking about water -- not how much your government is going to spend on what.

HALL: You know, my theory about this politicians are so stage managed, journalists are so glad when something unscripted happens that we focus on it. And you're absolutely right. He's characterizing himself. Rubio talking about his background, this is clearly the rehearsal for what Republicans are going to say about immigration, personal narrative. There was stuff there.

SESNO: There was so much time to fill.

KURTZ: OK. Talking about how you fill the time and story selection choices, Frank Sesno, there was this calamity on the Carnival cruise ship Triumph this week, where it took several days for the crippled ship to come to port, 4,000 people were affected. CNN covered that heavily than any other news organization -- everyone covered it -- renting a helicopter and a boat.

Important legitimate story -- some TV critics saying CNN went overboard.

SESNO: Went overboard, no pun intended. I grabbed a life jacket and I watched a lot of it.

Yes, CNN went overboard.

KURTZ: The ratings as well.

SESNO: Most people went overboard.

But there is a real good story here. Two percent of Americans, millions of Americans go on these cruises. Carnival, I was reading this, this morning -- fascinated by this. It's a Panamanian company flying a Bahamian flag with offices in Miami. Who's in charge of this?

KURTZ: Right.

SESNO: What accountability do they have? What was happening? We watch movies about this stuff.

So, it's a very good story. At times it got ridiculous. I mean --

FARHI: I disagree with Frank.

KURTZ: Paul, jump in. Go ahead.

FARHI: I disagree completely. It was not a very important story. It was about people being inconvenienced. Again, it was a good TV story.

You had CNN's coverage land, sea and air. You had helicopters. You had people on the scene. It made for good TV.

SESNO: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Paul, wait a minute. 4,000 people --

FARHI: But the larger implications of it were not great.

SESNO: Wait -- larger -- but not every story has larger implications.

FARHI: That's right.

SESNO: You have 4,000 people powerless, adrift at sea, with little food or water.

HALL: I didn't have a problem with CNN going wall to wall with it, as long as, you know, they go back to the rest of the world. I did wince when somebody on there said, you know, I feel like I'm in a third world country and I thought, you're getting off the boat. However inconvenienced you are.

They even told TV reporters to their credit. Look, this is not a natural disaster. It was riveting and reminded you of the Titanic.

KURTZ: Well, not quite the Titanic."

HALL: No, but -- I mean, it was riveting first time.

KURTZ: Everybody covered it, but not quite to this extent.

I want to touch on one more thing before we go to break, and that is FOX News and contributors such as former Senator Scott Brown, this week hiring Herman Cain. Serious question. I mean, the last time we heard from Herman Cain, he was dropping out of the presidential race in the face of allegation of sexual harassment and long term extramarital affairs alleged by Ginger White, which he denied, but there's a lot of smoke, let's say. And now, FOX is giving him this platform.

Does that cause you any hesitation?

HALL: Well, at some level, yes. Except that politicians come back to live another day after these sexual scandals. I think he's in a long line of Republican presidential candidates who cool their heels between running for president on FOX News.

KURTZ: And what about the women who were involved in these relationships? It's harder for them to be rehabilitated --

HALL: Well, it is. I felt the same way about Eliot Spitzer, though. I mean, this is not -- this is not unique to FOX.

SESNO: I would call it the "former politicians full employment act", which is going to work for a cable channel or some place else.

But in the case of Herman Cain and being serious about it for a minute, what you look for when you bring somebody on board for a commentary like this, is someone who's got something interesting to say, who's a good talker, who has different perspective on life and who can bring something to the conversation. Now, whether that's reality-based or information-based or real, we'll see.

But I kind of like Herman Cain. I kind of like the fact that he brings something unpredictable and real world to the conversation.

KURTZ: I agree with that. I'm just mentioning the cloudy circumstances in which he departed the presidential race.

Let me get a break. When we come back, my FOX News showdown with Bill O'Reilly. We'll look at who is right when it comes to the media, President Obama and the drone warfare program.


KURTZ: The war of words between FOX's biggest star and your humble media correspondent began on this program last Sunday when I replayed a clip of what Bill O'Reilly said after NBC News obtained a Justice Department memo backing President Obama's drone warfare program.


O'REILLY: Remember the outcry about waterboarding?


O'REILLY: Everybody jumping up and down? NBC News, I thought they were going to meltdown over there. Have you heard anything on NBC about the drones?

BECKEL: Not yet.



KURTZ: I challenged O'Reilly during the media monitor saying he should have mentioned the NBC scoop because it was driving a renewed debate over drones. O'Reilly, you will not be surprised to learn struck back on his program the very next day.


O'REILLY: Are you kidding me, Howard? Are you kidding me? Come on, man. The double standard of media coverage on waterboarding versus drones has been apparent for years. You don't know that?


KURTZ: Next came an invitation to debate the issue on O'Reilly's home turf. So, we went toe-to-toe on "The Factor."


O'REILLY: You just lost points by confusing hard news reporting about drones with the "New York Times" editorial page, which hasn't condemned, as far as I know in any great measure as they did with waterboarding the use of it. What we were clearly talking about here, 48 hours after the NBC memo appeared, was why the left doesn't condemn killing terrorists with drones, unilateral killing, decision-making by one man, with waterboarding that kills anybody.

You and I know that it's hypocritical, yet you don't engage in that. You come after me. It's ridiculous.

KURTZ: I was just a very mild, carefully chosen critique of your performance. But here's the larger point, Bill. In terms of the -- what you see as the relative lack of outcry -- there was a passionate debate in this country about whether waterboarding is torture led in part by John McCain. That was easy for the press and the commentators on the left to cover because it was so out there.

In the case of drones, it wasn't an issue in the campaign. Romney didn't talk about it. I didn't hear it in the debates.

So, the press, including the commentators, have been too passive in my view, just like they were in the run up to the Iraq war, rather than making this an issue. It should be an issue. It should be debated.


KURTZ: Jane Hall used to tangle with O'Reilly.

HALL: Regularly.

KURTZ: Was this an enlightening debate? Or just two TV guys going at it?

HALL: Well, I think it was good. I think you did well and I think he shifted the terms of the debate, which he likes to do.

First of all, he has had -- you know, he does not like NBC. Going back to Keith Olbermann. So, I think there was a blind spot in that, even remembering that Mike Isikoff had broken the story.

He shifted it back to what he wanted to talk about and I thought you had a very substantive debate, which was a good thing.

KURTZ: That was a shrew observation, because he wanted to talk about himself and how he felt I had wronged him and I was trying to get to higher ground. Did O'Reilly convince you that I was mistaken in saying I had made a glaring omission and not mentioning the --

SESNO: No, actually, he lost me a little bit in that because there was so much chronology to it. And if I were your communications consultant or executive producer --


SESNO: -- I would have said, in that discussion in that showdown, you did the right thing. You acknowledged his point, you're kind of general about it, and then you turned to the larger issue, and the larger issue is a very large issue. The use of drones and the way the media in this country has or has not focused on him.

KURTZ: And let's get into that, Paul Farhi. Is there -- does O'Reilly have a point? I would agree to a point, and we talk about some of the exceptions that there has been media hypocrisy when it comes to holding President Obama accountable for this sort of secretive program in which high level officials can target, including Americans abroad, target terror suspects for death in a way that might not have been the case was this happening -- it did happen on George W. Bush, but Obama has greatly expanded, I should make that clear. Media hypocrisy?

FARHI: Well, there has been condemnation on the left of the drone policy. O'Reilly is wrong there.

But his point is actually fairly well-taken. We haven't had quite the same robust debate about whether this is an effective policy, a moral policy, as we have had for many years -- and that's part of it -- about the waterboarding and enhanced interrogation.

The fact is, the drone policy is relatively new and that's part of the problem here, is that we've only been dealing with it for four, five years. It will take some time to get us to the same level of outrage, I think, as we have about waterboarding and torture.

SESNO: I'd like to commend O'Reilly, actually, for putting this issue four square in front of people. This is -- it's a really big thing, as I say.

And the question is, do the media lead or follow? The point you made about John McCain speaking out. Drones, we are -- there is sort of unilateral decision-making about who lives and who dies from the sky.

KURTZ: Right.

SESNO: And there are -- there is a lot of civilian consequence in all of this.

KURTZ: But the two political parties are not arguing about it because conservatives generally like the drone program and liberals, it could be said, are kind of siding with the president and that leaves the press --


SESNO: They don't want to talk about --

KURTZ: Let me take a half a minute to say, as I said on O'Reilly, there were some prominent exceptions here. "The New York Times" has done big stories, front page stories about the kill list and how it's done and contrasting Obama as a candidate, campaigning against torture and the Iraq war -- making those selections. "Newsweek" has reported on this. NBC's Richard Engel as well.

So, but, now, O'Reilly will say you're talking about the reporting, what about the commentators. Yes, liberal commentators giving Obama pass on this? I would say yes.

SESNO: They are giving Obama a pass on this. They're giving the country a pass on this. This is a national statement here what we're doing. HALL: I think it goes to the fact that Democratic presidents have been perceived as, quote, "weak on national security." I think a lot of people secretly were like go Obama when Osama bin Laden was killed and maybe even that way about the drones. And there is a certain hypocrisy about that.

SESNO: And it's not say and, you know, people may be watching this conversation like, oh, there you guys go, again. You're telling the liberal commentators to go condemn -- it's not about condemning the use of drones. They are a legitimate weapon and important weapon in the war that the United States and the world is fighting against terrorism, but how any weapon gets used and who is targeted is something that should be --

HALL: Or the secrecy around it.

SESNO: And the secrecy around it.

KURTZ: Right. And I do think that as I said that the press in general, this is not just the commentators, probably a little more inclined to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt on national security issues than was the case with George W. Bush, which was somewhat remnant of the way we got into the Iraq war.


SESNO: No, you think that George W. Bush didn't have virtual carte blanche from the political establishment in the media as he was watching.

KURTZ: In the beginning? Yes.

HALL: Yes.

SESNO: For a very long time.

KURTZ: Including all the years when Iraq was deteriorating?

SESNO: For a very long time. Certainly in the beginning getting in, and for a very long time thereafter, yes.

KURTZ: Paul Farhi, what about this notion that it is easy or more comfortable for those of us in the news business to jump on a story when, you know, the Republicans and Democrats are fighting about it, as was the case in waterboarding. And that was an important event for us to cover and that it is all too, all too convenient for us not to pop up our heads and make it an issue ourselves when, as in the case of drones, there's not a robust political debate going on.

FARHI: That's a great point. What people don't realize about the news media it often follows, in fact, almost always follows and does not lead in terms of debate. It waits for debate to break out and then it follows that debate.

And that's exactly what's happening here. Until you get a John McCain, until you get people on the left to really stand up and give those, you know, robust kinds of criticisms of the drone policy. We will be in the background. We will follow and wait for that.

KURTZ: All right.

By the way, I kidded O'Reilly about why he was skewering, referring to me as his old pal, here's how he ended the segment when I was on "The Factor."


O'REILLY: Sure, you'll get a lot of e-mail about it and run it on your show on Sunday and you'll get higher ratings, pal. Good work, me and you because you're my pal.


KURTZ: I thought his ratings would go up because I was going on.

Jane Hall, Frank Sesno, Paul Farhi, thanks very much for coming by this Sunday morning.

Up next, the pundits mostly praised the president's State of the Union. So why aren't Obama's proposals getting more media attention?


KURTZ: President Obama's speech may have been overshadowed by the Christopher Dorner shootout and Marco Rubio's water bottle, but the State of the Union was filled with plenty of proposals, big and small. And there was no shortage of punditry once the president was done.


ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: Stunning speech tonight being accepted very well by Democrats here on the Hill.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think it was a very effective address and did what he had to do.

MATTHEW DOWD, ABC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: I think all prescriptions that he had made about the economy will be forgotten.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The president's chance to lay out his second term agenda, the speech was aggressive on the economy, dramatic and emotional on the need to end gun violence.


KURTZ: So, are the media covering the State of the Union fairly or have they already moved on?

Joining us now in New York: Keli Goff, political correspondent for, and Will Cain, analyst for "The Blaze" and GBTV, also a CNN contributor.

Welcome. Will, the pundits gave the president's speech positive reviews. Is that a fair assessment, or in your view a bias one?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think the assessment in large part, whether it's fair or critical, has been shallow.

You asked just a moment ago whether or not the press has moved on. They moved on instantly, Howie, to the extent they gave it attention. Now, first of all, I think the State of the Union is a largely overrated event. It's incredibly boring. It's a kitchen sink type speech where you throw everything at it and see what stinks.

KURTZ: Boring? It's a major presidential address.

CAIN: Thomas Jefferson decided to mail it in, literally, and every president since, for 100 years followed. I think that might be a tradition we should return to.

But the shallow thing is important, Howie. You just in your last segment talked about drones. Well, in President Obama's speech, he said that they have crafted a rigorous, legal framework for the drone policy. We haven't been talking about that since. Is that true? He also embraced the idea of executive orders, right? Six years ago, the left would have been up in arms about President Bush talking about executive orders. But we haven't been talking about that.

We talked about tone. We talked about partisan cheerleading when that was good and we leave it at a shallow level and move on.

KURTZ: I can't argue very much with Will's assessment, Keli Goff, because if you look at the laundry list the president went through, $9 minimum wage, universal preschool, a pre-kindergarten, creating infrastructure jobs to help rebuild crumbling highways and reducing the nuclear stockpile with a few exceptions and some "New York Times" stories almost no serious media coverage of once in 24 hours was up.

GOFF: Well, let's not forget the refusal of the administration to put a price tag on anything and blatantly saying we're not going to put a price tag. We're not ready to do that yet.

But look, I think the easiest way to answer the question of whether or not the coverage -- the fairly positive coverage of the State of the Union's biased is this. Rush Limbaugh gave it two thumbs up. Now, last time I checked, he's not a huge fan of the president but he said, look, it was a good speech. I don't agree with the policy proposals --

KURTZ: Right, but Will's point would be, do we cover this too much in the realm of theatre criticism. It's a good speech certainly the president got a lot of attention in the final minutes of the speech when he made a very impassioned appeal for gun control.

I don't even care if people come on TV and want to talk about the politics of it and whether any of these things are going to pass. Instead it seemed like it vanished from the radar from the moment the president was done speaking, and that's not I think the media approach we would have seen a decade ago.

CAIN: Well, you just called it a theatre criticism, right? That's actually a very good way to put it. So we got to move on beyond that. Why is the media taking this role of shallow theatre critic instead of substantive policy analyst?

KURTZ: Afraid of boring people, perhaps.

CAIN: Well, I'll give you -- yes, I'll give you a couple reasons. One, that the media has been intellectually neutered. It's just incapable of doing it.

KURTZ: Why is that? Why is that? Interesting point, why is that?

CAIN: You know, I don't -- Keli, you sound like you might disagree with me. But I think that we don't -- honestly, we don't hire people who are capable of looking deeper into the issues. We hire political strategists and we hire reporters who have a role, but you have to look deeper into the issues.

And that means you have to understand the issues. Political strategists are meant to spin things politically and understand how they'll play in polls politically. Not someone who understands the deeper level of issues.

KURTZ: Keli?

GOFF: I am going to split the difference because I think that Will is certainly on to something, right? Because we all know sort of the big hullabaloo about Dick Morris and sort of the conflict you have when you have people like Karl Rove and Dick Morris, people who are paid to see a certain outcome in terms of being political consultants but then are asked to provide analysis that's not fair and balanced and not biased, so to speak. But I'm going to split the difference here and say that there is a larger issue at play, Howard, that I think you sort of covered in some of your earlier segments, which is the Kardashianism of all of pop culture that has seeped over to media.

And part of why the "State of the Union" didn't get the coverage it deserved is because of all the other stories that were getting covered, which is the Carnival cruise, Christopher Dorner. The only one that really got a substantive boost from the "State of the Union" address was Poland spring water.

CAIN: Don't forget, Keli, I was going to say, Keli, don't forget Marco Rubio's water sip. I agree with you 100 percent. It's intellectually bereft, it is political cheerleading and it's Kardashianism. And Marco Rubio's water sip fit right into that analysis.

KURTZ: But Will, was it that it was a funny, awkward, silly moment for the media and this started on Twitter as somebody mentioned earlier, or was there a certain amount of let's make fun of a Republican, potential Republican presidential candidate because he got a little thirsty? CAIN: It was both. So, let's be objective here. It was funny. It was really funny. What was funny was the way he locked into the camera, right, and kept his eyes. It was funny. But, Dave Weigel at Slate tweeted this. It was the media at its most Heatherish. Remember that movie? The original "Mean Girls." Yes, was that driven by some partisanship, absolutely.

GOFF: But can I just jump in and say one last thing here to show that it's not entirely partisan. The only other elected official that got almost as much coverage is Representative Cohen because of the Twitter-gate situation with his long lost daughter.

Again, is that more important than the policy issues that we should have been covering from the "State of the Union," absolutely not. But that's something that got more coverage than the president and his policy proposals as well.


KURTZ: Just to clarify, just to clarify, Steve Cohen, member of Congress tweeted a 24-year-old woman and people thought what's this relationship, and now he says it is a daughter that he did not know he had until a couple of years ago. I have got to get a break.

We'll come back with a more serious topic after some commercials. The late murderer Christopher Dorner is drawing praise from some pundits. What on earth explains that?


KURTZ: Christopher Dorner, who died in that California shootout this week would seem to qualify as a heinous human being, having killed four people, two of them police officers. But the former cop with his rantings about racism at the LAPD has in a bizarre twist been embraced as a hero by some on Twitter, and even some cable TV guests have seemed sympathetic.


MARC LAMONT HILL, CONTRIBUTOR, "HUFFINGTON POST": As far as Dorner himself goes, he has been like a real-life super hero to many people. Don't get me wrong what he did was awful, killing innocent people was bad. They're rooting for somebody who was wronged to get a kind of revenge against the system. It's almost like watched "Django Unchained" in real life. It's kind of exciting.


KURTZ: Kind of exciting, Keli Goff, I found those comments by Marc Lamont Hill who is a "Huffington Post" contributor absolutely offensive. Only one other guest on the CNN panel pushed back against him. Your thoughts?

GOFF: Well, Marc is a friend. We're going to have to disagree on this one because I find Christopher Dorner to have been what he did heinous, as well. I think what's interesting is "Buzz Feed" had a really fascinating article about the fact that his sort of supporters are more mainstream than you would think.

I mean, there are some interesting articles in Salon and even "Vice" magazine saying essentially what Marc conveyed, which is absolutely what he did in the end was wrong, but sort of we understand. That seemed to be the tone.

The other thing that is really fascinating about this, Howard, too is that he has some supporters from really unlikely places. It's not just sort of this African-American Django narrative, but you know, people like Alex Jones, who don't strike us as sort of someone who would take an African-American man who is said to have killed police officers --

KURTZ: A conservative radio talk show host. Let me jump in. Marc Lamont Hill did apologize to the victims' families on Bill O'Reilly's show, and O'Reilly rightly took him to task over this. I have to say, Will Cain, you know, I understand racism is a serious subject, L.A. police brutality, but people who say, aside from the fact that he killed a few people, he was making sense. It really troubles me.

CAIN: Yes, right, because it is an incredible illustration of overreaching. I also want to say this. Marc Lamont Hill is a stand- up guy. I like Marc, and what I appreciate about Marc is he tends to be thoughtful when most things are being covered at a superficial level, but he reached so far in his attempt to be thoughtful on this that he reached beyond the realm of sanity. And I would tell Marc that in person.

Here's the deal. Let's grant the premise there is a serious problem. There is a racism problem at the LAPD. Is Christopher Dorner your proxy? Is he your window to illustrate that problem, and the answer must almost unanimously must be no.

You can't turn this guy into the Alamo. You can't turn him into a rebel with a cause. He killed innocent people that had nothing to do with what his supposed cause is. And what Marc did then is not grant legitimacy to the cause. He grants legitimacy to the murderer.

He granted credibility to that guy. That's what is insane about it. That's Marc's mistake, and to the extent there's people out there that agree with that, that's absurd.

KURTZ: Just briefly, Keli. I have got a half minute. Are we in the media giving too much attention to his views when he is a mass murderer?

GOFF: Well, I believe the media always gives too much attention to the criminals and not enough attention to the victims. I mean, how many of us can actually name, say the full first and last names of the victims of this man? That's a tragedy and I think that's what the failure of the media.

But I think I will say that I think is a larger story here, Howard, is that these type of stories really feed into sort of the paranoia of the fringe right, of the people, the Alex Joneses of the world. When you have this whole debate of the audio that I know has been covered about whether or not the LAPD had planned to burn this man out.

Unfortunately, that is what sort of gives credence to people to say, I told you so. The mainstream media and the LAPD are not giving us the full information. That's what gives credence and credibility and makes heroes out of people like Chris Dorner. That's the tragedy of the way this was covered, I believe.

KURTZ: All right, Keli Goff and Will Cain, very lively discussion this morning. Thanks very much for stopping by.

Ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, the journalist who won the confidence of the man who shot Osama Bin Laden and those shooting holes in his account. A conversation with Phil Bronstein in just a moment.


KURTZ: It's the interview every journalist wanted with the man who killed Osama Bin Laden. Phil Bronstein, the former editor of the "San Francisco Chronicle" spent many hours with the one-time Navy SEAL and delivered a gripping narrative in "Esquire" magazine.

What made headlines is that the man he describes as the shooter is struggling financially, prompting Bronstein to ask, is this how America treats its heroes? Phil Bronstein, the executive chairman of the Center for Investigative Reporting joins me now from San Francisco. Welcome.


KURTZ: Obvious first question, how on earth did you find this guy, get access to him and did convince him to talk to you?

BRONSTEIN: Well, you know, Howie, it started really as a social interaction, some mutual friends. I had been an overseas correspondent for about nine years. I had gotten to know a lot of special operators in that time. I had been in war zones and I think that helped the connection.

People connected me to a guy described in the story as the mentor, who is also a former SEAL -- was in a SEAL team with the shooter and then went on to Blackwater and the CIA. So I started speaking with him over the phone and didn't know who he was. We got comfortable with each other.

He then made sure that I got in phone contact with the shooter, again, started anonymously, built up trust over a period of time and then I met him face-to-face and thus started a long relationship over a year and a quarter of hundreds of hours of discussion, interview, conversation about his life, not just the mission.

KURTZ: And when you spend hundreds of hours with someone over the course of more than a year and you have dinners and drink scotch and he played with your kids, is there any danger that you become too close to the subject and you become his advocate?

BRONSTEIN: I think, Howie, that the overarching answer to that is, yes, there is a danger and, no, it didn't happen. In this case, really, the point of the story was to illuminate the fact that these guys, unlike all the Jason Bourne movies and "Zero Dark Thirty" and documentaries paint them, often written by ex-SEALs themselves, as a kind of Jason Bourne character who can do anything, magical and make things happen.

Can take a hair pin and make an atomic bomb. These guys are human beings. So, my goal was to portray this particular guy who happened to serendipitously be there at the moment to shoot Bin Laden and kill Bin Laden as a human being.

We had stories that were hilariously funny and were sad. We had moments where he was contemplating suicide after tough deployments and to portray him as a human being to do the larger context.

To get back to your earlier question, this was one of the reasons that he decided to go ahead with this story is because we had, what we call, the greater good aspect, which is if we can let people know that a guy like this leaves the service, with not much in the way of services.

And not much in the way of transition help from the military side that it illuminates a problem that is otherwise hidden and in the dark because of what these guys do.

KURTZ: On that point, you know, this was kind of eye popping for you to report, the guy who had spent 16 years in the service and is a national hero for his role in the Bin Laden raid has no health care, you say, no pension. But as you know, after "Esquire" published a piece, he has access to five years of free health care. Wasn't that a glaring omission in your piece, Phil?

BRONSTEIN: Well, it was -- I think, Megan, the reporter for "Stars and Stripes" was doing her job. It turned out, I don't claim to understand the mystery of this, but the Center of Investigative Reporting version, digital version, had language, paragraphs and sentences in there talking about the five-year medical care plan.

It's not medical insurance. I still don't think it's comprehensive. I've read up until last night, I keep rereading all the V.A. documents. But we say it existed and we say some other services existed and the version that "Esquire" put up on its site.

In fact, it was already printed in "Esquire." There was a print copy that I had in my hands last Monday had it in it, too. But apparently the "Esquire" site digital version did not have that language in it.

So Megan was just noting that in her "Stars and Stripes" story. "Esquire" came out quite strongly saying, you got it wrong. It's in there. But it turned out not to have been in the version she read.

KURTZ: There are no space limitations on the internet and also the question of him not having a pension, but he was told, apparently, that you only get a pension if you stay in 20 years and he stayed in 16.

And "Esquire" just to make this clear, ran a correction saying in the story has misstated the extent of the five-year health care benefit. Larger point that this undercut your premise a bit, even though this former Navy SEAL is having some financial problems, that he was screwed, as you put it.

BRONSTEIN: Well, look, the fact is that the larger story was accurate. You know, I still, we could sit here and debate forever whether the insurance, the care that the V.A. provides for the vet, not for his family is comprehensive. Is it more service related, which is what we said.

We decided to make that statement and err on the side. Here is what the V.A. said. There is no pension, no one argued that fact and no protection for him or his family if he is outed as the guy who is the shooter, then all sorts of danger, one could imagine.

And government offered him -- they didn't even have a witness protection program. The Navy, the SEAL command but they said we can maybe change your identity and get you a job driving a beer truck in Milwaukee.

KURTZ: Yes, and he declined that.

BRONSTEIN: I think the answer to your question, Howie, it did not change the thrust of the story or the impact. There was huge. Talk about virility. You know, we got offers of help from everyone from Sean Hannity to Sean Penn.

KURTZ: We have about 20 seconds. Do you think he should be able to go public and reap the rewards or is that impossible because of the danger to him and his family?

BRONSTEIN: I think, you know, he's his own person. He is very independent. He is not broke and homeless, as some people have suggested. The story has said that he has gotten some consulting work in the last couple of months that has picked up.

So, I think if he's not identified, he will have a life that is OK. If he's identified, I think he'll have opportunities and dangers and he'll have to, you know, consult with his group of friends and supporters to decide what to do.

KURTZ: All right, thanks for coming by, Phil, and illuminating us on the story behind the story.

Still to come, the reporter who scooped the world on Pope Benedict stepping down and big bucks from a foundation and why Sarah Palin is right to mock "The Washington Post." Stay with us.


KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at hits and errors in the news business. When the stunning news emerged one day that Pope Benedict was resigning, one reporter got the scoop in an old-fashioned way. Giovanna Chirri, who covers the Vatican for Italy's Ansa news agency, watched the pope's speech and was able to translate it from Latin, so she could report before her rivals that Benedict would become the first pope in 600 years to resign. Chrirri, it turns out, also had to wrestle with her emotions, saying, "as a person I was really, really sorry. I admire Ratzinger,I respect him."

Jonah Lehrer, the former "New Yorker" writer dropped out of sight after admitting to a stunning series of fabrications and instances of plagiarism. Well, he resurfaced this week in a forum sponsored by the Knight Foundation and talked about his mistakes.


JONAH LEHRER, FORMER "NEW YORKER" WRITER: I need rules because I don't trust myself to not be arrogant. That's why I need my rules to force me to confront my mistakes and force me to deal with them every day. Simply listing my flaws and saying I'm arrogant will not make me humble.


KURTZ: Not sure what he has to feel arrogant about after his flameout for blatant dishonesty. And here's the really troubling part. Knight paid Lehrer $20,000 for his appearance, which feels like a big fat reward for such unethical behavior. The foundation now admits that was a mistake.

In a major embarrassment for "The Washington Post," the paper reported this week that Sarah Palin having been liberated from Fox News will be joining Al Jazeera America. Now given the fact that this makes absolutely no sense, what was the "Post" source?

The "Daily Current," which describes itself as a satirical web site whose stories are and I quote, "purely fictional." The "Post" ran a by-line piece online without doing any checking whatsoever. So much for the old two-source rule from Watergate.

Palin had some fun with this mishap tweeting the following, @washingtonpost I am having coffee with Elvis this week. He works at the Mocha Moose in Wasilla hashtag idiotmedia and who can blame her?

Every year, "Sports Illustrated" plans a big rollout for its breathlessly awaited swimsuit issue. This year's marketing hype included a planned segment with David Letterman, but the big unveiling was spoiled by a fashion blogger by the name of Pink Couture who got hold of the cover, featuring model Kate Upton wearing, well, not even wearing a bikini top.

Now being scooped by a nameless blogger must have been a disappointment for "SI" that sells more than a million copies of the issue, but, it's also more free publicity.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. If you missed our program, check us out on iTunes every Monday, just search for RELIABLE SOURCES in the iTunes store. We're 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.