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ESPN Exposes Abusive Coach; Jay Leno to Be Replaced by Jimmy Fallon

Aired April 7, 2013 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: At first, Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice got a slap on the wrist. But that changed hours after ESPN aired footage of how he repeatedly abused his players during practice.


ERIC MURDOCK, FORMER RUTGERS DIRECTOR OF PLAYER DEVELOPMENT: Physically kicking players, firing balls at players from point blank range.



KURTZ: How did the sports network handle the story and the role of an assistant coach fired by the school? We'll ask a top ESPN reporter.

NBC doing damage control as the network finally admits it's dumping Jay Leno in favor of Jimmy Fallon. So, suddenly, they're playing nice.


JIMMY FALLON, COMEDIAN: Jay, can I ask you something? We're still friends, right?

JAY LENO, COMEDIAN: Yes. Of course, we're still friends.

FALLON: That's good.


KURTZ: Still friends. Well, look at "Tonight Show" switch and the legacy of late night comedy going back to Steve Allen and Johnny Carson.

She hasn't lifted a finger and yet her name is everywhere.









KURTZ: Why are the media swooning over the former secretary of state three and a half years before the next election?

Plus, the legacy of one of the greatest film critics in newspapers, on television and on Twitter.


ROGER EBERT, CHICAGO SUN TIMES FILM CRITIC: When I go to a great movie, I can live somebody else's life a little bit for a while. I can walk in somebody else's shoes.


KURTZ: A look at the remarkable career of Roger Ebert.

I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.


KURTZ: Top Rutgers University officials have already seen the devastating videotape showing coach Mike Rice not just kicking and throwing basketballs and shoving his players, but shouting anti-gay slurs and, yet, they let him off with just a three-game suspension until ESPN broke the story.


JOHN BARR, ESPN: This is just some of the video that led to Rice's suspension. "Outside the Lines" has obtained the roughly 30- minute video reviewed by Rutgers officials. There are shots of Rice heaving balls at players, even at their heads, which you can see better here when the tape is slowed down.


KURTZ: Just after he was fired by the university, Rice met with reporters and offered an apology.


RICE: I was wrong. And I want to tell everybody who's believed in me that I'm -- that I'm deeply sorry for the pain and the hardship that I've caused.


KURTZ: So, what does this tell us about sports journalism and the college basketball culture?

Joining us now in Atlanta, at the site of this year's final four, Andy Katz who covers college basketball for ESPN and senior writer for


ANDY KATZ, ESPN.COM: Thank you, Howard.

KURTZ: Well, thanks. When your network obtained these videos, how much time was spent on the story before it aired and was there an attempt to talk to Mike Rice and get his side?

KATZ: Yes, there was. This was one of the stories that was on the fast track because you know, Howard, so many different times when you're doing investigative work that it takes months, sometimes could be a year, you know, other times weeks to get it to air and, in this instance, this thing was on a fast track.

We've got a great investigative team led by Dwayne Bray and Christopher Buckle and you got great reporters you just heard there John Barr, leading the story here, Don Van Natta Jr. who we got from "New York Times", an exceptional writer, and producers behind the scene, with Greg Amante, Justine Gubar. They all were basically assigned and masked and then I sort of helped them behind the scenes with some numbers and sourcing to really tackle the story and get it on the air as soon as possible.

KURTZ: What does it tell us that the Rutgers officials who saw this same videotape showing this clearly abusive behavior, clear use of anti-gay slurs decided not to fire Mike Rice and literally almost overnight when ESPN showed that tape to the world, the university caved, the coach is gone?

KATZ: Well, Howie, we have seen this so many different times, whether it's sports or politics, public perception ends up changing the decisions of those in charge. In crisis management needs to be taught at all levels, whether it's government or sports, because they fail miserably.

I remember when this first happened, when he got the three-game suspension and the $50,000 fine, which is somewhat unprecedented for a college coach. And at the time, Tim Pernetti had said that the reason for the suspension, the reason for the fine was severe, but not severe enough, obviously, to be fired. Now --


KURTZ: For people who haven't followed it closely, Tim Pernetti, who's athletic director at Rutgers, who himself has now resigned in the aftermath.

Go ahead. KATZ: Right. And his letter that was published on the Rutgers Web site, very unique here, he said that he wanted to fire him initially, but due to sort of the legal ramifications and maybe cause, was not allowed to do so by the university. I remember talking to Mike Rice when this came out, the day before he went back from his suspension and he said that, you know, he's going to have to change the way he delivers the message, but his intensity and his passion would not change.

But, remember, Howard, this all occurred, most of these kind of incidents that were on the state, the first two years that he was at Rutgers. You know, they known for the manner in which he coached for quite a while.

KURTZ: Right. Let's talk about the role of Eric Murdock. He was the director of player development and he was fired by Rutgers last fall. He was a central figure in the ESPN story. He was quoted extensively, calling coach Rice's conduct outrageous. He is the guy who compiled the video and took it to Rutgers officials. It's pretty obvious he supplied this video to ESPN, as well, right?

KATZ: Well, I can't reveal whether or not he was the source or not. I will tell you, Howard, and you know this happens, where, you know, you have a disgruntled employee and he ends up speaking out, but the reality is, it's the facts. You know, whether or he has an agenda or not. This happens in various stories.

But when the truth comes out and you cannot hide behind the facts or the visuals, then it's somewhat irrelevant whether or not this particular person has an agenda, he just -- or she -- ends up getting the facts out to the public.

KURTZ: Right. But, of course, the fact that you rely heavily on Eric Murdock in this case, quoting him as criticizing of coach Rice, there were certainly players who said they didn't mind Rice's style.

But let me turn you to the most important development here --

KATZ: But there were other sources. I mean, there were other sources.

KURTZ: Yes, ESPN talked to a lot of people. You had the videotape and I agree with you no matter what Murdock's motivation, that videotape does not lie. It's very apparent what is going on there.

But "The New York Times" reporting late yesterday that the FBI is investigating Eric Murdock for possible or alleged extortion. He had asked the university for $950,000 payment in December.

So, is there any possibility here that ESPN was used by Eric Murdock to get, not only to get coach Rice fired, but in order to build up his own case against the university for the money he felt he was owed?

KATZ: I mean, I hope that's not true. But, clearly, what you saw, what everyone saw on the tape was valid. If there is a case now against Eric Murdock, you know, that's a story to cover, as well. And, you know, this clearly could be a case where you've got one person involved in the story who ends up becoming a story and could face potential charges or anything like that.

So, I mean, this story does have many layers. There are people, obviously, involved and it could have many offshoots where it could turn against the actual person. But I don't think we're going to find a case where you're going to have Mike Rice, for example, come out and say, you know, I shouldn't have been fired. Clearly, he is admitting that he was wrong and, in this case instance, the evidence came out, which, by the way, as we now learned, they had. They just chose not to render the more serious penalty in firing him.

KURTZ: Right. I mean, the political pressure is really high now, even calls by an ESPN columnist and many other commentators for the president of the university, Robert Barchi to resign. He didn't actually bother to look at the videotape, but he did bless the decision for the three-game suspension.

KATZ: Which is unfathomable. I don't know how he did not look at the tape. Especially what happened on that campus where you had a student who committed suicide based on, you know --

KURTZ: Being taunted over being gay.

KATZ: You know, basically -- yes, yes. So, I mean, they had to be more sensitive when you hear homophobic slurs on that tape. You know, you've got to be even more sensitive and take it to another level and really was irresponsible the way Rutgers initially handled this.

KURTZ: But you feel that ESPN adequately dealt with the question in Eric Murdock's decision in going public against Mike Rice?

KATZ: I do. I don't think there was anything wrong with, you know, what he said on camera. You know, how we got the tapes from a source. I don't think that's any problem. I think any other media outlet would run those tapes, if they had them.

And, you know, I have not heard anybody, anyone and I can tell you here at the Final Four, where usually the coaching fraternity sort of surrounds their own.

KURTZ: Right.

KATZ: Nobody, nobody is defending this at all and making it very clear to say that this is not the norm in college coaching.

KURTZ: But there are some exceptions in the media on FOX News, for example. Eric Bolling says the firing of mike rice amounts to the wussification of American men.

And here's FOX's Sean Hannity had to say the other day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: I can understand stop hitting them, maybe. But I like the intensity, I like the drive. I like that he's pushing those kids and he runs a tough ship.

Maybe we need more discipline in society and we don't have to be a bunch of wimps for the rest of our lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm all for competition.

HANNITY: My father hit me with a belt. I turned out OK.


KURTZ: Andy, what do you make of those who seem excusing --


KATZ: You know what's the problem with that?

KURTZ: Yes, go ahead.

KATZ: It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. OK, first of all, they were losing. OK? So, that tactic wasn't working.

You could clearly motivate without physical contact, without slurs. I mean, it's been proven time and time again at all levels of sport. You do not have to go to that level. You can position. You can adjust, you know, physically moving people in different sports.

But you cannot absolutely -- we saw that with the assistant Jimmy Martelli. You cannot physically hit someone.

KURTZ: Right.

KATZ: You can't throw things at someone. And you cannot --

KURTZ: Agreed.

KATZ: We're in a different era. You can't have those kind of homophobic slurs. You can't.

KURTZ: You absolutely you cannot.

Let me bust in with a last question, which is after the three- game suspension, the New Jersey press didn't get to the bottom of what had happened. For example, the anti-gay slurs, the extent of the abuse.

"Newark Star-Ledger" columnist Steve Politi writing, how did we miss it? He had been told that Mike Rice had thrown a plate of chicken Alfredo on the bus after a team loss. Why didn't the local press do you think go after this more aggressively at the top?

KATZ: I mean, I can't defend that either. You know, should we have gone further when he had the three-game suspension, the $50,000 fine? Which I'd say, $50,000, that's a lot for a coach who isn't making $3 million, $4 million.

So, I think we're all a little guilty of not pushing a little further at the time, but, you know, these practices. This is not a school where the practices are completely closed and there could have been other sources much earlier that would have exposed this. It might even harder to get the tape, but would have had people on the record or at least of sources saying this really was occurring.

KURTZ: All right. Andy Katz, thanks for joining us from the Final Four in Atlanta.

When we come back, Jay Leno finally making nice as NBC confirms it's dumping him for Jimmy Fallon. Will the new generation really change the late night comedy landscape?


KURTZ: "The Tonight Show" began back in 1954 with Steve Allen who turned it over to Jack Paar who was succeeded by Johnny Carson.


STEVE ALLEN, FORMER HOST, THE TONIGHT SHOW: Howdy, thanks very much. Thank you for letting me come into your homes. Just wanted to say before you could turn me off.

JOHNNY CARSON, FORMER HOST, THE TONIGHT SHOW: I'm Johnny Carson, by the way. This is "The Tonight Show." For those of you, we will pass out Rubik cubes during the monologue.


KURTZ: Carson retired in 1992 and Jay Leno beat out David Letterman for the coveted spot. Except NBC a couple years later -- a couple of years ago, I should say, pushed him aside for Conan O'Brien and then brought Jay back before word that they're dumping Jay, again, for Jimmy Fallon.

And just to show there are no hard feelings, Leno agreed to do a duet with his younger successor.


FALLON (singing): Only you every night you throw to me, Jay Leno, in the news, all they do was say I'm replacing you. They think I can woo the demo --

LENO (singing): The network said here's an idea, pack your bags, take a hike and be --


KURTZ: So, now that it's official and Fallon will take over next spring, next February, that is. Can this almost 60-year-old format be revitalized? Joining us now, media critic, Ken Tucker, an NPR contributor who wrote this week an in-depth piece on the late night wars for

Ken, welcome.


KURTZ: Was it important given the messiness of the situation and the leaks for NBC to make or encourage Jay Leno to play nice?

TUCKER: Yes. I mean, that staged bromance between Leno and Fallon, I think, is, you know, really indicative of how important NBC, they don't want a big mess on their hands.

KURTZ: Well, I think they created a big mess, the executives did. And they are still in the situation of dumping a guy who is in first place.

TUCKER: Yes, it's wonderful. I mean, it's wonderful.

KURTZ: You're enjoying it.

TUCKER: I'm totally enjoying it because it's not my money being thrown away by NBC by getting rid of the guy who's gotten more viewers, who's got more or less the same demo as Fallon does and they're going to give it to a guy who will get a smaller audience and who's going to essentially compete against the other Jimmy, Jimmy Fallon -- Jimmy Kimmel, I should say.

KURTZ: Yes, "New York Daily News" reporting that Leno got an extra $15 million to leave his contract early to run until almost, the end of 2014. Jimmy Fallon will draw a small audience in your view. You also question whether he, essentially, you know, he's the most cheerful man in late night, you write. Everybody likes Jimmy Fallon, but does he have the chops to do things like interview presidential candidates?

TUCKER: He doesn't. He has already proven he doesn't.

KURTZ: How did he do that?

TUCKER: He's had the president on. He's had Michelle Obama on.

KURTZ: That's right. They slow jam the news, of course.

TUCKER: Exactly.


TUCKER: And, so, Fallon, this is a guy who is not very mindful of "The Tonight Show" tradition. He said to another magazine, really, in all fairness, who cares?

And, you know, this is the guy we're entrusting with "Tonight Show" mantle. I think that the whole late night tradition went askew once Leno was put in that position. That it really should have -- the successor should have been Carson to Letterman because --

KURTZ: Dave agrees with you.

TUCKER: Yes, totally.

KURTZ: But maybe you're being a bit of a geezer here. Maybe this whole "Tonight Show" tradition, and I showed the clips of Steve Allen and there was Jack Paar and, of course, Johnny.

TUCKER: Right.

KURTZ: Maybe that doesn't matter any more to an increasingly younger audience who didn't grow up with these icons.

TUCKER: Well, it's called pop culture not cult culture. The whole idea is, if you're a network, you want to get a network that appeals to the whole populous, a show that appeals to the broadest audience.

And, right now, yes, what you're saying is that the audience is fragmented and what NBC is gambling on with Fallon is that he's so adept at Twitter and doing all these sketches that become viral videos that eventually that is going to somehow monetize and add more profits to them.

KURTZ: You seem to be heading -- I didn't mean to cut you off there -- that Fallon could be another Conan O'Brien, funny guy, passionate following among the young but when he took over for the seven months, "The Tonight Show" audience, the demo went down, but also so did the total numbers.

TUCKER: Right. And the demo didn't go down by that much. And now, what's -- Conan is now a shriveled carrot of a man. He's --



KURTZ: Comedically speaking, you say.

TUCKER: Yes, pushed to the margins. There's no buzz. And that's a possibility with Fallon. You know, if Fallon's ratings go in the tank, what's going to happen? Are they going to look again at Jay? Is Jay going to get that call in his garage, you know, tinkering at his motorcycles?

KURTZ: Some people think Jay truly never goes away.

Let's talk about David Letterman because you describe him as the last heir to the old tradition of "Tonight Show" and he is somebody who is not only comfortable interviewing heavyweight figures but in recent years has been delivering himself of various opinions.

I want to play a clip of him and Rachel Maddow the other night talking about same-sex marriage.


DAVID LETTERMAN, COMEDIAN: I'm just sick and tired and it has come close across the line of nonsense. This ongoing, politically nuanced, religious nuanced discussion of gay marriage, gay rights. It is absolute stupidity.


KURTZ: So, is Letterman the last, quote, "serious" late night comic?

TUCKER: In a certain sense. I think there's a core of seriousness to Letterman that makes him surge above his competitors at moments of great national import. After 9/11, he was the guy everybody turned to. The first guy everybody wanted to hear how he would frame it because we were told irony was dead. We were told humor would never be the same.

So, Letterman carries the whole tradition in his head. He is the last guy who makes the link from Steve Allen to Jack Paar to Carson to the present day.

KURTZ: And you would say Jimmy Fallon doesn't do that, and you would Jimmy Kimmel doesn't try to do that.

TUCKER: That's right. They're not interested. And Kimmel is an interesting example because he idolized Letterman. It's interesting to me what he picked up on from Letterman was Letterman's sense of irony and how to tweak the late-night format, but he doesn't reveal himself in a way that Letterman does. That Letterman will talk about politics, will talk about his young son, will talk about interests outside of television.

I think to be a classic late night host, you have to have interest beyond showbiz and introduce the next movie star to plug their product.

KURTZ: Interesting. Now, you also say that Jon Stewart on "Daily Show", of course, taking a couple months off and direct a movie, his brand of humor makes Leno and Letterman seemed like toothless, old man, your phrase.

TUCKER: Yes, exactly.

KURTZ: Because?

TUCKER: Because what both Stewart and Colbert are doing, they revolutionized the opening monologue segment of making the timely jokes. Those guys are making much more pointed timely jokes than either Leno or Letterman.

KURTZ: Very political. They play off the day's headlines in a way the other guys who have to play to a broad network audience don't have to.

TUCKER: That's right. KURTZ: Because if you get too political, and obviously Stewart leans to the left, you can offend those who don't agree.

TUCKER: And there are those that think Letterman leans to the left right now. So, it's an interesting situation.

I mean, one of the most interesting ideas I've heard thrown out there which was actually put forth Dick (INAUDIBLE) and a couple of other people, is that the real person to replace Letterman when he retires is Stephen Colbert, Stephen Colbert as himself, no longer doing his right wing character. I think that is a brilliant idea because I don't think anybody is doing a more brilliant job right now than Colbert.

KURTZ: You're even throwing the hat tip for Howard Stern.

All right. Well, Ken Tucker, thanks very much for this guided tour through the late night landscape which is about to under go a number of changes.

Up next, she's barely out of office and hasn't announced any political plan. So, why are journalists and pundits utterly fixated on Hillary Clinton more than three years before the next election?


KURTZ: It's hardly a secret that most Democrats want Hillary Clinton to run for president. So, why did "New York Times" play to stories that "A", she hasn't made up her mind, "B", her friends don't know what she is going to do and, "C", other candidates will wait and see what she does.

And with Hillary Clinton ramping up to this week to give her first speech, cable news could not get enough.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MNSBC: Nobody outside of incumbent presidents and not even some of them have in all the years since enjoyed a commanding position going into a presidential cycle such as Hillary Clinton.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: She's back. Hillary Clinton returning to the spotlight for the first time since she left the State Department.

AL SHARPTON, MSNBC: The Republicans are already worrying about Hillary and we have news today that maybe they should be.

DONNIE DEUTSCH, DEUTSCH INC.: Nobody more prepared. Secretary of state, eight years in the White House, this woman, she will be our next president.


KURTZ: I guess we could cancel the segment, she will be the next president.

Joining us to talk about all this, Erin McPike, Washington correspondent for CNN, and a former reporter for "Real Clear Politics". Matt Lewis, senior contributor at "The Daily Caller". And Roger Simon, chief political columnist for "Politico."

Let's start with "The New York Times" story of last weekend, Roger Simon. Why was this a front page story, just kind of re- examining and regurgitating all the chatter about Mrs. Clinton?

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO: We are the media and we don't do restraint, we do provocative. I mean, we're all tabloids now. We're all looking for the clicks and we're all looking for the eyeballs. We're all looking for the attention and what used to be a nothing story is now a front page story.

KURTZ: Easier and more fun, perhaps, than writing about the slow motion negotiations on immigration reform.

Matt Lewis, as I showed you those cable clips, we could have done another 10 minutes of highlights or lowlights and appetite seemingly on television for Hillary stories.

MATT LEWIS, THE DAILY CALLER: Right. Look, we could be talking about chained CPI or drones or other things, but there are worse more superficial stories than this.

KURTZ: It's not a superficial story. But one could possibly argue that is a premature story.

LEWIS: Yes. Well, here's what's worse than this, not just the prematureness, it's also the tone. It's the sense that she is this inevitable candidate, once again, and I think that is not the truth. I think that Hillary Clinton would be tied with Ronald Reagan as the oldest president, if she were elected. I think she has a lot of issues to overcome, but the tone seems to be she is this juggernaut and nobody can stop her. Look, Marco Rubio, and Bobby Jindal --

KURTZ: Well, you decide for a second whether or not she -- if she were the nominee could be the Republican. Erin McPike, you reported on Hillary mania for "THE LEAD" this week. You talked to her spokesman, who doesn't give many interviews. And he said, I would like to meet the folks who are saying this because they seem to know more than she does.

MCPIKE: Right, she hasn't decided and we are not even 100 days into President Obama's second term.

KURTZ: Right.

MCPIKE: And so basically Philip said she has to think this over. That's right and I think it's true she hasn't made up her mind.

KURTZ: We don't seem to care that she hasn't made up her mind. It almost seems like we are making up her mind for her. MCPIKE: And maybe she will be drawn into a race because she's drafted. That certainly is possible. Of course, she is going to consider it. Why wouldn't she if she is this big figure who is polling as well as she is right now.

Of course, she'll consider it. But I think it's wrong for everyone in the media to say it's 100 percent certain that she is going to run because she may have health concerns. Bill Clinton may have health concerns and that takes it from 100 percent to something much less than that.

KURTZ: A million things can happen in three years, a couple lifetimes in politics.

SIMON: If we're going to do premature stories on Secretary Clinton, let's do ones that are what she's going to realistically face if she does become a candidate. How good a job did she really do as secretary of state?

How good did she do between the Palestinians and the Israelis? How good did she do in Syria? How well did she do in Iran? How well did she do at Benghazi? You know, how well did she do in North Korea? These are the serious issues that Hillary Clinton will face in the primaries and the general --

KURTZ: And the reason we're seeing very little of that is --

SIMON: Because it's a serious stuff.

MCPIKE: Well, to that end, Republicans are driving this, too. There are new super PACs who will be feeding information on Hillary Clinton, especially on Benghazi and we're going to be seeing negative stories come out in the next few months in the run up to whether or not she decides to run. They don't want her to run and they're going to try to discourage her from doing so by feeding those various stories.

KURTZ: But your point, Matt Lewis, is that the tone of many of these stories. Look, obviously, she is a trailblazer. She is very popular. She would be the first woman president.

But the tone of many of these stories is very positive, bordering from positive to adulatory, except on Fox News, which doesn't talk about it much at all. So, do you feel like the media are trying to almost stage a carnation here?

MATT LEWIS, "THE DAILY CALLER": Well, I think so, but they'll turn on her, too. I mean, when that becomes more fun and interesting, but, look, she ran a horrible campaign last time.

KURTZ: Let me stop you for one second. Almost nobody points that out. Maureen Dowd in the column today about Hillary made -- this is somebody with a 30-point lead against Barack Obama and blew it.

LEWIS: Yes, but she was out maneuvered by Barack Obama and so what is to say she will run a great campaign this time. She has flip- flopped on a lot of issues including gay marriage where there was a video of her a few short years ago talking about the sanctity of marriage.

KURTZ: No, she didn't flip-flop. She evolved like Barack Obama evolved. Everybody evolves these days.

SIMON: All these stories are -- she will freeze out the other candidates. She will lock up the money. Neither is true. She didn't freeze out the other candidates in 2008.

KURTZ: But she has --

SIMON: Barack Obama ran --

LEWIS: The other problem is the generational problem now, too.

KURTZ: I don't want to get too deeply into politics.

LEWIS: Hand the torch to a new generation. She is the other direction.

KURTZ: It would be going backwards in terms of age from a younger Barack Obama.

SIMON: Because of the internet which is a communications medium --

KURTZ: You work for an online publication.

SIMON: I do. You cannot lock up the money any more. Anybody can raise money. You know, Ron Paul can raise $1 million in an evening. You could use the internet to launch and sustain virtually any campaign in America. Hillary will, I'm sorry, Secretary Clinton will raise a lot, but she has no way of locking up the money.

KURTZ: How much of this is driven, Erin McPike, by what I would call the ongoing Clinton soap opera? I mean, Hillary became famous in 1992 in the middle of the Jennifer Flower scandal and of course, there was the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Even now in 2008, there was a lot of talk about what would Bill's role be in her campaign, the big dog as he's called. So isn't that part of what makes this is a delicious story for the press?

MCPIKE: It's a great story because she has been in the federal government, essentially, since 1992. That's 20 years. Before that, she was first lady of Arkansas. She has been in the public eye since the '70s.

How great is it now, as a story, that she was so unpopular at certain times, but she has now left public office on the highest level of popularity she's ever had? So, of course, it's a good, and it's sort of a feel-good story for the media, too.

KURTZ: Much less polarizing figure if and when she gets back in the race. Before we go to break, I want to tease something, a web extra from our program. Imagine going on a dating web site and finding a stranger using your picture trying to get women. Talks to me about the experience on our web site, it's

Ahead on this program, did the media overreact to President Obama's joke about California's good looking attorney general?


KURTZ: President Obama caused a bit of a media flap this week at a fundraiser he praised on California's Attorney General Kamala Harris. He said she was brilliant. He said she was tough. He said she was dedicated and then he said she was the best-looking attorney general in the country. Can the president really not make a joke anymore? This clearly was a joke without getting his lungs ripped out?

MCPIKE: I think the lesson here is that everything that ever comes out of the president's mouth is news, which we should know. But what it also tells us is that our elected officials and particularly the president are held to a much higher standard. Because, let's face it, at least in Washington where we do a talk about attorneys general in the country, I can imagine that coming out of the mouth of anybody in Washington.

KURTZ: One thing if he was overheard on a microphone saying, she's hot. Clearly, it was a line and a lot of women on Fox, for example, and others on Fox defended the president, but Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC had mixed feelings. Let's take a quick look.


MIKA BRZEZINSKI, CO-HOST: I'm sure he meant to pay a compliment to her and he meant to be nice, but quite frankly, it just divides women and it divides people up to separate them by looks.


KURTZ: Is this the PC police run amuck?

LEWIS: What is wrong with being sexy? It's a compliment. This is political correctness run amuck.

KURTZ: I'm happy to have you here.

LEWIS: No, you were totally right, Howie. The problem is this is not just an example of one off of President Obama saying something. It is a microcosm of a larger societal problem and the fact that President Obama felt the need to apologize to her for saying she was tough and, by the way, attractive is a shame.

KURTZ: By the way, Barack Obama and Kamala Harris are friends. I met her a couple weeks ago here at CNN. She is smart and attractive. Also he says sometimes about men, a good-looking men.

SIMON: He called the secretary of the Navy a good-looking guy. He called the entire Pittsburgh Penguin hockey team good-looking guys. KURTZ: So he is promiscuous in his praise.

SIMON: But he's not promiscuous in his personal life and that's the standard for the media. This is why it is going to be a 24-hour wonder. There's no fertile ground. Is this a man who is sexist or is this a man who has promoted women to the Supreme Court and to the cabinet? You know, if Bill Clinton --

KURTZ: If Bill Clinton said it, everybody would have rolled their eyes. Quick slip of the tongue by Michelle Obama, she unlike the president was on tape. Let's take a look.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Believe me as a busy, single mother, or I shouldn't say single, as a busy mother, sometimes when you have the husband who is president, it can feel a little single, but he's there.


KURTZ: Is that a big deal? I mean, she does a lot of single parenting when the guy is on the road?

MCPIKE: That is not a standard I want to be held to because I have slips of the tongue all the time and if we are going to jump on everyone for every little word that they misspeak, we're doomed.

KURTZ: You know, the media often complain that our politicians are so scripted and everyone is choreographed and everyone is saying off the cuff and then as soon as they do, we savage them.

Before we go, Roger Simon, we're going to talk about Roger Ebert in the next segment. You knew him well and there is a story that you told on "Politico" about when you were in college, you were offered a job in "Chicago Sun-Times," you said no and you got a phone call from.

SIMON: From Roger Ebert.

KURTZ: And he said to you.

SIMON: He said get on the next train to Chicago. He took me to a newspaper bar and it was like a scene from "Deadline USA." I said, I got it be a part of this. Ebert said, look, nobody turns down newspapers. The best writing in America is being done at newspapers and you ought to be part of that. You know, he was right and I became a newspaper man because of Roger and it was the best advice I ever got.

KURTZ: But he was, among all his other talents, which we'll talk about after the break, he was, at heart, a newspaper man even after he became a big TV star. Matt Lewis, Erin McPike and Roger Simon, thanks very much for stopping by this Sunday morning.

For more than four decades in print on the air and online, the country gave his film criticism two thumbs up. A look at Roger Ebert's legacy in just a moment.


KURTZ: Roger Ebert began his career at the "Chicago Sun-Times" back in 1967, but it was until he launched a television show with Gene Siskel that he became a household name.


ROGER EBERT, CO-HOST: I'm Roger Ebert of the "Chicago Sun- Times."

GENE SISKEL: What about the tank?

EBERT: If I asked you, should I go see it?

SISKEL: You know what I would tell you, if you like James Bond, you'll like this one better.

EBERT: When we disagree, one of us is wrong. When we agree, both of us are right.

SISKEL: I give it thumbs up.


KURTZ: Even after Ebert, who died this week at age 70 developed cancer and was unable to speak, he continued his film criticism online an on Twitter. Joining us now from Seattle, Michael Medved, film critic and host of the syndicated "Michael Medved Radio Show."

Michael, what qualities stood out for you in Roger Ebert's approach to movies, his approach to reviewing and his approach to the whole genre?

MICHAEL MEDVED, SYNDICATED RADIO HOST: He was passionate about it, but I think you hit something very much earlier, which is he was originally and initially always at heart a writer and newspaper man. He's not somebody who came out of the movie industry. He came out of the newspaper business.

What he brought to it was sort of that zest, the use of colorful language. He was, had a belief as an entertaining writer and one of the things that I think has moved America so greatly is that his inspiration during 10 years of battling a devastating illness has provided more inspiration for the country than any other movie melodrama he ever reviewed.

KURTZ: I'm glad you mentioned that. I mean, he appeared even on television with a computer voice. He just would not give up and the quality of his thinking and his writing and continued to come through. You talk about his writing.

I'm happy to pick out one line from the millions and millions of words he wrote about a movie a decade or so ago called "Last Rights." He asked was there no one connected with this project who read the screenplay, considered the story, evaluated the proposed film and vomited. He did not minced words.

MEDVED: No, he didn't. One of his lines that I liked was reviewing the movie called "Brown Bunny." He once said, someday I will be thin, but "Brown Bunny" will still be a terrible movie. Roger was clever. He was entertaining. He was opinionated. What is fascinating to me, however, is that he is the last of a breed.

When he was at his peak with "Ebert and Siskel and the Movies," there were two other national movie review shows, one of which I co- hosted, "Sneak Previews," which was the show that he initially been on.

There was also "At the Movies" with Rex Reed and Bill Harris. Today, there is nothing like. Today, the networks don't have Gene Shallot at NBC or Joel Siegel at ABC. The big-time television movie critic is a thing of the past.

The reason for that is right now you don't have to wait until 3:00 in the morning somewhere to watch "Ebert and Siskel." You just have a click of a mouse and you're there on the internet and you have tons and tons of opinion and observation and movie clips, which used to be what we would deliver that was a very precious and rare commodity.

KURTZ: So has something been lost, not just, of course, with the passing of Roger Ebert, but the time when newspaper film critics were important and would be going on television was something that would make you well known to millions of people and now people go to web site "Rotten Tomatoes" and see how many tomatoes a film or movie got.

MEDVED: Yes, I do. I mean, I think what has been lost is personality. I mean, if you take a look at the people that I mentioned, Rex Reed "At the Movies." Rex is still there, but he is not a major figure in the way he used to be.

The fact is people it has been democratized. It's been spread out. There's more information available, but at the same time, there's less personality. There's less flair. What people used to enjoy was the idea of Roger and Gene bickering and they were fiercely competitive.

I mean, Roger had sharp elbows. He was a tough competitor, but here with the huge national outpouring of grief and honor, which is appropriate. He has won the ultimate competition with his long time cross town rival Gene Siskel who passed away in '99 with a lot less attention.

KURTZ: Right. But some people complain at the time that the whole idea of doing a television show about movie criticism, and the whole thumbs up and thumbs down thing that it may be dumb down the genre.

MEDVED: Again, I mean, how can you dumb down movies? One of the things that Roger said, we had a debate. I mean, three-quarters of movies are pretty dumb any way. So this idea, basically why do people need movie reviews? Why do they go to movie reviewers for? They go to film reviewers to try to determine whether it is worth investing my time and my money in seeing this particular film. By the way, that's another reason that film critics are less important today is today the theatrical distribution of a film brings only a very small percentage of its total revenue.

A lot of it is overseas and not necessarily the same release date and a lot of it is what they call physical media, things like DVD and even online. So it is no longer the big focus on opening weekend at the multiplex.

KURTZ: All right, in our final half minute, Michael Medved, why has the passing of Roger Ebert generated so much coverage, so much commentary? It seems like there was a lot of affection for this guy even as the era he represented as you've just said has passed?

MEDVED: Because he is the last of the breed. The last big-time movie celebrity critic and really he will be the last one. The other aspect is people grew up with him and finally he was so inspirational, his work ethic, working through his illness and adversity. That was something that people won't forget, nor should they.

KURTZ: I think you have nailed it. You know, I think a lot of people that never met Roger Ebert, you know, felt a connection to him, either through his television show, his online work, his very clever tweets, all of that leaving behind quite a legacy for us to talk about. Michael Medved, thanks very much for stopping by.

MEDVED: My great pleasure.

KURTZ: Still to come, the profile of an ethical Wall Street banker turned internet media mogul, a new debate over the term illegal immigrant and the "New York Times" botches an obituary that shouldn't be rocket science. 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.

Here's what I like, (inaudible) New Yorker profile of Henry Blodget and how he built business insider into an irreverent and phenomenally popular web site that often strays beyond business.

Blodget is also a former high flying Wall Street analyst who was barred from the securities business and had to pay a $4 million fine for touting dot com stocks he was privately savaging. He didn't shy away from it. He was humiliated by what happened and would like to gain the right to work in investment banking if only to clear his name.

The Associated Press has banned the use of the term illegal immigrant except in direct quotes. The "Wired" saying it is fine to talk about illegal immigration, but the people themselves shouldn't be described as an illegal. But the term is in fact accurate for those that broke the law to come to this country. I find the AP's decision a bit too politically correct. "New York Times" and other papers, by the way, are considering the same move.

Now this isn't rocket science, but the "New York Times" managed to blow it up. Yvonne Brille was an amazing NASA scientist who won a presidential technology award. When she died at the age of 88, this is how the times obit began. She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off of work to raise three children.

The world's best mom, her son, Matthew said, yes, her skill as a cook and mother was deemed worthy of the lead paragraph not the thing that made Brille her incredible career. It was such a storm of criticism on Twitter and elsewhere that the "Times" modified the online version saying she was a brilliant rocket scientist who followed her husband, was great mom, et cetera. Well, no more beef stroganoff at least.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. If you missed our program, go to iTunes on Mondays, check out our podcast, just search for RELIABLE SOURCES in the iTunes store.

We are 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.