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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
A Critical Lens on Howard Kurtz; Covering the New Boston Suspects
Aired May 5, 2013 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
The show has also been about turning a critical lens on the media. This time, the media mistake was mine, a big mistake, more than one, in fact.
Here is what happened and here is why I did what I did and why it was clearly, wrongly handled by me.
On Monday, I read the "Sports Illustrated" article by Jason Collins, the first pro male team athlete to come out publicly as gay. I read it too fast and carelessly missed that Jason Collins said he was engaged previously to a woman, and then wrote and commented that he was wrong to keep that from readers when, in fact, I was the one who was wrong.
My logic about what happened between Jason Collins and his former fiancee and was and wasn't disclosed in hindsight, well, I was wrong even to raise that and it showed a lack of sensitivity to the issue. Also, I didn't give him a chance to respond to my account before I wrote it and in addition, my first correction to story was not as complete and as full as it should have been.
A video where I discussed the issue, I wrongly jokingly referred to something that shouldn't have been joked about.
For all those reasons, I apologize to readers, to viewers and most importantly to Jason Collins and to his ex-fiancee. I hope at this very candid response may earn back your trust over time. It is something that I am committed to doing.
Within that regard, CNN has invited two media critics to turn the table and ask me the critical questions this morning. They are Dylan Byers, media reporter for "Politico", and David Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR News.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, NPR NEWS: Hi. Well, Howie, an extraordinary situation for an unusual week for yourself, in particular. Obviously, you have a number of roles. You wrote this about Jason Collins in your role as Washington bureau chief and critic for "The Daily Beast" and "Newsweek" online.
To be clear from your forthright apology now, as you now acknowledge you didn't fully and adequately read the article that Jason Collins wrote in "Sports Illustrated.", it does not sound like you fully watched or understood if you did the interview that George Stephanopoulos conducted on ABC News with Collins the next day.
So, you're a reporter on this who didn't bother reporting the story out I think by your account, what we've heard this morning.
KURTZ: I watched part of the George Stephanopoulos interview. I didn't see that particular part. But, look, the mistake that I made was sloppy and inexcusable. I'm not going to offer any extenuating circumstances. I screwed up.
And here's the broader point, you kind of touched on it right here, David, because I have been a media critic for two decades, I should be held to a higher standard, because I am the host of this program, I should be held to a higher standard. I deserve the criticism. I accept it and determined to learn from this episode.
FOLKENFLIK: Sure. Let's just unpack a little bit of that, though. In so doing, when you were confronted with information that you were wrong. Initially, you didn't really fully apologize. You sent out a tweet in which you ripped him anew, you said Collins didn't tell the whole story.
You're being very honest with us now, Howie. Why didn't you have the decency to apologize to him at that time when you knew what you had written was wrong?
KURTZ: What was I thinking? I wasn't thinking very clearly because he had played down the part about his former fiancee and she had been making the television rounds, I thought was an interesting fact to comment on.
But I somehow convinced myself, I guess I got it -- I handled it wrong and convinced myself that I could soft on the wording and partially apologized. That was wrong. I should have retracted it immediately. I acknowledged that was wrong.
DYLAN BYERS, POLITICO: And yet, your initial mistaken went beyond just a factual error. I mean, in this video that you did for the Web site "The Daily-Download," you also mocked him. You said he had played both sides of the court.
Why did you feel the need to mock him, especially after he had just come out to the world as the first pro gay male athlete?
KURTZ: That is the important point. I shouldn't have done that. My tone was totally inappropriate. What Jason Collins did was a difficult step and a courageous one. In fact, when an ESPN reporter criticized him saying that he shouldn't be considered a Christian and he was living a homosexual lifestyle, I found that offensive and I publicly criticized it.
It is his story to tell and I shouldn't have taken it lightly and I shouldn't have gone down the road of questioning or why he chose to emphasize or not emphasize certain things. BYERS: Right. Now, everybody in our business makes mistakes, obviously. You have made a number of mistakes, I would say, in the last three years. This is only the most recent.
You claimed to have interviewed Congressman Darrell Issa, and later admitted you'd actually interviewed one of his aides. You attributed a quote to Nancy Pelosi that it turns out she did not say. In addition to this, you also said that FOX News host Greta Van Susteren was casting doubts on Hillary Clinton's illness. In fact, she had been a defender against people who had cast such doubts.
Why so many mistakes?
KURTZ: Well, the last two of those were editing mistakes but they are mistakes nonetheless. In my career, I have written, spoken, blogged millions of words. The vast majority of those have been as accurate as humanly possible. In fact, I pride myself on double and triple checking the facts.
But there are times, being a human being, when I have slipped up. I have asked people to look at the totality of my record but it's certainly fair to point out where I have fallen short and in those instances I have fallen short.
BYERS: But regarding to this allegiance to the factual accuracy. I mean, we go back to how you go about the correction process when you do get something wrong. Certainly, with the Collins' post it seems like the labor the correction process in terms of at first trying to play down the fact that you got it wrong. Also in the case of the Issa interview it was months before readers knew that you had actually not interviewed the congressman, but interviewed his aide.
Why is it so hard to just -- as soon as you know you're wrong, just come out and say, "I'm sorry, I was wrong and nip that in the bud"?
KURTZ: I addressed those particular ones at the time. But you're right, I occasionally have been critical of other journalists who have been slow or reluctant to correct the record. There have been plenty of times when I have corrected the record.
Look, I would like to sit here and tell you that I will be so careful I will never make another mistake. I probably will. I try very hard not to take on too much, to be more careful certainly in the investigative work that I have done, including exposing Jason Blair 10 years ago this past week, the serial fabricator for "The New York Times". I double and triple checked everything.
Sometimes, under deadline pressure or when you're doing something quick and short where it's a little too hazy and decided when you should press a button. I have not been as careful and perhaps in a couple instances I have not been as quick as I should to correct the record. That is not going to happen, again.
BYERS: Now, on the day that "The Daily Beast" retracted this post about Jason Collins, that was the same day that they announced that you were parting ways. What were your reasons for parting ways with "The Daily Beast"?
KURTZ: Well, because of the unfortunate timing some people may have the impression that that is the reason I am leaving "The Daily Beast." In fact, this was already in the works. We were moving in different directions, after the closing of "Newsweek's" print edition, there were a lot of personnel changes. There was downsizing.
Both sides came to feel it was no longer a good fit and then this columnist mistake happened, which I take full responsibility. But the amicable divorce was already in the works.
FOLKENFLIK: So, let's talk a little bit about your multiple roles. You know, you had, we knew each other when you were back at "Washington Post". You moved more recently to "Daily Beast" where you both have served, I think is fair to say, as media critic and Washington bureau chief. You, nonetheless, were also here as the host of RELIABLE SOURCES and are CNN's media guy.
You have also been incredibly active on this other Web site, not known to much to the wider public that focuses on media and social media called "The Daily-Download." You've been so active on it, you promoted it so much when I follow you on Twitter.
Has the effort that you've expended on that venture distracted you from what were already the duties of two full-time jobs at "Daily Beast" and here at CNN?
KURTZ: Well, I have always had, despite all my prolific tweeting, as a way of promoting this new site, I've always had a -- it's always been a limited venture for me. I'm a contributor to "Daily Download" and paid on a freelance basis. I don't have any equity in the site. I don't have any role in the company that owns it. And my basic job was to make online videos.
Now, I'll leave it to others to judge whether I have taken on too much. I have always done print and TV. I shouldn't say always, but for a long time. My kids tell me I work too hard. It's hardly unusual in the multimedia world for people to take on multiple responsibilities.
And, by the way, I have been extremely open about my role on the news site "Daily Download". I disclosed it at CNN. I mentioned it several times here on the air. When I was negotiating for the job on "The Daily Beast", I disclosed in writing that I was involved in a limited way with this new venture.
FOLKENFLIK: Sure. I just want --
KURTZ: And it's on my Twitter page.
FOLKENFLIK: Of course. And I just want to drill down on that. You have mentioned on this show that you've been a contributor. First, I want to make sure, you are an unpaid adviser and paid as a freelance contributor to "Daily Download" as other people are.
KURTZ: Yes. FOLKENFLIK: Has that always been the case that you never had any other financial involvement with the firm, or any stake whatsoever in it?
KURTZ: I've never had any other financial involvement or stake whatsoever. I am a freelancer. My friend and colleague, Lauren Ashburn, who started the site and whose company owns it, asked me to make online videos.
Now, she's a very experienced television executive. She ran the television division of "USA Today". She's top official at Gannett Broadcasting. She's a former anchor. I thought it would be a valuable learning experience.
But has always been a small part of what I do. The vast majority of my efforts have gone into "The Daily Beast" and to my work at CNN.
FOLKENFLIK: The reason I asked this, I was told by two separate people in the last 48 hours that from your mouth, you had said that you were a founder in this venture in trying to help Lauren attract grants and trying to help Lauren establish this as a go-to site in a way that, you know, has been trying to do. Was that an unfair way for you to describe that? Or are we now hearing a slightly different version?
KURTZ: No, I --
FOLKENFLIK: Why did you say that at the time?
KURTZ: I am not a founder and I have only tried to help promote the site.
And I see it as not being very much different than my previous employers asking me to maybe sit next to advertisers at a dinner or a breakfast or have a talk with the board of directors. It's a new site and I was trying to help promote it. But I don't have any role in the management of it.
BYERS: So, let go back here. You look at everything we talked about today. You look at your factual errors. You look at your errors of judgment. You look at these questions about transparency.
If you were looking at yourself, let's say you were hosting this show and you were looking at somebody else, another journalist who had done this, what would you say about that journalist's credibility?
KURTZ: Well, I view credibility and trust something you have to earn day after day. I have had a pretty long career in which I have not only done television work and not only done newspaper work but written five books. I'd like to think that I built up a big store of credibility.
When you get something wrong, when you are too quick to say something without adequately checking, then you lose a little bit of that credibility. And that's why I say that I have thought about this very deeply, that I am determined to learn from it. But I would like it be viewed in the full context of my career.
And just one more thing -- I mean, this is not a ritual from me with you come on camera and say you're sorry and hope to move on. I am truly sorry about what happened. I believe deeply in good journalism and fair journalism, and I'm determined to learn from this episode and minimize the chances of anything like this happening again.
BYERS: If I could ask, if you didn't learn from the issue with Congressman Issa and you didn't learn from the issue with Pelosi and you didn't learn from the issue with Van Susteren -- why should we believe that you will learn from this issue?
KURTZ: Well, each of those episodes had certain complicating factors that I'm not going to relitigate now. But I have never -- although I am a media reporter, although, at "Daily Beast", I was primarily not a media reporter but managing the Washington bureau and writing and blogging and making videos for the site when the site was originally making videos.
I consider myself to be very careful. Now, you can go through and say you did this wrong and the year before you did this. What I'm saying to you is all of this matters to me and some people who say, well, maybe you had too much on your plate. I'll leave that to others to judge but I'm going to be very careful from this point on not to take on too much and to make sure that everything that I say on the air and everything that I commit to print or do in a video or anything like that is double and triple-checked.
FOLKENFLIK: So, fundamentally, you know, you certainly have a career in which you have done many things right. And as journalists, we're humbled about making mistakes. But others have been forced out at places, including CNN, news organizations, for lesser transgressions.
Why should we put stock in you as a media critic? Why should the audience of this show put its trust in you when so much of your recent work has been shown, at times, to be sloppy and even reckless?
KURTZ: Well, I would say we're talking here about a small minority of cases, but, again, you can make your own judgment, people at home can make their own judgment. I have -- I put in an enormous amount of work into this program to make it fair, accurate, balanced. I labor over the scripts, even the little banners that appear at the bottom of the screen. I do research for every guest, every interview, every segment.
I'd like to think that over time, people have seen that. That doesn't mean not I have occasionally said something that was wrong or off key and had to be corrected. So, again, we come back to the central point here.
I have worked very hard over the course of three decades to establish credibility and people are going to have to make their own judgment about weighing the occasional mistakes versus what I have done. But I am taking this very seriously. FOLKENFLIK: So, very quickly. We've got under a minute left. What changes that people can feel that it's not get minor things wrong, but get consequential, core parts of the story wrong in the future?
KURTZ: Well, you know, it's funny because I think that when I have done longer pieces, investigative work, that is where I am most careful and sometimes there is a tendency, perhaps in this 24-hour age and perhaps I have occasionally had lapses along those lines where you do something quick, where do you do something where you just hit the button that you don't check as carefully.
So, I am going to recommit myself right now and I'm glad that you're both here are asking me these questions and you and others should hold my accountable to be more careful than I ever have been before to try to minimize mistakes. And if I do make mistakes, hopefully not serious ones to own up to them and to acknowledge them as I am doing here this morning.
FOLKENFLIK: Thank you very much, Howie.
BYERS: Thank you, Howie
FOLKENFLIK: Appreciate the chance to ask you these questions.
KURTZ: Thank you, David Folkenflik, and thank you, Dylan Byers, for a very fair interview.
When we come back on this program, new details surface in the Boston bombing case and are news outlets being a little more cautious this time around in their reporting?
And later, conversation with "Doonesbury's" Garry Trudeau.
KURTZ: Just when it seemed the Boston bombing investigation was winding down, the police detained three new suspects this week all of them in connection with the aftermath of the attack. But has there been a new tune to the reporting suggesting that perhaps the media have learned a lesson from the chaotic of the bombing itself?
Joining us now, Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" and a CNN contributor. And Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for "The Chicago Sun Times."
When those three suspects were detained, Ryan Lizza, the media waited for the police announcement. And also made clear that these were Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's friends, helping with what you might call the alleged cover-up. I didn't see many of the conspiracy theories that I've been seeing earlier.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: People got it right and there was, you know, a change in the tone of the coverage. People are being more careful. Much more of a race to be first when something is dramatic and breaking as it was back on April 15th. You know, I think, also, what the media hadn't gotten credit for is, a lot of the cleanup that was done after the fact. "The New York Times" did a fantastic piece that went through and explained every single -- almost every single detail of what was initially reported, a lot coming from government sources that turned out wrong and correcting the record.
So, you know, as much as we beat up on ourselves and the media and rightfully so. When we get stuff wrong, we have a pretty good self-corrective mechanism in this business and a lot of good reporting that told viewers, told leaders what was initially wrong and most from government officials that was passed on.
KURTZ: But there's still a reliance on unnamed sources. For example, "New York Times" had done a very good job of this story the other day, saying the surviving suspect in the Boston marathon bombings told FBI interrogators that he and his brother considered suicide attacks and considered striking on the Fourth of July, according to two law enforcement officials.
Now, I'm not saying that was proven wrong, but I am saying it is hard in the police investigation not to use people who don't want their names attached.
LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: It's almost impossible at an investigation at this level that you're going to have attribution, according to FBI agent so and so. And the thing I want to point out, for all the talk about new media, or old media, mainstream, most of the facts, most of the developments on this whole terrible tragedy have been from reporters, traditional reporting outlets whether or not, you know, whatever their platform is, Howie.
KURTZ: Newsrooms, journalists.
SWEET: Yes. OK, and I think this tragedy has showed what real journalists do. Now, in the use of unnamed sources and FBI stories, just that's what you have to do to get started.
LIZZA: We have two stages of these stories, though.
LIZZA: When the news is breaking. It's when, frankly --
KURTZ: You see the sausage being made. It's real-time.
LIZZA: This isn't real-time.
KURTZ: What about Katherine Russell. She's, of course, the wife of this dead suspect. And here have been a number of pieces lately about her. She said she didn't know anything about this, but according to sources, those bombs were made in the apartment she shared with her husband.
Has she been treated unfairly or has been kind of under current in the media coverage that, well, maybe she did know something about it?
LIZZA: The coverage is pretty fair. I mean, the facts are obvious. She lived in this apartment. You know, it's been reported that her lawyer said she didn't speak Russian, maybe she didn't know what they were doing. The press is acting like your basic common sense person and looking at the facts that this is an obvious, potential suspect.
And she's being treated that way.
KURTZ: Do you agree with that?
SWEET: I do, because we still have a lot of news about her. There's profiles that have been written about her. She is not escaping the role of scrutiny and she is not being treated as just a grieving widow.
So, I think the context is there and it's very appropriate question to know what she knew and when she knew it.
LIZZA: If someone is building bombs in your apartment --
LIZZA: -- there is no, nobody in the media is supposed to treat you as if you're, you know --
SWEET: Right. And, by the way, in the first few days she was treated respectfully as a grieving widow. But as the story unfolded, this storyline shifted.
KURTZ: Obviously, these questions have to be asked. I'm glad there's not an excess of speculation in answering them.
Now, President Obama had a news conference this week, first one in a couple of months, I believe. He addressed the Boston bombing and he's also addressed this question by ABC's Jonathan Karl.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: My question to you, do you still have the juice to get the rest of your agenda through this Congress?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, if you put it that way, Jonathan, maybe I should just pack up and go home. Golly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Is that a perfectly fair question? Do you still have the juice, or was there little bit grandstanding involved?
LIZZA: So, my view on this is that if you cover the White House every day, you believe that the president and the White House is the center of the universe and the most important institution. And it leads to this fallacy that a lot of White House reporters have that the president can sort of wave a magic wand and get legislation passed, that just having the juice is what moves things in Washington.
I think that has been a problem with White House coverage, especially in the Obama years. But plenty before that, as well. Now --
KURTZ: In the --
LIZZA: In the press' defense, Obama himself when he ran in 2008 ran as someone who could overcome all the gridlock in Washington. But that's not the way it works. He had --
KURTZ: The president went on to say that, you know, I can't force Republicans to do anything. I can't make them behave. They have to be responsible.
So, the answer made a lot of news. So, clearly, it's a provocative question that elicit an interesting answer.
SWEET: I was in the room and the other reporters kind of -- when Jonathan said, have you got juice? There was a kind of a collective --
SWEET: Not a gasp. No, there's nothing wrong with what he asked. Kind of a little bit of head snapping that we're all listening carefully.
Here's where I want to respectfully disagree with my esteem colleague from "The New Yorker" on this. You have to figure out a way to ask questions that will plow new ground. That's the point of a press conference. And Obama talks a lot during the press conference and it is his platform and you have to find out a way to cut to the chase.
KURTZ: On that point, Jonathan Karl clearly was successful --
KURTZ: We have to go, Ryan Lizza, Lynn Sweet, thanks very much.
SWEET: Thank you.
KURTZ: Thanks for dropping by this morning.
Up next, the Jodi Arias murder trial heads to the finish line. Is the graphic sexual testimony driving the enormous media coverage?
KURTZ: The lurid spectacle known as the Jodi Arias murder trial has been going on for months and many in the media -- well, they have been wallowing in it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
RYAN OWENS, ABC NEWS: She's trying to convince the jury that Alexander treated her like a secret, a throw away sex object that he controlled in the years leading up to his brutal murder in June of 2008
JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HLN: Little red riding hood fantasies, raunchy phone sex. Was Jodi Arias a victim of sexual humiliation or a willing participant in kinky sexting?
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: So, what explains this constant coverage?
Joining us now in New York, Lisa Bloom, legal analyst for NBC's "Today" show and for the Web site, avo.com.
So, does this trial, Lisa, of Jodi Arias, a month who nobody had ever heard of, deserve this kind of constant and somewhat breathless coverage?
LISA BLOOM, AVO.COM: Well, Howie, I'm going to answer that in a minute but for one minute I'm going to go off script and just tell you, I am in awe of what you did at the top of this show. I think it's unprecedented frankly in the history of journalism.
I have never seen a journalist subject themselves to the kind of tough cross examination that you went through. I salute you for it. As you say, I myself had multiple media relationships. Avo.com, the "Today" show, I appear frequently on CNN and HLN. I run a law firm. I write books.
I mean, and this is the new era that we live in and I just salute you for what you did. The standard for journalists is not perfection. It's integrity and I think you demonstrated that very profoundly today.
KURTZ: Thank you. Now, let's talk about the trial.
BLOOM: Now, let's talk about the Jodi Arias case. What was the question? Is it too titillating? Is it too sensational? Is that the question?
KURTZ: That would be the question.
BLOOM: You know, it certainly is and some of the coverage has been, at other times, I think the coverage gives us the chance to talk about real questions in our legal system. This is a death penalty case. Has it become a circus? Maybe at times it has.
This is also an issue of domestic violence in this case, something I talked on air a lot. Has domestic violence been an excuse for somebody like Jodi Arias? She doesn't seem to be a domestic violence victim. Has it gone too far allowing defense attorneys to just slam people who are victims like Travis Alexander? So sometimes we get to talk about serious issues and cases that really catch fire with the public.
KURTZ: So the extent to which it has become a circus. And look, there are explicit and graphic voicemails and texts that were part of this trial. HLN, which is the sister network of CNN doesn't make any bones about the fact that it has become kind of a nonstop Jodi Arias network and gotten a huge surge in ratings.
But it's not that you have been a part of it when you talked about it on "Today" show and elsewhere, does it make you uncomfortable at all to be part of the circus?
BLOOM: Well, again, I don't think that my personal contribution is part of the circus because I like to talk about the serious issues. I am opposed to the death penalty, for example, in this case and every case. HLN, I know, also tends to not show some of the more awful, gory, crime photos.
I know that during the closing arguments they go out when it gets particularly salacious and graphic. But, you know, HLN covers trials. They cover trials very extensively. I used to be an anchor on "Court TV" for eight years. That's what we did. If people aren't interested in watching trials, they can turn the channel and come to CNN and watch another kind of news.
KURTZ: They certainly can turn the channel. Now another case evolving, a female defendant who was acquitted of murder is, of course, the Amanda Knox case. She has a book out. She did a big sit down with ABC's Diane Sawyer. Let me play a clip of that and ask you a question on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: She devil with an angel, heartless manipulator, concertante of sex, Sphinx of Perugia?
AMANDA KNOX: I haven't heard those. I mean, I've heard the gist of them and they're wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, that's also a case that involved the allegations of a kinky sex ring. So, what is it with these graphic cases and female defendants? Used to be missing white women and now it seems to be female defendants that get the media all wrapped up.
BLOOM: Right. And attractive, young, white women, if we're going to be honest, I mean, I would certainly like to see our trial coverage expanded to include people of other races. You almost never see the kind of breathless coverage that we see of Amanda Knox or Jodi Arias when it comes to an African-American woman or man.
Why is that the case? I mean, I'd like news directors to answer that question. An on air person like you, I don't get to pick the stories. You know, I can just choose whether they come on or not. So I think that's an important issue. We want to see these kinds of stories, though. We're interested in the justice system and I would like to think these are a window into the justice system.
KURTZ: Lisa Bloom, thanks so much. Ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, a conversation with cartoonist Garry Trudeau about his new online series on Amazon.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington with a check of the headlines. Syria's deputy foreign minister is calling an overnight air strike on the country a declaration of war by Israel. Syrian state television says Israeli rockets hit a government research facility in a Damascus suburb. Syria says it will retaliate against Israel in its own time and way.
The Taliban is claiming responsibility for a roadside bombing that killed five U.S. service members in Southern Afghanistan. The attack occurred Saturday in a Kandahar Province. Two NATO troops were also killed Saturday when an Afghan soldier turned his weapon on them. A third NATO soldier died after an insurgent attack in Northern Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's President Harmid Karzai says he had received assurances from the CIA that it will continue delivering cash to its office. Although the agency has been delivering bags full of money to Karzai for the past ten years, the practice sparked outrage after a "New York Times" report about the payments last week. Karzai says the money is used to pay salaries, help the war wounded and provide scholarships.
Those are your top stories. After the break, cartoonist Garry Trudeau tells Howard Kurtz why he decided to make the four main characters in his new online series Republicans.
KURTZ: Cartoonist Garry Trudeau's has written one of eight competing pilot episodes posted online by Amazon. His is called "Alpha House."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Tyler had another stroke last night. He withdrew from the race.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's good. Well, not for him, obviously. That's an outstanding development.
UNIDENTIFIED CALLE: Guess who just announced he's running now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who?
UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Jigger Mantracy, you're in a real race now, darling. You can't just sit in your little man cave any more waiting to be re-elected.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who smashes an iPhone? (END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I sat down with the creator of "Doonesbury" in New York.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Garry Trudeau, welcome.
GARRY TRUDEAU, CREATOR, "DOONESBURY": So happy to be here.
KURTZ: You're a professional cartoonist. Why did you want to make an online video pilot?
TRUDEAU: I had to be persuaded especially the online part. I'm not a newcomer to television. I've done a special and some pilots and a couple of series, but I did have to be talked into this.
KURTZ: Doing it for Amazon.
KURTZ: That means that TV is over and this is the new television.
TRUDEAU: Well, they have only been doing it for three or four months. I was kind of a pop up studio and they decided they wanted to get into the content business and because they're Amazon, they could do it quickly. They came up with a different model, which is, which is if we're going to spend all this money creating television shows. Shouldn't we know about whether the audience wants to watch them? And, so, they said, here's the deal. You can come and make a pilot for us, but we're going to put it on, you know, we're going to hang it up online --
KURTZ: And Americans go like this.
TRUDEAU: Yes, exactly.
KURTZ: Or like this.
TRUDEAU: And so, who wants to be troll bait? It wasn't something that appealed to me enormously originally, but then they thought about it and the process is actually, given the capability Amazon has for capturing very nuanced data, the process gives them more information about whether they should be making this show and it's transparent, it's democratic and rational and not just people with gut feelings and executive towers in L.A.
KURTZ: Well, the people who voted don't have the final say, but, obviously, it's a major factor. So you're up against seven other pilots by smart people --
KURTZ: A little nervous about this bake off? TRUDEAU: Well, they tried to discourage a competitive mindset with all of us. They said, if you guys make eight great pilots, we'd love to put eight great shows on the air. So that was never, that was never the dynamic, as we understood it. That may, in fact, may be B.S --
KURTZ: But you have John Goodman and Bill Murray, did they owe you a favor or something?
TRUDEAU: John Goodman -- no one was more surprised than I that he got involved. A year ago, I don't think anybody of that stature was running towards making online programming.
KURTZ: Kevin Spacey and now --
TRUDEAU: I think that was the thing. That was a big game changer and I also think that he likes the project and he decided in two days and we didn't get the push back that I imagined we would all across the board with cast and crew. Everybody -- no one blinked. No one said, no, this is web, we're not doing this. So, we got some very talented people from the film world and television world.
KURTZ: So I'm going to accuse you of having a cynical view of Washington because you have the congressional group House and you've got a senator who considers going to Afghanistan just to make sure he can get himself re-elected and then you have a Latino lawmaker and then you have an anti-gay lawmaker who goes and gets an award from Council for Normal Marriage. That how you view our nation?
TRUDEAU: Well, as you didn't say, all four of them are Republicans and they do share this House, this was based on an actual House. The reason they're Republican is actually a dramatic one, a creative one and not so much an ideological one. The Republicans are under a great deal of pressure. The three of the four senators were elected prior to the Tea Party, so, the game has changed considerably. They're defending themselves from the right.
KURTZ: So you're saying it's in service of the plot, not liberal Garry Trudeau joined this view of the GOP.
TRUDEAU: It is. The previous two shows I did, Tanner -- on Tanner, both were about liberal Democrats. One a candidate who was running for president and the other was a liberal do good filmmaker and I go to where I think I can make the story the most interesting. In the late '80s, the Democrats were in the wilderness. While I did give Tanner initially, what I hoped, a very sole steering speech at the beginning of the series, I don't do admirable people --
KURTZ: You made that clear. You were on Twitter for a while and you were hysterical when you dropped out. It is too risky being funny every day?
TRUDEAU: Not so much risky as it was really time consuming. I mean, I fell into the black hole. You tweet so you know --
KURTZ: It is time consuming. TRUDEAU: You know the danger.
KURTZ: I miss you on there.
TRUDEAU: Well, it was -- I mean, for me it was work. I wasn't just a pastime. I was trying to create comedy and I was trying to actually write good tweets.
KURTZ: You just made it look effortless.
TRUDEAU: Well, that's the goal.
KURTZ: The "Doonesbury" strip began in 1970. How have you managed to keep it fresh and relevant and keep yourself interested in writing a comic strip?
TRUDEAU: I'm a curious guy and I just kind of follow my curiosity. I dive into the news, as I'm sure you do every morning and it never ceases to intrigue me and fascinate me and draw me in. So, there's never any danger of fatigue in that sense. Also, because I write characters who age in real time, I have a multi-generational viewpoint.
And I find myself favoring the younger characters, as you might imagine, because younger characters are always in the process of becoming. They haven't -- they're not set in their ways and their behavior isn't as predictable. I have a lot of characters I can cast that are appropriate to any particular situation.
KURTZ: Right. Now, a while back you had one of the other characters make a plea for newspapers. It started out as a newspaper strip and it is still a newspaper strip. Why did you feel so passionate -- don't abandon the print press.
TRUDEAU: Well, it's not because of any reluctance to go online myself. I've been online since 1995 and it was creating CD-ROMS and did an early web show about 13 years ago. I embrace the web fully, but I'm a newspaper guy. That's where I started and I still read newspapers, the physical newspaper every morning. So, I do think, I do -- you know, you're always a product of what you came of age within. And I love newspapers.
KURTZ: I have to confess, I'm the same way.
TRUDEAU: One of the guys that probably turns out the lights.
KURTZ: Garry Trudeau, thank you for sitting under the lights with us.
TRUDEAU: My great pleasure. Thank you.
KURTZ: Still to come, former "Washington Post" reporter Elsa Walsh on life, family and journalism.
KURTZ: Elsa Walsh had a very provocative piece in the "Washington Post" recently about her life choices as a journalist and a mother. We sat down earlier here in the studio.
KURTZ: Elsa Walsh, welcome. Sheryl Sandberg has gotten good press for her book and yet you see her arguments as somewhat disconnected from reality.
ELSA WALSH, FORMER REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes, you know, Sheryl Sandberg was just in "Time" magazine. They called her the new boss of feminism and every couple of years, two years we have this debate about women and work. I think a lot of has gone really off track because what it misses really is just the whole sort of emotional center of relationships and family and children.
KURTZ: You put yourself at the center of this "Washington Post" piece. For example, tell the story about when your daughter was 4 years old and came in to your home office where you were working.
WALSH: Right. Well, I wanted to write about the emotional journey of being a mother and about a parent. And so I was a staff writer for the "New Yorker" and I was on deadline. I had been for several days. I had a 4 1/2-year-old daughter and I turned around and there I she was in her home office with her two suitcases, backpack and pajamas sticking out of it and she said I'm not leaving until you come and play with me.
And I was frustrated and I said I'm never going to finish unless you leave. I promptly marched her down stairs to her father and the next morning I woke up with a sense of dread of what have just happened and I wrote myself a note that says today is the day I'm going to change my life.
KURTZ: Lasting impact on you. In terms of changing your life, you had worked at the "Washington Post" and were a staff writer in the "New Yorker." Did becoming a mother prompt you to withdrawal from daily journalism? You talk about turning down assignments at times?
WALSH: Yes. I mean, when I work -- you know, working at the "New Yorker" you have a lot more control over your life and one of the things I recognize about my life and Sheryl Sandberg's life is that we have a lot of flexibility and options and choices that most other women don't.
KURTZ: You are both in affluent families, let's face it.
WALSH: Affluent families, a lot of help and resources, which most women don't have. But for me what I recognized was that it didn't really matter that much to the bigger world whether or not my article came out today, yesterday, in a week. But what really mattered to my daughter is that I was more present and it really mattered to me. So I did cut back, not completely, but in a way that I could be a full participant in her life. KURTZ: It is hard when you are wrapped up with the daily deadlines of journalism. You write success, particularly the kind Sandberg calls for requires ever more time with the office, ever more travel. I think that's particularly true in journalism in this world.
WALSH: I'm older than Sheryl. I'm 10, 12 years older than her. So I look at a different perspective and look at from the other -- lens of my child being about to go off to college and I felt like in reading -- there's a lot of good advice there, but it doesn't have that sense of sort of, what is at the center of your life is your relationships, love.
I got to the end of the book and wondered does she ever think she's going to die? It is so much about work. We shouldn't be talking so much about leaning in, but sort of leaning your own way.
KURTZ: Your own view of feminism, quotation marks included has changed. You write when you first got to the "Washington Post" you didn't have a desire to get married and you didn't see yourself having kids. Obviously, you now have both.
WALSH: Right, exactly. I mean, I still believe very strongly in the tenets of feminism, equal opportunity. But what I feel the women of my generation did is we fought for that for ourselves and didn't recognize that maybe we are failing our daughters by not saying that we need to have all of these structural and cultural changes.
We live in a culture of overwork. Sheryl Sandberg says in her book the way I deal with this is that I get up at 5:00 a.m. before my kids wake up and then they go to bed and then I'm on e-mail again.
KURTZ: In journalism, all of the rewards are for those who are available, available by text, phone, Twitter and that can clash with being a parent. Is this a debate, whether it is Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, is this a debate that's primarily among and about women?
WALSH: No --
KURTZ: Because that's also --
WALSH: No, it's not. One of things that I've noticed -- I had a huge outpouring of sort of emotional responses to my piece and hundreds and hundreds of e-mails and half of them had been from men. All ages of men, all saying, you know, I'm struggling with this, too.
KURTZ: You didn't mention in your piece that there was photo that your husband of Bob Woodward. Was that deliberate?
WALSH: You, I didn't mention my daughter's name either. It was a piece about the journey of a woman.
KURTZ: A woman was married to a pretty well-known journalist.
WALSH: It was about me. KURTZ: Did you feel compelled to write this? That you wanted to not only share what you had been through as a journalist, a person, as a woman, as a mom, but also to redirect this debate a little bit.
WALSH: I did. Yes, as I said earlier, I think the debate about this has gone a little off track. It has gone off the rails. We have the whole of debate about the gender police again. What is it that women should do? A little bit of finger wagging about you should be doing more.
And you know, if you want to be the CEO of a company, great, but not every woman wants to be that. Not every man wants to be that and a lot of people are trying to figure out how do I not have a life that's squeezed around my job but how do I have a life?
KURTZ: OK. Elsa Walsh, thanks very much for joining us today.
WALSH: Thank you.
KURTZ: Thanks for watching us this Sunday morning. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.