Return to Transcripts main page


AP Under Assault; Obama Story All Wet?; ABC's Talking Point Flub

Aired May 19, 2013 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: I just got off the phone with Jonathan Karl, ABC's chief White House correspondent, who for the first time is expressing regret for his reporting on the administration's Benghazi talking points. We'll bring you that, exclusively.

Karl's scoop backfired part of his story turned out has been based on an inaccurate summary of e-mails that made things look worse for the White House. And that has sparked all kinds of questions.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: We now know that ABC had not obtained e- mails. ABC bizarrely decided to update their story, but not correct it. They decided not to apologize for it, or retract this false thing that they published.


KURTZ: Should ABC now retract its error in the talking points story?

It was almost like a declaration of war against the media. The Justice Department secretly seizing two months of phone records involving "Associated Press" reporters and editors without so much as a subpoena to the wire service.

The president's spokesman insisting that his boss really does care about freedom of the press.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is a strong defender of the First Amendment, and a firm believer in the need for the press to be unfettered in its ability to conduct investigative reporting. Unfettered investigative journalism. An unfettered press. Unfettered in its pursuit of investigative journalism. Pursue investigative journalism and be unfettered in that pursuit.


KURTZ: Unfettered, got that. But can a leak investigation justify that move against "The A.P."? And as scandal coverage continues to mushroom involving the IRS and other agencies, is the press turning on the president?

Plus, Angelina Jolie reveals that she underwent a double mastectomy to avoid the possibility of breast cancer. We'll talk to a journalist who just had that story about why she decided to share the details with the world.

I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.


KURTZ: This administration is hardly the first to go after reporters sources, although the Obama Justice Department has been particularly aggressive about it. But the way in which federal prosecutors secretly went after 'The A.P." obtaining phone records potentially involving more than 100 journalists is sweeping, almost stunning in its scope.

Attorney Eric Holder deflecting questions by saying he'd already recused himself of the case, but that the disclosure has clearly infuriated the media establishment.


CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST: It is totally inexcusable. The object of it is to intimidate people who talk to reporters.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The administration is not violating the First Amendment, but they are certainly doing more than has ever been done before in pursuing the private information of journalists.

ANDREA TANTAROS, FOX NEWS: I mean, they really don't like to be accused of stomping all over the First Amendment, but it's exactly what they're doing.


KURTZ: We get to our media analyst in just a moment. But, first, I spoke earlier with long-time "A.P." correspondent Jennifer Loven, who covered the White House under President Obama and President Bush.


KURTZ: When you found out about the extent of the phone records seized by the Justice Department from "The A.P.", what was your gut reaction?

JENNIFER LOVEN, FORMER A.P. CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm a former "A.P." reporter, so my gut reaction was to be pretty concerned, pretty appalled. But I think --

KURTZ: Were you angry?

LOVEN: Of course I was angry.

KURTZ: Are your former colleagues angry?

LOVEN: Of course they're angry.

KURTZ: Is there a sense of being violated by the government?

LOVEN: Look, I think -- I think those are -- I think that's an important question. But I think, to me, the broader question is the question of access, right? It's not about "The A.P.". It's not about what happened to "The A.P.".

It's about the issue of access in general and the Obama administration definition of classified information.

KURTZ: In fact --

LOVEN: Their definition of "unfettered" which is a word we're hearing a lot these days.

KURTZ: Unfettered domestic reporting.

LOVEN: Right.

KURTZ: Justice Department says this was necessary in the course of investigating national security leaks and President Obama said the other day, no apologies for what was done to "The A.P."

LOVEN: Right, which I think -- look, I think, again, he doesn't owe an apology to "The A.P.", necessarily, but I think "The A.P.", what it stands for is this administration's aggressive prosecution of leaks. More, I mean, it's a statistic we have heard a lot lately, which is that he is -- his administration is prosecuting leak investigations at the rate double all of his predecessors combined.

It bears repeating because it's an amazing statistic that that is the stance that President Obama would take.

KURTZ: But talk about the impact on journalists trying to do their jobs. Is there -- to use the cliche -- a chilling effect?

LOVEN: I think that there probably is. But what I would say is that, I think you know this as well as I do, that reporters aren't easily chilled, right?

KURTZ: But sources can be chilled.

LOVEN: Sources can be chilled.

KURTZ: Somebody might find out who they were talking to on the phone at "The Associated Press" or any other news organization.

LOVEN: Correct. So, I think a reporter knows their phone is tapped they're like, OK, fine, my phone is tapped. I'm going to keep making calls. I'm going to keep taking calls.

But your point is exactly right, how many people will return those calls? How many people will actually reach out to them to give them information, that needs to get out to the public?

You can have a debate about hat is in the interest of national security to keep private. But, the classifications, the classified material, it goes really, really far.

KURTZ: Talk about the culture of "The A.P.", which, of course, serves all news organizations. You think the news organization is comfortable being in the news and being in the spotlight, being part of the story?

LOVEN: "The A.P.'s" hallmark is to be the objective arbiter of the news and events around the world every single day and that's what "A.P." journalists strive to do, is to be the behind-the-camera, behind the story, not to be the story.

So, I'm sure it feels like an uncomfortable position to be in. At the same time --

KURTZ: But in this case, important to speak out.

LOVEN: Right. Absolutely.

KURTZ: Because?

LOVEN: And I think that they're -- I think they're speaking out. I think they are fighting aggressively against this effort by the administration, as they should.

KURTZ: Jennifer Loven, thanks very much for talking with us.

LOVEN: Thanks. Very glad to be here.


KURTZ: She says "The A.P." is speaking out, but the organization declined our request to have somebody appear, executive appear on this program.

Now, joining us to examine the clash between the fourth estate and the government desire to track down national security leakers: here in Washington, Joe Concha, reporter for, and Jane Hall, associate professor with the American University's School of Communications.

And, Jane, with dozens of "A.P." reporters in three different offices, potentially affected by the seizure of these phone records, the cliche is it has a chilling effect. I would say it seems almost subzero.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION: Well, you know, I think it is. And, you know, the problem is that it's not really about the journalists. It's about the role of the media in the democracy. And journalists need to be better to explain that it is important.

It is true that the Obama administration has gone after more leakers than all of the other administrations in the last few years combined. And they say they're for whistleblowers, but they are now secretly going after phone records. They don't even need to both to subpoena the reporter and get the reporter to talk any more.

KURTZ: In that kind of environment why would any source worried about his or her job or his or her security, talk to a reporter and risk exposure.

JOE CONCHA, MEDIAITE.COM: Howie, they may not. Reporters need to be able to do their job without big brother watching over them. Sources need to be able to tell a story or go behind the scenes or whistle-blow without being fear of being exposed. You take that away -- look, in Boston there is a race to be first, right, and then there are mistakes made and the race to be accurate.

And the ones -- the reporters that won the day were the ones most accurate because they have the most, you know, pun intended, reliable sources around. OK?

So, you know, this isn't just one or two reporters, Howie, they're going after.

KURTZ: I understand.

CONCHA: They went after 100 reporters in two months. That's a wide dragnet.

KURTZ: It is. Let's look at both sides of this. Doesn't the government have a legitimate right to protect national security secrets? And, in fact, although, some people are calling this a scandal, what the Justice Department did was legal. Now, these -- going after these phone records or other private information of journalists is supposed to be a narrowly drawn operation and news organizations are supposed to be notified so they can object, but there is an exception in the rule which justice invoked in the case, if there is a substantial threat to the investigation.

So, address, please, the question of whether or not the Justice Department also has a responsibility to protect classified information.

HALL: They do have a responsibility to protect classified information, but there are a lot of facts that are very murky about this and they have had a policy with which "The A.P." cooperated. "The A.P." held the story for several days because they said there was a real security risk. They've had a policy of notifying and this is supposed to be a court of last resort.

KURTZ: That's a really important point. What is at issue here, we believe, is a story in which "The A.P." found out about a terror plot that was being hatched in Yemen and in which somebody was going to try to smuggle a bomb on to an airline. And so, at the request of the administration, "The A.P." did hold that story and was asked to hold the story one more day and refused because in that one more day, the administration was going to have a press conference and reveal the fact that the plot had been foiled. So, I'm not clear -- it's not clear to me that "The A.P." was in any way revealing or planning to reveal any national security secrets, although, obviously, sources and methods can be compromised in this kind of case.

CONCHA: Sure. CIA gave clearance to "A.P.", saying, OK, guys, you're fine to run the story.

The White House gets involved and it becomes political, because they want to be there to take credit for it before the story gets out.

And the problem is, when you talk about 100 reporters in over two months, that wide spot I was talking about, you know what it tells me, Howard? They have no idea what they're looking for.

KURTZ: You're saying it's a fishing expedition.

CONCHA: Of course, it is, because it will go down to maybe three reporters and a couple phone lines in maybe a week. Two months means, let's see. Or it's a vengeful act to show "A.P.", hey, don't mess with us because we're going to mess with you.

KURTZ: And, of course, that dragnet brings in other reporters who are working on other stories whom they have confidential sources they don't want compromised. But, look, I don't know, there is a poll now, a CNN poll showing that a majority of people consider this a serious issue.

But is there any possibility here that the press is exaggerating the importance of this disagreement between one news organization and the Department of Justice because our own special interests are threatened and there is a knee-jerk reaction to say, hey, they shouldn't do that to reporters?

HALL: Well, there may be a knee jerk reaction. I think we need to do P.R. for the First Amendment. The First Amendment is for the democracy. It's a constitutionally-protected profession journalism.

We need to be --

KURTZ: Wait, when you say the First Amendment, Jane, that suggests that the government was trying to stop publication. Now, it's a --

HALL: That suggested the government is going on a fishing expedition to stop leaks and to intrude on the news gathering process of a lot of reporters who weren't even on this story.

KURTZ: Well, again, to play devil's advocate, while it is illegal and, indeed, about half dozen people have been prosecuted by the Obama Justice Department, for leaking classified information, it is not illegal for journalists to receive it. Now, maybe that's a fine distinction.

HALL: Yes.

KURTZ: So, the government prosecutors say, look, the only way we can find out who did it, is by looking at the journalists.

HALL: Well, you know, part of the problem is after WikiLeaks and after 9/11, a lot of people, of course, feel that the government needs to protect us. And so, I think we need to have a better explanation of how you balance the need for national security and need for newscast.

CONCHA: You know what I love about the story, that President Obama came out and said, you know what? I want to talk about getting a journalist shield law in place, again. Or not again, but -- there was a bill out in 2009. It died on the floor.

KURTZ: Well, it died on the floor without any support from the administration.

CONCHA: Yes, exactly. But that's like going to the mob and saying, hey -- the mob saying, hey, we're here to protect you. OK, so I pay you, and who are you going it protect me from? From us?

So, that's the irony of it. We're going to shield you from us by putting together this law, because they're going after phone records.

KURTZ: I'm not sure the administration would appreciate that analogy to the mafia.

But let me make clear this was not a new issue, that there was a heated and repeated clashes between news organizations and the Bush administration during those years. President Bush, Vice President Cheney, constantly, or I shouldn't say constantly but periodically criticizing the press for publishing leaks.

Here's for example, a clip for the 43rd president criticizing "The New York Times" for publishing the details of the big, surveillance program the administration had mounted.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: The disclosure of this program is disgraceful. We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America. And for people to leak that program and for a newspaper to publish it, it does great harm to the United States of America.


KURTZ: And while President Obama said he wants to balance the president's interest to be aggressive in its reporting and the government's interest in protecting secrets, he also said at the news conference, no apologies for what the Department of Justice has done.

HALL: He said -- he did. He said no apologies and Eric Holder sort of seemed to not, you know, said he recused himself. Didn't even say he signed off on it. I mean, didn't -- wasn't even clear in the hearings about who had signed off on it. His deputy, they're not apologizing. I think what's surprising is a lot of people thought the Obama administration was liberal. They have not been liberal, if you want to characterize it on that way on this issue, and a lot of people don't know that.

CONCHA: It's Bush times 10. Look at the drone program.

KURTZ: Well, let's not get into that.

But are journalists so personally offended, you saw the questioning of Jay Carney in the briefing room, by not just the sweeping nature of obtaining these phone records, but the fact that there was no notification to "The A.P.", no chance to defend, no chance to argue, that it influences the tone of the press coverage, not just on this issue, but on IRS, Benghazi talking points, and the other scandals swirling around the White House right now.

CONCHA: Exactly. This affects reporters directly. So, obviously, they're going to be a little bit more adversarial with the administration as a result of this.

KURTZ: But that sounds unfair. In other words, because my interests are now threatened, I'm a journalist, I don't like what you did to these other journalists, I'm now going to be harder on you. I'm now going to be more adversarial -- to use you words -- that sounds like bias.

CONCHA: Well, it's completely selfish. But, let's face it, we're a selfish society.

KURTZ: Human nature cannot be divorce I think from questions of coverage.

Let me get a break here. When we come back, "Bloomberg News" apologizes for peeking at customer information.


KURTZ: "Bloomberg News" apologized this week for long-standing practice in which its reporters could look at limited information on corporate and government customers through the company's data terminals. Editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler writing, "Our reporter should not have access to any data considered propriety, I'm sorry they did. The error is inexcusable.

How serious a matter is this, Joe Concha?

CONCHA: Well, it's not surprising that Mike Bloomberg is somehow involved with this. I know he hasn't been involved --

KURTZ: He's not involved with this. He's the mayor of the city of New York and he doesn't --

CONCHA: I get it. It's his company and his name is on it.

KURTZ: Right. CONCHA: So, as far as I'm concerned, he does bear some responsibility.

KURTZ: Well, he doesn't have anything to do with running the company, how does he bear responsibility?

CONCHA: Well, his -- this program began back in the '90 when he was running it. So, it was just carried on.

KURTZ: I see. OK.

CONCHA: Right to this point.

KURTZ: We should say that Bloomberg has now hired an outside expert and promoted somebody to review privacy and other policy. So, he's taking the matter very seriously. The information you can look on such things like logon information, see how (INAUDIBLE) somebody had been on the date terminals. How serious a matter do you regard this as?

HALL: Well, I think it's pretty serious in the sense that we can't as media reporters say, the government shouldn't be spying on us and then be spying on clients. We had one of those cool terminals when I was at "L.A. Times", I had no idea it could see the other direction.

KURTZ: Right.

HALL: It is serious and it seems a little odd for them to have done it until it was exposed, which is also not such a great thing.

KURTZ: Right. So, it's kind of an echo you'd say of going after "The A.P." phone records and unauthorized snooping.

HALL: I don't think it's nearly the same (INAUDIBLE) --

KURTZ: Right.

HALL: But it gives ammo to people who say, yes, media do it, and why can't the government?

KURTZ: OK. Before we go, everything seems to be a scandal these days involving the Obama administration, the IRS, Benghazi, "A.P.", you name it.

So what happened when President Obama held a news conference the other day outside the White House? And it started to rain -- and I think we have a picture here, which made probably every front page in America, and we have the footage of Marine guards, and he called in for them to have the umbrella.

And "New York Post", among others, called this a scandal. It's an interesting moment. It's an odd moment. Is it a scandal?

CONCHA: It's absolutely not a scandal. Of course, not. This happens with Tiger Woods, all the time, it happens with golfers. When important people are not allowed to get wet.

Remember Michael Jackson, he had a guy that he hired for 20 years to hold an umbrella and it was sunny out (ph) --

KURTZ: Some people like Sarah Palin said on Facebook, well, you know, most people hold their own umbrellas.

HALL: Well, I know, it's not a scandal. It's a metaphor for the media to say here he is under a cloud. Here he is rainy day. I mean --

KURTZ: And when it rains it pours.

HALL: Right, right. It's a metaphor for a lot of media stories more than a scandal.


CONCHA: Don't rain on my parade, Charlie Brown.

KURTZ: I'm going to go out on a limb and just say, that story was all wet.


HALL: Ahh!

KURTZ: Couldn't resist.

Jane Hall, Joe Concha, thanks for stopping by this Sunday morning.

When we come back, we'll look at the Benghazi talking points and make some news here and admission of regret by the network over how that story was handled.


KURTZ: ABC News has taken a significant step this morning in acknowledging that it mishandled an exclusive report on the administration's Benghazi talking points. The media's interest in Benghazi surged after ABC's Jonathan Karl reported new details on how top officials repeatedly changed those talking points after the fatal attack.


JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: I have obtained 12 different versions of those talking points that shows that they were dramatically edited by the administration. Take a look at two of them. On the left, a draft initially written by the CIA. On the right, one that was used by the White House, the final version.

What was taken out? All references to al Qaeda.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: But as CNN Jack Tapper was the first to reporter, that story had a significant inaccuracy that did not match the actual e- mails involving those talking points.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Previous reports suggested that Ben Rhodes from the White House said in an e- mail that he wanted to make sure the State Department's concerns were reflected in the talking points. But we obtained an actual copy of Ben Rhodes e-mail and he doesn't mention the State Department.


KURTZ: I spoke earlier this morning with Jon Karl, ABC's chief White House correspondent. And Jon Karl gave me the following statement, "Clearly, I regret the e-mail was quoted incorrectly and I regret that it has become a distraction from the story, which still entirely stand. I should have been clearer about the attribution. We updated our story immediately after new information became available."

Joining us now here in Washington, Jennifer Rubin, who writes "The Right Turn" blog for "The Washington Post" and is a contributor to CNBC's "Kudlow Report". In New York, David Shuster, host of the online news site, Take Action News. And again here in Washington, Jane Hall of American University.

Jennifer Rubin, Jon Karl said, as we heard, that he obtained those e-mails. What he got was a summary that was inaccurate in part from a congressional source, presumably a Republican.

Should ABC now retract that part of the story?

JENNIFER RUBIN, BLOGGER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think he has apologized for that report, but shouldn't retract the story in total. And, in fact, it was an important piece of reporting that was in front of the story.

I think what he did was exactly right. If you have made one mistake within the context of good reporting, you apologize for that. ABC was not the only one that made this error, by the way. "The Weekly Standard", a conservative publication, did as well. I'm not aware that they apologized in any shape or form.

What -- the bias, and people may be asking about this, what difference does it make to quote a vague phrase --

KURTZ: Why don't we get to what difference does it make until I get some of the voices in?

David Shuster, Jon Karl is a terrific reporter who has a long record of solid journalism. In this case, most of what he reported was accurate, but it was not accurate in a significant degree when it came to White House official, Ben Rhodes. So, he was, it appears, misled by his source. DAVID SHUSTER, TAKE ACTION NEWS: He was misled, and I don't know how you can stand by a story if the story is wrong. I mean, Jonathan Karl made a couple of mistakes. First, yes, he was wrong in the attribution.

He could have put this e-mail out and said, I have been debriefed on the e-mail from a Republican congressional source and here's what they tell me. Instead, ABC News said they obtained e-mailed. And Jonathan Karl made it seems as if he had read them directly.

So, the story was wrong, the attribution was wrong, and he's still not characterizing the source as a Republican source, even though other news organizations are already doing that. So, I just think that the problems continue for ABC News in all of this.

KURTZ: Right. Now, I should point out that this part involving Ben Rhodes, White House official, and not to get too down in the weeds here, but it has to do with whether or not, Ben Rhodes said, the State Department's interests needed to be protected as they hashed out what they were going to say about the fatal attack in Libya and actually used a phrase, State Department used the word "equities", which could be seen as an indirect reference to various agencies involved.

But that was not on the air on ABC News. It was in the 16th paragraph of an online story. So, those who are defending ABC are saying, well, yes, he made a minor error and, yet, he's being trashed perhaps in part for political reasons as if the whole story was wrong. Karl went back to his source who said, well, Ben Rhodes was clearly talking about the State Department.

So, my question to you is, the view within ABC, Jane Hall, seems to be -- well, we updated the story and that was the correction, but it didn't have the word correction or retraction or apologize. Is that good enough?

HALL: I don't think it's quite good enough because that error. He put in direct quotes. They put in direct quotes.

The way it looked, it looked as if it was direct quotes. They said they had obtained and Diane Sawyer hyped the story, you know, form of story, we obtained this exclusive and led to a whole other wave of other stories about the talking points.

People are running with this and saying they manipulated it. If it's not true, then I think they need to do more than say part of it's not true.

RUBIN: But part of it isn't true and part of it is true. What -- the difference that this makes is that it made it seem that the State Department was the prime mover in these edits, which is not the case.

But the sequence of events, the number of edits, the changes that were made were all accurate. And no one else in the mainstream media were reporting it. KURTZ: That's the thing about journalism is that -- and you know, when other people, including myself have made mistakes, you know, you have to kind of take your lump, 95 percent of your facts can be correct, but the significant fact is wrong and you just updating, you don't say it was wrong.

If ABC had put this out earlier and I'm glad that Jon Karl now says he regrets the e-mail was quoted inaccurately, and he regrets that the attribution was not clearer. But ABC had done that three days ago, I don't think it would have mushroomed to this extent.

RUBIN: But I don't think it's accurate as David said, that the story was wrong. The story was not wrong. The attribution of the story --


RUBIN: Howard, excuse me.

SHUSTER: The overall Republican point here that the Obama administration was trying to protect the State Department. The Obama administration trying to protect the State Department and that the White House was somehow trying to characterize the talking points or change the talking points in order to minimize political damage.

That Republican -- that Republican idea is just flat out wrong. This turns out to be a boring set of e-mails where simply CIA and State Department officials are --

RUBIN: All right, you had your speech coming out of the administration.

KURTZ: David, Jennifer --

RUBIN: Very nice to have the Media Matters talking points recited out of David's lips.

SHUSTER: What are you talking? What are you talking about, Jane?

RUBIN: Howard. If you want to hear me, fine.


SHUSTER: Let somebody from Media Matters --

KURTZ: Let's assume that everybody is giving their own views and you may disagree with them.

RUBIN: No, they're actually on Media Matters. These exact comments are coming out of Media Matters. Absolutely.


SHUSTER: Well, I don't talk to Media Matters. Jennifer, that's an unfair accusation for you to make. But the bottom line is, the Republican argument in all of this is flat out wrong --


KURTZ: OK, one person -- OK, one person at a time. On the one hand, David, you have said that these are boring e-mails and not significant. On the other hand, you said earlier and I think there's a point of consensus here, it is that this was a mistake that should have been owned up to and your point is, Jennifer Rubin.

RUBIN: Exactly. He did what was correct. I don't think making the story about Jonathan Karl is really the point here. There's a major story that the mainstream media did not carry. His essential point that these talking points went through major revisions to remove information so as not to present the American people with the accurate story is correct.

I don't have a problem with him apologizing now, whether he apologized now or a few days ago. But the central point should not be lost that there are definitely people who are spinning for the media, who are trying to discredit the entire report, and that's just not accurate.


SHUSTER: One of these e-mails. The whole point of the e-mails was that the White House simply didn't want Congress to get --


KURTZ: David, you made that point. I want to move on. Jane, I have a journalism question for you. If a confidential source who shares with you and this obviously was a congressional source sharing with you written summaries, hand-written summaries of confidential e- mails, which were later put up by the White House so we now know what was said.

If that person is inaccurate, if that person lies, is your confidentiality agreement with the source dissipated, and do you have some responsibility to come forth and I say, I was mislead and here is who did it?

HALL: I think you do have some responsibility and I would say, you know, that I agree with Rachel Maddow on this one, and I don't always agree with her. But I think if a source burns you, you need to come forward. You are not under obligation to continue to protect the source who clearly leaked something for a political reason.

RUBIN: Wait a second. That's not how any journalist in this town works. We get burned a lot and sometimes it's intentional and sometimes not intentional.


HALL: Political summary (ph) that you can say --

(CROSSTALK) RUBIN: If you have given confidentiality to a source, it is not (inaudible) that person has misled you some in respect. I do not.

KURTZ: It is not? There have been times when journalists have said, look, I was lied to and now -- because there is a whole question. Remember, White House Spokesman Jay Carney has accused Republicans of fabricating that Ben Rhodes e-mail. And ABC News knows who it is and it's not able to say under the confidentiality agreement. I'll give you the last word, David Shuster.

SHUSTER: Well, they can still at least characterize this. Again, ABC is not even done as far as CBS News in characterizing this as coming from Republicans. ABC has an opportunity and a responsibility to say, look, we got this from Republicans on Capitol Hill and you can make your own judgment on what they were trying to do. To hold that back, I think does ABC News no honor in any of this.

KURTZ: All right, up next, the press pounces on that IRS scandal. Are journalists getting more aggressive with this White House and will it last?


KURTZ: The IRS scandal drawing a surge in media attention this week. White House Spokesman Jay Carney has been getting hammered by the press corps.


JEFF MASON: Obama is being compared to President Nixon. How is that? How does he feel about that?

CHIP REID, CBS NEWS: You've got Benghazi, IRS, HHS, DOJ, if you read some of the articles on this, it almost sounds like there is a siege going on. Is there a siege mentality back there in the west wing right now?

APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO: At any time during this administration, do you have any knowledge of any wiretaps or any tapping of work space to report? This is a serious question.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No. And, again, this is -- I don't.


KURTZ: Jennifer Rubin, the IRS scandal. The targeting of mostly conservative groups for special tax exempt status really seems to have galvanized the press, belatedly in your view?

RUBIN: Yes. Like all the scandals out of the administration, it seems like the conservative media leads and the mainstream media, which I think in any other administration would be out in front, kind of gets with the story a little bit later. They are actually two scandals with the IRS, by the way. One is these groups and the other is individual donors, prominent conservatives who themselves have been audited, and that story has been carried primarily by the "Wall Street Journal" and Kim Strassel, has done a wonderful job on that angle. So, yes, it's a bona fide story.

I think the media likes it because, first of all, it is a real scandal. Secondly, it's easy. You didn't have to be following from the beginning as you did on Benghazi. Third of all, it does highlight this famed cluelessness that the White House has. He just learned about it on Friday.


KURTZ: But, David Shuster, it does seem that even many liberal commentators denounced the IRS scandal itself, the administration's handling of it, and the fact that certain top officials knew about this or had certain clues about this and did not inform Congress.

SHUSTER: Well, the problem with all of this is that the IRS should have come clean. They should have said honestly to Congress a year ago, here's what we're doing. They were justified in the original actions because keep in mind, these 501-C4 organizations they have to claim to promote the social welfare when in reality most of them are just pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the campaign process to pollute it. I don't think most Americans think that Karl Rove or the Koch brothers should deserve the tax exempt status of a charitable or social welfare organization.


KURTZ: But, David, that's not just a conservative issue. A lot of -- that tax-exempt status is abused by a lot of people. What do you think of Jennifer Rubin's point that the conservative media, which some say see everything that Obama does as a scandal was on to this sort of thing early, complaining about Tea Party groups getting extra scrutiny, and the mainstream media slow to catch up on this one?

SHUSTER: Well, the fact of the matter is look, everybody is on this now. So I think that sort of -- that's largely irrelevant, but I do want to correct the point --


RUBIN: I don't think he answered the question.

SHUSTER: Wait a second, 85 percent of these organizations that apply for the tax exempt status, they were conservative organizations. So, all of us believe that everybody across the board should be audited if they want to claim tax exempt status, if by nature 85 percent of them would be conservatives.


RUBIN: He's ignoring the fact, Howard. The facts are that these groups were specifically targeted, that they concede that they came up with a list that all conservative buzz words in them. They didn't use progressive as a screening device. They didn't use other environmental phrases. This was a set of words that were screened to specifically get conservative groups. No one other than David I think is disputing that.

KURTZ: Let me go back to David. You did slide around my question. You said everyone is reporting it now. Was there a tendency by at least some in the so-called liberal media to downplay some of these concerns as being just conservative, as we look back and we say that the media did not, was not aggressive enough on this story?

SHUSTER: Well, look, I'll give some slack. The media should have been more aggressive when the IRS was denying this a year ago. The media should have said, wait a second, instead of taking the IRS' word for it. Let's do our own digging. I give credit to people who were reporting this out a year ago.

Let's not lose fact that the IRS was essentially doing its job. The IRS has to enforce the law and determine whether or not organizations deserve to be tax exempt. Now, Jennifer may not like that Karl Rove and the Koch brothers are somehow being audited --


KURTZ: I don't want to talk about Karl Rove, David. I want to talk about the media. Let me ask you --

RUBIN: They're not doing their job, David, because their job does not entail giving disparate treatment to Americans.


KURTZ: Again, your guys are debating the IRS and politics of it. My question for you now, David Shuster is this, given this was being called a trifecta of, quote, "scandals." AP, Benghazi talking points and IRS, has the scandal machinery now kicking into high gear? Is everything for the next six months going to be media coverage and perhaps over coverage of the Obama administration on these questions?

SHUSTER: No. Because the way these scandals tend to work and I've covered a lot of them is that if there is an ongoing criminal investigation, it then goes, for example, to the FBI. The FBI tends to operate in secret or a special counsel if one is appointed. They operate in secret and the best you can get is who is going to a grand jury. I think this disappears into 30 days and people get back to other things.

KURTZ: OK, last half minute for you, Jennifer.

RUBIN: You have hearings by Congress on a number of these topics. One of the things that broke these open were congressional hearings and that is not going to be dissuaded by any kind of FBI investigation --

(CROSSTALK) KURTZ: I'm giving Jennifer the last word. I'm giving Jennifer the last word. David.

RUBIN: Those of us who have a point to make often do get interrupted. The AP story, the Benghazi story, the IRS story, these are not only scandals, but they are substantive news stories. To use the word scandal, I think, is misleading. These are important issues about whether the administration is, in fact, following the law, whether they're treating Americans properly.

KURTZ: Jennifer Rubin, David Shuster, thanks very much. We'll be right back.


KURTZ: Angelina Jolie used a "New York Times" op-ed to deliver the news. She has undergone a double mastectomy as a preventive measure because she has a very high likelihood of developing breast cancer. The actress' announcement prompted CNN anchor, Zoraida Sambolin, to share her own news with the viewers.


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": I thank Angelina Jolie for making it easier. I was trying to figure out, Carol, how do I tell the viewers I'm going to be gone for a while? How do I tell them about my breast cancer? How do I talk about a double mastectomy?


KURTZ: Then subject has special resonance for Michelle Cottle, correspondent for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast," who recently wrote about her own battle with breast cancer.


KURTZ: Michelle Cottle, welcome.


KURTZ: Angelina Jolie seems to have gotten a little more attention than you for going public with the news of her double mastectomy. People are saying it was brave of her being an international celebrity, movie star to come forward in this fashion. Do you agree?

COTTLE: You know, I actually do agree. On some level people always say that. They're being nice. It's so brave of you, I am so impressed. But with a woman like Angelina Jolie, she's not even a regular movie star. She's a movie star whose appeal has stemmed in large part from the fact that she's every man's fantasy. It's a kind of sensual beauty if you kind of mess with that fantasy, you never know how people are going to react.

So, while, you know, practically speaking, realistically there shouldn't be any difference to kind of the news, you know, her announcement. On some level, you just never know, and so I think it actually was a huge deal for her to go public with something that she really just didn't have to.

KURTZ: You recently underwent this surgery and as you write, you were surprised to find yourself on the operating table. Why?

COTTLE: Well, you know, I had structural issues and family history issues for years. And, so, when I found out that I had a bad biopsy back a few months ago, the diagnosis I had was usually treated with kind of, they have breast conserving lumpectomies and radiation and things like this, but for me it was a no brainer. I had trouble, and I knew if I went the half measure I was going to have trouble again. So I was just like, that's it. It's one strike and you're out policy.

KURTZ: So you wanted to put this behind you.

COTTLE: Exactly.

KURTZ: But the whole thing and the decision making process and the surgery, it feels very private. Why did you decide to sit down and write about it in such detail?

COTTLE: Well, for one thing, when you tell people what you're doing, a lot of people just respond with gasps or they seem very upset or they seem very sad for you. And, for me, this was not something to be really upset about. I mean, obviously, the initial diagnosis was, but as far as my decision to go with a bilateral mastectomy, I had no problem with it.

So by writing about it, you kind of have the opportunity to control the narrative. To say, you don't need to be that upset about this. For me, it wasn't a difficult decision at all. So I am hoping that other women look at these choices and don't necessarily kind of fear this sort of thing.

KURTZ: Was it hard to write?

COTTLE: It actually wasn't all that hard to write. I mean, when you had the health problems for years and years you sat down and you thought these through. I actually a couple years ago thought about going the route that Angelina Jolie did and kind of do a prophylactic.

KURTZ: Preemptively have the surgery.

COTTLE: Doctors don't like to do that a lot of the times unless you have the genes, like she does, and I had tested negative for that. So, I kind of wound up waiting one step later than I should have, but still, it was a no brainer.

KURTZ: But it was important to you that people not feel sorry for you. You were very comfortable with the decision. As you write because of your family history and the nature of your breasts, you were almost expecting this for years, it was something that was hanging over your head. COTTLE: And women tend -- not all women, and I think younger women less so these days tend to get very kind of touchy about their breasts. You know, they worry about body image and I had doctors and friends and relatives asked me, well, are you concerned about body image issues? I'm like absolutely not. We have talking about a fundamental health issue and I have a great reconstructive surgeon and it is not as big of a deal as it used to be. I think younger women - my doctor said that younger women in particular don't want to waste a lot of time going through all these stages.

KURTZ: So are you writing for people who know you or are you writing for as a kind of an example to help educate women who you will never meet about confronting one way, we should say, of dealing with breast cancer, or in Angelina Jolie's case the threat of breast cancer?

COTTLE: I mean, I just think anything that takes women from being self conscious about this -- I think people need to talk about it. Certainly, you know, I wrote about it, but it has no comparison to what happens when Angelina Jolie, the sexiest woman in the world, stands up and said I did this. It is a choice that I needed to do for my family and I'm good with it.


KURTZ: (inaudible) both of you at the same time (ph).

COTTLE: It is a mistake people often make.

KURTZ: But on this question of body age, which is a sensitive one, and particularly in a society where women tend to be judged by their looks. Women who are either in the movie industry or appear on camera and on television as you often do. You wrote this, "everybody loves boobs, but no matter how fetching mine looked in sweaters or swimsuits or La Perla bustiers, especially before time, gravity and two pregnancies took their toll, I could never shake the sense that they were plotting against me. I've cleaned that up a little.

COTTLE: Yes, you've cleaned up the language. That is kind of you. It's true. I mean, people get really wrapped up in body image and, you know, if you go to a plastic surgeon's office, the vast majority of women coming through there are getting just regular old boob jobs. They want them to look bigger, they want to look more like what they see in the movies or whatever.

But then you have to make this decision about, you know what is it worth? I think that when they confront these medical realities, they just have to make these kinds of decision and it shouldn't be that hard for them.

KURTZ: In the end, medical reality, health, your future, worrying about being there for your kids counts more--

COTTLE: It matters less for me because that's not what I do for my job, but it does for someone like Angelina Jolie, but she said it too. You know, she's like I did it for my kids, I want to be there for them. I think that sort of thing trumps almost everything else.

KURTZ: I think thanks to you and your piece and Angelina Jolie, a lot of people will look at this at a different way. Michelle Cottle, thanks very much for sitting down with us.


KURTZ: We planned that segment before Angelina Jolie's news, which has kickstarted the debate in what I hope is a healthy way.

Still to come, the media gashing over Prince Harry and Barbara Walters finally hanging it up. We'll look at her legacy in the "Media Monitor."


KURTZ: Time now for "The Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. The last time Prince Harry made big news here in the states it was for cavorting in Las Vegas, which produced some pictures that can't please Buckingham Palace. But look at all the good press he's gotten from his latest American foray. Harry was mobbed in the capital and had tea with Michelle Obama.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN: They are just wild about Harry. I mean, who isn't? Britain's prince makes a royal splash in our nation's capital.

NATALIE MORALES, NBC: Prince Harry has a packed schedule today as day two of his U.S. tour after he wowed people at the White House and on Capitol Hill to kick off his trip.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: NBC's Stephanie Gasp reports tonight on Prince Harry's visit to the Jersey Shore.

PRINCE HARRY: Everyone gets together and things were like --


KURTZ: The prince also watched Wounded Warriors compete in Colorado and played polo in front of a VIP crowd in Greenwich, Connecticut, a highly successful bit of imagery rehab for Prince Harry and a reminder that the American media are still capable of swooning over royalty.

We talked about Barbara Walters on this program when word leaked a while back that she was planning to retire, but somehow it didn't pack quite the punch of hearing it from Barbara herself.


BARBARA WALTERS, HOST, "THE VIEW": In the summer of 2014, a year from now, I plan to retire from appearing on television at all. It has been an absolutely joyful, rewarding, challenging, fascinating and occasionally bumpy ride and I wouldn't change a thing.


KURTZ: For half a century, Walters has been such a trail blazer you run out of time trying to mention it on. She went from a "Today" girl to the co-host of NBC's iconic morning show and then to ABC in the evening.


WALTERS: Well, I was the first female co-anchor of a network news show. I was a flop. Everybody said -- I was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was floppy about you?

WALTERS: Well, it was a flop -- Harry and I did it today and he didn't want a partner, B, he didn't want a woman.


KURTZ: For all the specials, for all the interviews with news makers and celebrities from Fidel Castro to Monica Lewinsky, perhaps her most lasting accomplishment is what she did in her '60s creating a talk show with all women, one that has been widely copied across the business. "The View" has become a cultural force of favorite forum even for presidents.

Now Walters says she will continue as co-executive producer of "The View" even after she leaves the air in the summer of 2014. At least she says she is pretty much done in front of the cameras, but I'm not sure. The woman is only 83. Can Barbara Walters really stay away?

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 and get our podcast by searching for RELIABLE SOURCES on the iTunes store.

We are back next Sunday morning, 11 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.