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Columnist Exposes Obama Surveillance; Interview with Glenn Greenwald of "The Guardian"

Aired June 9, 2013 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: The Obama administration secretly conducting a massive surveillance program involving millions of phone records. Is this anti-terror tactic a scandal? Is it the outrage that's being portrayed by much of the press?


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We'll start with this news. The U.S. government may have your number.

CHARLIE ROSE, CBS NEWS: The issue of your privacy is front and center this morning.

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: Breaking news out of Washington, it's going to outrage a lot of customers.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Now to that stunning report that the National Security Agency has been collecting phone records in millions of Americans under a top secret order.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: "The Washington Post" has uncovered what it says is another massive U.S. spying program. This one is capable of tracking virtually anything an individual does on the Internet.


KURTZ: The phone surveillance story wasn't broken by an American news organization. It was London's "Guardian" that got the scoop, provided by left-wing columnist Glenn Greenwald. He'll be here.

MSNBC's president says his network doesn't excel at covering breaking news. Does that explain its recent dive in the ratings? The challenge of covering politics in a non-campaign year.

Plus -- now, that Netflix has put out an entire season of "Arrested Development" --


KURTZ: How do critics handle this new phenomenon ever gorging on 13 episodes at once, especially when they can spoil the fun for viewers?

I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.


KURTZ: It's not surprising on one level that Glenn Greenwald broke the story of the administration's sweeping cell phone surveillance. Greenwald is a lawyer, a commentator and an activist who's been aggressively outspoken on what he views as national security abuses during the Bush and Obama administrations. He's now a columnist for "The Guardian" and he joins me live from Hong Kong.

Glenn, how is it that you living most of the time in Brazil and working for a British newspaper, got this scoop and no American news organization did?

GLENN GREENWALD, COLUMNIST & BLOGGER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, first of all, let me just correct you of what the premise of your question and what you said in the introduction as well. The newspaper for which I work is actually the U.S. edition of "The Guardian".

KURTZ: It's part of the company.


GREENWALD: It is based in New York City. It's an American company staffed overwhelming by Americans including myself. So, it is actually an American branch of a global news organization.

But, secondly, there is a thing called the Internet that essentially allows people in different parts of the world to learn about other parts of the world. And apparently, there are people inside the United States government very alarmed by what is taking place within the surveillance state who decided that they wanted their fellow citizens to be aware of it and wanted journalists who would be aggressive about pursuing their duties as a journalist and inform the public.

And that's how I learned of these things.

KURTZ: And you said one of your sources at least is a reader of yours. And so, was that person drawn to dealing with you because of your record on being an outspoken critic on these national security issues?

GREENWALD: I think that what it is more instead is there is a multiple episodes over the last decade where news organizations that discovered crucial information about what the government was doing sat on that information, at the request of the U.S. government. The most notorious example of which was when "The New York Times" learned in 2004 that the Bush administration was spying on Americans and their telephone calls without warrants required by law and sat on that story for a full year after George Bush got safely reelected at the request of the White House.

And so, there is a concern that there's a lot of supine behavior, subservient behavior in the part of the American media when it comes to the government. And I think this source wanted to make sure -- these sources wanted to make sure that if they took the risk of trying to inform the public, that they would find journalists willing to be adversarial in their posture toward the U.S. government and be aggressive about informing citizens.

KURTZ: I want to come back to that point. But first, as you know, administration officials have been pushing back pretty hard against your story, and the follow-up story about Internet surveillance also disclosed by "The Washington Post".

Yesterday, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, spoke to NBC News and had this to say.


JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: For me, it is literally, not figuratively, literally gut-wrenching to see this happen because of the huge, grave damage it does to our intelligence capabilities.


KURTZ: And this morning, after you were on ABC's "This Week," Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the following, "Greenwald says that he's got it all and is now an expert on the program. He doesn't have a clue how this thing works."

Your reaction to both -- to those criticisms by separate politicians in Washington.

GREENWALD: Well, first of all, to the extent that politicians like Republican Mike Rogers are running around boasting that only they know but not the rest of us know about what the U.S. government is doing in terms of how it's spying on its own citizens, that to me is exactly the reason why transparency is so vital here. We shouldn't have a massive spying apparatus being constructed completely beyond democratic accountability, beyond the knowledge of the citizens on whom it's spying and done in the dark. And that's exactly why, as a journalist, I think it's so vital to shine light on what it is the government is doing.

As for the statements of Clapper, what I would say is this: in every single case over the last four or five decades, whenever reporters expose the secret conduct of government officials that they're trying to hide from the public, they use the same playbook. They try to scare Americans into believing that they should be trusted to exercise powers, we're keeping you safe from the terrorists -- and then they attack the journalists. They did that to "The New York Times" when they published the Pentagon papers. It's what they do in every case.

The reality is, is that --


KURTZ: Let me just jump in. I would certainly agree that you performed a public service by letting Americans know what is being done in their name in terms of these secret programs. But would you be willing to concede that there is a potential downside with this kind of disclosure where terrorists, potential terrorists, America's enemies, could be more careful to avoid this kind of surveillance that you have now made public?

GREENWALD: OK. Let me tell you why that claim is absurd. It's really actually what they're doing when they make that claim is they're insulting the intelligence of everybody in the United States. Every terrorist on the planet already knows and have known for a long time that the United States is trying to surveil their communications, eavesdrop on their telephone calls, read their emails. Any terrorist who isn't already aware of that is a terrorist who's incapable of tying their shoes, let alone detonating a bomb successfully in the United States.

That isn't anything about what we disclose. What we disclose is that the American government is surveiling its own citizens, people who are suspected of no wrongdoing.

The only thing that has been damaged here is not national security. What has been damaged is the reputation and credibility of the political officials who want to hide behind top secret designations to conceal their own wrongdoing. And that's really what they're angry about.

KURTZ: OK. Now, over the years, Glenn Greenwald, you've been portrayed in the media, at least by some in the media, as kind of a gadfly, maybe a fringe character, maybe an obsessive on these national security issues.

Now, you're getting all this media attention. You've got a profile in "The New York Times", generally sympathetic, I would say, but the headline called you a blogger.

Do you feel somewhat vindicated now by the fact that -- nothing wrong about being a blogger, by the way -- but do you feel somewhat vindicated by the fact that you're getting all this media attention after years of pounding away at these issues?

GREENWALD: Well, honestly what I really hope happens here is that we finally have a very genuine, open debate about the kind of society we want to live in and about the kind of government we want to have. Do we really want to let the government be scrutinizing and monitoring everything that we say and do and knowing everything about us, while we know virtually nothing about what it is that they're doing?

So to the extent that the stories that we're writing and that we will continue to write trigger that debate, fuel that debate, make people more educated about those in power are doing to them -- sure, I -- that's been my goal in all the writing I've been doing for several years now, and I'm very happy and gratified to see that debate finally taking place.

KURTZ: I'll ask again, do you feel a measure of vindication? GREENWALD: I mean, I think that it's been clear for a long time that there's this massive secrecy that's being abused in the U.S. government. And sure, to the extent that people are starting to realize just how pervasive those abuses are -- sure, I think that the things that I'm writing have proven to be correct by these revelations.

KURTZ: Now, when the stories came out in the last few weeks about government spying not at all Americans but aimed at journalists, in particular, the cases involving "The Associated Press" and FOX News and reporter James Rosen, you wrote that the mainstream media was rising up in indignation only because some of their own members have been targeted.

Let me put on the screen a column you wrote for "The Guardian." "With a few noble exceptions," you wrote, "most major media outlets said little about any of this, except in those cases when they supported it. It took a direct and blatant attack on them, for them to really get worked up, denounce these assaults and acknowledge this administration's true character."

So, do you think except when journalists are targeted that the media in general either don't care or just insufficiently aggressive about government intrusion?

GREENWALD: Unfortunately, I do. I mean, it's interesting. I've seen a lot of people saying this week with the revelations about mass spying on American people that essentially we all know what American Muslims feel like now since they have been subjected to extremely invasive surveillance systematically over the past 12 years, the vast majority of whom are guilty of absolutely nothing.

And even more so, you know, back in 2010, the United States convened a grand jury, a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks, which really was doing what journalists do, which is they receive classified information from a government source and then published it. And the theory of the government at that time, many of us tried to warn, was very dangerous. It was that WikiLeaks could be criminally prosecuted, even though they were just doing pure journalism.

KURTZ: But I want to bring you back to your view of the mainstream media, which is, do you believe that most of its members are -- to use a phrase you used at one of your column -- subservient to political power? And if so, why do you think that is?

GREENWALD: Well, of course, they are. I mean, you actually wrote one of the best columns of the last 10 years on that, Howard, was when you talked in "The Washington Post" about how your own newspaper had systematically buried any real dissent regarding the claims of the Bush administration justifying the run up to the war in Iraq. The war in Iraq was probably the best example, but by far, not only the example, in which the U.S. government is subservient to the claims of the administration.

So much reporting in Washington consists of running to government sources, mindlessly repeating what they say after giving anonymity to ensure that they can say it with no accountability, and then simply disseminating it to the public.

I also talked before about the stories in which newspapers have sat on stories because the government told them to.

KURTZ: Right. And Iraq certainly was not the government's finest hour.

I'm sorry to break in and we're short on time. I do want to ask you before you go, the NSA, as you know, has now asked the Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation of the phone surveillance story that you broke. Are you worried about being caught up in the intensity of a criminal investigation which might either be aimed at you or the person or persons who provided you the information?

GREENWALD: I'm not worried at all. I read the First Amendment that I have the right of free press. I know that's my right and my duty as an American to exercise that right and I really don't care what threats the government makes. If anything, it's just going to backfire. I think it would embolden more people to come forward with more and more whistle-blowing about their wrongful conduct.

KURTZ: All right. Glenn Greenwald, thanks very much for joining us -- Glenn Greenwald of "The Guardian."

GREENWALD: Thanks for having me.

KURTZ: When we come back, more on the coverage of the surveillance scoops and how many liberal commentators are suddenly turning on President Obama.


KURTZ: "The Guardian" scoop about the administration monitoring of millions of phone records was followed by another bombshell, reports in "The Washington Post", and then by Glenn Greenwald in "The Guardian", that authorities have been tracking foreign targets through such online giants as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook. All this has created unusual split among commentators with men conservatives defending the Obama administration spying efforts, but not all.


ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY FOR G.W. BUSH: I praise the president for taking the steps he's taken to keep this country safe from potential terrorist threat.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Now, Talking Points usually supports war on terror strategies. But this one, a major intrusion on the privacy of all Americans. This one is dangerous to us.


KURTZ: And some liberal pundits, but not all, are outraged at the president who "The Huffington Post" morphed into George W. Obama.


PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I have no doubt Barack Obama would be appalled by this in the past. And I'd like to know why he's doing it in the present.

BOB BECKEL, FOX NEWS: Do I think it's serious? I think it's one of the most outrageous examples of stepping on the Constitution that I've heard. They have for right to phone records.

KRISTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK POST: I think the NSA program, as long as it's using FISA, is totally on the up and up. There's nothing wrong with it.


KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the coverage of this fast- moving story.

Here in Washington, Charlie Savage, Washington correspondent for "The New York Times." Ana Marie Cox, political columnist for "The Guardian." And Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at "National Review" and a columnist for "Bloomberg View."

Charlie Savage, "The New York Times" broke the story, I guess I was in 2005, of George W. Bush's domestic surveillance program. You wrote the book about excessive executive power under Bush.

Have the media been a lot more lax about these issues under Barack Obama?

CHARLIE SAVAGE, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, it depends on which media you're talking about. Some of us have been extremely interested in the initially surprising continuity of this administration in its continuation of many war on terror policies that it inherited from the --

KURTZ: Surprising in part because Obama spoke differently --

SAVAGE: Because expectations created by his 2007, especially primary campaign when he was running to the left of Hillary Clinton on these issues, created a sense that this was a dramatic departure from what he would inherit on January 20th, 2009. Very quickly, it became clear that he was going to continue a lot of the programs that he had inherited, whether it was drones or state secrets, or detention without trial and so forth.

On the other hand, a lot of his critique of the Bush administration during the campaign five years ago was based around the programs that George Bush put in place in his first term, when he was doing it in defiance a of statutes.

KURTZ: Right.

SAVAGE: A lot of the legal problems had been eroded by the time of the second term.

KURTZ: Let me get Ana Marie to jump in.

Since you write for "The Guardian", is it more than a coincidence that "The Guardian", a liberal newspaper, and Glenn Greenwald, a liberal columnist, were able to break this phone surveillance story?

ANA MARIE COX, THE GUARDIAN: I do think "The Guardian" does cover American politics from a slightly more standoffish kind of view. I think they aren't as invested in the arguments that we here in the American media have with each other. But it's totally in keeping with Glenn's own coverage. Like no matter where he's been, when he was a blogger on his own, when he wrote for "Salon" and now at "The Guardian", like this is something a beat the Glenn has really owned. And I think the credit goes to Glenn even more "The Guardian", as proud as columnist as I am for them.

KURTZ: What do you think, Ramesh, about this question of whether the press has cut Barack Obama more slack on these kinds of issues than -- and perhaps up until now when we see it starting to dramatically change?

RAMESH PONNURU, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, I mean, I think the "until now" part of that question is important, because I think the last week's coverage has been really quite good. And I do think I actually am more worried that we're going to get so bogged down in the question of, well, Obama's being a hypocrite and is the left being consistent as the right being consistent -- that we're not going to deal with the underlying issue which is actually pretty important, which is do these programs go too far and is the secrecy around them really justified?

KURTZ: You're worried that the politics may have skewered the substance of this.

PONNURU: Absolutely.

KURTZ: President Obama addressed this question at an appearance on an unrelated issue in California on Friday and he used an interesting word to describe the media coverage. Let's play that.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, I want to be very clear. Some of the hype that we've been hearing over the last day or so, nobody's listening to the content of people's phone calls.


KURTZ: So, Charlie Savage, the administration's argument in part is that Congress was briefed on this, special FISA court approved. Is this story hype as the president says?

SAVAGE: Well, you have to desegregate which stories we're talking about, because there's been extraordinary sequences of revelations about different top secret documents in the last week, one of which concerned this massive database of domestic calling logs, not the contents of these communications, every phone call an American makes thought just abroad but between two places in the United States apparently a record of that has been kept and continues to be stored in the federal government. That's story number one.

KURTZ: So that's not hype.

SAVAGE : That story is a revelation, that we had some hints that that was happening in the Bush years and then it sort of went underwater, and now we see that it's continued probably for over the decade.

KURTZ: And story number two began with "The Washington Post."

SAVAGE: Story number two is the Thursday story, published by "The Washington Post" and then, a couple of minutes later, by "The Guardian". Clearly, they had the same source and they were in competition in a race to get it out.

In its initial portrayal, it portrayed -- this is the one called PRISM, where the government is collecting information from Internet companies like Google and Facebook.

KURTZ: And I have to quote here, Charlie, "The Washington Post" said that these companies, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, and so, were knowingly participating in letting the government directly access this information. And we're talking here about e-mails, chats, photos, Facebook postings.

But now, in lengthy story in today's "Washington Post," the paper backing off on that saying that that's inaccurate from a technical perspective. But how -- but no formal correction.

How -- what's your take on that story?

SAVAGE: It's not the knowing participation part that I'm focused on. It's the portrayal that the NSA was directly tapping into the central servers of raw user data and was able to sort of root around in the contents of all communications, including Americans' communications. If that were the case, that would be wildly illegal, overreach. It set off an uproar and an impression, a lingering impression that is with us today, that that's what is going on.

However it seems increasingly clear that all of this is a little murky that that's wrong, that there isn't direct access to the raw user data, that this is in fact just the name for the program that everyone knew about because it was part of a public law in 2008 whereby the government can get warrants or basket warrants without individualized collection for targets overseas who are not American citizens and make requests under those court orders for information even if it's happening on U.S. soil.

If it's true that -- as the companies say across the board, as the government is saying across the board, that they're not just sort of willy-nilly rooting around in Americans' communications, that's a very different story. It's not as alarming as initially portrayed and it's unfortunate that that happened because it drowned out and stepped on the yet undigested first story which really is something we need to talk about.

KURTZ: Well, we are talking about it and I think that debate will continue. I wondered if people on your side of the political spectrum, liberal commentators, some of them have not been outraged by this, but a lot of them, is there a sense of betrayal by the Barack Obama promise to change the --

COX: I felt betrayed long ago on this particular issue. I mean, I do think anyone who has been paying attention to the Obama record on civil liberties is not going to be shocked by this. I mean, the shock by the level of intrusion, I mean, certainly that initial coverage, too, set off a lot of alarm bells, although we were starting to learn more about it.

But, you know, I've been told two ideas in my head at the same time, which I approve a lot of what Obama is doing domestically and on social issues, and still be upset about this.

KURTZ: Let's see if Ramesh hold two ideas.

Conservative commentators, seems to me, are torn between ripping Obama, and that's their natural instinct, and defending an anti-terror program that in the case of the phone surveillance, dates to George W. Bush who started this in 2006 and this was continued by Barack Obama.

PONNURU: Well, I think there is a long standing division among conservatives on where you stand on the sort of liberty versus national security arguments. And this story is one of the things that is going to move conservatives in a more libertarian, more skeptical of national security claims direction.

And it's not just because the Obama administration is doing it, although it's part of it, but also with the IRS story, there's just more of the sense that government is out of control, and that is something that is not just affecting conservatives, but I think the public at large.

KURTZ: Right. Got to get to a break here. When we come back, "The New York Times" seems to turn on Barack Obama. We'll look at a very sharply worded editorial in just a moment.


KURTZ: Continuing our conversation about press disclosures of the Obama administration's massive surveillance program.

And, Ana Marie Cox, widely noticed "New York Times" editorial the other day saying the following, "The administration has now lost all credibility on this issue. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it's given and very likely abuse it."

Now, that was softened a little bit of a after the first edition. It originally just said, the administration has lost all credibility. In other words, on this issue was inserted. Is that a significant softening given the nature of this criticism? COX: Well, I think it's an honest softening, which is to say like I think they have sort of the same video, as I do, which is that you can have credibility on --

KURTZ: You can like the health program --

COX: You can like the health care program.

KURTZ: -- and be outraged about this.

COX: You can think he's good in some issues and think he's bad on other issues. I just want to jump in about the hype question, which is that I do think this has been hyped in the sense that the commentary has been really hyper partisan. I mean, you showed some people crossing lines, but there are a lot of, no, Obama's fault, no, Bush's fault. And I worried that the general public will believe that it's hype and shut their ears to the whole thing and think that it's entirely partisan and it's not like a central thing to discuss.

KURTZ: When President Obama called it hype in that clip we played before the break, he then on to say, well, no one's listening to anyone's phone calls, so at least not indiscriminately. Nobody in the press reported that. They said got they got the phone records of every call made by every American.

So where are you on this media question?

PONNURU: All of the reassurances that this is not a big deal, these stories, they don't reassure, because what he's saying there ignores the fact that modern technology allows us to infer a lot based on the data that we do know that they're getting. And these stories -- you know, when people say, well, both administrations did can it, so it's not a big deal. No, that makes it a bigger deal. That is if the law allows it, which is another excuse being made, that's a problem. That's a problematic story.

KURTZ: Charlie, you were co-author of a story yesterday in "New York Times", I have it here, saying this kind of data mining, to use the technical term was instrumental at least in foiling one plot in Pakistan that was going to lead potentially to the bombing of New York subways. And one of the people cited here was a senior intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

So, it seems that an administration upset about leaks, that is going after certain and like investigations. It's perfectly happy to leak one when it's in the matter of depending a program that happens controversial.

SAVAGE: Well, the hypocrisy over leaking stuff and then going after other people who leaked things you don't like is rampant in this town and it's part of the general nonsense that is Washington. But to connect that to Anna's comment, you know, so much of what happens and what gets talked about, what gets reported out of Washington really is nonsense. It is partisan hackery on both sides, and each team is just throwing talking points at each other that means nothing --

KURTZ: Are the media complicit in --


SAVAGE: Of course, because media cover it like a baseball game, and the danger of that is the crying wolf syndrome, right, where -- when something really happens, and this phone database is really different, the danger is the people will say, ah, it's just another Benghazi talking point, tit for tat. This is something that will change America if it stays in place. The issue is now that the public finally knows about it, are they going to demand that it is dismantled and their calling records are destroyed, or are they going to tolerate this for themselves and for their children.

KURTZ: I think the press coverage will play a role. This baseball game is out of innings at the moment. Ramesh Ponnuru, Ana Marie Cox, Charlie Savage, thanks very much for stopping by this Sunday morning.

Ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, MSNBC's president says he's not really in the breaking news business. Is that hurting his ratings?


KURTZ: MSNBC bills itself as the place for politics, but that's a less popular place lately with the network slipping to fourth place in the cable news wars in the last two months, its numbers down about 20 percent. When it comes to breaking news, MSNBC President Phil Griffin told the "New York Times" that unlike CNN, quote, "We're not the place for that. Our brand is not that." Is that a problem?

Joining us now in New York, Joe Concha, a reporter for "Mediaite." Joe, does it hurt MSNBC when its own boss says the network doesn't really make a priority or it isn't its strength to cover breaking news?

JOE CONCHA, COLUMNIST, "MEDIAITE": Absolutely, Howard. I mean, it reminds me of if you go to Sizzler Steakhouse and you go to the waiter and you say, can I get a steak and they say, no, that's no longer on the menu. For Griffin to say go to the CNN cafe, go to TGI Fox if you want a natural disaster, terrorist attack, maybe a human interest story, we really don't do that, we're strictly politics. You're basically waving the white flag of surrender. So what Griffin has done here--

KURTZ: In fairness to Phil Griffin, he doesn't have a whole stable of reporters. MSNBC has to borrow reporters from NBC News. It's just not (ph) the way the network is constructed, but to look at the last two months, all these big stories, the Boston bombing, of course, the Cleveland kidnapping case, the Oklahoma tornadoes, even the Philadelphia building collapse the other day, does the fact that so much of breaking news has kind of dominated the headlines, has it helped CNN, its numbers are up, and has it hurt MSNBC?

CONCHA: Yes, it's really been three factors, Howie. It was the -- the stories you just mentioned, Boston shingling (ph) into Cleveland and then the Oklahoma tornadoes. At HLN, Headline News, the sister network of CNN, they had Jodi Arias and the verdict there, so that was huge ratings for them relatively, and then you had all these scandals.

Scandals are unfavorable to the Obama administration. AP, IRS, James Rosen, DOJ, NSA, Benghazi, you pick them. They are all unfavorable to the president. Therefore, it's not good for a network like MSNBC that openly cheerleads for the president, because then their audience ends up going elsewhere because they're probably disgruntled.

KURTZ: I'm sure some at MSNBC would say they're not cheerleaders. But so you buy into the theory that if it's branded as a liberal network, and it has a lot of liberal viewers, if the news is negative for Barack Obama, that can have a depressing effect on viewership, not just the fact that this is not a campaign year and politics is not as compelling?

CONCHA: Exactly, see, it is, as you said, a nonelection year. MNSBC is like the Olympics at this point where you have the winter and summer Olympics every two games. So basically 2014 midterms, yes, the ratings will do better. Presidential elections, yes, will do better. Non-elections years and then when you have a president saying, hey, guys, we don't do breaking news -- that doesn't leave a lot of compelling reasons for me to go to MSNBC when I could go to CNN that does breaking news really well and has rebranded itself to do other news stories like the Cleveland kidnapping. They own that, and for Fox, obviously, that does breaking news and opinion well.

KURTZ: Right. But couldn't this all turn out to be temporary when we get into a period where there is not a lot of breaking news, couldn't a lot of viewers go back to MSNBC because they like watching Chris Matthew, Rachel Maddow, you know, you name it?

CONCHA: Sure. Well, you know, the Trayvon Martin story, that's something that is a scheduled breaking news event so to speak, and you have a trial date. They say they are going to own that story. The problem is that their credibility there is shaken because you have an Al Sharpton who has led rallies in defense of Trayvon Martin, who has collected donations for his defense.

Obviously you're not going to get a lot of credibility there. Lawrence O'Donnell has already alleged a police cover-up. So they want to own that story. I'm not sure you're going to get an objective viewpoint. I don't know if viewers are going to take to that the way they'd like them to, Howie.

KURTZ: Although, you know, these are opinionated people and we've talked about Al Sharpton's role in the Trayvon's case on our program before, but you don't tune into a lot of these programs whether they are on MSNBC or elsewhere, without expecting the strong view points of the anchors.

Let me turn you to another interesting controversy this week in the media world. Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes firing back at MSNBC's Jonathan Alter over a serious of allegations in Alter's book, "The Center Holds." Ailes telling "Politico" in a statement that most of what Alter writes about him is provably false and the author either needs to check into a first year journalism program in Columbia or a rage counseling center immediately.

Alter says his information comes from current or former News Corp employees, News Corp the parent company of Fox News, and that Ailes is being a bully. Here are just a couple of examples in Ailes' statement. Alter's allegation, we can put that up, "tales of his paranoia" -- that is Roger Ailes -- has circulated for years, like the time he tried to order bombproof glass for his office because he thought homosexuals outside of News Corp headquarters on sixth avenue might shoot at him.

Ailes response, he says I tried to bomb proof the office by ordering bombproof glass because I thought that homosexuals might shoot me? First of all, Alter must be homophobic to even think like that. If a bomb goes off, the whole damn building goes down. It doesn't matter what glass you have. It's a stupid accusation.

Here's another one, Alter says after Murdoch pushed him to moderate Fox's coverage of Obama, Ailes threatened to quit. Ailes' response, Rupert Murdoch never asked me to ease up on Obama and I never threatened to resign. What do you make of this back and forth?

CONCHA: Look, if you just take that one quote that you just read about Roger Ailes putting bulletproof glass to his office because he thinks that homosexuals, gay militants, are out to assassinate him -- because gay militants are a big problem in this country, they are taking out news execs left and right -- who are you going to believe in this situation? I have got to go with Ailes, I got to go with the guy who isn't trying to sell books, a book, by the way, that was poorly reviewed by the "New York Times". They called it a tired TV rerun of a not so popular show. Book sales, he is not even in the top 50 on Amazon. So it looks like Alter is just trying to sell books. I don't see any names with these sources at all. So how believable can it be. And in the end I think that Jonathan Alter used to be the type of reporter that had some gravitas and now he's morphed into Perez Hilton, with stories like that.

KURTZ: What do you make of the rather strong nature of Roger Ailes' response to "Politico?"

CONCHA: I don't know why, Howie, he would plunge down and even acknowledge Alter in this situation. Roger Ailes is one of the most powerful men in media. To acknowledge an author that's struggling to sell books, I would say it was ill advised. I would have left it alone, because it will only help Jonathan Alter sell a couple more books.

KURTZ: Well, it certainly made news. Joe Concha, thanks very much for helping us out this morning on these media controversies.

CONCHA: Thank you, Howie.

KURTZ: After the break, is the trend of online TV series like the resurrected "Arrested Development" changing the way TV critics have to do their jobs? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Remember back in the day when your favorite television show aired once a week? Now it's all about bingeing as when Netflix released the entire season of "Arrested Development."


UNIDENTIFIELD MALE: I just want my son to have a job where his incompetence won't be out of place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not a great sign.


KURTZ: So is this approach changing the way the media critiques such programs? Joining us now from Philadelphia, Ken Tucker, media critic and NPR contributor, and joining us again, Ana Marie Cox of "The Guardian," who has been also writing weekly reviews for the new season.

Ken Tucker, first question, because "Arrested Development" isn't the first series to do this. How do you sit down and review a whole TV series at once?

KEN TUCKER, MEDIA CRITIC: Well, that is the key problem, and it's a problem that I think maybe Netflix hadn't really anticipated because once you -- leading up to these shows, both "House of Cards" and "Arrested Development," there was tremendous hype about the premieres of these things. Once the shows actually premiered, the coverage kind of dropped off a cliff, because critics became kind of frozen.

They couldn't write, they felt, about the entire arc of "Arrested Development" without giving away plot lines and punchlines, and I think in general TV criticism has become so scared of spoiler culture, of people yelling at them that they don't want to hear details of TV shows, that it's kind of intimidated them. And it's hampered the coverage of them. And I think that's a problem that Netflix may not have anticipated in terms of ongoing media presence.

KURTZ: Well, since you brought you up the s word, are you scared? Do you think there has been too much timidity on the part of critics that somebody somewhere or a lot of people actually might find out how the season ends and be ticked off?

TUCKER: Not at all. I mean, I think spoiler culture is just ridiculous and ought to be defied at any given moment possible. And also in particular with "Arrested Development," it's not until you watch all 15 episodes of this that you see how beautifully constructed this is, and you really want to go back and watch it all over again. I mean, I'm not one for binge watching, because I really want to watch my intake of saturated fatuousness. But in the case of "Arrested Development," I just wanted to watch it all over again.

KURTZ: You are a phrase maker in a way that I can only inspire to. Ana Marie Cox, you had an analogy saying that you likened a TV series to an ice cream sundae, like you would not like to gorge on the whole thing and get indigestion?

COX: I think it's possible to do and it's also possible to not enjoy every bite. Like I know people, close personal friends, who did binge watch this, and one friend of mine told me that she felt like she, this sort of the grueling nature of trying to get through all the episodes at once made her miss things.

KURTZ: Sounds like homework.

COX: To be fair, you're going to miss things in "Arrested Development." There is something particular to "Arrested Development" more than "House of Cards," more than almost any other show I can think of, where repeat viewings make sense. And that's one of the reasons why I think that we may see a bump up again in arrested coverage as people start to consume the whole thing.

KURTZ: But as a fan, obviously you've been writing reviews for Grantland, the web site Grantland about "Arrested Development," but what about the spoiler problem? Don't you get annoyed if you read something online if you're trying to avoid it? It's like learning the score of a basketball game that you've taped to watch later.

COX: Well, much like a good sporting event, a really good sporting event, you can watch it over and over. If the quality is high enough, the spoilers won't make a difference. You know, I can think like I knew what was going to happen in "Game of Thrones," the last episode, too, because I read the books. It was still compelling viewing. And with "Arrested," there is so much richness to the text, there are so many inside jokes, so many background jokes, that you can watch it again and again, even knowing what is going to happen.

KURTZ: Ken Tucker, it seems to me, putting myself in your shoes, that it raises the question of which is the audience that you are writing for. It was so easy in the old days a couple of years ago, because everybody was on episode three and it would be the hype and anticipation and speculation about episode four. Now you don't know whether you're writing for somebody who has seen the entire season or only a couple of episodes and that has got to be challenging for you.

TUCKER: It is a little bit. But not in the sense that television has become so intensely populated by people who are really, really engaged and they really want to hear what -- bounce their opinion off of yours. I think that really "Arrested Development" in particular attracts a kind of audience that will put up with a lot of spoilage so to speak, and giving away - my writing down a punchline or telling you what happens in a certain story line is not really going to spoil your enjoyment when you actually experience the show.

KURTZ: It seems to me, if I can just burst in here, it seems to me you are talking about the super fans, the people who really want to marinate in this thing. Somebody who would actually spend six and a half hours watching 13 episodes or however much time it takes, but what about all the casual fans who like to the weekly rhythm of watching one and waiting for the next week, they kind of get left as roadkill?

TUCKER: It is my experience, really, that television, the television audience has become so fractured that it is almost entirely populated by super fans, that whether you are an "Arrested Development" fan or a fan of "The Bachelorette," you just want to know every single thing about that. And chances are in a lot of cases when I write, people know more than I do about the show. They remember old jokes, call backs to previous references, and I think it is one of the things that makes covering TV exciting now. It is much more of a dialogue between the critic and the viewer.

KURTZ: Anna Marie, I have a half minute. Does this reflect a gotta have it all know culture? People want the whole thing?

COX: A little bit of a binge culture, but let's remember, like there is no such thing, there is still the time-space continuum. You can only watch one episode at a time. You can't like fully consume all of them at once. So like, I have been doing one episode at a time, because that's the way you physically consume them.


KURTZ: We are old fashioned.

COX: I am old fashioned in this particular sense.

KURTZ: OK. Well, it seems to me that this has the potential to change not just the way television is consumed but to change the way that regular television markets itself, because more of this stuff is going to be made available on the Internet on sites like Hulu and elsewhere. And we'll maybe have you back to talk more about that. Ana Marie Cox, and Ken Tucker, thank you for joining us.

Still to come, "The New York Post" sued over a front page photo of the Boston bombing. Keith Olbermann getting a new TV gig, and wait until you see these two women on a Philadelphia newscast who clearly can't stand each other. The "Media Monitor" is straight ahead.


KURTZ: Time for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. It was a lawsuit waiting to happen. A young Massachusetts man and his high school friend suing "The New York Post" over this "bag men" cover after the Boston bombing. The tabloid did not name them or call them suspects, but the headline "Feds seek this duo pictured at Boston marathon" clearly implied that these two innocent bystanders might have something to do with the attack, an appalling front page.

With the Tribune company putting up its papers for sale, there have been a number of protests about the possibility that they could be sold to the Koch brothers, the billionaire businessmen who are aggressively conservative. The complaint has been that they would turn such papers, such as the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, into propaganda vehicles. Now Charles Koch telling the "Wall Street Journal" quote, "there's a need for focus on real news, not news with an agenda or news that is really editorializing." If the company does buy any newspapers, Koch says, the editorial page would be a marketplace of ideas where all sorts of approaches to public policy issues are vetted and contrasted, and there would be ongoing debate. And that, he says, would improve the bottom line. There is plenty of reasons for skepticism, but let's remember that more liberal businessmen such as Warren Buffett have been snapping up newspapers without compromising their journalistic mission.

Keith Olbermann, who's knocked around the TV business a bit, has found a new gig. The one-time sports caster will be providing commentary during the baseball playoffs for TBS, which is part of CNN parent company. Turner sports executive David Levy (ph) tells the Hollywood Reporter, I think he realizes that he's obviously burned some bridges out there in the marketplace, but he's a talent. Should be fun, and maybe Olbermann gets more than three strikes.

Now, not everyone in TV news likes each other, sorry to break it to you, but most do a pretty good job of hiding it. That doesn't seem to be the case at the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia, where anchor Nicole Brewer and (ph) meteorologist, Carol Erickson (ph) don't do a good job of disguising their mutual disdain.


CAROL ERICKSON, METEOROLOGIST: After that, we like that, with a couple of shower (inaudible) by the time we get to Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and thanks for the -- hard to get applause --


NICOLE BREWER, ANCHOR: How's that Carol, is that good enough for you? OK, I'll try a little harder next time. Thanks so much. Meanwhile a high-speed chase --


KURTZ: There's more -- captured in the montage taped by a viewer and posted by the web site "Amazing Life 24/7.


BREWER: Father of 12. Well, he has nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Wow. Good for Obie (ph). Now, it may be his birthday, but Carol, when it comes to the weather, we want no monkey business, OK, all good things.

ERICKSON: It's 49 degrees in Philadelphia, Nicole, with a temperature of --

BREWER: I tried. You can't even give me that, can you?

ERICKSON: 38 degrees out through the Allentown area.


KURTZ: She tried. Officials at KYW say it is ridiculous and out of context, and we did find one incident which we didn't show you where the editing was misleading because they weren't talking about each other. The station also says the two women like each other just fine. And since that video went viral, the pair had been on a Twitter love fest. Nicole Brewer writing, "If you know Carol and me, you know there is only love between us."

Carol Erickson tweeting "Nicole is a doll and meant no disrespect." Of course not, just good friends. Nothing to see here. Did you catch the drop dead looks they were shooting each other? Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz.

One programming note, you can catch the season finale of Anthony Bourdain's "PARTS UNKNOWN" tonight at 9:00 pm. Eastern. Followed by the premiere of CNN's "Stroumbolopoulos" at 10. I didn't even have to practice that. We're back here next Sunday morning at 11 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.