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Media Rediscovers the Other America; Emotional Coverage of Katrina; Roberts on the Hot Seat
Aired September 18, 2005 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): The storm over the poor. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, journalists have discovered the poor and black residents of New Orleans left behind. Why have the media devoted so little attention to this other America? And does the sudden focus on the country's have-notes reflect a liberal point of view?
Emotional journalism. As hurricane correspondents get more aggressive, are they holding the government accountable, or just airing their own opinions?
Roberts on the hot seat. Has Katrina washed away coverage of the judge's confirmation hearings? And have news organizations been stymied by the nominee for chief justice and his limited legal answers?
Plus, Geraldo versus "The New York Times." Did he get physical to make himself a hurricane hero?
KURTZ: Welcome to the special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. As you can see, CNN is working to help reunite children displaced by Hurricane Katrina, with their families. You will be seeing their names and faces in the box on the left of your screen during our hour today.
Ahead, our show will look at John Roberts and the press, but first, America's greatest natural disaster seems to have exposed a problem that's been hidden in plain sight, at least from the media. Those hardest hit by Katrina: Poor people, many of them black. But the 37 million Americans living below the poverty line have gotten scant attention from the media in recent years.
As this "Newsweek" cover makes clear, that's changed, at least for now. And suddenly, the airwaves are filled with talk of poverty and of race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AARON BROWN, HOST, NEWSNIGHT: Of all the complicated questions the response to Katrina raises, questions of race and class in the country rank right at the top. GEORGE STEPHANOPOLOUS, ABC NEWS: So many people in this country have looked at so many of the victims being African-American, the sluggish federal response and said, racism has to be at play.
BILL O'REILLY, HOST, O'REILLY FACTOR: I don't see the racial component. I see the class component. All right? I don't see the racial component.
KURTZ: But to put it bluntly, where has the media been all along on these questions?
Joining us now from New York, author and "Newsweek" contributing editor Ellis Cose. Here in Washington, Clarence Page, columnist fro the "Chicago Tribune." And radio talk show host Blanquita Cullum. Welcome.
Ellis Cose, how is it that the media are suddenly discovering and interested in the fact that there are many poor black people in New Orleans and other big cities?
ELLIS COSE, NEWSWEEK: This is an old pattern, Howard. I mean, you go back to the '60s and the riots of the '60s and the (INAUDIBLE) commission report which first commented on the fact that America was not getting exposed to this other America, and then all of a sudden, when there were riots, we got, in a sense, overexposed to this other America. And that's a pattern that happened after Watts in '65. It happened again after Watts in the '80s. It's happened again, in a sense, with the O.J. Simpson trial, and now it's happening now.
We as media organizations tend to focus on this story when we're forced to focus on it. It is not a pleasant story for us to look at any more than it is a pleasant story for the rest of America to look at.
KURTZ: When there's not a disaster or hurricane or a riot, Clarence Page, has there been a conscious decision by news organizations to turn away from black people, poor people, urban poverty? Too depressing? Not the audience they are looking for?
CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: I think ti's a reflection of the society on the whole, Howard. I mean, when was the last time you covered a presidential campaign where race or poverty were important issues? Were it not for John Edwards last year, you wouldn't have heard race or the two Americas Ellis was talking about even brought up. I think maybe Bill Clinton in '92 talking about we're going to end welfare as we know it, or the Willie Horton campaign in '88. The fact is...
KURTZ: The politicians don't talk about it very much. But does that let journalists off the hook? Since when do we take our talking points from the political class?
PAGE: Well, it happens both ways. I think we have been abandoning inner city coverage. Back in the '60s, when I got started in the business, we had riots in our cities, and so that drew everybody to that story, like Ellis said.
But the poor have become invisible again, as Michael Harrington chronicled back in the early '60, before the war on poverty, and New Orleans just made the poor visible. And they turned out in this case to be mostly black.
KURTZ: Ellis, I'll come back to you in one second. I want to turn to Blanquita Cullum. Has the racial aspect of this New Orleans disaster been real and unavoidable or something that is driven by the media coverage?
BLANQUITA CULLUM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, clearly, I mean, you have to look at the number of African-Americans who live in New Orleans. And it's a real component. But the kind of drama of trying to create it into a civil rights issue has been driven by the media.
Now, look, I would say to you, the most important factor that happened in New Orleans was that there was an incompetence level and the recovery system that in trying to help people after the disaster at the state, local and federal level.
But you know, there were three other areas in that area that were predominantly mixed of white and black that was not focused.
KURTZ: Sure. You say civil rights issue driven by the media.
KURTZ: Here is a CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll. Were the efforts and the rescue efforts slowed by the fact that many of the victims were black? Sixty percent of blacks say yes; only 12 percent of whites say yes. Did the media brainwash all those people?
CULLUM: No. But I think the media also had to play upon that fact to try to make it more an issue because people were black against white. Frankly, the response was not because people were black. It was because they had a bad plan in place at the state, local and federal level. It just happened to be that there were more blacks in New Orleans. It could have been Latins, it could have been Asians, it could have been whites. And I'm not sure that the media would have played it out the same way if it had been Hispanics or Caucasians.
KURTZ: OK. Let me go back to Ellis Cose. The -- go ahead.
COSE: Well, I was going to say, first of all, it didn't just happen that they were black. If you look at urban poverty across America, look in Chicago, look in Compton, look in even places like Atlanta, it tends to be disproportionately black. And that's for deep, historical reasons. It didn't just happen that way. You don't have white ghettos in the way you have black ghettos in this country, and that has to do with the segregated housing patterns that the government encouraged and in fact forced for years. So it didn't just happen to be that way.
CULLUM: So you're saying, so you're saying then, because, see, I would have to say that New Orleans would probably -- I mean, one of the great things about New Orleans traditionally has been that they've had a great situation with people and their identity with race, period. But you're saying now that it was disproportionately black on purpose? I think that's wrong.
COSE: I'm saying two things. I'm saying one thing, you're wrong on the facts. But New Orleans is more segregated than any other large Southern city with two exceptions -- Birmingham and Miami. It's an intensely segregated city.
Yes, it does have a very liberal tradition in terms of people being able to communicate and to enjoy each other across racial lines. But to say that New Orleans is not a segregated city is just factually incorrect.
KURTZ: Let me come back...
COSE: And I'm also saying that, yes, there were policy, some of them governmental, some of them private, that created ghettos in this country. And...
KURTZ: What I want to do is focus on the coverage of this, and whether there were policies or not, that has not been the picture that most of us have gotten of New Orleans. I mean, Clarence Page, let me throw it back to you. All of these reporters who go through New Orleans and write stories every single year -- we hear about the Mardi Gras, we hear about the French Quarter, we hear about the Cajun restaurants. We don't hear very much, or did not until the hurricane, that this is an impoverished city whose residents are two-thirds black. Why is that?
PAGE: Well, because those are not pleasant stories to hear. There is not a newspaper, there is not a television news organization, there is not a radio news organization that is not concerned about ratings, that is not concerned about audience. And the fact of the matter is that these are not pleasant stories.
You know, the second matter goes back to who sets the agenda. The agenda of what we cover, even though we don't like to think about it, is set, to a very large extent, by what government is focusing on.
This administration focuses on education, No Child Left Behind. So you got plenty of coverage of that. This administration did not focus on issues -- a more general sense of poverty. So you didn't get much coverage of that.
PAGE: May I bring one more elephant in the room -- the advertisers. The fact is, our media, what A.J. Liebling said, "in America the press is free to whoever owns one." Marketing is so important for America's commercial media that they do tend to put an emphasis on those communities that have the happy talk stories, or the stories where you have got a more upscale audience. There are two New Orleans. The one most of us know is the tourism, theme park New Orleans. But the city has been 67 percent black for a long time. The city even back when the Superdome was built, there was a big controversy over how they were neglecting the school budget to build the Superdome. This has been going on for years, and it's as much a story in all of our big cities, but we're only covering it intermittently.
KURTZ: And you think it's a problem (ph) because of advertisers; I would suggest there is another factor, and that is most journalists are middle class, many of them white. They don't come into contact with poor people much. They don't...
PAGE: I've always favored diversity in our newsrooms, Howard, but you know, while we're getting better educated as a professional class, we journalists, we're also getting farther away from our roots in the working class. It used to be much more of a blue-collar business.
CULLUM: You'll be surprised, I almost in some ways agree with Ellis, in the fact that I think in one respect, I think that the press can't handle more than three stories. Frankly, right now we're talking about Katrina. But do you think if we had another disaster, we would be wasting our time with Katrina?
The fact of the matter is, if you look at the stories, and the press along the board, whether it is mainstream networks, whether it is the mainstream magazines, even radio programs will say, OK, what are we going to talk about this week? JonBenet Ramsey, or are we going to talk about Natalee Holloway, or are we going to talk about Katrina, are we going to talk about Roberts? OK, that's it, we can only handle three things.
Newscasts have changed to the degree that you don't have journalism like you used to have. What you have now is journalism as a soap opera. You have journalism that has theme music, you have journalism that has logos, you has journalism that has a certain kind of pattern that has to become a soap opera so we can become hooked on watching the soap opera instead of watching the news.
KURTZ: Last question to Ellis Cose. You mentioned riots over previous decades. I think the 1992 L.A. riots was the last time that race and poverty were part of a major media debate. Possible exception, welfare reform. How much longer will the underclass stay in the news now after Katrina? Are we talking about two more weeks? Could it be six more months, depending on how the resettlement, rebuilding efforts go?
COSE: I think a lot of it depends on how the story develops. But I think it's going to be a story for a long time, and a long time meaning at least six months or more. And I think these issues are going to be finally examined.
Now, the question for me is whether they are going to be examined just in the context of Katrina or New Orleans or whether it becomes a larger national debate about poverty in our midst and about racial isolation in our midst.
KURTZ: That's an important question, and we'll have to find out the answer to that.
We take a break right now. When we come back -- President Bush and covering the politics of race. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as you will. That poverty has roots in the history of racial discrimination.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: President Bush making relatively rare references to poverty and race in his speech to the nation from New Orleans on Thursday night. Welcome back to this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
Clarence Page, have the media tried to make this story all about Bush, not about the governor of Louisiana, not about the mayor of New Orleans, but Bush's slow response, Bush's indifference towards the poor, Bush doesn't care about black people, says rapper Kanye West?
PAGE: Well, it's a matter of perception. The fact is that there were screw-ups at all levels. Blanquita is right. The mayor's office, the governor's office, the White House. Nobody denies that except the politicians, and I've heard them do it depending which part you belong to, but...
KURTZ: But you don't agree that the press has put the focus on the president?
PAGE: Well, the fact is, the president is still -- Harry Truman is right, the buck stops here. Most of the public has put the focus on the president. Most people, most black Americans that we saw in the polls feel like Kanye West, right or wrongly, that Bush doesn't care about black people.
I think Bush doesn't care enough about poor people, and that, the poll show, a majority of people and is starting to cut into his Republican base now, which was why he really felt it was urgent to get out and talk to the public.
KURTZ: Blanquita, I heard you sighing. Does the press paint a picture of President Bush as not caring very much about blacks or poor people, refusing to meet with the NAACP and so forth? And is that unfair in your mind?
CULLUM: Of course, that's unfair.
KURTZ: But is that what the press is doing?
CULLUM: Yeah, I absolutely think that's what the press is doing. And you know, on the left hand side of the aisle, they're so hungry to gain footage to be able to get more states to be able to -- because elections -- you know, you have Senate elections coming around, you've got the presidential election coming around. This is the time for them to start to try to find an indelible mark.
But frankly, I think they're going to make a mistake with that, and I think the press is going to make a mistake with that.
First of all, they're going to find out the incompetence, I mean royal incompetence of Nagin and also the governor, and then they're going to start finding out things that happened that were not the fault of the president.
KURTZ: And you are talking just about the response to the hurricane?
CULLUM: No, no, no, no, no, I'm talking about what's going to happen down the road with the media, who were quick, so quick to point the finger at this president, and frankly, this president -- and the president has done everything.
CULLUM: He's accepted the blame. He's out there helping the poor. And that's still not enough for the press.
PAGE: For the record, the media have pointed out the incompetence of Nagin and the governor.
CULLUM: Thank you. Well, no, but not much. A little bit.
KURTZ: Let's go to New York and Ellis Cose.
Are journalists accurate in saying that President Bush hasn't made a high priority of helping the poor minorities? I mean, the White House would say tax cuts helped the poor, No Child Left Behind helps minority students, faith-based initiatives help those who are less fortunate. What's your take?
COSE: Well, faith-based initiatives are sort of hit-and-miss, and No Child Left Behind is probably the most important federal educational initiative in years. And I think the jury is out on that. It's done clearly some good. It's not clear that it's done nearly as much good as the president claims for it. But...
KURTZ: But my question is, has he gotten a bum rap from the press on these issues?
COSE: No, I don't think so. Because I think he has given very little to the constituency, and part of it I think is that this is not his natural constituency. This is not his core constituency. And I think any politician cares a lot less about people who are not part of their core constituency than they care about people who are. KURTZ: You got just a few seconds.
CULLUM: I got to tell you, you have got to be careful with stuff like that, because right now, we're in times we're going to have a lot of disasters, and I think politicians and people who think very partisan need to get off that stuff. We need to start coming together like the president has been talking about, work together as a nation and knock that kind of talk off.
COSE: Well, of course, we do. But I also think it is clear the president has been more concerned about reducing and eliminating estate taxes than he has been about building up poor zones in cities across America.
KURTZ: I am going to have to put a halt to this. I think we can all agree, though, that these are questions that are going to be in the forefront of what we see on television and in newspapers for some time to come.
Clarence Page, Blanquita Cullum, Ellis Cose in New York, thanks very much for joining us.
Just ahead -- are reporters getting overly emotional in covering the biggest natural disaster in American history and letting their opinions get in the way? We'll ask three reporters who have been in the trenches in New Orleans, next.
KURTZ: Welcome back. From the earliest hours of the Katrina disaster, there was a gap, a disconnect between the reassuring words of government officials and the heartwrenching (ph) reports of correspondents on the ground. And that led to a more emotional brand of journalism than we usually see, from reporters from Louisiana and Mississippi to Washington pouring out their hearts and getting unusually aggressive with politicians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Excuse me, Senator. I'm sorry for interrupting. I haven't heard that, because for the last four days, I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi.
TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: Mr. Secretary, you say prestaged, people were sent to the Convention Center, there was no water, no food, no beds, no authorities there. There was no planning.
SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Over there, there's hope. Over there, there's electricity. Over there, there's food and water. But you cannot go from there to there.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST, "HANNITY & COLMES": I think...
SMITH: The government will not allow you to do it. It's a fact.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Is this new tone a welcome improvement for a passive press or just old-fashioned advocacy journalism?
Joining me now here in Washington, "New Orleans Times-Picayune" columnist Chris Rose. In Kenner, Louisiana, Lee Cowan, correspondent for CBS News. And in New York, CNN correspondent Alina Cho. She spent more than a week in the Gulf, covering Hurricane Katrina.
Welcome to all. Lee Cowan, before I go with my first question to you, I want to play a bit of tape from one of your reports. You've been down there for several weeks. Let's take a look at some of your reporting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEE COWAN, CBS CORRESPONDENT: We are at the end of the hallway on the second floor, just feet from the emergency exit. We found the area where it seemed as if most of the critically ill patients were being housed, and it's here that we found one of the most disturbing signs of all. That's exactly what it was, just a simple sign. It said "dying patients. Please respect."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, you are on the scene, you are seeing dead bodies, you're smelling the sewage. Does all that make you mad and does that somehow translate itself, inject itself into your reporting?
COWAN: Well, I think there's a difference between being impassioned to the point of preaching, and being compassionate. And I hope that what came through in some of the work that I've done and my other colleagues at CBS has been more compassionate. I mean, sure, it does make you angry. But I think you do have to take a step back and make sure that you're not preaching about what's wrong here. I think the pictures really tell the story for themselves. I don't think you have to inject yourself that much if you are just reporting what you see in front of you.
KURTZ: Alina Cho, you did one story that caught my eye about 600 firefighters who had driven 24 hours from Illinois to get to the devastated Gulf region, and then waited in Baton Rouge and were not used when they could have been used perhaps to save lives. Did that make you angry, upset, frustrated? Did the emotions of covering those kinds of stories find its way into your reporting?
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that they were very angry. I mean, they said, listen, we were raised as firefighters, and we're taught to be doers, we're taught to be quick responders. And so, yes, I mean, I agree with Lee in that, yes, it can make you angry. But I think that we're all human beings. I mean, listen, we try to be compassionate while we were down there behind the scenes. Our crew personally bought milk bones for the stray dogs, we've brought extra water and food and we were able to hand those out to residents while we were there.
And so, we did a lot of that behind the scenes, because at the end of the day, Howie, you are still a human being. You try not to inject that into your reporting, but you know, sometimes I think it is OK for your emotions to come out. I think Anderson Cooper proved that. And I think viewers appreciate that.
KURTZ: Since you mention Anderson Cooper, he's gotten a lot of good press for his dogged and emotional coverage of this disaster. But the conservative PowerLine blog, Alina, said that Cooper and CNN quote, "want the hurricane coverage to be about one thing: Anger at the Bush administration's response."
CHO: Well, I think, listen, you know, we were on the ground for 10- days covering this story. Everyone from residents to real estate agents to people we encountered on the street, people we didn't know, to our family, the lovely family we stayed with in Baton Rouge while we were covering this story, everyone was angry at FEMA. And if our reporting reflected that, I think it is because of what we saw on the ground.
KURTZ: Now, Chris Rose, you are in a whole different situation. You can't go home right now because there's no power, and no water, no electricity where you live in New Orleans. You have got your family up here temporarily, you've got your kids going to school in the Washington area temporarily.
Could you possibly separate your emotions about this from your writing, and should you?
CHRIS ROSE, NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAYUNE: I think it would be impossible. You know, reporters are trained to go do this in other places, to go respond to what happens in Oklahoma City, 9/11, the tsunami. Other -- other natural...
KURTZ: Iraq. Wars. Yeah.
ROSE: ... disasters, other places. There is no handbook that prepares you to cover this in your hometown. So that while we have to do the day-to-day journalism, be on the front lines, getting the story out; at the same time, we're wondering, where are our relatives, is my house under water? Trying to put my kids in school 1,000 miles away. It becomes a very emotional, very personal story. It's impossible.
KURTZ: How do you concentrate when you have got to worry about your family having a place to live?
ROSE: I guess right now, we feel so vital, our newspaper, and in particular our Web site, since we're so scattered around, that we have to get -- you guys are covering big-picture issues here on the networks. We are covering the schools, the sports teams, the neighborhoods. People want to know about Mardi Gras, Jazzfest, as frivolous as that may sound. That's our cultural identity, and people want to know about that, and we're the guys who are going to be able to figure that out.
My house is OK. I have gotten through it OK. But I am working side by side down there with guys who have lost their houses, lost everything. Who have canoed out of their houses, stepped onto the roof. Now, how these guys do it -- they are warriors, to continue day to day, the guys from our newspaper, who've lost everything, and they're still on the frontlines doing it. We have to do it.
CHO: Howie, one thing I want to bring up is that a story that I am going to have on the air later on CNN today, at 4:00, is about a station, a power house station in New Orleans, WWL, a television station. We visited them, and you know, 75 percent of its staff lost their homes in the storm. And yet, they were all at work, even on their days off. They're temporarily relocated in Baton Rouge. But one thing they kept saying to us over and over again is the work helps us, because when we don't have our work, what else do we have? We're like everyone else. And so these are people who have worked tirelessly, like all the journalists down in the region, to get the stories on the air.
KURTZ: Lee Cowan, I want to put up another CNN-"USA Today" poll on the screen and ask you this question. The good news for the media is that 77 percent say journalists have acted responsibly in covering this crisis, and certainly all news organizations have gone all out in covering this under difficult circumstances. But 49 percent say the media have been too busy trying to figure out who's to blame. Do you think that's a fair criticism?
COWAN: I think everybody was seeking for some sort of reason why this happened. I mean, you were all talking about what it was like to cover this. And the unique part of this story is that we were actually part it as well, for better or for worse. We were sleeping out on the freeway when everybody else was sleeping out on the freeway. We didn't have power. We were running low, not so much on water but clearly on food as well. And I think there was that sense among all of us, where is the help?
And there were times in my reporting that I thought, I've got to be in the wrong place. I have got to just be in some small pocket somewhere that the rescuers haven't gotten to yet. They will get to them in a couple of days. And the more I talked to my colleagues elsewhere around the city, we realized, it wasn't just some small pocket. It was the entire area that wasn't getting help right away. And I think it was just sort of a natural question for all of us to ask as to why. Where is it?
I felt being -- I went to the -- to cover the tsunami in Banda Aceh, was there about four days after the storm, after the waves. And I felt that there, aid was getting there faster than it was getting here. It might have been just my perception of things, but it seemed like there was a sense, anyway, there was a feeling that the world cared and it was actually getting out there and delivering supplies, that even though it seemed to be a million miles away, the response just didn't seem to meet the disaster in those first couple of days right afterwards.
KURTZ: But in asking those questions, Lee Cowan, where is the help, where are the buses, where are the planes, where is the food, where is the emergency medical supplies, didn't the media try to lay this all at the feet of one man, FEMA director -- former FEMA Director Michael Brown? He says that he feels he had been scapegoated by the press. Is there anything to that? It can't all be one person's fault.
COWAN: No, I think you are right. And I think one of the things that we ran into is there was a sense of almost feeling a little bit sorry for Mayor Ray Nagin and the folks that were here and the governor. It was hard to attack them right off the bat for not requesting the aid, perhaps, when they should have, for not having a better evacuation plan than they did. And so some of the attention really did sort of skip over them and go directly to FEMA and above, and perhaps we should have paid a lot more attention to the folks right at the center of this who should have had a better evacuation plan in the first place.
KURTZ: Now, Chris Rose, your paper famously warned that in 2002 surveys that New Orleans could be devastated by a big hurricane and the floods that might follow. But no one that I could find did a story about FEMA in the past, Michael Brown's lack of experience, the fact that five of the eight top FEMA officials, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had no real experience in disaster management. So wasn't this partially a failure of the press to ask some of the same questions that we are now wondering why government officials didn't do better planning?
ROSE: Well, I guess, to a degree. You go back to the 2002 series. I'm sure if they could...
KURTZ: Re-write it.
ROSE: ... assign Pulitzer Prizes in retrospect, we'd now win for having predicted that one.
As far as should we have been on top of Michael Brown's inexperience? I'm not sure. You know I mostly -- I've been on the streets down there, not dealing with public officials, but dealing with the people who still live there, people in the communities. We have guys with sharper teeth who are being more confrontational. I guess that's how I've managed to somehow remain writing optimistic stories more about things that are still there than things that are not there, but...
Alina Cho, to the extent that journalists have brought some passion to this, because they've seen with their own eyes the devastation and some of just the heartrending stories. Is this a one- time event or will we see a sort of a new aggressiveness on behalf of journalists on other issues?
CHO: It's hard to say, Howie. I think that you know when something like this happens you think of -- you can't help to think a little bit about 9/11. I know it brought me back there personally. And when I was there, particularly at the television station talking to other journalists, I said this is the story of your lives in the way that 9/11 was the story for New Yorkers.
It's hard to say. I mean I do think that at times journalists did get a bit emotional. But, as I mentioned before, we're human beings and sometimes some of that gets out -- Howie.
KURTZ: People sometimes forget that journalists are, in fact, human beings.
I need to call a timeout. The hour's latest headlines just ahead, and then more with our guests on reporting from New Orleans under water.
And later, Geraldo versus "The New York Times."
And the Roberts hearings for the Supreme Court, Gloria Borger, Bill Press and Bob Zelnick on partisan politics and covering the nominee.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
Here are our top stories.
Tourists are being told to pack up and leave the southern most Florida Keys, Marathon to Key West, as a tropical depression pounds the southern Bahamas. If it strengthens into a tropical storm, it would be named Rita. A hurricane watch is posted for the Keys while forecasters plot the storm's long-term track, most likely into the Gulf of Mexico.
The pictures you have been seeing on the left side of your screen all weekend are some of the 2,000 children still missing or separated from their families in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We are airing them for 40 straight hours in a joint attempt with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to reunite far-flung families. Sixteen kids have been reunited with their families since yesterday morning, nine as a direct result of CNN's direct coverage.
Overseas, Election Day in Germany, and apparently a new day in German politics. Exit polls indicate voters in today's parliamentary elections snubbed the ruling Social Democrats and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in favor of the Christian Democrats led by Angela Merkel. It was a much closer vote than expected, meaning hard work ahead for Merkel if she's to put together a ruling coalition.
I will have a complete look at today's stories at the top of the hour.
Now, back to more RELIABLE SOURCES with Howard Kurtz.
KURTZ: Welcome back to this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Lee Cowan, you were at the Superdome. You talked to a woman who was in pain. She was nine months pregnant. You were on a boat. You saw a patient in a hospital gown floating by on a piece of plywood. What was the impact on you, personally, reporting these harrowing episodes? COWAN: Well you certainly think about it a lot at night when you finally get to bed after the day. I mean they were not things that we didn't expect to see, clearly. When we saw the water coming up, we knew that this was bad.
But what was, I guess, amazing is that the more you saw of it, it just never stopped. It was day after day after day after day and in neighborhood after neighborhood after neighborhood. It was the scope of it that I think struck some of us so hard rather than just these individual scenes, which were heartbreaking enough.
And I think in terms of our coverage, what the real test is going to be for us is when those sort of images, the dramatic images, the emotional sound, starts to go away a little bit, how are we going to start recovering or start covering the rebuilding? You know the inevitable corruption that may happen, whether or not these people are really getting the aid that's been promised. And as that sort of progresses along, I think that's going to be the real test on how we, as the media, cover this whole event from beginning to end.
KURTZ: Absolutely. When the pictures are not quite as dramatic in the rebuilding and resettlement.
Alina Cho, I want to come back to this question of whether journalists in their passion for their story and their compassion have perhaps been too confrontational. I want to play a brief clip of you asking a question of Michael Brown when he was still the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHO (on camera): The Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, has called for your resignation. And I'm wondering if you have a response to that?
MICHAEL BROWN, FEMA: The president is in charge of that, not me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Why did you ask Brown that question in that way?
CHO: Well, I wanted to know. I wanted to know the answer. I wanted to know whether he was planning to resign. Certainly there was a lot of criticism. And, as I mentioned before the break, Howie, these are things that we were hearing from everyone. It was almost, as I mentioned, a way of life to feel this way, whether you were directly affected by the storm or not.
KURTZ: Chris Rose, you have got to be a little bit worried about the future of your newspaper. Not only is "The Times-Picayune" flooded out of its offices, but New Orleans is pretty much a ghost town. And a lot of people who are being interviewed who have gone to Texas and other places say they don't have any intention of coming back. These are your readers. It's got to make people there nervous. ROSE: I think, to a degree. But, like I said, I don't think we've ever been a more vital resource of information for people from New Orleans, both for those who were there and those who are going to come back. Long...
KURTZ: Even though you're only printing a fraction of the copies that you usually publish?
ROSE: We're printing a fraction right now and we have the Web site going. But I mean the day is going to come, Howard, where long after the satellite trucks have left Canal Street and gone on to the next big national story, we're still going to be there.
And the amazing thing about New Orleans is everybody there, even when they really don't have much to stay, will talk for a long, long time. And now everyone in town has a story. Everyone has a story that will define pretty much the rest of their lives. So we'll be there telling it for a long, long time. We're going to be around.
KURTZ: Sounds like you're personally committed to telling some of those stories.
ROSE: Hey, I have got a newspaper and a city to rebuild.
KURTZ: And with CNN and other networks opening bureaus in New Orleans, I think we'll have others telling those stories, at least for the months to come.
Lee Cowan in Louisiana, Alina Cho in New York, Chris Rose right here, thank you very much for joining us.
Ahead, those Capitol Hill hearings for John Roberts, how much did the press actually learn about the likely new chief justice? We'll ask CBS correspondent Gloria Borger, liberal commentator Bill Press and former ABC News correspondent Bob Zelnick in a moment.
KURTZ: Welcome back. It was a story the media had been building up for weeks, the first confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court justice in more than a decade. And the stakes seemed higher when William Rehnquist died and the president bumped up John Roberts to his nominee for chief justice.
But the hearings themselves, a good portion carried on cable news, featured lots of long-winded senators and plenty of non answers and evasions like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE NOMINEE: I can't comment on those particulars.
I'm not going to comment.
Senator, again, that is a question I can't answer. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining me now is Gloria Borger, national political correspondent for CBS News and a columnist for "U.S. News and World Report." Bill Press, former CNN commentator and now the host of the Bill Press show on Sirius satellite radio and author of the upcoming book "How the Republicans Stole Christmas" and in Boston, Bob Zelnick, chairman of the journalism department at Boston University and a former ABC News correspondent.
Gloria, you are covering the first full day of John Robert, the likely next chief justice of the United States and the "CBS Evening News," like the other broadcast networks, leads with the two-week old story of Katrina. Is that frustrating?
GLORIA BORGER, CBS NEWS: No, not at all. Actually, we all know how important the Katrina story is not only to this country and but to the debate about the future of this country and the priorities and future of the Bush administration. And it seemed to me quite accurate to put the first day of the confirmation hearings, which were, of course, very predictable, down lower in the broadcast. No problem with that, Howard.
KURTZ: Bill Press, I was surprised that CNN and Fox and MSNBC devoted as many hours as they did to discussions of stare decisis and legal precedent and cases most viewers probably never heard of even though there were more colorful hurricane pictures available.
BILL PRESS, AUTHOR/COMMENTATOR: Yeah. I mean, look, I thought the coverage was excellent, actually. Just as someone who wanted to see as much as I could, hear as much as I could of John Roberts.
I had the opportunity -- many times it was like watching paint dry, as others have said. His answers were evasive, questions were probing and then they got frustrated. You could see all of that. The problem I had with the Roberts coverage was the commentary not the coverage. I thought the commentary was one-sided that basically said Democrats were fools for asking questions and Roberts was handsome and articulate and has a nice family. And so why are they asking all these questions?
KURTZ: You thought the press was too soft. And I think perhaps Bob Zelnick might have a different view. Too soft?
BOB ZELNICK, FORMER ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I do have a different view. No. I thought Judge Roberts responded exactly as he should respond. And I think we learned quite a bit about him.
I would have been shocked if he answered a question as to how he's going to vote on abortion or gay rights or the so-called right to death. But I think we did learn his decision of stare decisis, which is relevant to the areas we've mentioned, his statement that privacy is a constitutional right, still to be defined by a decision that he writes but a constitutional right. He said no to original intent, which distinguishes him from Justice Scalia, no to foreign law as a basis for the Supreme Court decisions which distinguishes him from at least two justices on the court and yes to the kind of humility and deference and serving as an umpire rather than originator of law that distinguishes him from activists like Clarence Thomas and Scalia and more in the conservative traditions of Justices Roberts and ...
KURTZ: I don't want to get in a legal debate on this show. I do want to ask you, Bill, just briefly. Do you include newspaper analysis in your general sweeping indictment of ...
PRESS: Absolutely. I think it was summed up this morning when the "Washington Post" went into the tank for the Bush administration and endorsed Roberts and David Broder ...
KURTZ: How is that going into the tank? Isn't a newspaper editorial page supposed to give its opinion on whether a nominee is good or not?
PRESS: Yeah, but they've gone in the tank consistently for the Bush administration, so-called liberal "Washington Post" for the war in Iraq and for Roberts. That's our editorial side. David Broder, who I have great respect. He's the icon, right. To write this morning that basically there's not one good reason why any Democrat should vote against John Roberts is really wrong.
KURTZ: He's an opinion columnist. Again, let me ask you about reporting, Gloria Borger, because you're a reporter. Two months ago nobody heard of John Roberts and now he's on the verge of hitting the third branch of government. Have journalists been able to give a good picture of John Roberts is and what he believes? He gives no interviews, dances around questions at the Senate hearing. I wonder if this is kind of a frustrating time for journalists?
BORGER: I don't think it's so frustrating. I think what Joe Biden called it as a kabuki dance is most accurate. You know and you know this, too, Bill, when a Supreme Court nominee sits down before a committee, that that nominee is not going to answer every question because these are issue that is will come before the court. So I think, Howie, we understand that as journalists covering the story.
Would you like to know a little bit more about John Roberts? Yes. We want to know everything about everybody all the time. But you are just not going to get that information. The most important things we want to know are questions that, in a way, have to remain unanswered. But I agree with Bob.
We did get some sense of how he feels about the importance of precedence when it comes to Supreme Court decisions. We did get some sort of sense of his humility as a justice. I think Orrin Hatch has sort of had it right.
You are going to disagree with me. You said Democrats can't find one reason to vote for this judge. They are never going to find a reason to vote for anyone.
PRESS: First I was ...
ZELNICK: Bill ought to be pleased -- he didn't mention it but "The New York Times" came out against his confirmation today. His balance of two of the country's great newspapers.
PRESS: I was pleased. The point I wanted to make I was comforted when he said yes, there is a right of privacy even though the words don't appear in the Constitution. But we still don't know, would he apply that right of privacy to the PATRIOT Act ...
KURTZ: Let me go -- Let me go to Professor Zelnick. I will come back to you in a second, Bill. I want to read you leads we have carefully researched about the hearings earlier this week.
"L.A. Times," "John Roberts cautiously endorsed federal voting rights law today." "Boston Globe," "John Roberts testimony about the existence of right to privacy and importance of respecting precedent has alarmed some rank and file conservatives." "Washington Post," "Democratic senators angrily accused John Roberts yesterday of hiding his views on end of life questions, privacy and other contentious issues."
Slate magazine, "It is increasingly clear that Senate Democrats are giving up." This sounds like blind men feeling the same elephant and coming up with different interpretations, Bob Zelnick.
ZELNICK: Well, that's what happens when you have a free press. They don't march in lock step. And I think to some extent there's a difference in understanding as to what the role of these hearings should be.
It's not to get the justice to say exactly how he's going to vote on matters that are certain to come before the Supreme Court. If he did that once or twice, there would be motions by everyone who was on the wrong side of his prediction and analysis to have him recuse himself because he has already stated his opinion.
I don't think that's the justice system we want, and I don't think that he would have satisfied people, thoughtful people about the role of the court in this country had he responded to the Democrats as the partisans want.
PRESS: Howie, my comments again, I'm not here to debate Roberts. We're talking about the coverage. What I believe is that the commentary, I felt the news coverage was excellent. I thought the commentary leaned to one side in accepting three things.
ZELNICK: Because you don't (ph) agree with it.
PRESS: No, no, no, no. As an American, accepted three things. Number one, that this was a game. I think it was a lot more than a game. Number two, that there was no reason to release those documents, which we never saw. And number three, that there was no need for him to answer questions.
As someone who's working for the American people for the rest of his life, I believe it is important to know the answers to some of those questions. I didn't hear that commentary on the television or in the press. KURTZ: I got one I've been saving for Gloria. These hearings, which went on and on, featured the committee members, Senate Judiciary Committee, which I call 17 white guys and Dianne Feinstein, asking a lot of questions. Let's take a brief look at some of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Quoting philosopher Montesque, Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist #78 that, quote, "There's no liberty if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers."
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: I ask you if you like "Casablanca," and you respond by saying, lots of people like "Casablanca."
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Violence against women. I realize it's a bit of a hobby horse for me, since I wrote the legislation.
And I know people say they wrote things. I mean, I actually did write that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Why did the coverage not reflect the fact that many of these senators went on and on with these long-winded, self-involved questions and didn't ask as many questions of the nominee as they did time -- making time -- giving speeches?
BORGER: Actually, we did use the "Casablanca" line from Chuck Schumer.
I think that the senators had to go on record, Howie. They had to go on the record and say, look, the Democratic senators, we're not sure about you, we wouldn't have nominated you, these are our reasons. And so they gave their little schpiels, their little speeches about...
KURTZ: They weren't little. They were long.
BORGER: They were long speeches, Howie. Are you shocked by that? But on the -- but on the other hand, we also -- this was really about John Roberts. It wasn't about Joe Biden, it wasn't about Ted Kennedy, it wasn't about Orrin Hatch. It was about John Roberts. And I always erred on the side of showing John Roberts answering their questions, because that's what I felt was more important.
KURTZ: Bob Zelnick, I've got less than 30 seconds. Go ahead.
ZELNICK: I don't think we should confuse covering the event of the hearings with cruel and unusual punishment which would have been the case had we quoted the senators at very great length. I think for the most part, it was a partisan type of situation, and the press had the right mix of covering a little bit of the senators and a lot of what Judge Roberts had to say for himself. KURTZ: All right, three very different views of those hearings. Bob Zelnick, thank you very much. Bill Press, Gloria Borger, thanks for being here.
Up next, Geraldo Rivera squares off with "The New York Times" over a New Orleans rescue. Did the flamboyant personality on television elbow his way into the spotlight, or was he maligned by the newspaper? That's just ahead.
KURTZ: "The New York Times" is at the center of a high-decibel feud between its TV critic, Alessandra Stanley, and flamboyant FOX News guy Geraldo Rivera. It began when Stanley reported that during the hurricane, Rivera, quote, "nudged an Air Force rescue worker out of the way so his camera crew could tape him as he helped lift an older woman in a wheelchair to safety."
Geraldo has, how shall I put this, gone ballistic. He had likened "The Times" critic to Jayson Blair, and had this to say on "The O'Reilly Factor."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS: I wish her name was Alexander Stanley, rather than Alessandra Stanley, because I would go to that building on 43rd Street, I'd shout out, hey come on down here, punk, I want you to tell me that to my face.
O'REILLY: That would be great.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Punk? Well, Stanley tells me she stands by her description. Her larger point that Geraldo was grandstanding, showing off for the cameras, making the story about him, was on target. But did he actually nudge an airman aside?
Let's go to the videotape. You will see Rivera here and another man carrying the wheelchair down the first flight of stairs. And then two airmen who look like they are going to take over will come into the scene. Here we see them. And we see one airman taking the wheelchair. The other airman has stepped out of camera range. And here comes Geraldo, lifts the wheelchair and helps the other Air Force man down a second flight of stairs.
Now, I don't know what happened off camera, but on that tape I didn't see any nudging or physical contact by Geraldo. So why no "Times" correction? Editor Bill Keller says: "It was a semi-close call, in that the video did not literally show how Mr. Rivera insinuated himself between the wheelchair-bound storm victim and the Air Force rescuers. Frankly, given Mr. Rivera's behavior since Ms. Stanley's review appeared, Mr. Stanley would have been justified in assuming brute force."
Well, we'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
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