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Reliable Sources

Is News Coverage of Iraq Undermining Bush?; Can New 'Nightline' Anchors Carry on the Tradition?

Aired November 27, 2005 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): From Vietnam to Iraq, are media commentators falling behind the country in continuing to support an unpopular war as happened three and a half decades ago until Walter Cronkite's famous broadcast?

And is the news coverage of violence in Iraq undermining President Bush as the Vietnam damage covered Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon?

Koppel calls it quits. What has television lost with one of its toughest interviewers leaving ABC after 42 years? And can the new "Nightline" anchors carry on the tradition?

Plus, how newspapers are coping with some bad news: their own.


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, now a full hour of media analysis every Sunday morning 10:00 Eastern, 9:00 Central.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Ahead, what Ted Koppel's farewell means for the show he created. And bloggers weigh in on Bob Woodward and the CIA leak case.

But first, back in 1968, nearly all editorial pages and most columnists supported the war in Vietnam, which made it all the more shocking when CBS anchor Walter Cronkite returned from a trip there and told the country that things were not going well.


WALTER CRONKITE, FMR. CBS ANCHOR: To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe in the face of the evidence the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, if unsatisfactory, conclusion.


KURTZ: Even then it would take another year or two for elite media opinion to turn against the war, catching up with the growing public disillusionment over the rising death toll and lack of progress.

Today, while plenty of editorial pages have criticized President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, only a handful have supported a U.S. pullout. But a majority of Americans now oppose the war.

Are the media again lagging behind public opinion?

Joining us now here in Washington, author and presidential historian Robert Dallek, currently a visiting professor at Dartmouth College; CNN National Correspondent Bruce Morton, who covered the Vietnam War for CBS News; UPI Pentagon Correspondent Pam Hess, just back from a nine-week trip to Iraq. And in New York, "New York Times" columnist Paul Krugman, also an economics professor at Princeton University.


Paul Krugman, could there be a Cronkite moment today with a leading journalist turning against the war and moving public opinion?

PAUL KRUGMAN, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": We are not Walter Cronkite's country anymore. We are a much more polarized nation. There is no political center. People get their news from opposing sources.

You look at the polls, people who voted for Bush in the last election just live in a different reality from people who voted for Kerry. And, you know, we've seen repeatedly not so much media figures, but policy figures. If you turn against Bush on the war, it doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter what were your record is. All of a sudden you're just another Michael Moore.

So, no, I don't think we have a Walter Cronkite moment.

KURTZ: I was going -- I was going to ask you about that, because you wrote recently about the ugly myth that the administration is patriotic while its critics are not. Now you happen to favor a U.S. pullout. Has anybody called you unpatriotic?

KRUGMAN: Oh, I'm called unpatriotic all of the time on every issue. I've been called unpatriotic for -- for criticizing our health care system. But no, I mean -- no, this is a world in which -- a country in which -- look, I got -- was the subject of a fairly major campaign calling me unpatriotic for criticizing Bush's handling of Katrina. So that's the kind of world we're in.

If Walter Cronkite were alive -- sorry, he is alive. If Walter Cronkite were on the news today, if a Walter Cronkite equivalent were on the news, he would -- immediately after that broadcast we just saw, he would have been called a traitor.

KURTZ: Pam Hess, you're just back, as I mentioned, from being embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq. Did that experience persuade you that the U.S. is either losing this war or certainly not winning it?

PAMELA HESS, UPI PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I think it persuaded me that it's far more complicated than that. And we all want to boil it down to we're winning, we're losing, and then move on and go to the shopping mall. But that's really not the case.

Iraq is a patchwork of places that are going pretty well and places that are involved in real war every single day. And the problem with media coverage is it's very hard to capture that in any single article.

KURTZ: Bruce Morton, you covered Vietnam, as I mentioned. Many reporters there gradually concluded that war was unwinnable.

Do you see parallels between your experience there and the way Iraq is being covered today?

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the coverage is difference, in the first place. I think embedding, we couldn't do that. We went out with a limited amount of film. When you shot the film, you went back to what was then Saigon, wrote your story, and then mailed it off to the United States.

I think if you're embedded, at least in the early stages of the war, a lot of people kind of felt they were on the team, they were in that unit. And I thought the BBC was tougher on the conduct of the war than the American media, by and large.

So, I think that's one difference. But the other is I keep reading stories from over there -- Pam, you know better than I -- people say, you know, you can't really report, it's so hard to get out, it's so hard to get out of the Green Zone.

KURTZ: If you're not embedded, the dangers are tremendous. And so it's hard.


KURTZ: And one of the reasons you were able to do it, to see the rest of the country.

Robert Dallek, why did it take not a Cronkite, but a John Murtha, the congressman from Pennsylvania, turning against the war, calling for a pullout, to spark this flood of coverage about should we get out?

ROBERT DALLEK, HISTORIAN: Well, because I think the media is different today. There are so many different voices being heard. And when you see a John Murtha, who has the credentials as a veteran, as a decorated veteran, it resonates to a degree that the press doesn't quite have that kind of hold on the public's imagination.

KURTZ: Well, does it resonate with a press corps that is largely against this war? In other words, did we seize on the Murtha moment in order to jump on it?

DALLEK: Well, I think that's true. But I think also it's because the public now has grown disillusioned with this whole thing. You know, in 1967, Johnny Apple of "The New York Times" ran a front page story in August of '67 saying the war is stalemated. That was several months before Walter Cronkite came along and -- but it showed you the power of television in 1968 as opposed to the print media.

So it's changed in that sense, but Murtha, I think, in a sense, caught a wave. And the public was ready to hear this and the press was ready to hear it.

KURTZ: Paul Krugman, what accounts for the following? Fifty-two percent in the latest CNN poll want a U.S. pullout either now or within a year. And yet almost every editorial page in the country still supports the war.

KRUGMAN: Partly, it's that editorial pages are very much trying to be responsible. And there is this feeling that, you know, something -- we can't be responsible for defeat. You know, Pottery Barn, we broke it, we own it. And part of it is, there has been a lot of -- look, there's been a lot of intimidation of the media.

People are really afraid of being accused of undermining the troops. And particularly, a lot of people remember what happened in Vietnam, which was the public turned against the war, the media turned against the war, and the Democrats and liberals have been paying the price for having been right ever since. So nobody wants to be out in front on this.

KURTZ: So you're suggesting that there is a certain amount of timidity involved in continuing to support the U.S. forces there in what remains obviously a difficult situation?

KRUGMAN: Well, there's been enormous timidity. You know, look at the question of whether we were misled into war. The evidence -- basically, all the evidence you're now hearing about that was available by the summer of 2003. But you did not get extensive media coverage of the evidence about aluminum tubes and all that, and the whole -- the whole, you know, sense until after a majority of the public had decided we were misled into war. And the same thing is happening on withdrawal.

KURTZ: Bruce Morton.

MORTON: Well, it was very easy to read Vietnam. I think if you were over there as a reporter, you know, the second or third time, you're on a sweep of war zone sear (ph), or whatever it is, you're saying to yourself, we can go on doing this for 20 years, nobody's winning. You know, we take some hits, they take some hits, ad next month we'll do it again.

This is harder, I think, because the goal apparently is to establish a democracy. And I don't really know how you do that. And you're not fighting an organized army, the Vietcong or the north Vietnamese. It's all these suicide bombers. And I don't know how you read that. KURTZ: But there was political pressure in those days, too. President Kennedy called "The New York Times" and asked the newspaper to remove David Halberstam because he didn't like his negative reports on how the war was going.

MORTON: But there were a lot of negative reports on how the war was going. And in fact, the war was going badly. And eventually, I think people realized that.

DALLEK: We have...

KURTZ: Go right ahead.

DALLEK: I'm sorry. What makes this difference -- different, Iraq is different because it stands in the shadow of Vietnam. See, people remember the experience with Vietnam, remember feeling trapped there, remember feeling that we had been blundered into a quagmire. And very quickly, because the dissent over this Iraq war has risen very much more quickly than it did ever over Vietnam...

KURTZ: And obviously with far fewer casualties. I mean...

DALLEK: Exactly.

KURTZ: ... it's terrible that 2,000 Americans have been killed there.


KURTZ: But 50,000-plus were killed in Vietnam.


KURTZ: But let me just continue with you for a second. Dick Cheney talks about the insurgency being in its last throes. The Pentagon starts publishing enemy body counts. Are there parallels to what the press then called LBJ's credibility gap?

DALLEK: You bet you. Johnson used to talk about light at the end of the title. And some wit said, "Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is from an onrushing train." And people became so irritated with the fact that they kept promising victory, victory is around the corner. And it wasn't happening.

And so the frustration of the country mounted and mounted. And when we got out, people were so relieved to be done with that war. The public was asked by Gallup, "Would you want to go back in and bomb if the North Vietnamese start the war again?" And 74 percent said no.

KURTZ: Pam Hess, a number of soldiers asked you while you were there, "Why do you guys only report the bad news?"

What did you say?

HESS: A very long and complicated answer. The -- I think the main point is that most reporters are in Baghdad, and there they're receiving the reports from across the nation, there is a car bomb here, an IED there, and there's 15 suicide bombers in Baghdad on a given day.

So that heavily influences the way reporters see the war, whereas the soldiers and the Marines are out there, they're actually acting on the situation. They feel a little bit more power.

One of the problems with the media coverage that I think is pervasive is a lack of understanding about what the enemy looks like, at least as far as the military is concerned. The reporters tend to see every IED and every car bomb as a result of a single enemy.


HESS: I'm sorry, an improvised explosive device. That's what's killing most of the American soldiers over there.

They see these all as part of a coordinated campaign. The military doesn't see it that way at all. They see it as extremely fractured. But the tendency that there is to lump all those things together and attribute them to one single enemy, this insurgency in Iraq, makes it seem more scary.

KURTZ: So are you saying that because many journalists were not embedded, are sitting in hotel rooms in Baghdad -- and I don't want to denigrate, because anybody who goes there...

HESS: No, it's not fair to say they're sitting in hotels in Baghdad, because they're not.

KURTZ: No, but what I'm saying is, they are sort mired in Baghdad...

HESS: Yes.

KURTZ: ... because it is so dangerous to go out. And I have great admiration for anybody who is over there. But that is giving them a distorted view?

HESS: It does necessarily, because Baghdad is the center of where the U.S. government is, where the Iraqi government is, and because where there goes Baghdad goes the rest of the nation. Most reporters are there. But so, too, is most of Zarqawi's efforts.

When you see the coordinated attacks on Baghdad, those are a result of Zarqawi and his ilk, Ansar Al Sunna...

KURTZ: Right.

HESS: ... and the jihadist organizations. To the rest of the country, the vast majority of that violence is focused against Americans. And it's by Sunni insurgents who resent the occupation and all the conditions that come along with it. Plus are fearful of what's going to happen to them if a Shiite majority gets firm control of the country.

KURTZ: Right.

Paul Krugman, journalists, as you know, love to cover two sides: Republicans say this, Democrats say that. It's the fact that the Democratic Party has been -- has not staked out much of an alternative plan here. Even when Jack Murtha made his withdrawal argument, most of the party did not join in.

Has that contributed to what some might call the one-sided coverage in the press about the political debate?

KRUGMAN: Sure. I mean, I once said that if Bush said that the Earth was flat, the headline would read, "Views Differ on Shape of Earth," that you have this real, real reluctance to actually just state what the facts are. And here you can't even -- or until very recently you couldn't even do the he said-she said reporting.

That's part of the reason why a lot of the coverage lagged behind public opinion. It was only when the public had turned against the war, when the public had decided we'd been misled into war, and when the public -- and then when some politicians began following the public lead, then we get the media coverage, which is not the way it ought to be. But that's the way it has actually turned out.

KURTZ: All right. I need to get a break here. When we come back, more with our guests about Iraq, Vietnam and that Al-Jazeera story. Was there really a bombing plot?

Stay with us.



Pam Hess, during Vietnam U.S. officials were often accused of distorting or even lying to the press to try to make it look like the war effort was going better than it was. When you were in Iraq did you feel like you were getting the straight story?

HESS: Certainly from the militarily I did. They have no interest in cooking the books, as it were, they -- they understand that they were blamed for Vietnam and what happened, and they don't want that blame again.

They want people to understand the kind of enemy that they are facing and how long it's going to take. And frankly, most of them said to me, "Please go back and tell them not to pull us out because we are finally at a point where we have enough people here now on the ground between soldiers and Iraqis that we can actually start doing some good and start turning things around. And if you pull us out, we're just going to be back here three years from now."

KURTZ: More optimistic, at least than some of the journalists.

HESS: Yes.

KURTZ: Paul Krugman, you wrote recently -- I want to read this quote -- "After 9/11, the media eagerly helped our political leaders build up a completely false picture of who they were. So the long nightmare won't really be over until journalists ask themselves, 'What did we know, when did we know it and why didn't we tell the public.'"

Are you suggesting this was deliberate on the part of the press?

KRUGMAN: I guess it depends on the meaning of the word "deliberate." Did people say, ooh, let's join in the vast right wing conspiracy? No.

Did journalists say, you know, the public wants to hear good stuff about Bush, they want to hear that we have a great leader, they want to hear favorable things about the administration, and did they then hide what they knew was not favorable? Yes, there is a lot of that.

I don't know how many times I've talked to, you know, professional journalists, major people, whose private views of what happened even, you know, beginning within days of 9/11, are completely at odds with what you could have read in a major newspaper or seen on TV until, you know, just about now.

KURTZ: Robert Dallek, to the extent that public opinion is turning against this war, is it being driven by the news coverage, or is just a reflection of the mounting casualties in Iraq?

DALLEK: I think it's the realities on the ground that the news coverage can be so mixed, so diverse. But what drives this perception is the reality of 2,100 American troops having been killed.

KURTZ: Pam Hess says that the soldiers say that things are starting to improve there. You don't get that picture in the news coverage.

DALLEK: Well, because there is such frustration in this country now at the idea that this is a war which we can determine the outcome, we can create democracy. And I think people wisely don't believe it because, how do you do it? How do you turn that country which is so divided, so sectarian, into some kind of functioning democracy that is anywhere near close to what we have? People don't trust it.

MORTON: I think that's true. It's very hard to explain to people what this war is about.

In the beginning, it was, here is this terrible man who had weapons of mass destruction.

KURTZ: Weapons of mass destruction.

MORTON: Woops, sorry, no. Well, but he was linked to al Qaeda. Not really, there is very little evidence of that.

Now we're saying we are here to create democracy. And that's hard.

KURTZ: Bruce, this British tabloid report in "The Mirror" relying on one unnamed source that said that the Bush -- that President Bush considered bombing Al-Jazeera's offices but Tony Blair talked him out of it. The White House says us that ludicrous.

Should CNN and lots of newspapers and other news organizes have reported that?

MORTON: I don't know that there is any evidence of that. "The Mirror" -- the British tabloids are famous -- and "The Mirror," to be fair, is not known for reliability. It ain't "The New York Times." You know.

KURTZ: Yet just about everybody picked it up, with the White House denials, of course.

MORTON: I think we could have laid off that probably.

KURTZ: All right.

Paul Krugman, I've got probably about half a minute. Do you see signs that the press coverage is starting to turn on Iraq and that we are moving away from this period that you referred to as the media kind of building up the Bush administration? In fact, some would say it's the other way, that now it's open season on the Bush administration.

KRUGMAN: There's -- there's clearly a lot of -- there was a lot of pent-up frustration. I mean, people -- you know, you knew, I knew that Bush was politicizing, was exploiting 9/11, within days. You have to have known that. I certainly did.

And -- but no one would dare say it for four years. And now, yes, there is a certain sense of payback. Now we can finally tell the truth.

KURTZ: All right. Well, some other people would say he was rallying the country.

And unfortunately, Pam Hess, we're out of time.

Pam Hess, Bruce Morton, Robert Dallek, Paul Krugman, thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up, layoffs, sliding circulation and ethical problems in the struggling newspaper industry. We'll go behind the headlines next.


KURTZ: I love newspapers. I've worked for them my whole life. But there has been a nonstop deluge of bad news for ink on paper types that makes you wonder whether there is light at the end of the preverbal tunnel.


KURTZ (voice over): "The New York Times" and "LA Times" are cutting their staffs, either through layoffs or buyouts. So are "The Baltimore Sun," "Philadelphia Inquirer," "Boston Globe," "St. Louis Post-Dispatch" and many others.

Does this mean the papers are losing money? Don't be naive. It means their double-digit profit margins aren't high enough to satisfy Wall Street.

The second largest chain, Knight Ridder, whose papers range from "The Miami Herald" to the Philly "Inquirer" and "Daily News" to the San Jose "Mercury News" has put itself up for sale. The question is whether there will be any buyers.

Ethical problems? They've got plenty.

Since Jayson Blair at "The New York Times" and Jack Kelley at "USA Today" engaged in plagiarism and fabrication, writers have been fired for similar offenses at "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "Tampa Tribune," "LA Times," Fort Worth "Star-Telegram" and "Bakersfield Californian."

"Miami Herald" columnist Jim DeFede was fired for illegally taping the call of a man who later committed suicide. And of course, Robert Novak, Judith Miller and Bob Woodward all got caught up in the CIA leak investigation.

Wait, it gets worse.

The online CraigsList is stealing some of the paper's classified advertising. And red-hot Google is launching a database where people can post just about anything, including ads that might otherwise go to newspapers.


KURTZ: None of this would be quite as depressing if circulation were going up. Instead, it's been going down at most papers for 30 years. Smart editors may be able to figure out ways to reverse the slide. And they better get started soon.

Ahead in our next half-hour, the end of an era at "Nightline." And our blogger buzz on Bob Woodward and the war in Iraq.

All that, plus a check of what's making news right now. Stay with us.


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Betty Nguyen at the CNN Center in Atlanta. I want to check some of the stories "Now in the News" for you.

"Better safe than sorry." Those words from a White House spokesman after a plane carrying chief of staff Andrew Card made an emergency landing yesterday in Nashville. Airport officials say the pilot landed the twin-engine plane after smoke started pouring into the cockpit. The plane was en route to Washington from Texas, where Card had been meeting with President Bush.

Millions of Americans are heading home from the holidays. And the highways and skyways are expected to be jammed today as the Thanksgiving weekend draws to a close.

AAA estimates that 31 million people hit the road for the holiday and thousands of others flew or they road on trains.

For the retail industry some disappointing news as the holiday shopping season gets under way. A national research group says sales on the day after Thanksgiving, despite all the fights and commotion, were only lukewarm. In fact, the group says they were down nearly one percent from the same day last year.

One bright spot, though. The world's biggest retailer, Wal-Mart, says its sales were better than expected.

More news coming up in 30 minutes. Now it's back to RELIABLE SOURCES.

KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. He began his late night news show during the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran and on Tuesday night, thousands of programs and many awards later, Ted Koppel bowed out, an event that drew attention even on other networks.

There was no highlight reel, just a re-airing of a 10-year-old interview with the late professor Morrie Schwartz, subject of the book "Tuesdays with Morrie," and then these final words, complete with a not-so-subtle warning from Koppel.


TED KOPPEL, "NIGHTLINE" HOST: Trust me, the transition from one anchor to another is not that big a deal. Cronkite begot Rather, Chancellor begot Brokaw, Reynolds begot Jennings, and each of them did a pretty fair job in his own way. You've always been very nice to me so give this new anchor team from "Nightline" a fair bid. If you don't, I promise you the network will just put another comedy show in this timeslot, and then you'll be sorry.


KURTZ: The new "Nightline" begins tomorrow with a new studio, a faster-paced format and a triumvirate of anchors, Martin Bashir, Cynthia McFadden and Terry Moran.

Joining me now in New York, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield, a former "Nightline" correspondent; in Boston, Mark Jurkowitz, who covers the media for the "Boston Phoenix"; and with me in Washington, Gail Shister, television reporter for the "Philadelphia Inquirer." Welcome.

Jeff Greenfield, you worked with Koppel for some years. What qualities did he have that set him apart from the rest of working stiffs? JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: He was smart, he disdained hype, he trusted the intelligence of the audience. His questions were brief and to the point. He was not a showboat, but he had a wonderful BS detector. You put those things together, and despite the hair, you've got one hell of an anchorman.

KURTZ: What was it about Koppel, Gail Shister, that in your mind put him in this category of one of the premier anchors on television?

GAIL SHISTER, "PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER": Well, following up on what Jeff just said, for me, the beauty of Koppel was that less was more. So many interviewers on television talk more than they listen, and I find that that's a rare quality in television interviewers. Most interviewers like to hear themselves talk and show off how much they know ...

KURTZ: Long, involved, multi-part questions -- right.

SHISTER: How much they know, rather than eliciting the information from the interviewee, which is the art of the interview.

KURTZ: Mark Jurkowitz, one of the things that may have been best about "Nightline" was when Koppel took the show on the road, going for example, to the Middle East or to South Africa or famously to Iraq. Was that part of the program's appeal?

MARK JURKOWITZ, "BOSTON PHOENIX": Oh, absolutely. I mean, I'll never forget the show that he did -- I believe it was the beginning of the second intifada. It was a town meeting situation between the Palestinians and the Israelis, where there was a dispute over who was carrying weapons, and suddenly Koppel was not only a newsman, he was sort of a U.N. emissary. There was tremendous tension.

I think that he and the late Peter Jennings sort of both branded the ABC News product. They were both smart, they were both urbane and cool, but they were both very knowledgeable about the world as sort of the global entity, and I think the two of those guys together sort of made ABC for years its sort of the leading sort of smart image in terms of a news product.

KURTZ: Jeff Greenfield, picking up on Gail's point on Koppel as interviewer, you know, he had this of just saying, forgive me, and then you get a zinger. You just don't get it, Michael Dukakis. Koppel told the "St. Petersburg Times" the other day that people in television are too worried about possibly offending their interviewee by asking tough questions or by pressing the subject of an interview hard when he or she doesn't want to be pressed. Do you agree with that?

GREENFIELD: And the way he would do it, apart from that killer line "forgive me," that's when an interview subject would always just duck under the table or leave, but he would also have a technique -- when someone was just handing out the line, he'd say, you know, you're much too smart to believe that. And actually used the word, a couple times on the air, BS in full. So he had a low-key quality, instead of screaming at a guest as some of the cable blowhards do, it would be the death of a thousand cuts. Very gentle, very subtle, but saying, come off it.

And sometimes the length of his questions were things like, why do you think that?

SHISTER: Can I jump in here? Everyone is talking about Koppel in the past tense, which is interesting. He's still very much alive and kicking ...

KURTZ: And is going to go on to other television ventures.

SHISTER: He hasn't announced it yet, but it's pretty clear he's going to go to HBO, once the deal is finalized with his executive producer, Tom Bettag.

But the thing about Koppel also is the understatedness, everything. He's quiet, he doesn't raise his voice, which to me was reflected in his finale. He did his finale about professor Morrie Schwartz, and it was about a graceful exit. It was about a quiet death. And that's exactly what was reflected in his show.

KURTZ: Mark Jurkowitz, let me just ask you a question here. A former executive producer of "Nightline," Leroy Sievers, told something to the "St. Petersburg Times" that really caught my eye. He said "We got to be like PBS. People like to know it's there, but that doesn't mean they always watch it."

For all the nice things people say about Koppel and "Nightline," the ratings have gone down in recent years, and I'm wondering whether there was this quality that people admired it more than were loyal viewers of the program.

JURKOWITZ: You know, at this point, Koppel himself is an icon. The program had seen better days. I mean, ratings dropped from 6-plus million a night to somewhere in the 3 million range. It was hard to sustain a show like that, I think, for 25 years. If you remember how it began, really, with its infancy in a hostage crisis and the urgency of that situation and how many years "Nightline" was the show you had to watch because you had to find the story that was most important that day.

And it was hard to keep, I think, that sense of urgency going for as long as it did. The show had passed its prime, I think, a little bit. It's a tough format to sustain. Ted was not on as much as he had been in the past, and so while we're nostalgic about him and what a terrific journalist he was, I think his closing sort of remarks about give the new guys a chance is important, because I do think the show needs to be revamped at this point if it's going to continue.

KURTZ: If the show was past its prime, Jeff Greenfield, as Mark Jurkowitz says, is that in part because when "Nightline" started in 1980 CNN hadn't even begun yet, and now of course there are a million choices ...


KURTZ: ... cable, Internet, talk radio, iPods, you name it. Didn't that steal some of "Nightline's" thunder?

GREENFIELD: I think the fact is once the evening news was over, if you were watching television, with the possible exception of PBS, you had to wait until "Nightline" to get another view of it. Now, I work at a cable network, and I will say flat out there is a big difference between quality and quantity. What "Nightline" was able to do, because this was a half-hour show, was to kind of a kneel to put together all of the talent -- and it wasn't just Koppel, it was producers and researchers -- I mean, an amazing place to work -- into a half an hour that you needed even if it was tough to stay up that late.

Now, if all you want is a kind of a gloss on the news, you get that in spades on the cable networks. I think, however, the difference between what Koppel in those conversations (INAUDIBLE) in some of those set-up pieces produced was a kind of depth. And I do agree with Mark that once they went to a format when a lot of them were half-hour taped pieces because they were looking for something to do, because the cable nets were talking all the time, it took some of the edge off the urgency of "Nightline." But even in the last day, some of the stuff they did in those half-hours were remarkable. They just were really -- it was an enormously talented bunch of people.

SHISTER: And I agree with you, Jeff, about the live part of the equation. I think when Koppel stopped going live every night, which was back in '93, it really hurt the program especially now with the explosion of 24/7 media. Even if he taped the interview at 5:30, between 5:30 and 11:30 an enormous amount of news can take place and you know the cable networks will be covering.

KURTZ: Of course, there's a lot of topics where Koppel used to say, well, why make the guest stay up an extra six hours if you're doing something on prison conditions or AIDS, where the story is not going to change by 11:30. But let me ask you, Gail Shister, about something you wrote the other day about the end of the Koppel era. You say, "This may signal the end of serious long form journalism in late night broadcast television." So you don't sound optimistic about what comes next.

SHISTER: Well, I believe that it's all about pace when it comes to television, whether it's cable or broadcast, and it's clear from the viewership numbers that viewers have very short attention spans, and it's true in newspapers also. The whole emphasis now is shorter, faster, snappier. There is a reason "Nightline" is going from one topic to probably three topics a night, and three anchors instead of one anchor.

It's all about the pace, so I think by definition you won't see as long form journalism as you did in the past because people don't want it.

KURTZ: Well, James Goldston, the new executive producer of "Nightline," told reports this week that among the stories that these people are working on are that he was trying to establish, I think, and it will remain a serious program. That Terry Moran has been dispatched to Iraq and Cynthia McFadden will be doing a three part series on AIDS in India.

Now again, Jeff Greenfield, three or four topics a night as opposed to the single topic format that Koppel pioneered and stuck with for so many years -- it makes it sound to me like it will be more like every other show.

GREENFIELD: Well, "60 Minutes" has had a pretty fair run over the last, what, 30 something years, by doing three pieces a show plus Andy Rooney. Each of those pieces is somewhere around 10 or 12 or 13 minutes.

KURTZ: But they've got an hour as opposed to a half-hour.

GREENFIELD: Well, I understand, and that may be why they figure out they'll do two pieces a night. I think the jury is out on that, but I do think Gail is right. You know, we don't -- if you watch a 60-second commercial now, assuming there are any left, it feels like a telethon. That remote control and what I regard as the absolute lunatic demand of the business to cut and move as though everybody were over-caffeinated has cost something.

And Ted, on a conversation that we had on CNN with Wolf Blitzer said he believes if we did slow it down a bit and had more focus, eventually the audience would come. But what I think Gail is absolutely right about is the people making the decisions in the news business increasingly don't believe it.

I think if we were covering Roosevelt's inaugural, we'd put on "the only thing we have to fear is -- " and then cut away because that's just too much to...

JURKOWITZ: I'm inclined to believe what Koppel said at the end of last night's show, which is let's give these guys the benefit of the doubt. A half an hour, if there are three different topics or themes, that's a lot fewer than you're going to get on a nightly newscast. I think there's plenty of room for substance and to go reasonably deep, and to get viewers.

KURTZ: Just briefly, Mark Jurkowitz, Koppel also said if you don't watch, they're going to put on a comedy show, and of course ABC almost dumped him three years ago for David Letterman.

JURKOWITZ: Exactly. He should know.

KURTZ: So does that give you much (INAUDIBLE).

SHISTER: I have to jump in here. I think it's very interesting that the new anchor lineup is the most politically correct lineup I've seen in a long time. You've got an attractive white woman, a man of color, and a middle-aged white guy, so they've covered every base.

KURTZ: Some would call that diversity.


KURTZ: Gail Shister, Jeff Greenfield, I've got to go, Mark Jurkowitz, thanks very much for joining us. Television does demand that we move on.

Still to come, I'll check on with two top bloggers on the fallout from Bob Woodward's delayed disclosure in the CIA leak case and some other issues. Stay tuned.


KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. Joining me now in our "Blogger Buzz" segment, in Los Angeles, Arianna Huffington, syndicated columnist and editor of the And in Knoxville, Glenn Reynolds, University of Tennessee law professor who blogs at


Arianna, Bob Woodward was on "LARRY KING LIVE" this week talking about how he got back in touch last month with his unnamed source. This is the senior administration official who told him more than two years ago that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA.

Let's watch.


BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And the source in this case, at this moment -- it's a very interesting moment in all of this -- said, "I have to go to the prosecutor. I have to go to the prosecutor. I have to tell the truth."

And so I realized I was going to be dragged into this, that I was the catalyst. And then I asked the source, "If you go to the prosecutor, am I released to testify?" And the source told me yes.


KURTZ: Now, Woodward has apologized for not telling his paper about all this sooner. His boss, Len Downie, has said he made a mistake. And now Woodward says he can't publicly disclose who this unnamed source was.

So what's wrong with that?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Well, first of all, what's wrong with that is that Bob Woodward sat on this story for over two years, did not tell his editor, did not tell the public, and went on television again and again trashing Fitzgerald and the prosecution, calling him disgraceful, calling the matter laughable. And in fact, I wonder whether if (INAUDIBLE) had really leaked to him at any point he would have been like that.

It shows the fact that Bob Woodward really is differential to his sources again and again. And the way to actually get deference from Bob Woodward is to leek to him. That, perhaps, was Fitzgerald's mistake.

But it's a serious moment for journalism, because Bob Woodward is an icon, a journalistic icon. And what happened between the Watergate time and the Plamegate time is really indicative of what's happened to investigative journalism.

KURTZ: Glenn Reynolds, much of the criticism of Woodward coming from the left, from people who don't like President Bush or the war. But do you agree with Arianna that this raises -- this one episode raises larger questions about Woodward's whole approach to journalism and whether he is too close to the Bush White House?

GLENN REYNOLDS, INSTAPUNDIT.COM: Well, I think it's more than just Woodward. You know, first of all, I have to say I remember when the whole Plame issue first broke and I said it was more complicated than people thought, well, all I can say is, I was right.

More seriously, this is Watergate in reverse. OK? The press is engaged in the cover-up here. If everybody in the press simply published everything they knew about this, we would have gotten to the bottom of this in a week instead of dragging it out for two or three years.

KURTZ: Now hold on. It's easy to say the press is engaged in a cover-up, but there is this thing called confidential sources. And a lot of important journalism gets done because I or somebody else promises a source, give me the information, I won't use your name.

Surely you recognize the importance of that.

REYNOLDS: I do. But a lot of important journalism gets done that way, an awful lot of unimportant journalism and back scratching gets done that way as well.

So far, most of what we're seeing here seems to fall into the latter category. And I repeat, you know, the whole purpose of the First Amendment we tend to forget about here, is so the press can tell us things, not so it can decide what not to tell us.

KURTZ: Arianna, would you agree that a lot of journalists play this access game and are too cozy with their sources and it's not just Bob Woodward here in Washington?

HUFFINGTON: Oh, absolutely, Howie. And in fact, it shows here, with Glenn and I agreeing, that you can't just make this just a left- right situation. In fact, bloggers have been absolutely united when it comes to Judy Miller, when it comes to Bob Woodward.

The fact is that what bloggers are bringing to the table is really breaking up the monopoly of the mainstream media and the fact that -- that journalists have gotten so cozy to their sources that as we've seen in Bob Woodward's case -- and in a way, as Joan Didion predicted in a masterful piece she did on Woodward in 1996, if you basically become the stenographer to power, if you basically simply reflect, as Woodward has said, the point of view of your sources, you stop being an investigative journalist.

KURTZ: All right. I want to move on now to the war in Iraq. Congressman John Murtha, Democrat from Pennsylvania, got a lot of coverage, as you both know, for coming out for a U.S. pullout. And he was denounced by the newest member of Congress, Republican Jean Schmidt of Ohio. She said that she was quoting a colonel who she was in touch with.

Let's look at what Congresswoman Schmidt had to say.


REP. JEAN SCHMIDT (R), OHIO: He asked me to send Congress a message: stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do.

Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body...


KURTZ: Glenn Reynolds, Colonel Danny Bubp, who the congresswoman was quoting there, now tells the press that he was misquoted, that he never mentioning Murtha by name.

So was the woman who's been nicknamed "Mean Jean" fairly or unfairly covered by the press in this instance?

REYNOLDS: I think fairly. I mean, she showed the rhetorical skills that freshman Congress members are known for.

On the other hand, you know, John F. Kennedy wrote that political courage was a lot rarer than physical courage. And that was the topic of his book "Profiles in Courage."

I think we're seeing very little political courage on the part of democratic politicians. A lot of them supported the war early on because they thought it was the politically smart thing to do. Their antiwar fund-raising base now is pushing the other way.

And so they're, in essence, making up this argument that they were fooled, which seems to me to be kind of a weak position. You know, vote for me, I'm gullible. But that's been basically the effort to sort of pull back from the war.

KURTZ: Right.

REYNOLDS: And I think the timing is quite inopportune. I think they're going to regret it by the time the next election cycle rolls around. It's certainly not brave.

KURTZ: Let me come back to the coverage by asking Arianna Huffington, when Jack Murtha started to get beat up by critics because of his stance on the war -- and it's true that most -- the vast majority of the Democratic Party has not joined him in calling for a pullout -- you had him blog on your site.

How did that come about? HUFFINGTON: Well, I called his chief of staff, who actually is Hungarian, 71 years old, has been with Murtha for over 30 years. They were in the Marines together. And I talked to him about blogging and whether he would convince the congressman to blog.

And it happened within a few hours. And in his blog, he actually made a very important point, the congressman.

He asked for the White House -- he asked for the president to call both sides to the White House to come up with a solution to put aside partisan rancor and bring everybody into the White House. So let's see if that's going to happen.

KURTZ: And let me jump in and ask you, the first place that I read that Colonel Bupb was very closely allied with religious conservatives was on your site. I'm wondering if you think the mainstream media fell down on that part of the story.

HUFFINGTON: I think absolutely it did. And not only on that part of the story, which was in a blog by Max Blumenfeld on the HuffingtonPost, but also the other par of the story.

"The Cincinnati Inquirer" was the first to point out that -- that Bubp had not actually asked the congresswoman to name Murtha by name or to call him a coward. But it is suddenly all over the blogosphere in a way that could not be ignored by the mainstream media.

KURTZ: Right.

Glenn Reynolds, I want to turn to blogging itself.

We have Andrew Sullivan, one of the pioneers in this field, moving his site to "TIME." And John Marshall of raising money top hire two D.C. investigative reporters.

Are bloggers now becoming a bigger force in the media?

REYNOLDS: I think you're seeing some of that. And I think it's natural.

I mean, the -- a lot of the bigger blog sites have as many readers as a medium-sized newspaper. And obviously they're a lot leaner operation.

But I've always said that hard news was the shortage of the blogosphere and the direction in which I think bloggers are likely to move over the next few years. So I think we'll see more of particularly the kind of thing Josh Marshall is doing.

KURTZ: Arianna, you've got about 20 seconds on this point.

HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. You know, the mainstream media tried to ignore blogs for a while. Now they want in. They're embracing them. And both these developments are part of that greater importance of the blogosphere.

KURTZ: A lot of newspaper sites starting blogs on their sites as well. I do a bit of blogging myself.

Arianna Huffington, Glenn Reynolds, thanks very much for an interesting discussion.

Just ahead, viewers weigh in on Bob Woodward's role in the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation. Should he have hidden his secret source from the prosecutor, his editor and his readers?

Your e-mail next.


KURTZ: We got plenty of viewer e-mail about last week's segments on Bob Woodward and his secret source in the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation. Most of it pretty negative toward "The Washington Post" reporter.

Gwen Schmitt in Portage, Michigan, writes, "It would seem that Bob Woodward has lost his objectivity when it comes to covering this administration. He appears to be another mouthpiece for them and also has a financial interest in keeping the story to himself so that he can publish it in a book."

And Jim Overton e-mailed us to say, "It seems to me that the press plays by different rules than everyone else. They can withhold sources to protect the sources and future sources. They can call on people to be accountable but don't take the same rebukes."

And in holiday news, NBC's coverage of the Thanksgiving Day Parade turned out to be something of a turkey. The M&M float hit a light pole, seen here in amateur video that didn't air on NBC.

Two bystanders were injured, but nobody at the network told Matt Lauer and Katie Couric, who kept up the light patter while news was taking place under their noses.

Just ahead, "X Marks the Spot" for CNN and some conservative commentators.


KURTZ: Things go wrong all the time in live television, and one such glitch led to a CNN apology this week.

During a speech by Dick Cheney, a large "X" flashed very briefly over the vice president's face. Matt Drudge and other conservative pundits online went haywire, saying this is some sort of editorial comment. In reality, says CNN, it was a malfunction in graphics device.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: The computer bug that people deal with every day. It's just that ours was in front of millions of people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Now, if you start seeing an "X" in front of my face, you'll know someone in management is sending me a message.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media.