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Reliable Sources

Journalist's Fate is Discussed; Attacking Murtha's Military Record; Apple's Success Story

Aired January 22, 2006 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): A journalist's fate. With Jill Carroll still being held in Iraq, what is the impact on Western reporters?

Is Congressman Jack Murtha being "Swift Boated" by the conservative press over the two Purple Hearts he won in Vietnam? We'll ask the reporter who wrote the story.

The Abramoff fallout. Have journalists finally woken up to Washington's out-of-control lobbying culture?

Apple polishing. The endless media gushing over one computer company.

And why do news outlets keep providing oxygen for outrageous statements and the inevitable apologies?


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where we turn a critical lens on the media.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

The fate of American journalist Jill Carroll, kidnapped in Iraq 15 days ago, is still unknown at this hour. On Tuesday, Al-Jazeera aired a video of Carroll in which her captors threatened to kill her in 72 hours unless the U.S. military released all female Iraqi prisoners.

Carroll's mother made an appeal for her life on CNN.


MARY BETH CARROLL, JILL CARROLL'S MOTHER: Jill has always shown the highest respect for the Iraqi people and their customs. We hope that they are captors will show Jill the same respect in return. Taking vengeance on my innocent daughter who loves Iraq and its people will not create justice.


KURTZ: The "Christian Science Monitor," which was using her as a freelance reporter, emphasized her work. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID COOK, "CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR": Jill wrote that "Covering a war gives journalists an opportunity to recall the noblest tenants of their profession and fulfill the public service role of journalism."


KURTZ: Joining us now from Baghdad, CNN's Michael Holmes. Also with us in Ottawa, Scott Taylor, a Canadian journalist who was kidnapped in Iraq in 2004. He is editor in chief of the military magazine "Esprit de Corps." And here in Washington, Donatella Lorch, former correspondent for NBC and "The New York Times," and now director of the Knight International Press Fellowship program.


Michael Holmes, how do you go about gathering information on this difficult situation involving Jill Carroll, or is it basically a case of setting around and waiting?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, pretty much the latter in many ways. We work the phones, of course. We're hearing a lot of things that we don't necessarily report because we can't confirm them, of negotiations perhaps going on involving very senior figures and the like.

We do have our own security sources. We speak with them. At the moment, there is very little to report, other than negotiations are still going on.

Today there were talks between, we understand, some political and religious leaders here in Baghdad, and everybody is hoping for the best. It's very difficult for us to physically report the story because it's so hard to report from here at the best of times.

KURTZ: Right. And there's been kind of a deafening sound since that 72-hour deadline passed.

Donatella Lorch, what on earth do terrorists hope to gain by kidnapping and possibly killing a young American journalist?

DONATELLA LORCH, KNIGHT INTERNATIONAL PRESS: I think their first aim is they want attention. They want to see whether they can budge and shove and push.

And the biggest challenge that they have, especially if they're not a well-organized and well-known terrorist group, is that, say, they kidnap someone, and then -- and I know this from cases in Afghanistan where aid workers have been kidnapped -- then they sort of all start infighting and they don't know what to do because no one is paying attention that closely to their demands. They don't think they're going to follow through on their demands.

KURTZ: And if they want attention -- and Al-Jazeera seems to have a direct pipeline for getting these chilling videotapes -- and then CNN, everybody else in the world uses them over and over again, do we play into their hands by running those tapes? Should we give any consideration to not running those tapes and not spreading the terrorist message?

LORCH: Well, I think that's a big debate going on, is do we give them extra P.R.? They obviously turn to Al-Jazeera because they know they're going to get the press attention. And the minute Al-Jazeera runs something -- it's like the al Qaeda videotapes of Osama bin Laden -- then we start running them too. So ultimately they get what they want, which is attention. But it's very interesting that there's been silence since the 72-hour deadline passed.

KURTZ: Scott Taylor, as I mentioned at the top, you had a harrowing kidnapping experience in Iraq in 2004. Tell us what happened.

SCOTT TAYLOR, JOURNALIST KIDNAPPED IN IRAQ: I was taken in the city of Tal Afar in northern Iraq; basically an accidental hostage, if you will. We walked into this area hoping to report from there as unembedded journalists, myself and a Turkish girl reporting at the same time. And we had gone in there before, relatively safe, and of course this was just before a big American push was coming down.

And once we got in there, they accused us of being spies, both from Musad (ph), for U.S. CIA, et cetera, and over the course of that time we were moved out of the battle area in Tal Afar, moved around several times, transferred from group to group. Basically, we were traded off at one point to an Arab fundamentalist group in the city of Mosul. And at that point we were both tortured on the hopes that we would reveal that we were in fact working for security agencies.

And six times, I believe it was, in five days I was threatened with beheading and believed I was going to be executed.

KURTZ: Why were you released?

TAYLOR: It was the Turkish government that actually was able to negotiate. Once the Turkish journalist had been released, they decided to release her about 24 hours before my eventual release, and because they then knew we were no longer in the Turkoman enclave of Tal Afar, about 70 kilometers east or west of Mosul, that they realized where to look for us, and the Turkish intelligence, who were aware of our activity in the north, were able to get us released.

KURTZ: That is one chilling story.

Michael Holmes, some months ago Jill Carroll wrote in the "American Journalism Review" -- I want to read you the quote -- "Last fall the kidnappings and beheadings increased and Western reporters became virtual prisoners in their hotel rooms."

Now, obviously she chose not to be a prisoner of her hotel room, but major news organizations, let's face it, have a lot of security. Freelancers like Jill Carroll have little or none.

Does it make sense to try to cover this dangerous country as a freelancer with no security?

HOLMES: Well, there's a lot of things you can talk about. But I'll say one thing that just came up from one of your other guests, though, Howard, and that is about the airing of the video.

Most Western news organizations aren't going to air that video first, because what has happened in the past with other hostage situations is the 72 hours, if you like, begins from the first airing of that video. So that's just by way of explaining why if we got the video, for instance, we would probably not air it. Once Al-Jazeera has aired it, well, you know, the clock, for want of a better description, is ticking even though deadlines have proven in the past to be very moveable things.

But that doesn't make sense to cover it...

KURTZ: Doesn't that allow...

HOLMES: Say again?

KURTZ: Doesn't that allow Al-Jazeera to, in effect, make an editorial decision for Western news organizations? You're saying CNN wouldn't air it, but once Al-Jazeera does air it, then it's OK for CNN to air it. I'm wondering about the reasoning there.

HOLMES: Well, the reasoning is, once it's been aired, it's been aired. And, you know, if the kidnappers -- and we don't know if that's the case with Jill Carroll -- if they're counting from the moment of first airing, well, who wants to be the first to air it? I doubt most responsible news organizations would be. We don't know that that's the case with Jill Carroll, but it has been the case in other kidnappings.

As far as covering it, I think -- I think it's a very individual thing. I certainly wouldn't criticize Jill Carroll for going out in a local car with just a driver and a translator.

She spoke Arabic. She dressed in Muslim dress. She fitted in very well. And most print journalists have the advantage of being able to go out and do the story with a notebook. That's not the case with us.

We're a completely different beast, if you like, with the crew size and the equipment we have to carry. We do still get out, don't get me wrong. It's just, in the last couple of years, pretty much since we were ambushed two years ago this month south of Baghdad, people have taken very seriously where they go, when, how important, how long you're out for, and who you are dealing with.

KURTZ: You have to think about those things. And I'm not in any way criticizing Jill Carroll for her bravery.

But did the "Christian Science Monitor," Donatella, have some obligation to provide her with some protection, or does it just reap the benefit of letting her take the risks and it gets the stories? LORCH: OK. Not aimed specifically at the "Christian Science Monitor," but this is a very expensive war to cover. And the smaller newspapers and the smaller news outlets have to figure out a way to do it. And on the one hand, they have to do that, and then there are all these freelancers that are in Baghdad that were like me 15 years ago, trying to -- attracted by the story, fascinated with the culture, and figuring out that this was a way to get ahead in the news.

KURTZ: Try to make a name for yourself. Try to get...

LORCH: Try to make a name for yourself.


LORCH: So, they're there, and the newspapers say, well, let's take advantage of the fact that they're there.

Now, do they have a greater responsibility? That's a very debatable thing.

KURTZ: As a woman, do you feel more vulnerable in some of these dangerous places?

LORCH: I would say that as a woman in a situation like that I would almost feel less vulnerable, because you can dress in local clothes, look like an Iraqi, and hope and hope and hope that they treat you with some greater respect.

KURTZ: Scott Taylor, after your kidnapping experience, you decided to go back to Iraq. I think the average person would ask why.

TAYLOR: It was actually at the invitation of the U.S. 3rd Armored Cavalry up in Tal Afar, this very unique Turkoman enclave where I had been covering. I had written extensively about the north during previous trips, and they had come across my work -- in fact, one of my books -- and realized that I did know the area.

They were about launch a major offensive against the same insurgents who had held me hostage. And, in fact, just by sure coincidence, just days before they called, a front page picture in the "International Herald Tribune," I realized that they had taken and captured one of the guys who had beaten me while I was being held hostage. So they had him in their captivity.

So for me, it was twofold. One was to bring about a bit of closure, a bit of justice on one of my captors, and the other was to brief the Americans on who exactly these Turkomans were and who the insurgents were, and to give them insight just into how closely they were working with the Iraqi police force, which is the ones who turned us over, I should point out, to the insurgents. And then, again, during our captivity we were moved several times, and in each case we were moved, it was obvious that the police were working in open collusion with the -- with the insurgents.

KURTZ: Right. TAYLOR: So, for me as a journalist, I mean, to bring that information back was very important. And then to have the American military pick up on that, want me to come there at their expense and brief them, that for a journalist, it doesn't get any better than that.


Michael Holmes, what has been the impact of this latest kidnapping on this small circle of Western reporters in Baghdad? Are you looking over your shoulder even more than usual in that dangerous place?

HOLMES: It's probably -- I think this is my sixth time here, Howard. I don't think you can look over your shoulder any more.

I'll tell you this, every time I have been back, my own personal view is that I felt less secure. But our security itself has to change with that. It was only two years ago, as I said, that we were able to drive down to the south on our own with just two cars, do a story, drive back to Baghdad, put it together.

It was on one of those trips two years ago this month that we were ambushed. We had two of our own people killed. My cameraman setting next to me was shot in the head. He lived.

From that moment on, it became very problematic in terms of getting around on your own, as it were. To get out now and cover the story, we use a lot of locals. We use a lot of Iraqi journalists to do a lot of our work. And when we go out, it's a very carefully planned thing.

KURTZ: You have firsthand experience with the situation as well.

I've got about half a minute, Donatella Lorch.

With all due respect to the bravery of the journalists there, could Iraq simply be getting too dangerous for effective reporting?

LORCH: Well, effective reporting -- I think you hit the nail on the head with saying "effective reporting." Iraq is a story that has to be covered. It's not -- there are always very, very dangerous situations.

I think it's gotten to the point where less and less news can be covered. People have to be there, and we have to cover it, but we're so limited in the movements, in our movements out there, and that is something that has to be talked about and talked about back here.

KURTZ: All right.

Donatella Lorch, Scott Taylor, Michael Holmes in Baghdad, thanks very much for joining us.

Coming next on RELIABLE SOURCES, when Congressman John Murtha criticized the war in Iraq, his military record gave his words extra weight. Now a Web site is raising questions about his Vietnam medals.

Good journalism or a political attack? We'll talk to the reporter who wrote that story next.



Congressman John Murtha got plenty of attention and plenty of criticism since calling for a pullout of U.S. troops in Iraq last fall. Now the Pennsylvania Democrat and ex-Marine has become the latest Democrat to have his Vietnam War medals come under scrutiny, with a conservative Web site raises questions about the circumstances behind Murtha's two Purple Hearts.

Murtha has dismissed the questions, saying his military record is clear.

Marc Morano, who wrote the story, is a senior staff writer for the Cybercast News Service, formerly called the Conservative News Service, which is a unit of the Media Research Center.

Thanks very much for joining us on this "Talk Back to the Media" segment.

MARC MORANO, CNSNEWS.COM: Thank you, Howard.

KURTZ: Whether the questions about Murtha's medals are legitimate or not, this was almost 40 years ago. So this is really about hitting back at a critic of the Iraq war, isn't it?

MORANO: Well, you know, all hell broke loose when we published this story. You would think the major organs of the media went nuts and called this a smear campaign. But the fact of the matter is, if you take out John Kerry and the Swift Boat, just take it out of your mind for a minute, you can go back to 1988, The Associated Press, "The Washington Post," the "LA Times," "New York Times," examine the first George Bush, as then vice president to Ronald Reagan, his actions in World War II and the Navy, whether he bailed out of a plane too early resulting in the death of his two co-pilots.

Bob Dole's record was attacked in "The Nation" magazine and disseminated in the media at the time.

KURTZ: So there's a history here...

MORANO: There's a history of this.

KURTZ: ... of looking at...

MORANO: Yes, George Bush's National Guard, John Kerry's record. So I think people who look at this and say, well, this is a smear, it's "Swift Boating," this happened long before. It's journalism 101 to examine a politician's war record.

KURTZ: All right. Let me give you a chance to respond to some of the columnists who have beaten up on your story.


KURTZ: E.J. Dionne in "The Washington Post."


KURTZ: "Murtha's views on withdrawing troops from Iraq are certainly the object of legitimate contention, but many in Murtha's party disagree with him. But Murtha's right-wing critics can't content themselves with going after ideas. They have to try to discredit his service."

MORANO: Well, again, where was the outrage against "The Washington Post," The Associated Press in 1988?

As far as looking at Murtha, Murtha himself, if you look at the Mike Wallace "60 Minutes" interview of last week, Murtha put up his service as his opinion having an extra validity over Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush because none of them served in combat. Murtha himself has made this an issue.

During his first congressional campaign, he had the Purple Hearts pinned on him. This is something that he has used, the Purple Hearts, his military record, for politics. Therefore, it's a legitimate thing in journalism to examine a politician's war record. And, you know, this is...

KURTZ: James Web, former Navy secretary in the Reagan administration...


KURTZ: ... as you know, wrote in "The New York Times," "Cybercast News Service" -- your employer...


KURTZ: ... "is run by David Thibault, who formerly worked as a senior producer..."

MORANO: Thibault.

KURTZ: Thibault, excuse me -- "for 'Rising Tide,' the televised weekly news magazine produced by the Republican National Committee. One of the authors of the Murtha article, Marc Morano, a long-time writer and producer for Rush Limbaugh."

MORANO: Right. Does "The New York Times" publish op-eds, Howard, alleging that George Stephanopoulos's reporting should be disregarded because he worked for Clinton or Tim Russert should be disregarded because he worked for Mario Cuomo and Patrick Moynihan?

This is selective outrage. This is what happens in the media today. It's almost phony. Some of the same critics are silent when it's the other way. There's always been a revolving door between politics, what some people see as partisanship in journalism, but these same critics, "The New York Times," CBS News, a lot of the bloggers out there that have been mercilessly attacking this see a one-way door. If you have a conservative background, suddenly you are invalid, but if you have a liberal background, well, that's journalism, there's nothing to talk about there.

KURTZ: Do you see yourself as practicing journalism or as practicing a conservative -- a conservative brand of journalism?

MORANO: I see myself practicing journalism 101, examining a politician's war record.

Ronald Reagan was ridiculed for serving in Hollywood during the war. This goes back -- every politician who has put themselves forward, that has a war record has to be examined. And it came to Cybercast News Service. The rest of the media should be thanking Cybercast News Service for doing this story, because there was a void out there. No one was going to look into Murtha.

KURTZ: Let me read a statement from Congressman Murtha which he gave to you.


KURTZ: "Questions about my record are clearly an attempt to distract attention from the real issue, which is that our brave men and women in uniform are dying and being injured every day in the middle of a civil war. We took heavy casualties in Vietnam. In my regiment, the year that I was there, my record is clear."

Let me move on. You spoke to former congressman Don Bailey.


KURTZ: I interviewed him as well when I wrote about this. He lost a House race to Murtha.

MORANO: Absolutely.

KURTZ: He calls him a phony. So clearly he is not the most unbiased witness on the planet.

MORANO: Right.

KURTZ: He says that in the early 1980s Murtha told him on the House floor, "I didn't do anything like you did. I just got a little scratch on the cheek for those Purple Hearts." But war veterans often play down their heroism. John McCain says he was no hero.

MORANO: They do. And we actually note that Bailey lost the election. We fully disclosed all that.

It's a much deeper issue than that. This is -- John Murtha admitted on the House floor that he didn't deserve these medals. And when you add that to the fact he has given various accounts of his wounds, when you add that to the fact that you have an eyewitness from 1968 that Murtha came to him -- and to this day Murtha has never produced evidence of medical treatment for these wounds. The only documentation is he was never evacuated, it was a superficial wound.

He was initially turned down by -- in 1968, he left active duty from the Marines from all the information we have without the Purple Hearts. Murtha himself has said he didn't ask for the Purple Hearts, yet we have the documentation from Murtha's office that they were given to him per his request.

KURTZ: Just to be clear, it's the military that decides whether to hand out these medals, whether somebody asks for it or not.

MORANO: It is. But the accusation is political manipulation by Murtha behind the scenes.

KURTZ: Another point in the article, you say that former congressional aide Harry Fox said back in 1996 that he had personally reviewed Murtha's war records...

MORANO: With (INAUDIBLE) from the Marine Corps, yes.

KURTZ: In Fox's opinion, Murtha was pretending to be a big war hero. But you also say that Fox is 81 and he is too sick to communicate.

MORANO: Right.

KURTZ: So basically, you're just sort of recycling old news. Some of this has come up in Murtha's campaigns before.

MORANO: Absolutely. This is something that -- Murtha became a national figure November 2005 when he came out against the war and essentially became -- his whole war record became an extra reason why he was valid to criticize the Iraq war. So all we did is went back in the public record.

This is journalism. We went back on microfiche files. We didn't use LexisNexis or Google because this stuff wasn't available. So we did something a lot of journalists don't do.

KURTZ: And you think that the rest of the press, which maybe you think is liberal, is giving Murtha a pass?

MORANO: I think they absolutely are. Somehow Bob Dole's war record in 1996 is not above scrutiny. George Bush's war record, whether he killed two co-pilots by cowardly bailing out -- that was the allegation by an admitted Democrat eyewitness fellow Navy bomber. I don't see the outrage. I just think this is selective outrage, and the media needs to examine itself how they could get this upset at a Web site called Cybercast News Service and Marc Morano. It doesn't make any sense.

KURTZ: All right. Marc Morano...

MORANO: Thank you, Howie.

KURTZ: ... thanks very much for joining our "Talk Back" segment. We appreciate it.

MORANO: Thank you.

KURTZ: Next on RELIABLE SOURCES, how should the press handle the really dumb things that newsmakers so often say? Our trip through the "Spin Cycle" just ahead.

And send us your thoughts on today's email question: Does Congressman Murtha's opposition to the Iraq War make his Vietnam record fair game for the press?

Send your answers to


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: It's become a classic media ritual. A public figure says something incendiary, something outrageous, something stupefying in its insensitivity, and news organizations can't get enough.


KURTZ (voice over): Pat Robertson, the televangelist and one- time presidential candidate who previously attributed the 9/11 attacks to God's wrath about abortion and homosexuality and called for the assassinations of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke, Robertson saw a message from on high.

PAT ROBERTSON, TELEVANGELIST: I think we need to look at the bible and the Book of Joel, the prophet Joel makes it very clear that god has enmity against those that "divide my land." And for any prime minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, god says no, this is mine.

KURTZ: And as surely as night follows day, comes the apology and another round of stories. Robertson asked the Sharon family's forgiveness for remarks he said were inappropriate and insensitive.

But invoking god's wrath seems to be in vogue these days. New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin had this to say the other day from his devastated city.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN (D), NEW ORLEANS: Surely god is mad at America. He is sending hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroying and putting stress on this country. Surely he is not -- approval of us being in Iraq under false pretenses.

KURTZ: God opposes the Iraq War? Oh, and Nagin didn't stop there. He also invoked heaven and dragging race into the equation.

NAGIN: This city will be chocolate at the end of the day. This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way god wants it to be.

KURTZ: Almost on cue, the mayor tried to backtrack, first with some silliness about making chocolate by first mixing it with milk -- that would be white milk -- and then by voicing regretted, but only limited regret.

NAGIN: If I could take anything back, that's what I would take, any references to god. I think that was inappropriate for that particular setting.

KURTZ: But sometimes these folks stand by their fiery words, such as entertainer-turned-rhetorical-bomb-thrower Harry Belafonte, who endorsed Hugo Chavez while hanging this label on President Bush...

HARRY BELAFONTE, SINGER: No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush, says, millions of the American people, millions, support your revolution.

KURTZ: Belafonte did not apologize, maybe because he didn't get that much media attention in the first place.


KURTZ: And that raises an interesting question. Do we really have to report every idiotic remark somebody famous makes? And if we showed more restraint, stopped rewarding these people with automatic coverage, would some of them tone it down?

Just a thought.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, he is heading for court and probably prison, but will Washington ever end its love affair with high-rolling lobbyists like Jack Abramoff? I'll get the view from both the mainstream media and the blogosphere.

And later do the news organization's gush over everything Apple. Online technology reporters on the hot seat.

And just ahead, news update right after the break.


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Betty Nguyen at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Let's check some of the stop stories right "Now in the News."

Palestinian security sources say a car exploded in Gaza City today, killing one person and wounding three others. According to witnesses, Israeli war planes fired two missile on the car, but the Israeli army says it was not involved in that attack.

Fourteen coal mine deaths in less than a month is prompting West Virginia's governor to propose new safety measures. Rescuers yesterday recovered the bodies of two miners who disappeared Thursday after a fire in a West Virginia mine.

And we have these pictures just in from affiliate station KSL in Utah. Take a look at them.

Rescue crews are trying to reach seven stranded hikers. They are believed to be hurt and stuck on Mount Olympus, outside Salt Lake City. As you can tell, the conditions are very poor with all the snow in the area. But this rescue effort is under way.

We're going to have more of today's headlines in just 30 minutes from now.

RELIABLE SOURCES returns in just a moment.



Washington journalists sometimes take it for granted, but a huge growth industry here has been lobbying. Thirty-five thousand men and women now try to influence politics, including half the former members of Congress.

But the conviction of Jack Abramoff, a black hat-wearing Republican who ripped off his clients for tens of millions of dollars, has both parties suddenly pushing legislation to clean up or at least give the appearance of cleaning up a system that almost everyone agrees stinks. The networks, which usually have little appetite for complicated lobbying stories, have jumped on the scandal.


BOB WOODRUFF, ABC NEWS: In Washington, the rush is on to enact sweeping new restrictions on lobbying Congress.

GLORIA BORGER, CBS NEWS: Call it the Abramoff effect, politicians rushing to outmaneuver each other and claim the mantle of reform.


KURTZ: Joining me now here in Washington, Jill Zuckman of the "Chicago Tribune." In Knoxville, Tennessee, Glenn Reynolds, who blogs at and is a law professor at the University of Tennessee, also the author of an upcoming book, "An Army of Davids." And in Los Angeles, Arianna Huffington. She writes a syndicated column and is the editor of


Glen Reynolds, even "The National Review" editor Rich Lowry says that Abramoff is a Republican scandal. But some Republicans say the press is playing down some of the links between Abramoff and Democrats.

What is your take?

GLENN REYNOLDS, INSTAPUNDIT.COM: Well, I think it is fundamentally a Republican scandal. He is a Republican lobbyist, and most of his money went to Republicans.

He certainly did steer money to Democrats, too, and there's a little bit of lawyerly parsing on the part of some of the people who got the money. But, yes, it's primarily a Republican scandal.

KURTZ: Arianna Huffington, until the Abramoff story broke, did beltway reporters just simply become too accepting, too inured to the whole pave to play lobbying culture in the city?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Absolutely. In fact, Howie, Eric Beller (ph) wrote a great blog on The Huffington Post about how the K Street Project with which Jack Abramoff was so closely aligned was hardly investigated by the mainstream press. It was announced in the summer of 2002, and then, as he put it, a cone (ph) of silence descended until the beginning of 2006. And yet, in the K Street Project, we see all the ways in which money and lobbying buy public policy, and that's really what is important in terms of the public.

KURTZ: The K Street Project is an effort by Republican congressional leaders to force or strong-arm lobbying groups and trade associations to hiring Republicans to lobby the Hill.

Jill Zuckman, you work for an Illinois paper. House Speaker Dennis Hastert is now pushing for reform. He was asked at a news conference, "What took you so long?"

Let's take a look.


REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: A year ago, most people around Congress couldn't tell you who Jack Abramoff was and didn't know who his associates were or what connections there are.


KURTZ: Has the press been aggressive enough in holding Speaker Hastert and others accountable on this issue?

JILL ZUCKMAN, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, the "Chicago Tribune" has certainly written a lot about the speaker and tried to take a look at whether he has engaged in the same sorts of practices that Tom DeLay was engaging in. And, you know, we were not -- we did not find any sort of smoking gun, but I think there's been a passivity in all of Congress, the fact that there are these relationships with lobbyists who are almost uniformly former staffers or former members. So there are people they're friends with, and they are able to influence legislation through those relationships.

KURTZ: Glenn Reynolds, just before we came on the air, I got handed a press release from "TIME" magazine that says that "TIME" has seen five photographs of Jack Abramoff and President George W. Bush together. Those pictures have not yet come out, but it says that the celebrity tabloids are on the prowl for them. I think they may not be alone. Do you have a sense that the press is pushing this scandal out of some sort of reform-minded ethics agenda, or is it just a good, juicy story?

REYNOLDS: Well, it's a good, juicy story that makes Republicans look bad. So that's, you know, three things that appeal to the press.

KURTZ: And if it was a good, juicy story that made Democrats look bad, you're suggesting it would not be quite the same level of enthusiasm?

REYNOLDS: Maybe not. Maybe not.

KURTZ: All right.

Arianna Huffington, I want to play a piece of tape from the White House news briefing earlier this week. NBC's David Gregory pressing spokesman Scott McClellan on why he wouldn't say just who Jack Abramoff met with during a number of visits to the Bush White House.

Let's take a look.


DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: I mean, this guy is radioactive in Washington, and he knows guys like Karl Rove. So did he meet with him or not? Don't put it on us to bring something specific. That is a specific question about a specific individual.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Because we don't discuss staff level meetings.

GREGORY: Of course you do, whenever you want to discuss staff level meetings.

MCCLELLAN: If you've got specific matters that I need to look into, it's my point that I think it's your obligation to bring that to my attention. I'll be glad to take a look into it.


MCCLELLAN: There's been no suggestion of anything like this in this White House, David.

GREGORY: I'm just asking. I'm not suggesting.

MCCLELLAN: No, you're insinuating.

Go ahead.


KURTZ: Arianna, why do you think that the White House's refusal to answer these questions hasn't been in itself more of a media story?

HUFFINGTON: Well, absolutely. It's really great to see David Gregory to take Scott McClellan in -- on finally, because this has been a pattern with this White House. You know, we had it with Dick Cheney's energy group and the refusal to give us the names of who the group had met with.

We're having the same resistance now. And yet, Republicans, again and again, talk about transparent government, about letting the public know what's happening.

Why not release the names of who Abramoff met with? Really, there's absolutely no justification for that. And the press and the blogosphere across the board need to stay on top of that, to demand it.

KURTZ: All of this stuff, Jill Zuckman, the golfing trips, the big contributions, the spouses who lobby, I mean, there's a long, long list. This has been going on for years and years and years. Does it take a scandal of this magnitude to concentrate the press coverage in a way that we're seeing now?

ZUCKMAN: Yes, absolutely. I mean, the newspapers and the blogs, I mean, they respond to scandals, and so everybody sort of focuses in on this issue.

KURTZ: It's sort of been a scandal waiting to happen.

ZUCKMAN: Oh, sure.

KURTZ: I mean, a lot of this is legal, perfectly legal, but certainly...

ZUCKMAN: All of these things have happened before. I mean, you know, there have been -- there's been -- I have to disagree with Glenn. There's been plenty of scrutiny of Jim Wright in the past and other...

KURTZ: Former Democratic speaker of the House.

ZUCKMAN: Absolutely.

KURTZ: Tony Coelho.

ZUCKMAN: Absolutely. I mean, these -- this is not -- you know, problems with influence or taking advantage of positions in the majority are not limited to Republicans. It's happened to Democrats before, and it's going to keep on happening even after they enact more laws because they don't seem to enforce them.

KURTZ: Also, it's very hard to write laws that completely keep money, obviously, out of politics.


KURTZ: Now, switching gears here a little bit, on Monday, former vice president Al Gore had some very harsh words for President Bush. I want to talk about the coverage, but first, let's take a look at what Gore had to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently.



KURTZ: Now, Arianna Huffington, there were substantial stories about Gore's remarks in the "Chicago Tribune" and the "LA Times" and "The Washington Post." A lot on the talk shows. But on the nightly news of the networks, NBC mentioned it, ABC; CBS said nothing.

I wonder if you think that that kind of charge coming from a guy who came close to being president didn't get enough media attention?

HUFFINGTON: I don't think it did get enough media attention. It got much more attention in the blogosphere, especially because on the same day Hillary Clinton gave her speech in Harlem in which she made that famous "plantation" remark.

So, we had two very different styles. We had Hillary Clinton, other than the "plantation" remark, equivocating, calling the administration one of the worst administrations in history. And we had Al Gore being passionate, being clear, really taking on the Bush administration.

So we saw two different styles, and the possibility that those two might run against each other in the Democratic primary is definitely going to get the media to pay attention to them.

KURTZ: Well, for those who missed it, Senator Clinton said that Congress is being run like a plantation.

But Glenn Reynolds, on the other hand, Al Gore has been out of office for five years, so maybe he doesn't deserve intensive coverage.

REYNOLDS: Well, I think part of the problem is he is seen as flip-flopping a bit here. I mean, if you read Richard Clarke's book, for example, Gore endorsed "Extraordinary Rendition," even in the face of it being, he said, illegal under international law. That's why it's covert, he said.

So it kind of makes him come across as kind of a little bitter here, and I think that that causes people to discount it a bit.

KURTZ: Jill Zuckman, do Democrats as a minority party just have trouble getting a hold of the megaphone because they don't run anything these days?

ZUCKMAN: Absolutely. It's always -- you know, if you are in the majority and you have power, then you have the bully pulpit. And if you are not, if you have no power, it's a lot harder to get your message across. It's just sort of the way it is.

KURTZ: Don't journalists have some responsibility to even that out?

ZUCKMAN: Of course they do. Yes, of course they do. And certainly, I don't think journalists are writing stories about Republicans and not saying what the Democrats are saying, or not writing stories about the Democrats. But they just don't seem to get the play or the power that -- that the Republicans do.

KURTZ: All right. Let me get in a break here.

When we come back, we'll ask our guests about those controversial Web sites attacks on Congressman John Murtha's military record.

Stay with us.



Arianna huffington, we heard a few moments ago from Marc Morano of the Cybercast News Service who wrote that story about Congressman Jack Murtha and whether he deserved those Purple Hearts in Vietnam. We've already gotten 92 e-mails to CNN, many of them taking issue with even having this guy on. He says, you know, people in the public arena often have their military records questioned, why should Murtha be any different.

Do you think it's a legitimate story or not?

HUFFINGTON: It is not only not a legitimate story, I think it is absolutely disgusting to have Murtha's record questioned in that way. I mean, we went through that with John Kerry. Another "Swift Boating" attempt like that is nothing more than an effort to distract attention from what Jack Murtha is saying.

Jack Murtha is a Democratic hawk. He is not a pacifist. He is somebody who is clearly very connected with many people in the American military.

He's not freelancing. He's speaking for many in the American military about what's happening in Iraq, about the dangers that our troops are facing when, in fact, there's no justification in attempts of Americans' safety or even attempts of us making any positive impact there.

So these are incredibly important, incredibly legitimate questions. And to try and distract from them by having this ludicrous attempt to discredit Murtha's military record is really one of the most disgraceful chapters in American politics.

KURTZ: Glenn Reynolds, Arianna Huffington seems to think it's "disgusting," to use her word, even to raise these questions about what happened in Vietnam 40 years ago. I would ask, what does it have to do with the Iraq war now, what happened (INAUDIBLE). What's your take?

REYNOLDS: It's pretty hard for me to get excited about this. I was carrying a rat patrol lunchbox and learning to ride a two-wheeler when all of that stuff was going on. So it's kind of old news, I think.

On the other hand, you know, I'm a lawyer, and we have a concept called opening the door, which says, once you bring certain things up in court, your opponents are entitled to look into matters they'd otherwise have to leave alone. And I think there's no surer way to be acclaimed as a war hero by the press than to come out as antiwar now. And I think Murtha took advantage of that, and, you know, politics ain't beanbag, and he took this risk, and is he is certainly in no position to complain that people are treating him unfairly now once he has made such a big deal about it.

KURTZ: Jill Zuckman, did Murtha open the door, to use Glenn Reynold's phrase, or would you have written the story with all the same information?

ZUCKMAN: You know, I would have been -- I would be a lot more comfortable with the story if a mainstream newspaper investigated his record and came up with some conclusions. If it was like his hometown newspaper, a Pennsylvania newspaper, rather than some right wing part of blogosphere taking a look at it, because I think we have after Max Cleland and John Kerry and now Mr. Murtha, that that is a tactic that's being used to discredit people who are criticizing the president and criticizing the war.

KURTZ: So you are saying it might be a fair topic, but you are questioning the messenger in this particular case?

ZUCKMAN: I don't -- I don't -- I don't have any problem with anybody looking into anything, but I feel more comfortable with the conclusions that are drawn by a real journalistic organization than perhaps someone with an axe to grind.

KURTZ: Cybercast would certainly say they consider themselves a real journalistic organization.

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

Coming up, have the media becomes part of the promotional machine for Apple Computers? We'll worm our way into that subject just ahead.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We shall prevail.


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: This commercial which ran only once put Apple on the map. And if you only watch movies and TV shows, you would think that Apple Computers were on every desk in the country. But they are in plenty of newsrooms.

This program, for example, is edited on an Apple, and maybe that's why journalists are sometimes accused of overhyping the company.

Chronicling the adventures of CEO Steve Jobs like some sort of geek rock star, and occasionally forgetting there are other MP3 players out there beside the iPod.

Well, joining me now to discuss the evidence of Apple mania are, in New York, Arik Hesseldahl, technology columnist for "BusinessWeek Online." And in Boston, Robin Liss, who writes on personal technology for and

Arik Hesseldahl, every time Apple introduces a new product, a video iPod, you name it, the press just gushes. Here is Friday's "New York Times" front page: "Steven Jobs can be considered the Walt Disney of his era."

How does this company and this CEO get all of this gee whiz coverage?

ARIK HESSELDAHL, BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE: Well, a lot of it has to do with the secrecy. I mean, Apple keeps itself really quiet, it doesn't reveal its product plans, doesn't -- doesn't do a lot of leaking. A lot of it has to do with secrecy, and that, of course, draws reporters to secrecy like honey like a bee.

KURTZ: When it comes from the Bush administration, we don't like secrecy. And why does that work to a company's advantage?

HASSELDAHL: Well, in this case, because I think the -- I think reporters really are interested in what Apple is doing -- a lot of them use Apple computers, a lot of them own iPods -- I have been using Macs for 20 years myself, and I was the first guy in a Manhattan to own an iPod. And so I think they're interested in one thing.

But the other thing I think is that these meanings, these keynote addresses that Steve gives, I've often compared them to revival meetings. You know, they have sort of a religious feel to them sometimes. And so it's really a manufactured event.

The reason that I got interested in looking at this is that the AP moved an alert when Apple announced a new product. The AP moved a news alert, which is usually the sort of thing referred -- you know, reserved for coups and other things.

KURTZ: Robin List, Arik makes it sound like something of a cult. Is this a cult that a few too many journalists are a part of?

ROBIN LISS, TECHNOLOGY WRITER: Absolutely. You know, I am almost afraid sometimes to say bad things about Apple because of the fanaticism of these fans. These -- Steve Jobs keynotes, like Arik talked about, are just incredibly intense, and journalists, I think they are kind of afraid to attack Apple. It's such a sexy company. You know, they have great ads. Who wants to be, you know, kind of hating on the company that your little sister loves and thinks is the coolest consumer electronics place out there?

KURTZ: That certainly doesn't apply to Microsoft.

Arik, you don't see yourself as afraid to attack Apple, do you?

HASSELDAHL: Absolutely not. I think for a long time reporters gave Apple a pass because the story is just so great. It's literally biblical in its art.

Steve Jobs was kicked out of Apple in '85, came back in '96 as the prodigal son. I mean, you can find Google hits that compare them that way.

But the stories -- and reporters like to root for the little guy. But the story is really changing.

Apple is a $14 billion company now. It literally accounts for about -- last year about four percent of computer sales in the U.S.

But now with this latest thing with Jobs perhaps becoming the biggest shareholder in Disney, there are some important questions to be asking that reporters need to start -- start drilling Apple about.

KURTZ: You're referring there to a possible merger between Disney and Apple's other company, Pixar Animation Studios.


KURTZ: Robin Liss, Arik just mentioned Apple has got four percent of the computer market, but a lot higher percent, I would guess, of the press market.

What accounts for this imbalance? I mea, you would think the average person probably has no idea that Apple has four percent of the computer market.

LISS: You know, it's interesting you said that. I did a search on Google News, Howard, and when you did a search for Microsoft, it returned 50,000 results, and a search for Apple returned about 33,000. So you can see that kind of over-proportionate coverage of Apple.

You know, I -- one of the things I think is that people aren't -- they aren't look at some of the flaws when they cover these products. You mentioned Microsoft, and iTunes and the iPod has upwards of 70 percent market share, and they have something called their digital rights management. That's what kind of prevents people from copying stuff.

And it's very restrictive. I would say bordering on anti- competive. And they haven't, you know, attracted any of the same attention that Microsoft did during the entire, you know, DOJ investigation and all that.

KURTZ: All right.

Arik Hasseldahl, is a lot of this coverage driven by the personality of Steve Jobs? You have already described his meetings as being -- excuse me, Steve Jobs -- similar to revival meetings. But is he also a very media savvy manipulator?

HASSELDAHL: Absolutely. I think about 70 percent of the interest in Apple is generated by the interest in Steve Jobs. Much of the story of the company in the books that I have read about him and about the company focus on his personality.

He was very often described as mercurial, difficult to work with. But like I said, there's this -- there's this prodigal son quality to the story of his coming back and doing battle with Microsoft. And so, you know, reporters love that kind of stuff. The story really just lends itself to great prose.

KURTZ: Robin Liss, I don't want to take anything away from Steve Jobs, and a very successful company in Apple. But do you think that -- can you think of any other company in the technology field that gets anything approaching this kind of coverage?

LISS: You know, probably the one that comes to mind is Google. They get a ton of positive press coverage, and every time Google comes out with a new product announcement, even if it's not, you know, something new or innovative, it gets incredibly covered by the press.

You know, Steve Jobs, this is the company. Their press shop is pretty intense. You know, they're the ones that are suing bloggers.

KURTZ: Right. Got to run.

LISS: And while that got a lot of -- that got a lot of attention, you know, it's just not as tough on him as it could be.

KURTZ: All right. Thanks to our guests for a great discussion.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Join us again next Sunday 10:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media.