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Reliable Sources

McClellan Steps Down; CIA Official Fired for Leaking

Aired April 23, 2006 - 10:00   ET


SCOTT McCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I just cannot comment on an ongoing legal proceeding.


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Scott McClellan, a master of no comment, is leaving the podium. Did his tightlipped approach help the White House stay on message or just infuriate the press corps? And will changing spokesman produce more openness toward the media?

CIA chief Porter Goss fires an official for leaking classified information to "The Washington Post" Dana Priest. Is this the start of a major administration crackdown?

Accusing athletes, why are national news organizations making a Federal case out of the rape charges against two Duke lacrosse players? And are they playing up racial tensions in search of the next OJ melodrama?

Plus "New York Times" columnist Nick Kristof on why the media keep ignoring the genocide in Darfur.

Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on the departure of the White House spokesman. I'm Howard Kurtz. We'll get to the administration shake-up and the Duke rape case in a moment.

But first, a new audiotape out this morning, purported to be from Osama bin Laden. Joining us in Boston, former presidential adviser David Gergen, who now teaches at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Also editor at large at "U.S. News & World Report." And here in Washington, John Roberts, CNN's senior national correspondent and Gloria Borger, national political correspondent for CBS News and a columnist for "U.S. News & World Report."

John Roberts, a mass murderer puts out another propaganda tape, at least it hasn't been authenticated yet, and he rants against the west. How much coverage does Osama bin Laden's latest audio tape deserve?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: About the same as the one that he released back in January. But if this is him and there's no reason to believe at this point that it's not, it shows that again, despite the billions of dollars spent on the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq and the more than 2,000 American lives lost that Osama bin Laden is still out there.

And there's some interesting little aspects to this new audio tape. It appears that he's finally found himself a cave that's on a newspaper delivery route, because he's got pretty timely access to information, talking about the election of Hamas in Israel and as well, the U.S. cutting off funds. He's also got access to better recording equipment, because the quality of this tape is much better than the ones that we've seen in the past. But I think what's really significant here is, we are still not seeing him on camera and the question is why. If you can make an audio recording you're the head of the biggest terrorist group in the world, you should be able to make a video recording and there's a reason why he's not.

KURTZ: Well, I don't know if he's getting newspapers. Maybe he's got a laptop and Internet access.

ROBERTS: I would like to think he's getting "The Washington Post."

KURTZ: Turning now to domestic politics, Scott McClellan as I mentioned, stepping down as White House press secretary this week after nearly three years of increasingly tense relations with the journalists. He also eased out under a new shake up by the new White House chief of staff Josh Bolton who are largely limited Karl Rove's White House role to politics, not policy, all of which produced plenty of coverage.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Replacing Scott McClellan, they hope to improve the relationship with the press.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: I think he reflects a style that this president came to Washington with, which was keep the press at arms length.

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: If they get a new face and somebody who is stronger and tougher in dealing with the press, I think that will help the administration a lot.


KURTZ: Gloria, what was it about Scott McClellan that drove reporters nuts?

GLORIA BORGER, CBS NEWS: I think what drove -- well, that's kind of a loaded question.

KURTZ: It is.

BORGER: I think what disturbed some reporters was that, number one, he seemed to be out of the loop on a lot of issues. You want a press secretary standing there at the podium whom you believe is in the inner circle. And lots times he went out there, particularly on the CIA leak investigation, or on the Dick Cheney shooting incident, and he did not seem to be in that loop. And reporters need to know that they have a press secretary with credibility and that credibility comes from being in the inner circle and he wasn't.

KURTZ: David Gergen, you've been a White House communication strategist in more than one administration. From the White House point of view, was McClellan an effective spokesman?

DAVID GERGEN, KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: I think he did what they wanted him to do. I think he was always doing his master's bidding, but I think the White House made the wrong choices in what they chose to have him do. He was very secretive. He didn't -- he didn't yield much information. He wasn't helpful to the press at times when he could have been very helpful and occasionally he went out with misleading information. It's an interesting question Howard about the role of the press secretary and the White House is somewhat -- I think the Scott McClellan case raises the same questions that have been raised about the generals talking back to Rumsfeld.

Should someone who is in a deferential position, a subordinate position, occasionally challenge the boss and say, you know, this is not the right way to do things, why don't we do it this other way? And there's no evidence that Scott McClellan ever challenged the ethos inside the White House, up at the top levels and as a result, he was always coming out with sort of non-answers or occasionally as I say misleading answers and I think he did what they wanted, but is that what you want in a White House press secretary? Does that serve the White House and the public in the best way? I don't think it does.

KURTZ: That's the nub of the debate. John Roberts I want to give you some flashbacks to your days at CBS White House correspondent. Let's take a look at the great tips of Scott McClellan.


McCLELLAN: You know that I can't get into talking about this matter. It's an ongoing legal proceeding at this point. That's getting into this ongoing legal proceeding. My reaction is that it's ongoing legal matter at this point. What I said is what I said and you ought to listen to what I said, not try to put words in my mouth. You are trying to put words into my mouth. You're putting words in my mouth. You know exactly what I'm referring to, so let's not try to put words in my mouth. No suggestion of anything like this in this White House.

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

McCLELLAN: No, you're insinuating.


KURTZ: What was it is like to be in that briefing room trying to get answers out of Scott McClellan?

ROBERTS: I'm surprised that nobody has taken all of that as you did and put it to a really heavy backbeat and done a dub record about it, like, I can't, I can't, I can't comment on, on, on -- because you could and it would be very funny. It was very frustrating because Scott had his talking points and he would come out there and he wouldn't stray from them. And like David Gergen said, I don't think that, like Ari Fleischer did, that Scott would go to the higher-ups and say look, I think we better get some more information out there. I hope if anything happens in this transition to a new press secretary is that they make a decision to actually tell the media something at the daily briefing.

BORGER: Well, I do, that's the point. I agree with you and David, because I think it reflects the administration's point of view about the media and what should be told from that podium and that is, absolutely nothing. This is a White House that doesn't like to talk to the press very much.

ROBERTS: But, you know, that briefing, it can't be all spin. There's got to be some information out there. And I heard Tony Snow say that the other day, so if he becomes press secretary, maybe that will be an indication that there will be some more information.

KURTZ: We'll come back to that in a second. David Gergen, the level of tension and sometimes anger in the briefing room in recent months as high as I've ever seen. Do you think it's comparable to what you saw when you worked for President Reagan or for President Clinton?

GERGEN: It's certainly comparable to what we saw in President Clinton. It was less of that, I thought with President Reagan, because everybody knew that there was sort of a wink and a nod and a lot of the information would then be forth coming. In that administration, people regularly briefed the press away from the podium. I wasn't -- I had an understanding that I would brief the news magazines once a week in private for half an hour, as did Jim Baker, as did others. And so there was, I think, more flow of information.

What I think the worst I've ever seen was under Nixon, I don't think this equaled that. But it does reflect the frustration and I think that's why the president's not getting many breaks from the press right now. Because there's been this long period when the press has felt, you guys only tell us what you want us to know, not what we need to know, what the public needs to know. And that frustration, I think, has led to fairly negative coverage. I think it's colored the coverage of the president during these period of mishaps over the last several months.

BORGER: And unlike covering the Congress, Howie, where you can go to 535 people, talk to them and their staffs, the White House is a very, very limited group of people. So, if Scott McClellan is not giving you information from the podium, then you've got to go to other people and see if they are willing to speak with you, and, you know, that's a very difficult process, because if you write something or say something they don't like, they can shut you off.

ROBERTS: And not only that, but the White House, unlike Congress, is a closed building. You can only go in the press room and the press secretary's office unescorted. Everywhere else --

KURTZ: You can't wander around.

ROBERTS: So they can very effectively cloister themselves off.

KURTZ: But picking up on David Gergen's point, John Roberts, past presidential spokesmen like for example Marlin Fitzwater or Mike McCurry were also very helpful away from the cameras, what people didn't see on television. In my experience, Scott McClellan very polite, always called back, but didn't say much more in background than he would at the podium.

ROBERTS: No, no, he never did. And even when you would go in and you would see him in his office, every once in a while you might get a little bit more detail about some of the things that they were talking about, but he was very close held with the information. But I think the reason was is because this president came into the White House with the idea that he didn't want to use the national media. He wanted to talk past the national media. He wanted to reach out directly to the people. All the time forgetting that in order to get to the people, you've got to go through the national media, or at least the local media, you know, in regional markets. So I think that that was all part of their strategy. It's the mushroom principle. It's keep them in the dark and feed them manure.

KURTZ: David Gergen, the two reported leading candidates to take McClellan's job, Tony Snow and Dan Senor, both commentators for Fox News. I'm wondering, there's been some talk about whether President Bush should pick a journalist. There really hasn't been a journalist in that job since Gerald Ford picked Ron Nessen of NBC. Now Tony Snow, although he did work in the first Bush White House, is a career columnist. Why have so many presidents shied away from the journalist model toward picking professional PR types?

GERGEN: Unfortunately the White House has gotten themselves into the position of thinking this is all about spin. This is all about telling people what we want to tell them and nothing else and then putting the best face on it. If you go back, the best press secretaries, usually starting with Jim Haggerty for example, under Eisenhower, who was a reporter, he was a reporter out of New York, out of Buffalo, I think, or Albany. And he understood the legitimacy of the press and the legitimacy of the press asking questions and the accountability of the public, the president has to the public.

And our problem is, we've gotten away from people who appreciate that the press might have legitimate questions that ought to be answered and then go to their bosses and say, Mr. President, this is something which we actually should open up on, and let's give them the facts. On this other one, it's a wild goose chase. They are just having fun with us, let's not do that. I think when you get a journalist you get someone who is more likely to do that, but journalists get really frustrated in that situation, because they have a larger sense of what's legitimate than political types often do.

BORGER: I think we're better at asking questions, Howie, than we are at answering questions. And I think that that could be a problem for Tony Snow, because he will get frustrated. He'll go back to the White House. He will say to his bosses there I need to know the answer to "X," "Y," and "Z" and what he is going to do when they say you're out of the loop? KURTZ: Will it mean that the Bush administration will get even better coverage on Fox News, however, if Tony Snow gets the post.

ROBERTS: Check, please.

GERGEN: Let's say this, tony is very good. And he does have -- he certainly has paid some dues in journalism, I'm not sure he would call himself a full-time journalist, but he's worked hard over at Fox News to develop himself and I think he ought to be given credit for that. He also, of course, had the relationship with the Bush family. So he does seem to me, in many ways, a very good possibility for that. But I think the big issue is both, you know, we've heard here, with both Gloria and John, is the real question is whether the president wants to change the way information is given to the press. It's all up to the president. Tony Snow will only be effective if the president himself wants to change the practices and how secretive they are, how non-informative they are.

KURTZ: For all the focus for the guy in front of the cameras, the president, of course, is the boss. Let me get a break here. Ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, a CIA officer gets the ax for leaking information to reporters. We'll take a look.

And coming up at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry is on the story of Scott McClellan's departure and the latest White House shakeup.


KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. The Bush administration's war on leaks took a significant step forward on Friday. The CIA fired Mary McCarthy of the inspector general's office who is said to have served as a source for "Washington Post" reporter Dana Priest on her Pulitzer prize-winning story about the agency's secret prisons to interrogate terror suspects overseas. The firing was immediately front-page news and all over the networks.


BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: It is no secret that the current administration does not like its people hanging out with news reporters without permission.

ELIZABETH VARGAS, ABC NEWS: The CIA said today it had fired an officer for leaking classified information to the media.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Intelligent sources tell NBC News the fired officer is a career woman who worked for the agency's inspector general.


KURTZ: David Gergen, journalists of course think it's terrible when a source gets fired or prosecuted. But is it appropriate when the person is a CIA officer who, after all, has pledged not to reveal classified information? GERGEN: I think it's legitimate for a government to discipline those inside who leak highly classified information. The real issue here is whether the government is also going to go after journalists and start hauling journalists into court and putting them under pressure and say, tell us your sources. Or in some way it not only goes out to the leaker, It goes out to the leakee and tries to bring criminal prosecutions of one sort or another as this administration unfortunately has talked about doing.

KURTZ: When you first heard about this, Gloria Borger, was your thought that the administration was going after the leakers or that the ultimate target was the media?

BORGER: I think that in this particular case, the CIA director, Porter Goss, has made it very clear that it's unsafe to leak classified information. When you go to the CIA, you take that pledge. But one person's leaker is another person's whistleblower, Howie. And if you read the papers today, there are lots of people who say, well, she was justified in doing what she did, because she saw things that were going on that she didn't like and so in effect, he's a whistleblower.

On the other hand, if you were inside the CIA and you thought that she was endangering sources and methods or people's lives, you could understand why she was fired. But so far, at least, we don't know about any kind of criminal prosecution from the media's point of view. "The Washington Post" says it has not been subpoenaed in any way, shape or form, so I'm wondering whether Ms. McCarthy will be the one to take the heat on this and not the journalists.

ROBERTS: I think ultimately the target here is the media and they are getting to the media through association. If you dry up the sources of information at the various agencies that give the media great stories like that, then you are affecting the media, right?

KURTZ: Keep in mind, Mary McCarthy is likely not the only source on a complicated story like that and the same thing goes for "The New York Times" story on domestic surveillance. But John, Bill Bennett, the conservative commentator said on CNN just the other day that not just the CIA official but that Dana Priest of "The Washington Post" should...

ROBERTS: Right, (INAUDIBLE) as well should be in jail and I talked to him about this when I hosted "American Morning" on Friday, and he said, you know, Judith Miller spent all that time in jail. I challenged him. I said well, said Judith Miller went to jail on a charge of contempt of court. Nobody at "The Washington Post" or "The New York Times" has been charged with contempt of court. Nobody has even raised the issue of whether they refused to divulge their sources so to say that they should be in jail for publishing this information I think is going a little too far.

KURTZ: But David Gergen, how can we justify potential prosecution against a source, somebody who worked for the government, but say it's OK for the reporters to take that sensitive and in many cases classified information and put in it the newspaper? GERGEN: Well, a long tradition that American republic has been that the leaker is vulnerable to being fired or disciplined but the person who prints it is not. And, you know, we haven't yet gotten to that point, thankfully, where that's the case, because it will have an enormously chilling effect upon information reaching the public. And it really is -- it puts a damper on the First Amendment in terms of the capacity to go out and get this material. Remember, famously in the Pentagon papers' case, that was classified information. The government went to the Supreme Court and said, please stop the publication of this in advance, and the Supreme Court said, no, we would not do that.

KURTZ: Right. Let me get Gloria in. Do you agree with the chilling-effect theory?

BORGER: I think it does have a chilling effect. But people who work at the CIA sign a pledge. They say they are not going to leak classified information. What her motives were, I have no idea. They could have been pure motives, OK? But Dana Priest and the journalist who receives the information needs to be able to do that for lots of reasons. And the reporters should not be prosecuted.

KURTZ: Some people noted that Mary McCarthy contributed to John Kerry's campaign. David Gergen, before we go, we're going to talk in the next half hour about the Duke rape case. You are on the board of trustees of Duke University. How do you feel the university's handling this and have you provided any advice?

GERGEN: Well, I've been on board calls and I think the president has handled this extremely well. He's got some very tough choices coming up. My hope is that the media will not over sensationalize this, will be fair to all the parties, including the woman as well as the players and not rub raw these racial wounds. I grew up in Durham, and I can tell you, it is a much better city today than when I grew up, much more integration, much better race relations. It has the Research Triangle, for goodness sakes, plus this wonderful medical system at Duke. So I hope that people appreciate that a lot of progress has been made and we not be set back by over sensational -- too much sensationalism and hysteria in the press and too much smearing of people and of a -- and of a culture and a community that's really working hard to improve things.

KURTZ: We'll discuss more about that in a few minutes. David Gergen, John Roberts, Gloria Borger, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Coming up, the FBI goes after another journalist looking for classified documents, but this reporter can't fight back. We'll tell you by in a moment.


KURTZ: Checking now on the world of media news, the Bush administration has been unusually aggressive in demanding that journalists reveal their confidential sources, even threatening them with jail. Now comes a new rather bizarre tactic demanding information from a dead journalist. The FBI has asked to search 188 boxes of files belonging to the late columnist Jack Anderson as part of a criminal case against two pro-Israel lobbyists, but the bureau promising to confiscate anything deemed classified. Anderson's son Kevin said his father, who battled government secrecy his whole life, would have been appalled and he is refusing access to the papers.

Jared Paul Stern is out of a job. "The New York Post" has dropped Stern and three other part-time contributors to the gossipy "Page Six." The move comes after Stern was caught in a videotape sting asking California billionaire Ron Burkle, who was complaining about page six constantly slamming him for $220,000 in payments. Stern meanwhile says he is weighing his own legal options.

And "The Los Angeles Times" has suspended the blog written by its columnist Michael Hiltzik. The Pulitzer Prize winner has admitted using phony names to post nasty comments both on his "Times" blog and other Web sites, which the paper says is a violation of its policy. Hiltzik has been feuding with conservative radio host and blogger Hugh Hewitt among others and attacking him on the blog. So why would he need to use pseudonyms to continue these attacks? Hiltzik told me he was unable to comment.

One other note, I want to clarify an omission on last week's program during our segment on local TV stations airing video news releases from corporations and passing them off as original reporting. I did not realize, but should have checked to find out, that a division of CNN, along with ABC, CBS and other companies regularly distributes these video releases to about 750 of its affiliate stations. A CNN executive says the network, which gets a fee for distributing the material, clearly labels them as corporate videos and has absolutely no editorial control over what the stations do with them. In my own view, though, this distribution by many networks is a mistake. The problem is that while some stations properly identify these videos, too many stations, as shown in the new survey we talked about last Sunday, are clearly using them in a deceptive manner.

And in our next half hour, the rape allegations against those Duke lacrosse players, has the press turned a local story into a sensationalized tale of race, sex and class? That, plus Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Nicholas Christoff on why the media are missing in action in the ongoing tragedy in Darfur. All of that after a check of the hour's top stories from Atlanta.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, I'm Zain Verjee at CNN Center in Atlanta. Now the news. A new audio tape said to be from Osama bin Laden surfaces on Al-Jazeera. The speaker on the tape says western opposition to the Hamas government is proof of a crusade against Muslims. CNN's now trying to determine if the tape's authentic.

Protests in Nepal. Thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators again clashed with police along this road surrounding Kathmandu, the capital. Protesters are demanding that King Gyanendra step down and parliament be reinstated. The protests have paralyzed the capital, causing a shortage of food as well as other goods. President Bush will lunch with marines and sailors today at a military base in California. He's on a four-day swing through the state, pushing his domestic agenda and raising money for the GOP. Tomorrow he delivers a speech on immigration in Orange County.

More headlines in 30 minutes. RELIABLE SOURCES with Howard Kurtz continues after the break.


KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. It began as an unsavory allegation in North Carolina. A woman accusing Duke University lacrosse players of raping her. But there was a racial twist. The accuser was black and a striptease dancer at that, the players were white. And there were more twists and turns. The coach was fired, the season canceled. A DNA test found no match with the players, but the local DA brought indictments against two members of the team. All of which led journalists from around the country to descend on Durham.


ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: Now to that explosive Duke sex scandal.

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: First, we want to talk more about the Duke rape case.

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: The case that has rocked one of America's elite college campuses and divided the community around it.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: The rape investigation at Duke University has long since crossed the double-yellow line of news into pure tabloidism, but periodically an actual fact emerges from the speculation.

LARRY KING, CNN: What do you make, John, of the intense public interest?

JOHN WALSH, AMERICA'S MOST WANTED: I think it's media driven.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: We don't have at the end of the day here, not one little itty-bitty bit of evidence from the DA, not one.


KURTZ: "Newsweek's" cover story, out this morning, "Sex, Lies and Duke" says the case has become a media circus. Joining us now from the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, Bob Ashley, editor of "The Herald-Sun." In Boston, Callie Crossley, media commentator and panelist on WGBH's "Beat the Press." And with me in Washington, Christine Brennan, sports columnist for "USA Today" and author of "Best Seat in the House, A Father, A daughter, A Journey Through Sports." Welcome to everyone.

Christine Brennan, this is on the network news now, day after day. Why has the media turned a couple of local indictments into a huge national story?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, SPORTS COLUMNIST, USA TODAY: Howie, this is one to go out there with Tonya, Nancy and O.J. Simpson, it's got everything. It's absolutely reached a boiling point, because you've got race, you've got sex, you've got a DA up for election. It's a Tom Wolf novel come to life. If we wrote this as some kind of a screenplay, I think they'd throw it out in Hollywood and say, no, no, it couldn't all be in one story, but it is.

KURTZ: Callie Crossley, if the accuser as well as the lacrosse players was white, would this be getting a third of the national coverage?

CALLIE CROSSLEY, MEDIA COMMENTATOR: Not at all. What we have here are, is a community that really is a model for the new south, great research triangle there, diverse community. All of that going on, and then you have this incident which is really based on what the old south was all about. That historical context of the sublimation of black women by white men. Obviously not a -- they didn't have any control over that, and so when you see all this come together in that way, it raises the attention, I think, for people around the country.

And let me add this one thing, I think that the media itself is really caught up in what I call the Katrina effect. We are hyped not to miss any story about race and class. And this one also has gender.

KURTZ: Well, we're certainly not missing this one, I guess the question is whether we are overdoing it. Bob Ashley, you see this up close every day, you are right there in Durham, North Carolina. From your vantage point have the national media oversimplified this story?

BOB ASHLEY, EDITOR, THE HERALD-SUN: I think it has been oversimplified to some extent, Howard, but on the other hand, all those factors that Callie and the other panelists have mentioned are there. You have race, you have sex, you have class, you have the privilege of athletes. You have an elite university, you have the old south, new south. I can see why it's attracting some attention, clearly from our standpoint there's been some oversimplification and perhaps maybe too dramatic a drawing of the lines in Durham between white and black or the elite institution and the community at large. But there are certainly elements there that lead to that.

KURTZ: Christine Brennan, I want to play for you a clip of Dan Abrams on the "Today Show" showing some pictures applied by lawyers for the players that the defense says includes a rather blurry picture of the woman accuser. Let's take a look.


DAN ABRAMS, MSNBC: Most important according to the defense, this photo of the accuser 30 seconds later. She appears to be smiling. Her clothes intact. They say she could not have been brutally raped before smiling at almost 12:31.

Is there a double standard here? We protect...


KURTZ: The clothes may be intact but she wasn't wearing many clothes. And "Newsweek" has now run those picture as well. Did you think NBC should have broadcast that picture?

BRENNAN: No. For me, as a sports journalist, Howie, I think that goes a little bit beyond the story. There's so much here that we can report on, that we have facts on.

KURTZ: Well she is the story, but there is a long tradition in journalism of not naming or identifying those who make accusations in sexual assault cases.

BRENNAN: And I think that's a good tradition, I think that should be kept in mind. I don't think we should be doing that. But this is the kind of tabloid story that just races, and with blogs and with the Internet today, it's almost like all bets are off. Those of us who are in the mainstream media, and in the case of me, the mainstream sports media, we still have to keep those standards. So, no, I don't think they should have done that.

KURTZ: Callie Crossley, because the accuser is a striptease dancer as well as a single mother, there's been a lot of, what did she expect going to a house with a bunch of drunk athletes at midnight? Has that been unfair in your view?

CROSSLEY: Absolutely. She's also a student, she's a student at North Carolina University. And I think that -- I think it's unfair. I mean, why, is the woman is always attacked in this situation, we don't know what's happened. I mean, we don't know whether a rape took place or not. But the bottom line is and then in sexual assault cases, I like to remind people it's about violence and not sex and that when you turn the attention and the viciousness against the accuser, then I think you've missed the point.

KURTZ: Let me just break in here to read you something that Jesse Jackson wrote in the "Chicago Tribune" on Thursday. A divorced mother of two, working her way through college, allegedly raped abused by gang. Had the headline red that way, the fury would have been great. So it's a question of how the media frame the identity and the persona of this woman who is making these accusations.

CROSSLEY: Well I think given all the rest of the details that are a part of the case that Bob also articulated, that we were going to have attention to it no matter how it was framed. Should it have been framed differently? Yes, but I still think that there was going to be this kind of attention just because of all of the elements that have come to interplay.

KURTZ: Bob Ashley, on the question of a double standard, just this morning in "The New York Times," the public editor, Byron Calame, writes that the paper ran a separate story on the criminal record of one of the accused lacrosse players, Collin Finnerty, who was charged with assault in Washington last year, but didn't report at all the accuser's criminal background, which includes pleading guilty to larceny, DUI and assault on a government official, because the editor said this wasn't germane? Is that fair?

ASHLEY: Well, first of all, the paper that printed that were my good friends at the "News and Observer" in Raleigh and not us. We've treated that part of the story, quite frankly, much like "The New York Times" has.


ASHLEY: And I read the public editor's column this morning too, was that those records were not at this point were not germane enough to us to justify separate stories, although, we, too, have alluded to them as parts of other stories, and we'll continue to. I think, you know, the --

KURTZ: Let me break in.

ASHLEY: Yeah, sure.

KURTZ: If we're looking at all the people involved in this case, and one of the players, the guy accused of rape, fairly or unfairly, has a criminal record and that gets published, but the woman making the charges about whom we are also trying to make credibility judgments has a criminal record and that does not get published, it seems to some observers to be kind of unbalanced.

ASHLEY: Well I understand. And certainly in this case, every decision like that is fraught with some peril. Again, I think we've treated them both as minor elements of the story and it remains to be seen whether they become major elements as this case unfolds eventually in court.

KURTZ: What's your take on that question?

BRENNAN: You know it's a tough call. Because you look at the two young men and their pictures are plastered all over the world and forever more. I think as long as we do not identify the victim, I actually think, the alleged victim, the name of the alleged victim, I think Howie it is okay to talk about her past as well. That's part of the story. The idea here at the end of the day is to help readers understand as best as they can, or viewers, what it is we're talking about. Don't identify the alleged victim, but absolutely, it's part of the piece, in my mind.

KURTZ: Now you cover the world of sports and have for many years. A lot of networks and newspapers have done these side bar pieces, trying to imbue this with sociological significance, saying, athletes, are they too coddled, are they too aggressive, are they out of control? We saw this of course after the Kobe Bryant allegations as well. Do you think that's a classic stereotype or is that a fair question to be asked?

BRENNAN: Howie, I'm actually thrilled that sports departments and maybe news departments as well and sports sections are getting into this issue. "The Raleigh News and Observer" within two weeks had a story about one-third of the Duke men's lacrosse team actually have had misdemeanor records, a police record. And I think that's very helpful. I think hopefully newspaper sports sections around the country will start to look at these local teams and at universities in a different way.

There's a lot of good, I think, that can come out of this, and if it's good journalism, reporting on what's going on on college campuses, not just on the football team, not just on the men's basketball team, I think that's the kind of thing that our readers and viewers should know about.

KURTZ: Callie Crossley, has there been a rush to judgment here by the media at a relatively early stage of the case?

CROSSLEY: It's a very, very juicy story, given all the elements. And so, yes, the short answer is yes. But I would say the second part of it is that, when you get these little pieces of details that come out in a sort of drip, drip, drip fashion, then we are not equipped as journalists to really put that -- to analyze that. That's supposed to be the job of the -- of the criminal justice system, and so all we do is take a little piece --

KURTZ: But isn't that true -- isn't that true in every criminal case that becomes a big national story, that we analyze and speculate, even though most of the evidence isn't in yet?

CROSSLEY: I think there is some of that, but this case seems to inspire people feeling that they know the answer, based on what some of the elements are. I know this is true, because we know about the racial history, for example. That seems to be some of the tone of the reporting. We don't know.

KURTZ: I've also noticed that when reporters go to interview white students at Duke, they say, of course, these kids are being railroaded and when they go to interview black students at the accuser's school, they get the opposite reaction. Bob Ashley, how much of this in your view is driven by the fact that this isn't just any school, it's Duke?

ASHLEY: Clearly that's a factor in this. If it has been a second-tier NCA school or academic school, I don't think it would have gotten nearly the attention that it has here. That's very much a part of the story. And that's part of being a high-profile institution. It clearly has brought more attention to this than if this were some other school.

KURTZ: And just very briefly, do you find that troubling? Or is it just a fact of life?

ASHLEY: Well, I think it's a fact of life. I'm a Duke alum, and I'm the editor of the local newspaper and I look at it from both those vantage points and I'm also a journalist I think who understands that when you've got something of that kind of profile, it's going to attract this kind of attention.

KURTZ: Right. All right, Bob Ashley, Callie Crossley, Christine Brennan, thanks very much for joining us this morning. Up next, Pulitzer Prize winner Nick Kristof, "The New York Times" columnist tells us why he's trying to draw attention to the tragic situation in Sudan and why the rest of the media doesn't seem to be listening.


KURTZ: Welcome back. "New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary this week, after writing piece after piece about Darfur, the region in the Sudan that has been devastated by genocide on an almost unthinkable scale. It's a subject that has drawn limited media attention in the United States, but Kristof has turned it into something of a personal crusade. He joins us now from New York. Kristof, you say that you are seething with frustration over the relative lack of media coverage about Darfur. Why do you think there's been so little?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I mean, traditionally frankly we've always done a bad job at covering these kind of stories. During the Holocaust, the "New York Times" published 24,000 stories on the front page, and of those, 24,000 only six referred on the front page part to the Nazi attacks on the Jews. So there's a long and rich tradition of ignoring genocide. And I think in this case, it's magnified by the fact that Iraq is going on and sucking out a lot of the oxygen and international reporting, and just the fact that it's happening in dribs and drabs and as you know, as well as anybody, you know, we're good at covering things that happen on any one day, but we're not so good at covering things that just happen every day.

KURTZ: We cover bombs and explosions and dramatic events, but at the same time, Darfur is difficult to get into for western journalists and a rather dangerous place once you're there. So do you think that is a major factor as well.

KRISTOF: Yeah, sure. And Sudan, I think, has done a great job about keeping journalists out, simply by not giving visas. But this is a little bit different, because we can get visas to Chad and now there are more than 200,000 people who have fled Darfur and are in Chad and are telling their stories to anybody who will talk to them. You know, I must say that newspapers and magazines I think have done a better job in covering this. The people who have really dropped the ball, frankly is television.

KURTZ: And on that point, could that possibly be because the story is kind of depressing? You know, many -- in fact, tens of thousands of people dying and that it's considered a ratings loser?

KRISTOF: I'm sure that's it. But, you know, if we in the media are going to ask for various kinds of special privileges, you know, as we do, then I think we also have to show some kind of special responsibility. And when the "CBS Evening News" last year over the course of the entire year spends two minutes covering genocide while the broadcast networks are averaging 28 minutes covering the Michael Jackson trial, then there is something profoundly wrong.

KURTZ: Now, you've publicly challenged "Fox's Bill O'Reilly" to go with you to Darfur to see for himself and report on the situation. That was a bit of a stunt, wasn't it?

KRISTOF: Oh absolutely. I mean, look, frankly I was just kind of desperate to try to get some attention to this issue of how we in the media and especially television networks, we're neglecting genocide and Bill O'Reilly in particular kind of offends me, because I don't think he's a journalist. I mean I think he's a -- I think he represents a lot of things that I just don't like about, you know, the shows where people sort of spend their time yelling at each other and so I picked on him in particular. But, you know --

KURTZ: And then O'Reilly picked on you and he called you a left- wing ideologue, and he challenged you to come on his program. Why didn't you go on?

KRISTOF: A couple of reasons, I mean frankly, I had some reservations about just helping his show. I mean, when I have been on his show in the past, it kind of tends to end up being a wrestling match, and it makes for great television to have, you know, us sort of taking swings at each other, but it's not enlightening, and I kind of feel I should be in the lighting business rather than in the heating business and it didn't seem to me that we were going to be clarifying a lot of issues. I asked him whether he would, you know, pledge to keep the talk to Darfur, and if he would, I'd be happy to talk about Darfur on his show.

KURTZ: One person who did take you up on your offer to go there was "NBC's Ann Curry" who did reports with the "Today Show." What can you tell us about that?

KRISTOF: She was great to travel with and came out with great reports. This is a difficult place to travel and dangerous, and the first night we were in the border area, we were traveling after curfew. In the darkness, in an area, you know, where we really shouldn't have been doing that, and she was gutsy about where she went. We ended up staying at a $2 a night hotel with, you know, the worst bathrooms you can imagine, and for a real TV network star, to put up with that discomfort and that risk to get a great story I think was incredibly commendable.

KURTZ: Now columnists usually write about a range of issues. You have written again and again about Darfur. You've gone there six times. What is it that keeps drawing you back to this story?

KRISTOF: Fundamentally I think it's the people that I've met there. I mean, it's as strange to me as to anybody that I go back over and over again to this one sort of obscure place. But, you know, on one of my first trips, I was at an oasis along the Chad/Sudan border. There are 30,000 Darfuris who have been driven out of their villages, they're sheltering under trees. I go from tree to tree, under the first tree I meet two brothers who have been shot, one carried the other on his back to get there. The next tree, a woman whose parents were killed and shoved into poisoned wells. Under the next three, two orphans, four years old, one year old. Under the fourth tree, a woman who'd been, husband and children had been killed, she had been raped and mutilated to stigmatize her. You know, you go from tree to tree like that, talk to these people, get their stories, see the degree to which that is not being covered and you just kind of feel you need to go back, you're just drawn back time and again.

KURTZ: What does that do to you personally?

KRISTOF: People keep asking me that. And I think they assume that it must be incredibly depressing. But it's not nearly as depressing, frankly, as you would think. Because you meet all these, you know, stories of just terrible grief, but you also meet people with incredible courage and people who are doing really wonderfully inspiring things, both aid workers and the Darfuris themselves.

KURTZ: Right.

KRISTOF: Somehow I've managed to really to be, I think, more impressed by the courage of those people, the courage of those rape victims, for example, who are willing to tell their story than I am depressed by, you know, all the evil that is happening there.

KURTZ: All right, well, Nick Kristof, congratulations on the Pulitzer, thanks for sharing the stories with us today.

KRISTOF: Thank you.

KURTZ: Up next, other Pulitzer winners taking on the government on stories that the Bush administration would rather not see in print. Stay with us.


KURTZ: The press gets kicked around quite a bit these days as you may have noticed from watching this program. But this week's Pulitzer prizes remind us that some of the best investigative work anywhere is done by newspapers. Often by taking on the government on the most sensitive topics.


KURTZ: It can't be an accident that the Pulitzer board recognized two stories that President Bush personally tried to keep out of the papers. The first story involved a "New York Times" report about the administration's secret eavesdropping program. The president met with "Times" editor Bill Keller, but ultimately failed to dissuade him from publishing the piece.

Bush also met with "Washington Post" editor Lynn Downey about the paper's work on the existence of secret CIA prisons for interrogating terror suspects overseas, but "The Post" went ahead with that story as well. Sure, some conservatives aren't happy with both newspapers for making public sensitive national security information. And, yes, some liberals ripped "The Times" for holding its story for a year, and chided "The Post" for withholding the location of the prisons. But, bottom line is, shouldn't taxpayers know how the Bush administration is waging the terror war in their name? And then there's the corruption on the hill. The $2 million in bribes that brought down former California congressman "Duke" Cunningham. "The San Diego Union-Tribune" and Copley News Service got a Pulitzer for breaking that story. The Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal which has shaken the pillars of the capital, led to the conviction of two former aides to Tom DeLay, and could topple several members of Congress. "The Washington Post" picked up an award for breaking that story.

But perhaps the greatest awards went to "The New Orleans Times- Picayune" and "The Sun Herald" of Biloxi, Mississippi. Their coverage of Hurricane Katrina came at a time when their own editors, reporters and photographers were struggling with the devastation that caused some of them their homes. But they persevered nonetheless, providing crucial information to their readers during the worst natural disaster ever to hit the United States. That is a prize-winning performance.


KURTZ: Next week, we'll go back to critiquing the flaws and foibles of the fallible press corps, but for one brief moment, these prizes, as self-congratulatory as they sometimes seem, remind us that the ancient technology of newspapers can also be a force for good.

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. "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer begins right now.