Return to Transcripts main page

Reliable Sources

Coverage of Rove's Role in Plame Leak Investigation; Interview With Jim Lehrer

Aired June 18, 2006 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Rove's reprieve. After years of media speculation, the president's top political adviser is not indicted in the Valerie Plame leak is investigation. Was he all but convicted in the press?
Stealth mission, President Bush tries to boost support for the war with a surprise visit to Baghdad and a face-off with the White House press. Can he change the media mindset on Iraq?

Lessons from Lehrer. PBS' Jim Lehrer or anger towards the news business, the changing face of network news and his role in the presidential debates.

Plus, blogger power. The man behind Daily Kos draws presidential candidates and big league journalists to a Las Vegas convention. Is he launching a political movement?

Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES where today we turn our critical lens on the president's latest media campaign from Baghdad to the Rose Garden to boost public support for the war. I'm Howard Kurtz.

White House reporters were gathered near Camp David where President Bush had summoned his War Cabinet. As the media prepared for a presidential press conference in Washington on Tuesday and the network morning shows were just wrapping up, journalists learned they had been fooled.


CAMPBELL BROWN, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: We have some breaking news to tell you about now, President Bush has arrived in Baghdad on a surprise visit to meet with the new Iraqi prime minister.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN now confirming that President Bush has arrived in Baghdad.


KURTZ: Only a handful of reporters who were sworn to secrecy got to travel with Bush to Iraq, but the rest of the White House press corps got to see the president the next day at his news conference as the media blitz continued. So is all of this having an impact on the coverage? Joining us now from New York, Gloria Borger, national political correspondent for CBS News and contributing editor for "U.S. News and World Report." In Sacramento, John Fund, columnist for the "Wall Street Journal's", in Atlanta, CNN chief national correspondent, John King and here in Washington Clarence Page, columnist for the "Chicago Tribune." Welcome.

Gloria Borger, are journalists suckers for this kind of secret trip to Baghdad stuff? Bush was there in less than six hours but got an avalanche of mostly positive coverage.

GLORIA BORGER, "U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT": I think we are suckers. Particularly if you are the one that gets on go on the pool, Howie, and gets to travel with the president on the secret trip to Baghdad. We do like these secret trips.

Believe it or not, we kind of like to be surprised but if you're a bureau chief in Washington you may be asking gee why didn't we have more information and when you ask that question the answer you will always get from the White House is because this has to be shrouded in secrecy because this is a matter of presidential security. So we can't tell you more about this in advance. So you know you're being used but in a way you kind of like it because it's good pictures.

KURTZ: We enjoy it.

Clarence Page, has the Zarqawi killing and the Baghdad trip given the reporters a fresh storyline, a Bush mini comeback even though the president has just blipped up to about 35 percent in the polls.

CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, it did. For what it's worth we kind of judge life in weeks in Washington. Everyone said the president had a good week, finally because the president has had a lot of bad weeks.

KURTZ: When was the last time he had a good week?

PAGE: Well, exactly. You have to go back months and you did see an uptick in the polls this past week. We've already seen today news out of Iraq could hardly be worse with a couple of soldiers missing and maybe a kidnap. We haven't had that happen before, not soldiers being kidnapped.

KURTZ: Right.

PAGE: And this is the kind of thing that shows you how things can turn quickly enough, but this was important for the president to be there and I don't think it was purely coincidental that, sadly, the death - the ...

KURTZ: The killing.

PAGE: The death toll of Americans hit 2500 the same week, and this kind of balanced out that bad news.

KURTZ: Tends to neutralize the bad news.

John King, you're at home. You get a call from the White House about a secret presidential trip to Iraq and you can't tell anyone. Was that an awkward situation for you? JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a very awkward situation, Howie, and it's a very difficult situation and as an issue, the bureau chiefs need to work with it with the White House because it has happened once before.

Let me rebut the suggestion, as the guy that I was on the plane that I am a sucker. I don't think of myself as a sucker. I've covered the White House for eight and a half years and I try to be as fairly as possible, being tough on the president as well as showing what he's doing in Baghdad.

But it is a very difficult situation. It is not the way it's supposed to work. The White House is supposed to call five bureau chiefs and say we have a secret trip to Baghdad and we need you to pick a pool correspondent. We need to work on this.

But the White House didn't do it that way. So I'm in the position of knowing we need to cover the president when he goes to Baghdad. So you raise objects to the White House and tell them this is not the way it's is supposed to work and then you alert your boss who handles it and my boss handled it perfectly in this case, I think, and after the fact you go back to the White House and say we went through this once, we told you not to do this, we need to work on a better way to trust each other, but at the same time when they're sending the president of the United States to Baghdad we damn well better cover him.

KURTZ: So in this fashion the White House essentially gets to pick the reporters that it wants to go on the trip.

John Fund, let me turn to you. Is this the first break the media has given the president on this war in a long, long time, at least a year?

JOHN FUND, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM: Well, when the president goes on Baghdad it's news and it's a good photo-op. So obviously they are going to get favorable coverage. But I just don't think the media is excessively negative on Iraq. We have found computer files in Zarqawi's computer which shows he was very pessimistic about the insurgency and said time was on the Americans' side. That got very little coverage even though my intelligence sources say it's been completely authenticated.

KURTZ: And so you believe this is because of a negative media mindset on the war?

FUND: I think that the media has decided this war is going badly and short of the surrender of the insurgency, that's the storyline. So I think the body count continues to be covered and Zarqawi's computer drive revelations aren't.

KURTZ: All right. Gloria Borger, the president obviously would like to change the storyline. He followed up on Wednesday with the news conference in the Rose Garden on basically five hours' sleep after returning from Baghdad. Do you see the outlines here of a new media strategy where Bush is being far more aggressive and far more out there in terms of selling this war?

BORGER: Absolutely. They know they have a huge problem on the war, that it is unpopular with the American public and they decided that they'll make it a very clear choice and you saw what was going on Capitol Hill this week with the vote on the war and the choice they want, the storyline they want is do you want to be a Democrat who wants to talk about cut and run or do you want to finish the job that we set out to do in Iraq? That's a clear storyline for them as they head into the mid-term elections in 2006.

KURTZ: Clarence Page, within a couple of days of the president's trip there was a suicide bombing in the Shiite mosque. As you noted the U.S. death toll reached past the 2500 park and you mentioned the kidnapping of the two U.S. soldiers.

So for whatever Bush got out of the trip and the killing of Zarqawi, isn't the press going to always keep going back to the daily violence? Isn't that the storyline that just is inescapable for the journalists?

PAGE: That's a natural default position, of course, isn't it, Howard? News is what happens when things aren't going the way they're supposed to and sadly enough, not a lot of things in Iraq are going the way they're supposed to. John Fund raises a good point, though that a piece of intelligence from Zarqawi. In some ways, I think we've been kept cal of it because it sounds almost too good or too much outside the normal storyline to be given credibility immediately.

KURTZ: What about ...

What about John Fund's suggestion that the reason for that and the sort of downbeat tenor of the coverage of the war is that journalists have turned again this war?

PAGE: I think journalists are, again, our default position is to look for the news. And ...

KURTZ: Why is it that the violence is always the news? What about progress in Iraq?

PAGE: The signs of progress have not been that strong. We -- and again, as the government begins to form itself and take control then you can say that we're seeing a light at the end of tunnel, but right now it looks like this will certainly be a big political issue domestically this year and a big tragedy.

KURTZ: John Fund, I want to get you back in here. Do you think that the growing unpopularity of the year as mentioned by polls, for example, the latest CNN poll, 54 percent say the invasion of Iraq was a mistake is emboldening news organizations to be more critical in the way they were not in the early days?

FUND: Of course. Look, the war isn't going well, but the polls still show that the American people don't want to pull out because they realize there could be something worse than what we have and that's anarchy. But it raises the question, Howie, what if something really dramatic happened? What if we found a secret cache of chemical weapons shells or WMD or we learned it had been transferred to Syria. How would the media treat that, would they treat it as Bush vindicated or would they say it's a pre-election dirty trick by Karl Rove?

KURTZ: That's a hypothetical. But you just said a moment ago the war is not going well. And I certainly don't have an argument with that. At the same time you say the media is being too negative in reporting that the war is not going well.

FUND: The media has a responsibility to also report what the alternative is, what would be the negative consequences, and the collapse of the Iraqi government if we pulled out prematurely, the instability it would create in the region and how it would embolden our adversaries. We've seen what happened after we pulled out of Beirut and Somalia. I think there needs to be some historical context by the media here.

KURTZ: John King, you talk to administrative officials all the time. Does the White House resent the coverage of Iraq? Do top officials feel that they are simply not getting a fair break?

KING: I think they resent some of it. At the same time they recognize the public opinion polls, they recognize it was the president himself who came out into the Rose Garden and picked a fight, if you will, drew a contrast with the Democrats, the day after he got back from Baghdad. They knew that would drive the daily story, and perhaps distract attention away from covering things on a quote, unquote slower day where you might turn to the story John Fund just noted.

And he's dead right that we should cover more contextually this war as well. The White House believes the president is not getting a fair shake and they also realize though, Howie, that the way you see the quote, unquote, "progress" in Iraq is for reporters to travel more freely and they can't do that right now.

So if you get to a point -- And the president talked about this on Air Force One on the way back, he's quite invested now in this new prime minister, he believes he has legitimacy, he believes he will improve basic security in Baghdad and in Basra, the U.S. has taken the lead in Ramadi.

If in three weeks, three months, the security situation is better, Iraqis feel better walking to the market to get food in the morning, well, we better cover that because we do have a responsibility to cover that just as much as we do to cover this weekend these missing soldiers who may have been captured, may have been lured into a trap.

That, of course, is distracting from what the president hoped would be a more upbeat week of coverage. We do tend to cover the daily events. That's what we do.

KURTZ: I guess one benefit of going on the trip is getting to hear the president on Air Force One on the way back.

Gloria Borger, you mentioned earlier the congressional debate this week, and this was a nonbinding resolution pushed by the Republican leadership, against setting any kind of withdrawal date or timetable. This was a symbolic vote. So why did it get so much media attention?

BORGER: Symbolic votes always get a lot of media attention because they tend to be geared towards the election and towards politics and what Republicans are doing is try to put this line in the sand, Howie.

This is part of the Karl Rove strategy for the midterm elections coming up and you say, OK, you might not like us very much but guess what the other guy would do and here's what the other guy would do in Iraq, they say. They say the other guys would cut and run. Not necessarily, but that's what Republicans are saying.

If you don't like us, gee, guess who is going to be running the Congress, speaker Nancy Pelosi, so they are trying to draw these clear lines and this was really one way for them to do it after the president came back from Iraq.

KURTZ: And, of course, covering politics is something Washington journalists like to do and don't have to have their arms twisted.

We need to get a break here. But a reminder, you can catch John King and other CNN correspondents later today, 1:00 p.m. Eastern for a special report, "Iraq, a Week at War" hosted by John Roberts.

Still to come our sit down with Jim Lehrer, but first how did the story of Karl Rove avoiding indictment in the CIA leak case vanish so quickly into the ether? That's next.



QUESTION: Even if Karl Rove did nothing illegal I wonder if you can say now, whether you approve of his conduct in the CIA leak episode and if you believe he owes Scott McClellan or anyone else an apology for misleading them?

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: I appreciate the job that the prosecutor did.

Obviously, along with others at the White House took a sigh of relief, when he made the decision he made.


KURTZ: Welcome back.

For many months the media were filled with stories. Would Karl Rove be indicted in the Valerie Plame leak investigation? When word came early Tuesday morning it was the lead story all over the airwaves.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning, breaking news, NBC News has learned that the president's top adviser Karl Rove will not be indicted in the CIA leak case.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We've been following breaking news this morning, not just the storm, but a political storm or a storm cloud lifted, I guess you could say over the White House. The White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove will not be charged with any criminality in that CIA leak case.

CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: There's been an investigation underway if Washington involving the revelation of the name of the CIA agent and it's always been a question as to whether Rove might get indicted. Today the prosecutor in the case said no, he will not be.


KURTZ: But in less than two hours the Rove story was totally eclipsed by the president's secret trip to Baghdad and within a day or so it had all but faded from the news. Clarence Page, the story of whether Rove might be indicted was huge, the fact that he won't be indicted not so much. What gives?

PAGE: Well, people accuse us in the media of always giving the possibility of indictment or the indictment page one coverage and then burying the exoneration inside. That's kind of what happened this time, you know? Guilty. We could see that this didn't happen, but at the same time, we in the media weren't sure of what to make of the Karl Rove exoneration in this case because there was a possibility of more evidence later.

There was -- why can Patrick Fitzgerald back off? That was a key question, too and President Bush said there was a time when McClellan said anybody involved with this would not be working longer in this administration and they found out Karl Rove was involved and he's still there.

KURTZ: And he's still there and of course, Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor has given no public explanation for his decision.

John Fund, so now, the only person who would be charged in this whole matter is Scooter Libby, the former Dick Cheney aide, who is accused of perjury but nobody will be charged with the underlying crime of outing a CIA operative in Valerie Plame. Had the media made too much of this case, in your view?

FUND: Well, look, the administration was boneheaded and clumsy in handling this. So a certain amount of attention is understandable, but, look, the media should have learned something for the last 20 years. Appointing special prosecutors is almost always a mistake and in this case we now know there was no underlying crime and we knew did pretty early because Valerie Plame was not covered by the Agents' Identity Act. So I think the media completely missed that part of the story.

The second thing we should have realized is if you're going have bad leakers and good leakers you're going get into trouble and the fact that the media was obsessed with outing Karl Rove's leakers or Bob Novak's leakers was, I think, a big mistake. The First Amendment was done damage by the way it was defended in the courts. Can anyone on the panel tell me the "New York Times" defense didn't damage the First Amendment and the protection of sources?

KURTZ: Let me turn to Gloria Borger and ask this question. Was it fair for the media to point out -- Clarence Page used the word exoneration, but the fact that Rove won't be charged with the crime doesn't mean that he was totally honest about his role in this matter back in 2003.

BORGER: Well, I think it's a question of whether you believe him when he says he forgot that he had a conversation with "Time" magazine correspondent, Matt Cooper or that he didn't and that he intentionally lied to the grand jury. We don't know the answer to that question.

We do know and Karl Rove admits that he did have this conversation now as a journalist in Washington. I don't know about you, Howie, but I'm not shocked that a top staffer at the White House would have a conversation with the reporter trying to get his point of view out on the story that was damaging the president and the vice president. They were in a crisis mode, don't forget, because no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq and they were in a bit of a crisis operation and that's exactly what happened. It was hardball politics. Was it the right thing to do? Maybe no, but should we be shocked about that being journalists in Washington? I don't think so.

KURTZ: Of course, Rove allowed Scott McClellan even if he had initially forgotten about the conversation to go out there at the podium and say no involvement of this matter and we just saw the president basically duck the question of whether he or Rove owes anyone an apology.

John King, the journalistic shorthand for Karl Rove is Karl Rove has become Bush's brain after the title of the book. Is Karl Rove as important to the president and to his upcoming midterm election campaign as all of the coverage that he gets would suggest?

KING: Yes and no. Yes he's important because he is the president's top strategist and he is the man the president trusts implicitly and he is the man Republicans now are counting on to make his plan work again. It worked in 2002, it worked in 2004.

There are some Republicans who say you can't go back out to this same drive out the base strategy, draw the contrast with the Democrats on national security strategy and Karl Rove's answer is I'm going to keep driving this car until it breaks and it's proven the last two times.

Now can he alone change the mid-term dynamic for the president? Of course not. The president needs to have better news in Iraq and he needs to break through with the American people on the economy. He would like to end the internal Republican civil war over immigration somehow, but Karl Rove is the top strategist in the Republican Party, period. He has had success in the last few election cycles. He gets to try again.

KURTZ: Let me go to Clarence Page.

I want you to respond to John Fund saying that in the press there are good leakers and bad leakers and the leakers in the Plame case were bad but of course in other cases we are outraged anyone would try to find out who our sources were. Does he have a point?

PAGE: There's always a judgment call for the public to make when anybody in the media leaks inside information especially -- classified information or as a recipient of it and write a report to the public and the "New York Times" in this case did make mistakes and that has set back that entire dynamic.

I think the public questions the media more now and the public's right to know, ironically enough, but at the same time I think as people begin to have more questions about the war as well as other administration issues and does perceive First Amendment rights being rolled back. I think we need to see the public roll the other way.

There are other investigations and we may see other court tests of the confidentiality of sources and we will follow that closely here. Clarence Page, Gloria Borger in New York, John Fund in Sacramento and John King in Atlanta. Thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, Dan Rather and CBS headed for a breakup and Keith Olbermann picks on a new target, someone in his own network. Our "Media Minute" is next.

And our e-mail question of the week. Should the media have given more coverage of the decision not to indict Karl Rove in the CIA leak case? E-mail us at


KURTZ: Time now for a look at the news business in our "Media Minute."


KURTZ (voice-over): Dan Rather's 40-year career at CBS is coming to an end. CBS sources told me this week that the man who anchored the "Evening News" for nearly a quarter century is not being offered a new contract. Network executives have decided there is no longer any room for Rather at "60 Minutes" where incoming anchor Katie Couric and CNN's Anderson Cooper will be contributing stories.

Rather, who is described as hurt and puzzled by the decision, is determined to keep working in television.

Five months after a roadside explosion in Iraq nearly took his life, Bob Woodruff returned to the ABC newsroom this week for an emotional homecoming and while you could see the scars on his head, his spirits were high.

BOB WOODRUFF, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I woke up in this hospital and I looked up and I just thought about you guys and I thought about everything that I wanted badly to come back to.

KURTZ: Woodruff he's faces many more months of rehab before a possible return to work.

Dan Abrams, the host of MSNBC's legal show, has always been an on-camera guy until now. In a move that stunned people at cable channel, Abrams has been tapped as the new head of MSNBC despite a total lack of management experience.

Abrams, who succeeds the recently ousted Rick Kaplan, says he wants to see a more exciting approach to news coverage along the lines of edgy anchors, Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann.

And speaking of Olbermann he's apologized for some inflammatory e-mail comments to people who have written him. No surprise he would call Fox's Bill O'Reilly "That evil" blanking "O'Reilly," but Olbermann also said of his MSNBC colleague Rita Cosby, "Rita's nice, but dumber than a suitcase of rocks."

New York gossip columnist Lloyd Grove reports that Olbermann now says he shouldn't have replied to what he called abusive and hateful e-mails.


KURTZ (on camera): Got to be careful about the e-mail.

Ahead in our next half hour, veteran PBS anchor Jim Lehrer weighs in on media mistakes, the challenge of moderating presidential debates and his thoughts on CBS' breakup with Dan Rather.

And why do so many politicians and journalists go to a Las Vegas convention staged by the Web site, Daily Kos. We'll talk to the man behind the liberal blog. All coming up after a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.


KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. Jim Lehrer has been the anchor or co-anchor of PBS news hour since 1975. Ben Bradlee spent a quarter century editing "The Washington Post" until 1991. They are in short two journalistic war horses and they sat down recent for a special called "Free Speech" that airs tomorrow night at 10:00 on PBS. Here's a brief part of that conversation.


JIM LEHRER, ANCHOR, NEWSHOUR: Journalists and journalism are not held in very high esteem. What's happening? What's going on?

BEN BRADLEE, FMR. EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: I wonder how much that's changed. I can't remember. We had a brief little period, seems to me after Watergate, where we edged up to about 50 percent in the respect therein right along with congressmen and lawyers. So we have never been very high.

LEHRER: Why not?

BRADLEE: Because we're bearers of bad news, I think, as much as everything else.


KURTZ: It seemed the perfect time to talk about journalism with Lehrer which I did in his Arlington, Virginia, office. Jim Lehrer, welcome.

LEHRER: Thank you, Howard.

KURTZ: Let me turn the tables on you and ask you the same question you asked Ben Bradlee. Why has the reputation of journalists sunk so low?

LEHRER: A lot of it is our fault. There's been some malfeasance. There have been some incidents, Jason Blair or Janet Cook if you want to go back further than that, Jack Kelly, all of that, but when those things happen, we in journalism had not created an atmosphere of openness, an atmosphere where the public understood what we we're doing, why we were doing it, so when something goes wrong.

KURTZ: Because we are too defensive, because we are too arrogant, because we are too full of ourselves?

LEHRER: A little bit of all three. A little bit of all three. It's just not in our nature to be as open about ourselves as we require others to be about themselves and we pay a huge price for this. And so when Janet Cook comes or Jason Blair comes or Jack Kelly or fill in the blank comes, those people involved in that, they start with -- they start, first of all, with no goodwill, but more important they start with no foundation background.

KURTZ: One of the high profile blunders in recent years has of course been the one made by Dan Rather in that story about President Bush and the National Guard. CBS letting it be known this week that Rather's contract will not be renewed. He'll be leaving the network after 40 years. What do you make of the way he's been treated now even with that one admitted mistake?

LEHRER: I think it's outrageous. I think the man deserves better than this. I think that whether it's intentional or otherwise, I think they're treating him unfairly and in a way that is -- says not good things about CBS, frankly. It says more about them than you really want to know. I mean whatever Dan Rather did or did not do in the military records issue, I think he was there. He was CBS news for 40 years. And now they're saying, no, no, no, no. It's just -- as I say, it's outrageous and also very sad although he's been quoted as saying, I'm not sad about it. Well I'm sad about it for him and he and I know each other. He's not a close, personal friend, just as one professional to another I just think it's outrageous what they're doing.

KURTZ: Do journalists also create problems of trust Jim by overusing, over relying on anonymous sources?

LEHRER: Oh, sure. That goes to the heart of the problem.

KURTZ: You're not saying they shouldn't be used at all.

LEHRER: I'm not saying they should not be used at all. They should be used like live dynamite. And here again, I think if we were to -- I said to somebody the other day, off the top of my head and I've thought about it since and I've decided it's a really good idea. Every time a newspaper or a television network or anybody uses an anonymous source in a major way in a major story, there should be a side bar, not part of the story itself, but maybe a sidebar that says the rules for using anonymous sources on this newspaper are as follows and the reason we did it in this particular case was boom, boom, boom, boom, so the reader has a way to understand all the stuff right then.

KURTZ: Again, explaining ourselves better.

LEHRER: As we do it. Not after the fact and do that every time you use an anonymous source in a major story.

KURTZ: That has led to an awful lot of investigations, leak investigations, Judith Miller of "The New York Times" of course went to jail. There are leak investigations now, reporters at "The Washington Post" and the "New York Times" and the "San Francisco Chronicle" on the Barry Bonds case. Is the press in this country under siege from prosecutors and perhaps the Bush administration?

LEHRER: I think that's a strong word. I think these are all real things that are happening, but I don't think it's some kind of concerted effort or some -- I have a low recognition factor when it comes to conspiracies and all that sort of stuff.

KURTZ: Clearly, the climate has changed since you began in this business.

LEHRER: The climate has certainly changed and as I say, we contributed to that ourselves by not letting the public understand why we do what we do and a lot of these things need to get resolved and it makes everybody nervous, including me, who is in the business, but I think we've over used, we've abused anonymous sources and we haven't explained why we use them and now we're paying a terrible price for it.

KURTZ: Let's talk a little bit about the war. The administration as you well know insists that quiet progress is being made and to some degree faults the media for relentlessly focusing on the car bombs and the suicide attacks and painting a negative picture. Is there some validity to that complaint?

LEHRER: No. No. I mean there's probably -- well, from their perspective, I can understand why they may seem -- why they might complain. KURTZ: There's an awful lot of violence on the table.

LEHRER: There's an awful lot of violence on the table. We're in the reporting business. We not in deciding, well we got to have so many good stories and so many bad stories. Whatever the stories are on a given day, that's what we must report.

KURTZ: Right, but then the question comes, what constitutes a story? If there's an attack on U.S. troops, if journalists are injured as Bob Woodruff, as Kimberly Dozier was, that's obviously a story. In a way, that's an easy story for television to tell, but if there's more schools are opening and more health clinics and it's hard to get out in the country because of the danger to journalist, isn't that a harder story to tell in Iraq?

LEHRER: Certainly, it is. Certainly it is, but so what? I mean, the fact of the matter is, when what's going on on the ground in Iraq that is culpable and some of that is bad stuff. That's what we do and here again we need to explain ourselves, why we do that and, but 2500, we just passed the 2500 mark, 2500 Americans died over there, 18,000 have been wounded and each one of those is a name and a real person and each one of those is a story, in my opinion and the total becomes another story. It's just war is hell, but also war is personal and we as journalists must cover that.

KURTZ: The anchor wars. We got Katie Couric going to the ABC News. Charlie Gibson just took over ABC's World News Tonight and yet the critics out there say, have said for years, a half hour newscast at 6:30 in an age when people have a hundred different ways to get information is kind of an anachronism. What do you think?

LEHRER: It's nonsense. In fact, the need and the growth of the nightly newscast, I think is growing right before our very eyes, while the critics are saying just the opposite because what's happened, this proliferation of information, proliferation of access to information, there's increasing evidence of people saying, wait a minute now, I haven't got time to sort through -- I don't have -- I work for a living. I go to school. I want to go fishing. I want to do other things. I don't want to sit in front, watch my cable TV network all day or in even in front of a computer screen.

KURTZ: Journalists are sitting there looking at Web sites and blogs.

LEHRER: Absolutely, but we do that for them and they want us, they want people they can trust to do that for them. In other words, the old-fashioned role of the gatekeeper is going to return in a major way and it's already beginning to return as long as we do not get out of the journalism business. In other words, as long as we stay in the reporting business, we will always have a function and we will always be a growth industry, but once we decide oh, my God, we've got to start entertaining people or whatever because in the beginning, Ben Bradlee says this in his interview with me. I asked him about, what newspapers should do to get their strength back. He said stories. In the beginning, there's always a story. Every major news event we're talking about in the news today, Haditha, because of some "Time" magazine reporting, prisons for the CIA, "Washington Post" reporting.

KURTZ: Domestic surveillance.

LEHRER: Just go through the list, Randy Cunningham, Copley News Service and the San Diego papers and, you know, David Letterman makes a joke about Dubai ports, nobody's going to laugh if they don't know about Dubai ports. Where are they going to find out about Dubai ports? In the newspaper or on their nightly newscast.

KURTZ: Don't you, in addition to having an hour, as opposed to the 30-minute broadcast networks also have to love working at PBS where perhaps you don't have to be as acutely sensitive to ratings pressure as do some of friends at CBS, NBC and ABC.

LEHRER: Well, that's probably true. But I would argue that somebody really wants to improve their ratings in commercial television news right now, they would get into the serious news business. That's where the meat is and that's where the growth is.

KURTZ: Are they not in the serious news business now?

LEHRER: There's a tendency, I think they're in it, but they move back and forth.

KURTZ: It's kind of a hybrid.

LEHRER: A little hybrid, and you know, a lot of news you can use. And let's make people laugh and let's make it -- you know, whatever. There is serious journalists in commercial news broadcasting and they should be allowed to function and they are for the most part, but they need to give a little more. The networks should be a little less apologetic to the fact that they're in the news business and all of us, I mean, I'm very proud of it and newspaper is the same way, not just television.

KURTZ: A little over two years of being around the presidential debates. You have moderated 10 of these things going back to 1988. Are you available next time?

LEHRER: Oh I think 10 is enough.

KURTZ: You calling a halt...

LEHRER: No, I'm not calling a halt. I see that as a kind of public responsibility thing, one step at a time, but I mean...

KURTZ: How did you become the go-to guy? I mean, they always calling (inaudible) number.

LEHRER: Who knows? Who knows? I've got scars for every one of those debates. It's hard work. It's not journalism work.

KURTZ: It's hard work, you mean you get criticized from all sides?

LEHRER: No, no, no, it's not that. It's the pressure that I feel on myself. It's not like doing an interview or run a debate on the "Newshour." I screw that up and I can just say, oh yeah, I'll do better next time. You can't foul up a presidential debate. And so it really takes, as I say, I have scars for every one of those and it's important work. And I think anybody in our line of work who is asked to do one should do it out of civic responsibility and I'll leave it at that.

KURTZ: We'll see if your phone rings again. Jim Lehrer, thanks very much.

LEHRER: Thank you, Howie.


KURTZ: Jim Lehrer. Up next, the power of the blog. We'll talk with Markos Moulitsas of the Web site dailykos about why his Las Vegas convention last weekend drew so many big names from politics and journalism.


KURTZ: And right after "Late Edition," John Roberts hosts a CNN special report "Iraq: A Week at War."

Markos Moulitsas, better known as a liberal blogger dailykos has one of the biggest followings in cyberspace. So when he staged a convention in Las Vegas last weekend, it was covered by the likes of the "New York Times" and "The Washington Post" and drew such Democratic luminaries as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. How did Moulitsas, co-author of the new book "Crashing the Gate," get so popular so fast? He joins us now from San Francisco. You had all of these major league journalists come to your convention in Las Vegas. The "New York Times" sent something like five people. You were on "Meet the Press" and then you write on your Web site, I'm cleaning this up for television, who gives a blank? Doesn't all this coverage help you?

MARKOS MOULITSAS, DAILYKOS.COM: Well it depends on what kind of coverage you're getting, I suppose. The thing is I don't want to be the story. I mean, the story here is the fact that thousands, hundreds of thousands, potentially millions of people are getting engaged online. They're becoming a community. They're working together. This conference in Vegas was not organized by me. It was organized by volunteers without my oversight or control deciding what they wanted to do. This is people-powered politics in action and when I'm the person on television like right now, the story becomes about me and really that doesn't a disservice to all the other people and it actually misses the real story.

KURTZ: As you know, television has to focus on particular personalities. One of those who came to Las Vegas and it was called the yearly kos convention or at least somebody dubbed it that, was Maureen Dowd. You took a shot at the "New York Times" columnist. You said she was a catty insecure rhymes with witch. Did you feel that she was unfair to you? MOULITSAS: It was partly that she was unfair to me, but it was partly the fact that she was catty and insecure during that interview and once upon a time, you had people like Maureen Dowd who would take shots at people. She thinks she's clever and funny and people who were the subject of her columns didn't have any recourse. Now the fact is that she came across as catty and insecure. I actually regret the other part but the catty and insecure part was actually true and she's not happy because I'm able to write about that and reach about as many people as she can and it goes both ways. And I think this is a good thing. I think as people realized that this is not a one-way media flow anymore. It goes both ways and if you were the subject of an interview, you could write about the person who interviewed you, too and about the things that he's not going to put in a column or he's not going to put in a column.

KURTZ: Right.

MOULITSAS: I can add that now.

KURTZ: The great thing about blogging is you get to talk back as often and at what length you want. But now this whole relationship between you and your fellow bloggers in the mainstream media -- "Slate's" John Dickerson, I know you've read this piece. Has the media just fallen in love with bloggers and are giving you all this big build up, big political force in 2008 and inevitably will come a moment when they will try to tear you down. Are you worried about that?

MOULITSAS: Oh, yeah, of course. I actually come from a newspaper background as well. So I understand how these things work, so I'm not believing the hype. That's for sure. I don't believe the criticism either. I think what I tell people that worry about the media coverage of bloggers is to stop worrying, to stop feeling all puffed up if it's nice and great coverage, stop feeling offended if it's bad coverage because we're going to keep doing what we're going to keep doing, whether they criticize and our praise us and at the end of the day, our success and our ability to influence a public debate is going to depend on our efforts irrelevant of what the media is saying at the time.

KURTZ: Now as you know, "National Review's" Byron York resurrected a quote from you, this was after four American contractors were killed in Iraq in 2004. The quote was, I feel nothing over the death of mercenaries. They are there to wage war for profits, screw them. You dealt with this at the time and you expressed regret. My question is, are you prepared for the extra scrutiny that comes with this higher profile you have, whether you particularly want to be out there as the symbol of the blogging movement or not?

MOULITSAS: Absolutely. To me in a way it's funny that they have not updated their talking points in two years. And so they want to keep resurrecting an old quote, there's nothing I can do about it. What I can do is I can say the fact is the reason, the context for that quote was solidarity with my brothers and sisters in arms, Marines and soldiers. I wore combat boots. I served during the first Gulf war and people are making a choice between private armies and mercenaries. I make my choice. I stand behind our men and women in uniform and I'm not going to apologize for that. But they're going to keep resurrecting that and that's fine. That's what they do. They smear, they attack, they don't like the fact that people are getting engaged in politics, that people are getting involved. There are too many turf to protect so they'll keep doing that and that's fine. I can fight back.

KURTZ: Now speaking of getting involved in politics, you appear in a recent ad for Ned Lamont. He's a Democrat who's challenging Senator Joe Lieberman in Connecticut in a primary. Let's take a little look at a little bit of that.


NED LAMONT: I understand that running for U.S. Senate can be tough on the family.

MOULITSAS: Ned, we saw the commercial and we love it. We're all here to volunteer.

LAMONT: This commercial is still shooting.

MOULITSAS: This is important. Everybody's here and we're ready to go. So hurry it up!


KURTZ: So help me to understand, are you an independent blogger or a Democratic Party activist who appears in commercials?

MOULITSAS: I don't need to help you understand, I am what I am. People can -- they'll say I'm a journalist, because sometimes I act as a journalist, sometimes I'm an activist and sometimes I'm just with (ph) Ned. Now, am I paid by the party? I'm not paid by anybody. I'm advertiser supported, so I'm independent in the sense that I'm not paid by any candidate. I'm not paid by any political party, by an issue group or anything else. But I am what I am. I do what I do and one of the beauties of being who I am is that I don't need to fit into a neat slot. I can just do what I think feels right at the moment.

KURTZ: I got about a half a minute here. What ticks you off the most about the way the mainstream media cover politics? Obviously, bloggers have been very critical of media coverage of the Bush administration and other issues.

MOULITSAS: Well, to me what ticks me off the most is the tendency of media to want to cover both sides of an issue when sometimes what people really need is truth and sometimes the truth may be liberal. Every once in a million years it might be conservative. The fact is, let's talk about the truth, not talk about he said/she said.

KURTZ: Got to run, Markos Moulitsas, thanks very much for joining us.

When we come back the curtain rises on the hurricane season, but the first act doesn't provide much action for TV news. We'll take a look


KURTZ: The networks were not going to be caught napping, no way. Alberto may have only been a tropical storm on Monday, but experts said it could become a hurricane. That meant the journalistic troops had to hit the beaches with news of the storm leading all of the network newscasts.


JIM ACOSTA, CBS NEWS: Bob, a hurricane warning has been posted and mandatory evacuation orders are up across much of the Florida Gulf coast as everyone is keeping their eye on this fast-approaching storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Although Alberto is still a tropical storm, officials are worried about storm surge flooding along the Florida Gulf coast, in some areas up to 10 feet.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's on the verge of becoming the first Atlantic hurricane of the season and right now Alberto is advancing on Florida's west coast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no high ground here. The tidal surge is expected to be about 10 feet. The intensity of this storm, Charlie, has caught many by surprise.


KURTZ: And then on Tuesday, not much, a lot of rain. Alberto, for all the media hype, never even became a hurricane.

Now, obviously Katrina taught us all a painful lesson in the destructive fury of hurricanes, but not every storm is going to become a Katrina and as this hurricane season gets underway, the networks need to exercise some restraint or wind up looking all wet.

Before we go, I'd like to thank the team here at RELIABLE SOURCES for helping us win the 2006 National Press Club award for media criticism, known as the Arthur Rowse award. I'd also like to thank you out there for watching us week after week as we do our best to turn a critical lens on the news business.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. Howard Kurtz, join us again next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the press. LATE EDITION with Wolf Blitzer begins right now.