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Bob Schieffer on Dan Rather's Departure from CBS; Did Media Aid, Abet Enemy?
Aired June 25, 2006 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): And that's the way it is. CBS dismisses Dan Rather after 44 years, and he accuses the network of breaking its legal promises. Was this the final punishment for Rather's botched story on President Bush and the National Guard or shabby treatment of a legendary newsman? We'll ask the anchor of the "CBS Evening News", Bob Schieffer.
Aiding the enemy, did "The New York Times", "Los Angeles Times", and "Wall Street Journal" go too far in revealing a secret administration program to examine banking records in terror investigations? And is the press playing up U.S. military mistakes in Iraq? Frank Rich and David Frum join the debate.
Plus, Connie Chung's off-key farewell. And six letters for the man who leaves America clueless. Shortz, Will Shortz, the "New York Times" crossword puzzle czar.
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on the messy breakup between CBS News and Dan Rather. I'm Howard Kurtz reporting this morning from New York.
CBS executives made official this week what we reported on last week's show: they are not renewing Rather's contract, ending a colorful and often controversial career. The longtime anchor charged that the CBS officials had not, quote, "lived up to their obligation to allow me to do substantive work there" and had offered him only an office but no assignments. Network officials said they just couldn't come to terms but they praised Rather, as did the report on his old broadcast.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Throughout his 44 years with CBS News, Dan Rather has had an extraordinary instinct...
DAN RATHER, FORMER CBS NEWS ANCHOR: The Viet Cong has opened fired, now they're firing back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... for covering the defining stories of our time.
RATHER: How high up in the White House does it go?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A compulsive reporter, he's never been content just to tell a story.
RATHER: The wind is gusting 144 miles an hour.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wants to be in the middle of it.
RATHER: Take your hands off me unless you intend to arrest me.
KURTZ (voice-over): But then came the story that proved his undoing in the fall of 2004, when Rather charged that President Bush had received favorable treatment from the National Guard, based on documents that the network later admitted could not be authenticated.
RATHER: I want to say personally and directly, I'm sorry.
KURTZ: With Rather now gone from "60 Minutes", his successor offered some parting words.
BOB SCHIEFFER, INTERIM ANCHOR, "CBS EVENING NEWS": His way was not always my way and we did not always agree, but we became friends along the way, because we shared a great love for news. Dan Rather was one of the great reporters of his time.
KURTZ: Earlier in Washington I sat down with Schieffer, the "Face the Nation" host who took over for Rather 16 months ago.
KURTZ: Bob Schieffer, welcome. You've known Dan Rather for 40 years; you met at the Kennedy assassination, covering it together. Is it sad to see him end his CBS career like this?
SCHIEFFER: Well, I don't know quite how to answer that, Howie. I mean, he had a long and distinguished career. And as I said a couple of times, you know, Dan was truly larger than life. And his successes were often larger than life, and sometimes his mistakes were larger than life.
But I think he has compiled a remarkable legacy. I think he will always be remembered; when people say CBS News, that's one of the names that you will always think of.
So I think Dan has a lot to be proud of. I think all of us wish that it had not ended in quite the way that it did. But having said that, it was a remarkable career.
KURTZ: Right. But there are critics out there, as you know -- Jim Lehrer on this program last week -- who say that CBS treated Rather rather shabbily. Why couldn't some kind of role be found for him after a 44-year career?
SCHIEFFER: Well, I don't do the hiring and firing there, so I would leave that question to others, Howie. I really don't know the answer to that.
KURTZ: Would you have liked him to have stayed?
SCHIEFFER: If he had chosen to, and they had had a meaningful job for him, yes.
KURTZ: Now at the same time, again as you know, Bob, some people say that Rather still has a lot of baggage from that story about President Bush and the National Guard. Mike Wallace and others have said he should have resigned at the time. So do you think that the corporate brass made just a cold calculation that he had become some sort of liability?
SCHIEFFER: Well, I don't know the answer to that. These were not decisions that I was a part of. I didn't have any part of it, and I don't know what the final decision was and why it was made.
I do know this: we went through a very bad time. We made -- you know we got hung with a bad story. We did everything that I think you can do and I think that a journalistic organization should do. We investigated it, we came to conclusions, the investigators did. We took some very drastic actions because of that, and once you do that -- and we acknowledged that we had made a mistake -- then you have to get on to other things.
And where I come into the picture is, I got a call that said, "Can you come and help us get this news organization back to work?" And I did, and I think we've come a long way since then.
KURTZ: I want to come back to that, but I just also want to ask you -- because you have been friends with Dan Rather for so long -- have you spoken to him in recent weeks, during this difficult period?
SCHIEFFER: Yes, I did. I talked to him the day his resignation was announced. We had done a story on the evening news, and I had done a little commentary about how long he had been, really, a part of my life. And he was very, very gracious, and he thanked me for that. And we had a very nice conversation, sort of talking about old times. I mean, Dan and I have been through a lot of things together, both personal and professional. And so we have a lot to talk about, and I hope we'll continue to be friends. I still think of Dan as a friend, and I very much appreciated his call.
KURTZ: Do you see him as having a future in this business, beyond CBS?
SCHIEFFER: Well, yes.
KURTZ: He's pretty well known.
SCHIEFFER: It's pretty hard to think of journalism without thinking of Dan Rather. And I still think Dan will find a story or two along the way, and I really hope that he does.
KURTZ: So 16 months ago, you become the anchor of the "CBS Evening News", originally supposed to be for a few weeks, few months. Obviously, you're still in the chair. And your job was to rebuild the credibility after that black eye that that story provided for CBS News. How do you go about doing that?
SCHIEFFER: Well, what I said at the time was, it will be done by one day and one story at a time, that this is not something you can say, "We promise we won't ever do it again." You have to take action to demonstrate that you take it seriously, that you recognize you've made a mistake. And we did that, starting with the investigation. And then after that, you just have to get back to work and keep doing good stories. You do that one story at a time, Howie.
KURTZ: Now, what's happened in the last 16 months is really one of the great television success stories. I mean, you've gained nearly one million viewers of the "CBS Evening News". You've closed the gap with ABC, making it more competitive for second place. How does a 69- year-old guy, who's not exactly a fresh face, pull that off?
SCHIEFFER: Well, you don't do it by yourself. That's the -- I mean, I'm just one part of a news team. I think it's because we did a very good newscast and we put the focus on the news. I said, at the beginning, in the first broadcast, "We are going to put the focus on news. It will come first." And we did that.
And these newscasts are not about somebody; they're about the news. And what we had to do is identify who the correspondents were going to be, that you could build a news organization that was going to last for another 10 or 15 years.
We did that. That's the part I'm the proudest of. We had some really bright young people there that had become a team, and that's what we had to do, and I think the result is that we put on a better newscast.
KURTZ: But let me be -- accuse you of being overly modest here. I mean, you're the man out in front of the camera. The anchors get enormous publicity, whether it's deserved or not. So it must have had something to do with your approach. I mean, you don't have what the chief executive of CBS, Les Moonves, once called the "voice of God." You don't try to be in a mission authority, delivering the news from up on some mountain. Isn't that true?
SCHIEFFER: Well, I don't know. I mean, no, I'm not -- I'm certainly not the voice of God. I'll tell you that for sure. But I think that if you can present relevant information and tell it in language that people understand, speak the language that they speak, they will watch you because they will feel a need to watch you.
People don't turn on the news to be entertained. They turn on the news because they think they need to. They think you're going to tell them something that they need, information they need to make the decisions that any good citizen has to make. And I think we kind of did that.
KURTZ: With Charlie Gibson starting as the ABC anchor last month -- he's 63 years old -- did you sort of make the world safe for aging anchormen? SCHIEFFER: I think that's probably right.
KURTZ: Are you taking full credit?
SCHIEFFER: I think Charlie owes me on this one, but it is kind of fun, because that's supposedly -- you know, you raise a very pertinent point. I am the antithesis of what these, quote, "television consultants" see, I think, these days as what the ideal anchor is.
KURTZ: You're not young.
SCHIEFFER: I'm not young. I'm not particularly handsome. I have gray hair, white hair. I don't have hair of a certain color and, you know, -- but, you know, the fact is I've been around journalism a long time, and I think what I am is a reporter, and I think I have a pretty good sense of what news is. And that, in the end, is what a newscast comes down to.
KURTZ: Since you did very well with the "CBS Evening News" and got those numbers up, you must have been tempted to fight for the job, to say, "Give it to me and let me keep doing this."
SCHIEFFER: You know, if this had all happened 10 years ago, that's exactly what I would have done, because I love this job. I mean, I've had more fun over this past year-and-a-half than I can ever recall having since I was a police reporter working for the "Fort Worth Star-Telegram", which, in those days, seemed like the very best job in all of journalism.
But the fact is I'm 69. I'm at a stage of life where I wouldn't want to do this for an extended period of time. And to make this work and to build the kind of news department we want to have, you just simply have to have someone that's a little bit younger than me for the long haul. I can do it for another year or so, sure, but that would not be very smart. If I were running CBS, that's not what I would do.
KURTZ: All right.
SCHIEFFER: But having said that, Howie, it really has been fun.
KURTZ: Now, Katie Couric takes over in September. She's gotten an enormous amount of publicity. You just made some promos for her you've been running at the end of the "Evening News". Is it possible that expectations have gotten too high for her debut because of all the press she's generating?
SCHIEFFER: Well, this is going to be a problem. There's no question about it. I mean, and one of the great advantages I had, there were no expectations for me. Nobody thought, No. 1, I was going to be there for very long and, you know, he's a nice, old guy and he'll hold it together for awhile. Because of the -- this enormous amount of attention, there will be high expectations.
But, you know, I'll tell you something. Here's what I think, Howie. I think all of this attention may, in the end, raise the ratings for all three of the evening news programs. If nothing else, it's going to remind some people that there is an evening news broadcast on all three of the networks, so under the old rising tide lifts all boats, you heard it here first. I think it's going to raise the ratings of all three.
KURTZ: All right. I bet you hope it raises CBS's ratings the most.
Bob Schieffer, we'll watch you in your remaining weeks in the anchor chair, and after that as well. Thanks very much...
SCHIEFFER: Thank you very much, Howie.
KURTZ: ... for joining us.
KURTZ: When we come back, more on Dan Rather's accusations against CBS, whether he has a future in television, and Charlie Gibson and Katie jumping into the anchor wars. A former network correspondent and a leading television critic join our discussion next.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Continuing our discussion about CBS News dumping Dan Rather this week, joining us now Gail Shister, television columnist for the "Philadelphia Inquirer". And in Boston, former ABC News correspondent Bob Zelnick, now professor of journalism at Boston University.
Bob Zelnick, let me play for you a little bit of former CBS Newsman Bernard Goldberg talking about his old network on FOX. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERNARD GOLDBERG, FORMER CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: CBS talks a lot about the CBS News family, but when you see something like this, what's happening today, that after 44 years of covering every major story of our time, you realize that it really is a family. It's the Manson family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The Manson family. Bob, did CBS handle this badly?
BOB ZELNICK, PROFESSOR OF JOURNALISM, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: I don't really think so. The (AUDIO GAP) Dan Rather stayed for nearly two years after the fatal (AUDIO GAP) President Bush's Guard service. Most of those involved in the story were fired immediately. (AUDIO GAP) They continued to pay him something like $12 million a year. He's 74 years old, not the most popular guy with many of those associated (AUDIO GAP) I think basically he could have gone with grace at the expiration of his contract.
KURTZ: All right. Bob, we'll work on your audio a little bit, which is not coming through crystal clear. Let me turn to Gail Shister. A lot of people are asking, as you well know, 44 years of service and CBS couldn't find some role that Rather could accept?
GAIL SHISTER, TV COLUMNIST, "PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER": I think it's tragic, Howie, really. I mean, I'm not saying give the guy a brass parade or a big office and 20 stories a year on "60 Minutes".
I do think there's such a thing as human decency for someone who did world class work for 43 1/2 years out of 44 years. For him to end his CBS career by sort of sneaking out the back door and being pushed out at the same time, I don't care what anybody says, there is a tragedy in the piece. Part of it was his own doing because he refused to leave, and part of it was CBS not being able to work out a graceful way for him to leave.
KURTZ: And what did you make, Gail, of Rather lashing out in that statement, accusing CBS of not living up to its obligations and giving him no real work? I mean, usually, most people in his situation put out a statement that says, you know, it's been a great career, and I look forward to new challenges.
SHISTER: I think that it was very clear, he was enraged. I mean, for him to go public by even making reference to his contract is pretty unusual, that somebody would actually mention their contract in a public statement.
But he showed his anger in other ways, too. He refused to participate in the -- for an interview in the piece that ran the night before, but the evening news saying that he was leaving. It was a tribute piece done by Anthony Mason, and he asked Rather to do an interview and he said no. And Rather refused to include any quotes in the CBS release saying he was leaving. So those were two big "see ya laters" to CBS. So it was very clear that he was angry.
KURTZ: I thought -- very clearly he was not going to play along. I did think it was odd that he wouldn't be interviewed about his own departure.
Bob Zelnick, after that National Guard story in 2004, the one about President Bush and the alleged favoritism and the documents that could not be authenticated, was there really any chance that Rather could survive at CBS beyond his current contract?
ZELNICK: I think not. I think I said that, if not on this program, on a number of others in which I appeared. CBS would have been well within their rights and well within the framework of propriety if they let him go, if not immediately (AUDIO GAP) reported on the shabby journalist practices that were done on that story. I think they tried to give him opportunity to exit gracefully, and he wanted the big comeback. And I don't think he had earned it. I don't think, in spite of how others who were working on this story, who do not have the experience and the resources and the stature of Dan Rather, how they were treated. I think this is a fair, though sad ending.
KURTZ: You say he wanted the big comeback. But you know, he was shifted to 60 Minutes", and he wanted to do a reasonable workload for a "60 Minutes" correspondent. And CBS made clear that they didn't want him to be doing any more stories as it went to a younger slate of correspondents. So why was that unreasonable on Rather' part?
ZELNICK: Well, I'm not saying it's unreasonable on Rather's part, but I don't think it was unreasonable on CBS's part either. This was a way of gliding out of the picture. He said he was going to "60 Minutes," they sent him to "60 Minutes". He did some significant stories for them, reporting from Korea. I don't think he has got much to complain about.
I say he wanted a comeback. He wanted to continue to play a substantial role. I don't think he earned that because of the way CBS invoked a rule of law with regard to that story. The people who had something major to do with that story are all gone, including the president of CBS News at the time. I don't think Dan Rather deserves special treatment. If anything, he's (AUDIO GAP) and the biggest name associated with that project, he should have shouldered more of the blame.
KURTZ: Well, certainly, some CBS colleagues of his agree with that assessment.
Gail Shister, at 74 does Rather now have a future in television? I mean, as you've reported he's talking to Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, about hosting a show on HDNet, which is a high definition channel but which reaches only about three million homes, which seems kind of small potatoes for somebody with Rather's achievements and background.
SHISTER: I don't think Rather is looking for numbers of eyeballs. I think he just needs to work. I think it's ironic that the very qualities that put people like Dan Rather and Mike Wallace and Don Hewitt at the top of their professions, which is a laser-like focus and an obsession with work, is the very thing that in the end, you could argue, led to their downfall, because they couldn't let go. They couldn't take the easy way and just walk away and retire.
Rather has told me this and so has Don Hewitt and so has Mike Wallace. They all said the same thing: how can I retire? What would I do? What I do is work.
I think that Dan will -- it's clear, he will work somewhere, whether it's on HDNet with Mark Cuban or on a cable network. Personally, I'd love to see him in some kind of a situation like Ted Koppel set up for himself at Discovery, where he has set up a whole new documentary unit, and he's doing real substantive work and doing the stuff he loves to work.
SHISTER: Brokaw is doing documentaries that he loves to do. He'll definitely end up somewhere. He's got more energy than a man half his age.
KURTZ: let me -- let me jump...
ZELNICK: I recommend that he become -- I recommend he become a journalism professor. A nice form of life after death.
KURTZ: All right. Well, we certainly see you're very much alive, Bob Zelnick.
Let me briefly ask you about your former ABC colleague, Charlie Gibson. He's been in the anchor chair about a month now, ABC belatedly putting him in that spot, replacing Elizabeth Vargas. Was that a good choice, and how do you think he's doing?
ZELNICK: I think he's doing fine. I think he was an excellent choice, even though I supported Bob Woodruff (AUDIO GAP) Elizabeth Vargas. Because I thought Woodruff was a great, young colleague, gifted reporter. But in view of what happened, that tragedy, I think Charlie is doing just fine. (AUDIO GAP) and help restore ABC.
KURTZ: All right. Well, thanks very much, Bob Zelnick, Gail Shister, for joining us in talking about the anchor wars.
Just ahead, your viewer e-mail on Karl Rove, Ann Coulter and the reporter who loves Condi Rice. Stay with us.
KURTZ: Time now for a look at the news business in our "Media Minute".
KURTZ (voice-over): How tough was the question of questioning that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice got from the "Greensboro News and Record" during a visit to North Carolina? Let's put it this way: reporter Nancy McLaughlin gushed to Rice that "We love you here in Greensboro". Editor John Robinson says that little valentine was inappropriate and that McLaughlin, quote, "told me that her mouth outran her brain by a considerable distance."
The online magazine "Slate" turned 10 this week, and editor Jacob Weisberg and his predecessor, Michael Kinsley, have been patting themselves on the back. But some journalists have insisted on spoiling the anniversary celebration.
"Salon" founder David Talbot calls the magazine shrill and superficial. "Vanity Fair's" Michael Wolf says "Slate" is as insufferable as FOX News. "National Review's" Jonah Goldberg dubs it "Harvard, smart aleck haughtiness." And where did all this griping appear? On "Slate", which invited the critics inside the tent. Well, it got our attention.
KURTZ: And checking our viewer e-mail, last week we asked whether the media should have given more coverage to the decision not to indict Karl Rove in the CIA leak case.
Viewer Chris Nandor wrote, "Given all this insane coverage of this story over the years, the coverage of Rove's nonindictment was remarkably undercovered, and exposes a serious bias in the press (not necessarily pro-liberal or anti-Bush, but pro-scandal and anti- informational)."
On another topic, the President Bush's secret trip to Iraq, Keir Campbell of Los Gatos, California, e-mailed: "On CNN's RELIABLE SOURCES, CBS News contributor Gloria Borger acknowledged that the media are suckers because of their coverage of President Bush's surprise June 13th trip to Iraq. Borger concluded: 'You know you're being used but in a way you kind of like it because it's good pictures.' Have you no shame? Two thousand five hundred and seven American dead, and the media reports Bush six hours on the ground because it's 'good pictures'? How about real news for a change?"
On our recent segment on the controversial conservative author Ann Coulter, a viewer in West Virginia wrote, "Why are you still talking about Ann Coulter? Do you think we are so stupid that we have not figured out what she's about? Money! She's an actress and we all like to watch for a while just to see the drama. Now I wish she would go away. So how about making that happen?
Well, ahead in our next half hour, Frank Rich and David Frum square off over Iraq and whether "The New York Times" and other newspapers went too far in disclosing government scrutiny of Americans' banking records.
Plus, "Times" crossword puzzle czar Will Shortz and Connie Chung's rather unusual musical farewell.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, reporting this morning from New York.
The ongoing battle between the Bush administration and the press over government secrecy heated up again this week as three major newspapers disclosed another classified program aimed at terror subjects -- suspects.
"The New York Times" and "Los Angeles Times" rejected appeals from Treasury Department officials in revealing that authorities have examined the banking records of Americans and others suspected of having ties to al Qaeda. The "Wall Street Journal" also published the story but said its editors were not asked to withhold it.
Vice President Cheney responded angrily to the disclosure at a Chicago luncheon on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I find most disturbing about these stories is the fact that some of the news media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people. That offends me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining me now in Washington, David Frum, a former Bush speech writer who writes for "National Review" online. And here in New York, Frank Rich, columnist for "The New York Times."
Frank Rich, as you know, a lot of people out there wondering why the "Times" keeps publishing these stories about secret government programs. And just an hour ago Peter King, Republican congressman from New York, had this to say on "FOX News Sunday".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: No one elected "The New York Times" to do anything. And "The New York Times" is putting its own arrogant elitist left-wing agenda before the interests of the American people. And I'm calling on the attorney general to begin a criminal investigation and prosecution of "The New York Times".
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK RICH, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, why doesn't he also aim it at "The Wall Street Journal" and the "Los Angeles Times", which also published this story and try to shut down the entire press?
This story had, as the papers reported, multiple sources. One of the papers said over 20 sources, which means, obviously, there are a lot of people involved with this effort who want the story out, perhaps because they think a system that was created for the very good goal of helping to trap terrorists may be being abused.
KURTZ: How about the arrogant left-wing agenda part?
RICH: I don't think it is an arrogant left-wing agenda to tell people what's going on in their own government with their money, and with surveillance that might involve their private lives. But I also think that it's -- in fact, I think it's a public service.
And I didn't feel in any of the three papers, and I read all three of their accounts, there was any political agenda at all. In fact, there was no sort of editorializing, saying this is what's going on.
And by the way, we knew a version of what was going on. This is not like, you know, opening up Ft. Knox and finding the greatest secret in the history of the world, you know.
KURTZ: All right. David Frum, I wonder how super secret this banking program was, because once Bill Keller, the editor of the "Times" turned down the administration's request and said they would go ahead and publish it, a treasury official talked about it on the record.
DAVID FRUM, "NATIONAL REVIEW" ONLINE: Look, I think the Treasury Department recognized what was going to happen.
How secret was this program? Well, it helped to catch the author of the Bali bombing. It helped to catch a number of other terror suspects.
I think it would be hard to come closer to the classic definition of publishing the departure time of a troop ship in war time and inviting the enemy to shoot a torpedo at it than this. Here's a program where there's no allegation of abuse.
Yes, look, there are a lot of people in the government who are disgruntled about the Bush administration's approach, and they have taken on a program of sabotage and leaking, but it wouldn't work without the complicity of the papers. This is as big a media scandal as it's possible to be.
Here's a program with no width of illegality to it. As Heather McDonald observed in a marvelous article in this morning's "Weekly Standard", here's a program with no suggestion of abuse. Here's something that has caught important terrorists. Here's something that will never catch an important terrorists ever again, and it's all because a newspaper said we think it's in the public interest.
So as if to say the only secrets we won't publish are the boring ones. The interesting ones, we feel free.
RICH: Two points. First of all, we're talking about three newspapers, not one newspaper. One of those newspapers, "The Wall Street Journal", has a very conservative editorial page that supports...
FRUM: So what?
RICH: So why didn't the president -- why didn't the president ask them to shut it down?
FRUM: I worked with that editorial page. We couldn't have lunch with people on the news side.
RICH: We know from Howie's report that the White House did not ask them to step down from the story the way they asked the other two papers. They thought it was fine if it's in the "Wall Street Journal".
FRUM: I think it's pretty clear you guys got it first. And the other papers would have deferred to your leadership. I mean, the "Times" does... RICH: You really think that our competitors would have deferred to what we did?
FRUM: I think what you have here is you have government officials, both active and retired Democrats, going to papers saying, "This is a huge secret. Please do not publish this in the national interest." Then there's a kind of moral dilemma.
But the grammar of the story, as I see it reported, suggests that information came to the "Times" first. If they had gone to the other two papers and said, we went to the "Times" and they agreed that this would be putting the nation's safety and security at risk, that would have been...
RICH: As far as I know that -- as far as I know, everything you just said is fictional. I've seen nowhere that the "Times" necessarily had it first. I got the feeling that news organizations were going neck and neck. What's your source for that? What's your source for it?
FRUM: I got -- I got -- that's not what I said. I said when I read the grammar in the story...
RICH: What do you mean, read the grammar? Is it code, holding it up to the light with lemon juice?
FRUM: Frank, that's cute. But one of the things that's amazing about "The New York Times", is while it regards these secrets of the United States as anybody's game, it insists on absolute, of course, confidentiality for itself. So it doesn't tell you how it does the story. But when you read these stories, you get -- if you know how the news business works, if you've worked for a paper, you get...
RICH: Hello, all newspapers, including the other two that published this story, follow those same procedures.
FRUM: Let me -- you can -- you can archeologically mine, dig...
KURTZ: Gentlemen -- let me jump in.
RICH: Time to go to journalism school, guys.
KURTZ: Let me jump in for one second.
FRUM: I learned by 20 years of practice, as well.
KURTZ: All right. I should point out that Eric Lichtblau, who's one of the co-authors of that story and of the domestic surveillance story broken by the "Times" some months ago, told "Editor and Publisher" that the "Times" held the story for several weeks to weigh the administration's arguments. And in fact, that allowed the other newspapers to catch up. It does look like the "Times" was out front.
RICH: And by the way, further one other thing about that. We also learned that after -- as the "Times" was holding the story, that's when the administration decided to tell members of Congress and briefed them about this program, which it hadn't previously done.
KURTZ: David Frum is not the only conservative who's upset about this. Bill Bennett, the conservative commentator on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING" on Friday had this to say. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL BENNETT, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The fury this morning was about "The New York Times," and it wasn't fury about people having their bank records looked at. It was hundreds of people calling and saying, "Look, we're at a war in terror" and people are wondering about "The New York Times" and other outlets as to when they will stop interfering with these intelligence programs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RICH: Look, I think that's a very good polling of sentiment in Vegas, and I support his saying that.
KURTZ: You're being very dismissive of the nation and a lot of people are offended by this.
RICH: Well, people have a right to be offended by it. But I would also argue that what's going on now, when you have a war that's going south in Iraq, there's people looking for scapegoats and for side arguments, and that's what this is about.
The administration has repeatedly bragged about its expertise, and thank God they have it, in tracking down the financial shenanigans of terrorist groups. And this added one little wrinkle to that story.
FRUM: I'm sorry, no. The records that we're looking at are international wire transfers. And I think, you know, the terrorists may have assumed that wire transfers into and out of the United States might be watched, but they did not understand that wire transfers around the planet were being watched with the help of a consortium of other banks. That was a true secret.
And it caught -- it caught important people in the past, and it will never catch anybody ever again. And that responsibility lies at the hands of one newspaper that consulted itself as to its definition of the nation's security.
KURTZ: All right. David, before we're out of time, I want to turn to coverage of the war itself. Because we've had these incidents. There was another one this morning, charges against American soldiers in terms of -- connected to a shooting of an unarmed Iraqi civilian. We've had Haditha. We've had these other ones, and conservatives also upset about this kind of coverage.
FOX's Bill O'Reilly had this to say just the other night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BILL O'REILLY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL'S "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": We're doing everything we can do to win because we've got "The New York Times", all these other people, every time we make a mistake, bang, there it is, and CNN is running with it, and we're the bad guy. It's got to stop. It's got to stop.
"The New York Times", the ACLU, the BBC, they -- just ask yourself this simple question. Then I've got to run, do you want these people waging the war on terror? Do you want "The New York Times" waging war? Do you want them in charge?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RICH: I think we want Geraldo Rivera in charge, who gave away troop movements and had to be thrown out of the war by the military at the beginning.
The fact is that I can't speak for all these news organizations, and I know CNN is a big butt of it, too, but in the case of Haditha, we haven't overplayed these stories. In the case of Haditha, in fact, we ran a very nuanced story saying, frankly, we don't know what happened. You know, we did a lengthy investigation, found there were so many conflicting points of view, this is going to have to be decided by a system of justice. And we shouldn't rush to judgment, and we have not.
KURTZ: David Frum, what about the notion that the press in general is playing up negative news from Iraq, focusing on these isolated incidents of charges against soldiers and generally not painting a very pretty picture of the war effort there?
FRUM: I think we have to distinguish between press bias, which is bad, and betrayal of national security secrets, which is really a crime.
I wish the press would report better from Iraq. I think, actually, the story that Frank refers to from -- the "Times" did on Haditha was actually pretty -- pretty fair-minded. I think we will find Haditha is not as bad as we at first imagined. Let's hope so.
That is a different thing from the betrayal of national secrets, which the "Times" has done again and again. With media bias, you can always correct that by turning to other sources. But with the betrayal of secrets, that is -- that is damage that is done to the whole nation. It is done irreparably; it is done forever.
RICH: Can I just say, we have to stop assuming that the terrorists are morons. When the "Times" publishes an NSA story which indicated there was some domestic surveillance involving tracking al Qaeda terrorists or other terrorists, while that story broke, there was a fictional show on Showtime called "Sleeper Cell" about a sort of fictional terror cell in Los Angeles where on the show, in the script, the screen writers imagined that they know they're being wiretapped, even though all the calls are within the United States.
These people aren't idiots. They're very, very dangerous enemies, and the idea that this has changed the equation -- this is some secret that's changed the equation...
KURTZ: David, I've got 10 seconds for a final word.
FRUM: If they're not -- if they're not idiots, then it's very dangerous to confirm what they think might be true as being positively true.
KURTZ: All right. David Frum, Frank Rich, very enlightening debate this morning. Wish we had more time to continue it.
Coming up later, CNN correspondents around the world bring you an in depth look at the latest from Iraq and the war on terror. John Roberts hosts "IRAQ: A WEEK AT WAR" today, 1 p.m. Eastern.
And ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, for everyone who tired to complete the Sunday "Times" crossword puzzle this morning and gave up in frustration, we'll meet the guy to blame. "New York Times" crossword czar Will Shortz is up next.
KURTZ: Will Shortz has one of the strangest and maybe coolest jobs in the media world. He's editor of "The New York Times" crossword puzzle for 13 years now and changed it from a rather stodgy affair to one infused with pop culture and some humor to boot. His famous, and famously difficult puzzles, are the subject of a new documentary, "Wordplay" from IFC Films, which opened Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sometimes I picked the Saturday "New York Times" crossword puzzle and I would go through way over half the clues before I'll know the answer to one.
MIKE MUSSINA, NEW YORK YANKEES: If you can do this puzzle, I'll tell you, you can probably do any puzzle they throw at you.
JON STEWART, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "THE DAILY SHOW": Come on, Shortz, bring it!
When you imagine crossword guy, you imagine he's 13 to 14 inches tall, doesn't care to go more than five feet without his inhaler, and yet he's a giant man. He's the Errol Flynn of crossword puzzling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And joining me now to puzzle through on this segment is Will Shortz. Welcome.
WILL SHORTZ, CROSSWORD PUZZLE EDITOR, "NEW YORK TIMES": Thanks, Howard.
KURTZ: At "New York Times," you write or edit or oversee 30,000 clues a year. How can any one person know so much about so many things?
SHORTZ: I have lots of books. You should see my office. And then there's, of course, Google. Yes, yes.
KURTZ: So you have to do research? You're not sitting there...
SHORTZ: Everything has to be checked. Rule No. 1 is it has to be right. Then it can be entertaining, but it has to be correct to begin with.
KURTZ: Now what happens on, I assume, the relatively rare occasions when you make a mistake?
SHORTZ: We run a correction. Now, most -- there are about 15 errors a year in "The New York Times" crossword. I don't know if that seems like a lot, but out of 30,000 clues, most of which can go wrong in multiple ways, I think that's not too bad.
KURTZ: Seems pretty low to me. Now, in the age of video games and chat rooms and podcasts and all that, why are people addicted to this rather low-tech challenge, you know, four down, seven across, looking at it today, "Rachel's baby on 'Friends'"? You know, you've got to have a lot of pop culture knowledge and so forth.
SHORTZ: You have to know a little of everything.
I think crosswords is a perfect entertainment for the 21st Century. Because you know, they say people nowadays, we have short attention spans. And with a daily crossword puzzle, it's going to have 76 clues on different subjects. You know your mind bounces around for one thing to the next, and it's just perfectly suited for the modern mind.
KURTZ: But if we have short attention spans, then people would give up after the first four or five. No?
SHORTZ: Well, but your mind is bouncing around from one thing to the next. So it does take a certain intelligence and you do have to have certain patience and perseverance, but you don't follow through, you know, a story line.
KURTZ: Now, this movie "Wordplay", which opened this weekend, how exactly did you convince someone to make a movie about you?
SHORTZ: Well, I didn't do the convincing. It was a couple in Las Vegas, Patrick Creadon and Christine O'Malley, his wife. They actually discovered they have this common love for crosswords on their honeymoon about five years ago, and they had in mind that they wanted to do a documentary film. And they thought crossword puzzles, it's never been done before. I think they like...
KURTZ: There's a reason it's never been done.
SHORTZ: I think they liked the challenge of it. Because you know, how do you make an entertaining film about something that's completely cerebral? KURTZ: Right.
SHORTZ: You know, and there's no inherent drama or excitement to crosswords. But I'll tell you, the movie is funny, and it is exciting. I start to get nervous and I start sweating, actually, every time I watch the film.
KURTZ: Were you nervous and sweating when you were in the film?
SHORTZ: No. It was just very natural.
KURTZ: Did you do a lot of takes?
SHORTZ: Well, the...
KURTZ: It's kind of a behind the scenes guy we never see. We just read your -- your handiwork.
SHORTZ: I know, I know. I have liked being anonymous that way. You know, the movie has interviews with me, with top solvers, as they're getting ready for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. You saw in the clips interviews with Bill Clinton, Mike Mussina, the Indigo Girls and other famous people who like crossword puzzles.
So it's interesting. It's engaging. It's funny. It turned out to be -- well, right now on RottenTomatoes.com it's got a 95 percent positive rating, and I've never seen a film get that high a rating on that web site.
KURTZ: I'll have to check that out.
Now, you've also get into this Sudoku craze, these number puzzles. On the way up here at the airport, I saw four books by you, four Sudoku books. You've got 20 Sudoku books on the market, five million in print. Do you have a staff of Japanese assistants or something?
SHORTZ: NO, it's just me. But I have -- for the Sudoku books I have a collaborator in the Netherlands who is a computer programmer and also a puzzle expert, so he actually makes the puzzles. And...
KURTZ: Is this a whole new cottage industry for you?
SHORTZ: It is. It is. I don't know how I find time to do it, but these -- you know, the books -- it's -- you know, this craze that just sprang on the scene last year. Just within one year, virtually every newspaper in the country, except my own, publishes Sudoku.
KURTZ: What explains "The Times" reticence here?
SHORTZ: I think it's because the "Times" doesn't do fads, you know, and there's no comics or other puzzles besides the crossword in the "Times". And also, anything "The Times" does has to be more intellectual and more cultural than anyone else's version of it, and Sudoku is this perfect little puzzle, and I don't think it can't be improved. KURTZ: Well, you've got the 27 books so who cares what the "Times" does?
Do you ever get tired of writing clues and making words fit into these little boxes?
KURTZ: What is it about it that keeps you so engaged? I mean, you've been doing this for 13 years.
SHORTZ: Well, my whole life, actually. What's great about crosswords is that they lead you into every field of human knowledge. So first of all, I'm always learning. I love that.
There's the creativity of crosswords, the playfulness, the humor of it, so I'm always struggling to try to come up with a fresh clue for an old answer.
And what I love most about crosswords is the people that I come in contact with, because they're interesting; they're well-rounded, often funny; they're good people to meet. You meet some of them at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament I do every year. But just from on the "Times" crossword forum, the people I run into on the street who do crosswords, they're good people.
KURTZ: All right, Will Shortz, anonymous no more after this movie. And much taller than Jon Stewart was expecting. Thanks for joining us.
KURTZ: Just ahead, thanks for the memories. Well, sort of. Connie Chung's rather vocal farewell. You don't want to miss this.
KURTZ: I'm all for television journalists lightening thing up, having a little fun and letting it all hang out. So when Connie Chung was saying farewell after the weekend MSNBC show she shares with husband Maury Povich, she got all dressed up and then, as you may have seen in some of the replays on cable, things got ugly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONNIE CHUNG, FORMER MSNBC ANCHOR (singing): We came to do a show for very little dough. By little I mean I could make more working on Skid Row. That's cable TV.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: It was all a joke, but unfortunately for the amateur lounge singer, it went on and on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHUNG (singing): Thanks for the memories. This happy year flew by. My Maury, what a guy. Instead of asking who's the daddy, he could talk Dubai.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: "Weekend with Maury and Connie" never made it to prime time. Who knows what kind of entertainment we might have been treated to?
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning, 10 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.
"LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER" begins right now.
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