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Reliable Sources

Is White House Scapegoating "New York Times"?; Bloggers Respond to Recent Political Developments; Why the Media Hoopla Over Star Jones Departure?

Aired July 02, 2006 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Targeting the "Times." George Bush, Dick Cheney and an army of conservative critics rip the "New York Times" for disclosing a secret program for monitoring the banking records of terror suspects. Did editor Bill Keller go too far, or is the White House just bashing the media for political gain? And why have the "Los Angeles Times" and "Wall Street Journal" have been given a pass for publishing similar stories? The co-author of the "New York Times" story, Eric Lichtblau, joins our discussion.

Bloggers go mainstream. Hillary Clinton is the latest Democrat to hire a liberal blogger. Are they being co-opted?

Ladies spat. Barbara Walters changes her story about firing Star Jones from "The View" after some angry words from her co-host.

Plus, did the media out one of America's last heroes?


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on an extraordinary political attack on "The New York Times". I'm Howard Kurtz.

The story was instantly controversial, disclosing a secret administration program to track the banking records of terror suspects. "The New York Times" reported the news late last week, quickly followed by the "Los Angeles Times" and "Wall Street Journal".

Treasury Secretary John Snow had asked "The New York Times" not to publish the story, but editor Bill Keller made the decision to go ahead, and the White House wasted little time in denouncing the paper for undermining the war on terror.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The disclosure of this program is disgraceful. We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America. And for people to leak that program and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What is doubly disturbing for me that not only have they gone forward with these stories, but they've been rewarded for it. For example, in the case of the terrorist surveillance program, by being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for outstanding journalism. I think that is a disgrace.


KURTZ: Congressional Republicans slammed the "Times" as wrong, and the House on Thursday passed a resolution condemning the press for reporting the story. Senate intelligence chairman Pat Roberts asked the administration for an official damage assessment, and Congressman Peter King called for the "New York Times" to be prosecuted.


REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: To me, this was a reckless disregard of the security of the United States. And I believe that fits within the Espionage Act of 1917.


KURTZ: Conservative publications piled on, with the "New York Post" running this accusatory headline. "National Review" urged the White House to yank the "Times'" press credentials, and a "Weekly Standard" writer called the newspaper a national security threat that is drunk on its own power.

The debate raged on the airwaves, as well.


TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, MSNBC'S "THE SITUATION": I think "The New York Times" hates Bush. I think they probably go out of their way to hurt Bush. I think they would probably even reveal things they shouldn't reveal in order to hurt Bush.

BILL O'REILLY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL'S "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": The "New York Times" may have reached a tipping point. The paper is chock full of far left columnists, and now its news pages could be damaging national security.

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, MSNBC'S "COUNTDOWN": If we're going to start prosecuting newspapers for revealing government policy, that is at best legally questionable. If we're willing to trade freedom for temporary security, as the old saying goes, in this area -- sorry for the cliche here, but haven't the terrorists won something in this?


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about all this, Eric Lichtblau, Pulitzer Prize winner and co-author of the "New York Times" story that has sparked this uproar; Gene Robinson, associate editor and columnist for the "Washington Post"; Geneva Overholser, the "Post's" former ombudsman and former editor of "The Des Moines Register". And in Irvine, California, radio talk show host and blogger, Hugh Hewitt, author of the new book, "Painting the Map Red: The Fight to Create a Permanent Republican Majority". Welcome. Eric Lichtblau, what do you make of this amazing deluge: Bush, Cheney, congressional Republicans, "National Review", "Weekly Standard", saying that your story damaged national security and undermined a program that is aimed at catching terrorists?

ERIC LICHTBLAU, CO-AUTHOR, "NEW YORK TIMES" STORY: Well, I think we're obviously in the middle of a pretty historic clash between the administration on the one hand and the press on the other, the balance between national security and the public's right to know. And unfortunately, we're in the middle of it at the moment.

KURTZ: You're in the bulls-eye. But now, one argument against publishing the story is that, by your own account in the "Times", there was nothing illegal about this financial surveillance program. Is that right?

LICHTBLAU: Yes, I mean, I don't think that illegality should be the standard to decide whether to publish a program like this. Certainly, this was a legal gray area, as we said in the story. I think by even the administration's own acknowledgment. This is an aggressive reading of presidential power and, in the view of the paper, fit into a pattern of aggressive antiterrorism strategies and raised questions about checks and balances, whether or not Congress had been properly briefed on the program and a whole host of other questions.

KURTZ: Gene Robinson, do you see, especially in recent days, a coordinated Republican attack against the "Times"?

GENE ROBINSON, ASSOCIATE EDITOR/COLUMNIST, "WASHINGTON POST": It certainly looks coordinated, and the "New York Times" is a big, juicy target. And -- well, because it's -- you know, it has this cache of elitism, or at least is painted that way.

And, you know, the "Times" is a great newspaper, like the "Washington Post", like the "Wall Street Journal", like the "Los Angeles Times". All those papers have, you know, done what newspapers should do, which is, you know, dig and try to find out what's happening. And that's inconvenient for an administration that believes in vastly expanded presidential powers and in doing all this in secrecy.

KURTZ: Hugh Hewitt, you've been enormously critical of the "Times'" decision to publish this story. Do you believe that its editors and reporters should be prosecuted?

HUGH HEWITT, AUTHOR, "PAINTING THE MAP RED": I don't know enough to answer that question, because 18 USC 798 (ph) has a lot of elements to it, Howard. But I know this. Eric's story helped terrorists elude capture. That's what the outrage is about. That's the widely shared opinion among people with intelligence background. It's widely shared by soldiers in the field, as made evident on their blogs.

KURTZ: How can you be so sure of that, since it was just published last week? HEWITT: Well, A, it's very easy to deduce that unless every single terrorist in the world, the tens of thousands of them, knew about a program that the CIA didn't even know about when 9/11 occurred, that they learned a great deal.

And B, in the story itself it talks about how Hambali, the most important terrorist in Southeast Asia, was apprehended because of this program. As we speak, I'm sure his associates are reverse engineering everything they previous thought they knew and figuring out how it was the transactions that helped finance him led to him. And they won't do it again. It's not rocket science, Howard. This helped terrorists elude capture.

KURTZ: Geneva Overholser, you've run a newspaper. It is awfully hard for an editor, is it not, to say no when a top official, in this case Treasury Secretary John Snow, says -- looks you in the eye and says, "That story, if you run it, will damage national security."

GENEVA OVERHOLSER, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI JOURNALISM PROGRAM: It's terribly difficult. And editors struggle mightily with these issues and often decide not to run the information.

In my experience, part of what pushes many editors over is that what they hear from the people inside the government, those who are leaking, if you will, expresses concern on their part about what's happening.

And in a war like this is, without limits, without boundaries, if the press isn't bringing this kind of information before people, before Congress, before the courts, then I think we all need to worry about who will.

KURTZ: Eric Lichtblau, what's your reaction to Vice President Cheney saying he's offended that you won a Pulitzer Prize and shared a Pulitzer Prize for the story last December that disclosed the domestic eavesdropping program of the Bush administration?

LICHTBLAU: Well, I'll leave that judgment to other people. But on the point that Hugh made, as far as the damage to national security, you know, I'd have to take issue with -- with the assessment of what he's saying is a widely shared belief, that this has in some way alerted the terrorists to something they didn't know.

It has been common knowledge from 9/11, from President Bush on down, that they're using every means available to trace financial transactions of terrorists. President Bush has talked about shutting down the money pipeline, finding the money, seizing the money. His aides have made that message over and over and over again.

It's so commonly known, in fact, that there have been numerous stories by myself and other reporters in the last four and a half years about how the -- how the terrorists are aware that their money is being traced and are moving it out of financial institutions.

So the harm to me is -- is an abstract one, at best.

KURTZ: There is also a web site by this organization, which is called SWIFT. So that it was not a complete secret.

But Hugh Hewitt, I have a funny feeling you'd like to respond to that.

HEWITT: I do, and there are two responses. One, it's the difference between knowing that people are out to catch speeders in most cities and knowing where the speed traps and the radar and the cameras are.

And No. 2, in the story itself, in Eric's own story, it talks about how this program has operated and that no one knew about it. The CIA didn't know about it.

And as a result -- and by the way, don't believe me. Believe Doyle McManus, the Washington bureau chief of the "Los Angeles Times", who admitted on my program that it is conceivable that this program helped terrorists elude capture. Once you've got that admission, it is impossible for the "New York Times" or the "Los Angeles Times" to balance the harm it did.

And unless Eric wants to tell us that he knows the mind of every single terrorist in the world, what they know and what they don't know, how they operate, how they train, how they go about killing people, he's making an absurd statement that I think convicts him as not knowing much about intelligence; perhaps a lot about journalism but almost nothing about how intelligence in law enforcement works.

KURTZ: I need to give you a chance to respond.

LICHTBLAU: I'm claiming I know the mind of every terrorist, but I am claiming to know exactly what President Bush and his senior aides have said. And when you have senior Treasury Department officials going before Congress, publicly talking about how they are tracing and cutting off money to terrorists, weeks and weeks before our story ran.

"USA Today", the biggest circulation in the country, the lead story on their front page four days before our story ran was the terrorists know their money is being traced, and they are moving it into -- outside of the banking system into unconventional means. It is by no means a secret.

KURTZ: Geneva.

OVERHOLSER: I just wanted to make one quick point in response to Hugh's point about Doyle McManus saying it could conceivably help the terrorists. That's a pretty frightening concept, because again, we're in this war, open war. So many things could conceivably help the terrorists. And I think none of us wants to -- to say, well, we can't worry about that, because we must worry about it all the time.

But if the standard is any kind of information that could conceivably help the terrorists cannot be published, we're in trouble.

KURTZ: Gene Robinson, the "Washington Post" also ran the story, playing catch up after the "Times" had published its story online. Let's take this out of the realm of pundits and politicians, you know, all of whom -- sometimes, I should say -- play partisan games and ideological games.

Aren't there any awful lot of average Americans out there who are upset with the "New York Times", in particular, with the press in general, for what they see as exposing a successful anti-terror program?

ROBINSON: There are a lot of strong feelings on both sides of this issue, judging by the -- the e-mails that I get and people I talk to. There are people who -- who are upset with the press. And who -- you know, I get communications from people saying, "Why are you people doing this? Why are you telling the truth?" I happen to believe that story and other revelations haven't really told the dangerous terrorists things that they didn't already know or suspect.

And I also believe...

KURTZ: But would you acknowledge that it's a close call on this particular case?

ROBINSON: Yes, absolutely, it's a close call. And as Geneva said, newspapers often decide not to publish information because it seems to fall the other way. It seems -- it seems that it could damage security or get someone killed or create risk.

But you know, an open society does entail a certain amount of risk. And -- and to say that anything you could ever publish that might conceivably help a terrorist can therefore not be published is -- is not -- is not a coherent way to -- for a free society to think of the press.

KURTZ: In your mind, Eric Lichtblau, and I realize that you don't make the final decision. Your editor, Bill Keller does. Was this -- was this a more difficult decision, closer call than your earlier story on the domestic surveillance program, which many, even Republicans say, you know, was of questionable legality and which millions of Americans were concerned about for privacy reasons? Was this a closer call?

LICHTBLAU: I think in some ways it was a closer call. It was a difficult decision. Anytime you're talking about, you know, revealing sensitive information, that is not something any paper does lightly, be it the "New York Times", the "L.A. Times" or the "Wall Street Journal". You know, the paper listened long and hard over a period of months to the administration, to the arguments. They weighed the arguments before making the decision they did.

And you know, we listened to people who the administration sent to talk to us about the program. And you know, it was not an easy decision. And outside the context of the NSA program and the debate going on over presidential powers, it probably would have been even a more difficult decision.

KURTZ: Hugh Hewitt, what do you make of that? I mean, in other words, I think that some on the right are portraying this as "The New York Times" just sort of recklessly plowing ahead, putting this information in the paper, wanting to damage the Bush administration, when in the case of domestic surveillance, they held the story for a year. In this current case, on the banking program, the story was held for at least several weeks.

So would you not grant, at least, that they wrestled seriously with the implications here?

HEWITT: No, I won't grant that, Howard, because Bill Keller won't do any interviews with people hostile to his decision. Eric has turned me down repeatedly to come on my program. And when you listen to the MSMers gathered round there in the beltway, they're not dealing with the real issue.

I'm not proposing, no one is proposing what Geneva and Gene suggest that we are talking about. We're talking about a specific story in which, for the first time in American history, following on the December story as well, major media has turned down explicit requests from the government not to reveal material illegally leaked to them by, in this instance, 20 people who broke their oaths of office, who ought to be discovered, who ought to be, at least, thrown out of the government and possibly prosecuted. And I hope Eric is in front of a grand jury and asked their names.

It's a specific case. It's not a general shut-down; it's not a repeal of the First Amendment. It's a specific...

KURTZ: Hold on. So you're saying -- you're saying you hope that Eric Lichtblau, who's sitting right here, has to testify before a grand jury, and if he won't reveal his sources, then you are perfectly comfortable with a judge sending him off to jail?

HEWITT: I don't know the circumstances of how he would not be answering or who would make him, so I won't answer that. I hope he is called before a grand jury and asked who broke the law, who broke their oath and told him secrets that I believe, as do many other people, including for example, Lieutenant Tom Cotton, Sergeant T.F. Boggs, both of whom have written letters to the "Times" which have gone unanswered...

KURTZ: All right. Here I've got to...

HEWITT: ... who they believe are getting killed because of what he did. I think he ought to be asked that question of who did this.

KURTZ: Eric Lichtblau, we'll let you respond to that on the other side of the break. And when we come back, what are the limits of free press in a time of war?


KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. Eric Lichtblau, before the break Hugh Hewitt said that he hopes you have to testify before a grand jury. Did you think of that before publishing this story, whether you would face that prospect if there was a leak investigation?

LICHTBLAU: Sure, that's something in the current climate that I think every reporter wrestles with. You know, there are various leak investigations going on. I have no idea where any of those are going to go. But you know, I think the use of confidential sources is an important principle for reporters, and if the government starts criminalizing that, which is where we seem to be heading, you might as well declare a moratorium on investigative reporting and end the press's role as a watchdog.

KURTZ: The story says that there were about 20 sources for this report of yours, with your -- with your colleague, James Risen. Why, without obviously getting into any confidential relationships, why would people come forward and talk to you about this sensitive matter?

LICHTBLAU: Well, I think the one point that we made in the story as far as, you know, possibly motivations of sources was that there are a number of people in government in this program and others who believe that the emergency powers that were relied on immediately after 9/11 have now become permanent. This was, by any reading, an expansive view of presidential authority, to gather millions and millions of banking records and then sift through those without specific subpoenas or warrants. A legal gray area, as I said earlier.

I think there are people who believe that what was an understandable emergency response to 9/11, five years after has now become permanent without Congress even knowing about it, for the most part.

KURTZ: Gene Robinson, in every one of these recent cases, "New York Times" on eavesdropping, "Washington Post" on secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and this latest story, the decision seems to be to go ahead and publish. So a lot of people are getting the impression that it's -- we just sort of barrel ahead, regardless of the objections.

ROBINSON: But that's not what happens. I mean, Bill Keller has -- the editor of the "Times" has -- you know, has talked about the long process of trying to weigh whether or not to publish, what to publish. For example, the CIA prison story...

KURTZ: Which President Bush personally asked the newspaper not to publish.

ROBINSON: Right and the newspaper decided to publish the story. The "Post" was asked not to publish the names of the countries where the prisons were located and in fact, the "Post" did not publish and has not published that information.

So it's not -- you know, it's not utter reckless abandon, as it's painted. It's not that way at all.

OVERHOLSER: ... to Iraq.

KURTZ: Go ahead.

OVERHOLSER: How many scores of reporters and editors knew he was going to Iraq on the most recent visit, and they didn't say anything, because it was...? KURTZ: I think most journalists did not know.

OVERHOLSER: Well, I know, but some did.

KURTZ: Is there -- is there...

OVERHOLSER: And they didn't say anything, those who did know.

KURTZ: Is there a scoop -- you've worked in a newsroom. Is there a scoop mentality here that sometimes maybe clouds the judgment about whether to go ahead, no go ahead? You want to get the scoop; you want to win the prize. You want to be the first out with the sensational story.

OVERHOLSER: There's no question that a scoop mentality is one of the most important motivators on the table. And what I think comes up against it is all of these questions about is there a real threat to national security? Is there a real public interest in knowing the information?

But of course, you're right. All of us itch to get the story and to get it out there. And if we didn't, then we wouldn't be obeying the press commitment to tell people what we know.

KURTZ: Hugh Hewitt, do you worry at all about what the cliche is, a chilling effect on the press? That there are these investigations and prosecutions? Doesn't -- isn't the press, whether you agree in this particular instance or not, play -- exert a certain check on the power of government?

HEWITT: Of course it does. I've been teaching comm law for 10 years. I love the First Amendment. I think it's necessary. But I am amazed that of your three guests, none of them even mentioned the war against the war or Bush hatred and the antipathy that has been manifesting itself by a lot of people, both inside government, but especially within mainstream media.

The astonishing thing is the little closed circle that is MSM seems to be surprised that the vast majority of Americans are suspicious of their motives and understand them to be political and hard left and engaged in a war against this administration. They're not fooling anyone except themselves.

And I really do hope, Howard, that Eric and Gene will accept my repeated invitations to appear in a fair and a long conversation on the air so that they can defend themselves. The fact that they're hiding tells us a lot.

KURTZ: You can call them up after the show. And I think some members of the MSM, or mainstream media, would disagree with your characterization of Bush hatred, but we're going to have to leave it there.

Hugh Hewitt, Geneva Overholser, Gene Robinson, Eric Lichtblau, thanks very much for joining us. Ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, Charlie Gibson's morning farewell from a rather famous frog. Plus, the lowdown on Barbara Walters, Star Jones and a very public spat over Jones' exit from "The View".


KURTZ: Time now to check on the latest from the latest from the world of media news.

"USA Today" got a lot of static over its big scoop reporting that Verizon and BellSouth had turned over huge amounts of data to the National Security Agency as part of the administration's domestic eavesdropping program. Now, nearly two months later, the paper says that story was wrong. "USA Today", which relied on unnamed sources, says it, quote, "cannot confirm any contractual arrangement between the telecommunication companies and the government." That is one big- time mistake.

After 19 years "Good Morning America" said good-bye to Charlie Gibson this week, and the new anchor of ABC's "World News Tonight" got a Katie Couric style sendoff with a look back at his lighter side.


ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the host of "Good Morning America", Charlie Gibson!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there a rule against drinking beer on television?

CHARLIE GIBSON, INCOMING ANCHOR, ABC'S "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT": There used to be. They did away with that. New FCC regulations.

Talk about cheap thrills in morning television. Here we are. Here we are.


KURTZ: And there was a touching sendoff from a special guest.


STEVE WHITMIRE, VOICE OF KERMIT THE FROG: I am thrilled for your continued success and I'm going to be watching every night. And I just hope that, gee, I don't know whether it's appropriate for me to be on the evening news or not but maybe we can get together again.


KURTZ: Now, there's one Gibson pal I doubt we'll be seeing on "World News Tonight."

Checking our viewer e-mail, Mary Albanese in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, writes, "I'm at a loss of words almost after watching the story on the three major newspapers' reporting on the Bush administration's use of banking records to track terrorists' money trails. What I find so chilling, terrifying, really is the administrations efforts to silence the media with threats of lawsuits and justifying this by pandering to the American people's fear of terrorism."

But W.M. Hoffmeister in Carmel, Indiana, says, "Antiwar press? Yes. Traitorous press? Yes, yes, yes. Disclosing secret information, especially as to sources and methods, is a crime for which reporters and editors should be imprisoned. I am sure our media may yet prevent a major terrorist event from being discovered."

Ahead in our next half hour, how some likely presidential contenders are trying to win over liberal bloggers by hiring them.

And Star Jones goes on a media blitz after Barbara Walters dumps her from "The View." How did it get so ugly?

Plus, Superman's super secret? The media's favorite rumor about the Man of Steel. All that after a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Now in the news, it is the second time today -- take a look -- for the Space Shuttle Discovery. You see the clouds in the air. NASA plans to try again to launch the spacecraft on a 12-day mission to the International Space Station. Electrically charged clouds, though, forced the agency to scrub yesterday's launch. The forecast, as you can see, not much better today, looking at those clouds.

So let's get the low down on that. Meteorologist Reynolds Wolf is staying on top of the weather situation. He joins us from the CNN Weather Center.

What kind of a chance is it for this thing to get off the ground?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, right now it is a 30 percent chance that the weather is going to cooperate for today's launch. And right now we have some cells that are forming right off the coast. These scattered showers and storms are going to keep things pretty much -- well, just keep a lid on the whole process for the time being.

But let's our fingers crossed and, hopefully, things will improve by the afternoon and we'll have the launch up and going. Back to you.

NGUYEN: Yes, we can't control the weather. So that's the best we can do, Wolf.

WOLF: There you go.

NGUYEN: We'll keep our fingers crossed. Thank you, Reynolds.

More headlines in 30 minutes. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.



Liberal bloggers have become a growing force in Democratic politics, and now some of the party's potential presidential candidates have a new strategy for bloggers: put them on the payroll. First it was former Virginia governor, Mark Warner, who tapped blogger and author Jerome Armstrong. And this week, Hillary Clinton hired Peter Daou, a blogger for Salon. So are these and other bloggers joining the Democratic establishment?

Joining us now in Minneapolis, John Hinderaker, an attorney and cofounder of the And in Denver, defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt, who blogs at

Jeralyn Merritt, are some of these bloggers becoming just like campaign consultants with good computer skills?

JERALYN MERRITT, TALKLEFT.COM: I think they have had both all along. I think Peter Daou is a fabulous choice for Hillary Clinton, because Hillary has been behind the curveball in reaching out to bloggers.

Peter Daou was John Kerry's online crisis and rapid response coordinator. And what he did for the bloggers in 2004 was any time there was any news, we all got a position right away in our e-mail box with John Kerry's position on it so that we could report accurately as soon -- and actually, we beat the mainstream media on it.

But I think it's a two-way street, and it's also going to benefit bloggers. It's going to benefit Hillary. She'll learn more about what the blogosphere is and why we do what we do and then how to reach out to us.

KURTZ: OK, but John Hinderaker, don't bloggers give something up, not just maybe their independence but that kind of special flare they have if they become just, you know, campaign aides and working for particular political parties, as opposed to pushing their views?

JOHN HINDERAKER, POWERLINEBLOG.COM: I don't think so, Howard. I mean, there are a lot of formal and informal connections between bloggers and various campaigns. Bloggers don't pretend to be neutral and nonpartisan. So I don't think it's a big problem.

KURTZ: So in your own case, you -- would you be just as comfortable offering advice to the Republican Party? As opposed to just putting forth your own opinion?

HINDERAKER: Well, I'd be happy to offer it. They probably wouldn't follow it.

KURTZ: All right. I want to turn now to coverage of the war on terror. It was big news, breaking news, you'll recall, when authorities arrested a group of terror suspects in Miami. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB SCHIEFFER, ANCHOR, "CBS EVENING NEWS": Seven young men with big ideas, and five of them are Americans, are in jail tonight in Miami and Atlanta because authorities say they were involved in a plot to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and a federal building in Miami.


KURTZ: But when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales held a news conference, he faced this fundamental question with no quick response.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The men have any actual contact with any members of al Qaeda that you know of?



GONZALES: The answer to that is -- the answer to that is no.


KURTZ: That didn't stop the constant coverage on cable.


NORAH O'DONNELL, NBC NEWS: Tonight, American terrorists aim at the heartland. The feds bust a plot to blow up the Sears Towers and nab seven homegrown terrorists plotting to wage war against America.


KURTZ: But in some quarters, the tone began to change.


ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL'S "HANNITY & COLMES": It seems like they were al Qaeda wannabes, didn't really have anything to do with al Qaeda, but they wished they did.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They had no money, weapons or supplies, yet the government claims the seemingly inept group of seven planned to pull off a full-scale terror ground war against the U.S.


KURTZ: John Hinderaker, did television go overboard here on what turned out to be a not very important case?

HINDERAKER: Well, I don't think so. It seemed to me that the coverage did turn, as was just suggested there, and that a lot of the coverage was trying to show that these people were not dangerous, were not competent. Look, you didn't have to be a genius to carry out a terrorist attack. Timothy McVeigh, you know, no genius. But he killed a lot of people.

I think what we're seeing here is that our authorities are very good at identifying these cells of people, tracking them, learning about them and stopping them before they get far down the road, before plots mature. I think that's a good thing.

KURTZ: Well, it's certainly true that you don't have to be a genius, but these guys didn't have anything other than some military boots that they got from the informant who blew the whistle on this. Didn't have any equipment.

So Jeralyn Merritt, you know, the attorney general calls a press conference. We get hours and hours of coverage. Are the media kind of rolling over every time the administration wants to hype one of these arrests?

MERRITT: You know, I think they are. This was such total hype. As you pointed out, they couldn't even get boots. How were they going to get to Chicago? These people were just bumbling warriors. They had -- who had discontent with the United States. They were infiltrated by an FBI agent. That was the -- or an informant for the FBI. That was the only connection to al Qaeda, was that he pretended to be al Qaeda.

And yet, the networks covered it hour after hour, as if there was some actual threat going on.

KURTZ: John Hinderaker, brief response to that?

HINDERAKER: I really disagree. I don't think there was much of a threat. I think they were bumblers. But my point is, it's a good thing that our government is so on top of these would-be terrorists that they're stopping them before there's an imminent threat. I think we should be happy about that.

KURTZ: I don't think anybody would argue with the arrest itself. The question is...


MERRITT: ... get that.

KURTZ: The question is how much coverage you get.

Let me move on here, Jeralyn Merritt, because the big story this week has been this tidal wave of criticism from President Bush, Vice President Cheney and all kinds of congressional Republicans against the "New York Times" in particular for disclosing the secret administration banking surveillance program aimed at terror suspects.

Why has this become such a fervent argument on the part of the administration and Republicans singling out this newspaper?

MERRITT: I think that this administration is becoming very concerned about -- about the attacks on it, for being so secretive and for engaging in so many unilateral actions, whether it's the CIA secret prisons or the NSA surveillance, without judicial or congressional oversight. And what it does, when something gets printed, is it goes on the attack and says that somehow the papers are, you know, compromising national security. And I think that's just silly.

Everybody knows, President Bush has said they're going after terrorist funding. This is no big disclosure. This isn't really hurting anything.

On the other hand, it's letting the public know what the administration is doing. The press is serving as a watchdog so we can make a judgment as to are things being done that shouldn't be done?

KURTZ: John Hinderaker, I suspect you believe the story should not have been published?

HINDERAKER: Absolutely. I mean, this idea that it was a non- story, everybody already knew it, if it wasn't a news story, why was it on page one above the fold?

Former Governor Tom Kean, who was co-chairman of the September 11 Commission, has given an interview, and he's talked about the fact that hardly anybody knew about SWIFT. Even sophisticated bankers here in the U.S. had never heard of SWIFT. A lot of very careful diplomacy went into convincing these international bankers to give us access to this database, this very, very little known database.

The "New York Times" has now blown that valuable tool. And the amazing thing, Howard, is that the "Times" itself says that there's nothing wrong with the program and the program is a good one that has been successful. It even helped to capture the most wanted terrorist in Southeast Asia. So I think it's appalling that the "Times" has now blown that program.

KURTZ: Well, the "Times" doesn't say there's nothing wrong with the program. They certainly say there's no clear evidence that it is in violation of any law.

But Jeralyn Merritt, one of the things that's curious is that every conservative blogger on the planet has been wearing out the keyboard, attacking the "Times" over this. But I've seen very little from liberal bloggers. Is that because it is a tricky position to defend, disclosing a program that a lot of Americans are going to think is successful in going against terrorism and should not be disclosed?

MERRITT: I don't think so. I think the liberal blogs have been talking about it. Glen Greenwalt (ph) has some excellent posts up. Dan Froomkin at the "Washington Post" the other day had an extensive article.

There's also -- I mean, counterterrorists have -- counterterrorist specialists have come out and said that this information about the SWIFT program was actually included in the U.N. report that is still online on the Web, and they refer to it as paragraph 31.

So I think the liberals are talking about it. Arianna Huffington has come out...

KURTZ: Well, it's certainly -- there's certainly been a few, but I would say the volume is about 10 to one in the conservatives' favor.

John Hinderaker, Bill Keller, the editor of the "Times", told me he believes that the backlash is due, in part, to anger over the previous "Times" story about the disclosure of the domestic eavesdropping program. This is sort of like the final straw. Would you agree with that assessment?

HINDERAKER: I do. I think the "Times" is a serial offender. I think a lot of people are upset that nothing has happened in terms of any meaningful criminal investigation of the leakers last January. And I think that is part of the picture here, yes.

KURTZ: All right. Going to have to leave it there. John Hinderaker, Jeralyn Merritt, thanks very much for a lively discussion on a number of topics.

Just ahead, Star Jones' angry words over her departure from "The View" and Barbara Walters' changing story about the shakeup. We'll have all the details next on RELIABLE SOURCES.


KURTZ: Welcome back. "The View," the chat show founded by Barbara Walters, has always cast itself as a group of girlfriends. But that cozy image was seriously marred this week when one of the co- hosts, Star Jones Reynolds, surprised viewers by announcing she was leaving the ABC program.

At first, Barbara Walters paid her tribute.


BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": You know, we've heard rumors, we have read rumors. This is a surprise this -- that this would come about this way. We did not expect it. But this I have to say. From the day you came on this program nine years ago, I cannot imagine "The View" being the success that it has been without you.


KURTZ: But then Jones Reynolds told "People" magazine that she hadn't been offered a new contract and that she felt like she was fired.

Barbara Walters promptly told the "New York Post" that she felt betrayed by the way Jones Reynolds went public, and had this to say the next day on "The View."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WALTERS: But the truth is that Star has known for months that ABC did not want to renew her contract and that she would not asked back in the fall. The network made this decision based on a variety of reasons which I won't go into now.

But we were never going to say this. We wanted to protect Star. We gave her time to look for another job, and we hoped then that she would announce it here in the program, and leave with dignity. But Star made another choice.


KURTZ: Jones Reynolds responded on "LARRY KING LIVE."


STAR JONES REYNOLDS, FORMER CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": I was told April 21 that my contract wasn't going to be renewed. So for two months I've been going to "The View" every single day doing my job 100 percent professionally. And through it all every single week there'd be news reports, speculation, rumor, gossip, innuendo, and it was relentless.

I realized it was turning into a circus atmosphere. And the viewers deserved, after nine years, me to not go out in a circus atmosphere.


KURTZ: Joining us now from New York to talk about what absolutely has become a media circus surrounding this story, Katrina Szish, contributing editor at "Us Weekly", and Linda Stasi, television critic for the "New York Post".

Linda Stasi, lets start with Barbara Walters. She originally makes it sound like Star Jones is just voluntarily leaving the show, when actually the woman was fired, canned, deep sixed, so that wasn't exactly honest, was it?

LINDA STASI, NEW YORK POST: No. Well, she got the boot for one of the things, for taking those diamond boots. I cannot even begin -- it wasn't honest. Nobody has been honest about this whole thing. And this business about girlfriends, everybody being goodtime, it was -- the stuff became like Fallujah after awhile, especially after she started taking all that swag for her wedding. It was awful.

KURTZ: I would not...

STASI: So nobody was honest from day one...

KURTZ: I would not have...

STASI: They should have told her to shut up and stop taking the stuff way back when.

KURTZ: We'll come back to the wedding. I would not have thought of making an Iraq analogy.

Katrina Szish, Linda's "New York Post" colleague Andrea Peyser says Barbara Walters was a big, fat two-faced fibber.

My question is, if a government official or a businessman had tried to put out this kind of polite cover story, wouldn't Barbara Walters, the journalist, have been all over him?

KATRINA SZISH, "US WEEKLY": Oh, I think it's very different. This time it's personal, so to speak. This time Barbara was the one who was left speechless on live television. She was the one who felt betrayed. It has become personal, and therefore, what normally would be considered ethical for Barbara, changes a bit because it is her own personal experience.

KURTZ: Now, Walters says that the research that the network had done on Star Jones Reynolds had turned negative, Linda Stasi. So, is television kind of like politics, your numbers do down and you are out?

STASI: No, I don't -- I think that she was arguing with her colleagues on the show and it doesn't really matter if you're a controversial figure. I mean, they couldn't get anybody more controversial than Rosie.

So, it's not even, you know, they're not doing it by research. They're doing it because -- and they're lying again -- they're doing it because the set had become contentious, and nobody was getting along, and she was at the root of it, they felt.

KURTZ: That sounds like more interesting to watch than -- to me.

Now, you mentioned...

STASI: It is.

KURTZ: You mentioned Rosie. Just for people who don't follow this obsessively, Rosie O'Donnell will be joining "The View" in September. She and Star Jones Reynolds have not gotten along, so there's a lot of speculation about whether they would ever sit on the same set. Apparently, now they will not.

Katrina, you know, Barbara Walters used the word "betrayed." She felt betrayed by the fact that Star Jones Reynolds had told the world, through "People" magazine initially, that -- what was true, that she had been fired. So what do you make of Walters' reaction?

SZISH: Again, I think the fact that Barbara was caught off- guard. She expected that Star was going to be making that announcement two days later than she did. She did not expect it to be made when it was happening. I think she felt that -- I think Barbara felt that she had control of the situation. And Barbara is the type of person who likes to have control. That control was kind of taken out right from under her, and therefore, Star immediately becomes the target of attack, even though Star admittedly did say she just wanted to tell viewers the truth. KURTZ: Yes, but even though, you know, Barbara Walters would say she was trying to be diplomatic and give Star Jones Reynolds a graceful exit.

SZISH: Yes, I don't know if it's diplomatic. That really just sounds like, "Hey, listen, we're going to fire you, so the least we can do is give you sort of a nice goodbye party, even though we don't really mean it."

Nobody really wants to be subjected to that. You want to leave on good terms or at least your own terms. And Star, in some way, left on her own terms.

KURTZ: Kind of sounds like...

STASI: I think she left on her own terms, absolutely. She turned back into the prosecutor and stopped being Bridezilla. I mean, she took control of the situation...


STASI: ... and she had every right to.

KURTZ: This is starting to sound like Dan Rather's breakup with CBS.

Well, Linda Stasi, let's come back to your -- the issue that you're hot on.

How much of this was driven by these past controversies involving Star Jones? For example, she loses 150 pounds in a year, but refuses to say that she had, you know, gastric bypass surgery. And this wedding, where she had all these corporate sponsors. This is a couple years ago, and plugged some of them on the air.

Had that made her, in television terms, kind of, you know, damaged goods?

STASI: I think she damaged herself. I think what she did was absolutely wrong. She took over the show and then she lied about the gastric bypass. This is supposed to be very intimate girl-sharing stuff.

And it also is very interesting that they both broke down and said, "I've been betrayed." Well, you know, you're grown ups. You're not betrayed, it's business. You know, stop acting with the, "I'm betrayed and I'm hurt." It's business. Stop it.

KURTZ: What's your take on this, Katrina Szish, as far as the other sort of off the air controversies that had surrounded Star Jones Reynolds?

SZISH: Sure. I think all of a sudden Star became not just someone who was opinionated, but someone who was becoming a little bit, dare I say tacky, for lack of a better word, with the way she handled her wedding, with the way she was talking around her weight loss. And I do think that would make viewers like her less, trust her less.

And also the people on set who saw her becoming this monster, so to speak, clearly wouldn't enjoy working with her as much. So, I'm sure all the behind the scenes certainly had a lot to do with what we saw happening in front of the camera.

KURTZ: So you don't think it had anything to do with Rosie O'Donnell coming to "The View"?

SZISH: I think -- I'm sure that was a part of it. I think all of these factors did come together. I think Star sort of started sinking her own ship a while back. I think the fact that Rosie was chosen to come on the show; and clearly, Rosie and Star are very clearly and have been very publicly not friendly with one another. And so I do think it all played a role.

KURTZ: Right. Linda Stasi -- go ahead.

STASI: I'm sorry, but I honestly believe that Rosie was hired to replace Star and not really to replace Meredith.

SZISH: Interesting.

STASI: Because they were very similar people. They're very controversial. They're both heavy women. She was not really there to replace Meredith, I don't think. I think this was the long-term plan.

KURTZ: Since you mentioned Meredith Vieira, who is going to the "Today Show," will start in September. Did she get out just in time before getting splattered with any of this mud? Linda?

STASI: I think she -- there was plenty of mudslinging and I think that's one of the reasons that she wanted out. She was going to have her own forum, and she didn't have to be in the middle of what -- and I hate to use this term, has become a terrible cat fight.

I mean, right after the wedding, Star Jones came on "The View" and said to Joy Behar that she tackled her when she tried to use a camera at her wedding. And she said, "I would have -- I wanted blood from your veins." I mean, come on. It's a wedding. Talk about rules of engagement.

KURTZ: Katrina Szish, I've got about 20 seconds. Is this whole spat -- one columnist used the word "cat fight," -- I would never dream of repeating that on the air -- make both of them look bad and make "The View" look like a bit of a snake pit?

SZISH: It absolutely does. It reminds me of being in junior high school when there's one clique of girls who decides to beat up on their former friend, and it gets nastier and nastier. And as Linda said earlier, this is business. These are professional women.

KURTZ: Well, maybe life is like junior high school.

SZISH: Sadly.

KURTZ: Katrina Szish, Linda Stasi, thanks very much for joining us.

SZISH: Thank you.

KURTZ: Up next, a super scoop about a super hero. What the media were more than eager to tell you about the new "Man of Steel."


KURTZ: The only thing better than a good scoop is a big super scoop. You take a public figure who's been around for 75 years, big movie star, we all think we know him and you divulge his deepest, darkest secret. Well, that's enough to make journalists leap into action.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Superman hiding a big secret?


JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL'S "SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY": Forget about it, America. This man may be a gay globalist.

JAY LENO, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": You know what else makes you think he might be gay?


LENO: There's one scene in the film where Superman dumps Lois Lane for Nathan Lane.


KURTZ: This may have started with the gay magazine "The Advocate", which declared super heroes hot. Or maybe it's a devious plot by Warner Brothers to turn "Superman Returns" into the next "Brokeback Mountain."

Now I know what you're thinking. There's no proof, right? This is just rampant speculation run wild. Well, look at it this way, Superman never did use his X-ray vision to peek at the real Lois Lane, did he?

But not everyone is running with the journalistic pack. The "New York Post" says the Man of Steel is actually Jewish, according to some Brooklyn rabbi. Oy, now that's chutzpah.

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.