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Reliable Sources

How Much Coverage of Terror Plots is Too Much?; Is Coverage of Mideast Conflict Fair?

Aired August 13, 2006 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Thwarting terror. The media are confronted with a potential 9/11, but one that was foiled by British investigators. How have news organizations handled the chilling plot to blow up 10 planes in mid air and walked tightrope of informing people and scaring them?

Digital deception. As the Middle East conflict rages on, a Reuters war photo is exposed as a fake. We'll talk to the blogger who blew the whistle.

Plus are the media turning on Joe Lieberman now that he's still running after losing the Democratic primary?


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES where today we turn the critical lens on the foiling of the 9/11-style plot. I'm Howard Kurtz. We'll go live to the Middle East in just a few moments.

But first, covering the terror attack is a difficult for the media, but so, it turns out, is covering one that was thwarted. From the moment on Thursday when British authorities announced the arrest of suspects accused of plotting to use liquid explosives to blow up 10 airlines en route from London to New York, Washington and California, news organization jumped on the story.


DIANE SAWYER, CO-HOST, ABC'S "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": Major terrorism news this morning. You are looking live now at Heathrow Airport. Passengers are trapped by what we have been told was to be a kind of terror spectacular for the fifth anniversary of September 11.

HARRY SMITH, CBS NEWS: London authorities broke up what they call a major terrorist plot to blow up passenger planes between Britain and the United States.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CO-HOST, CNN'S "AMERICAN MORNING": We bring you breaking news that has begun, really in Great Britain, but has rippled its way right here to the United States. We're talking about terror. British officials are saying they that have disrupted a plot to commit mass murder.

ANN CURRY, NBC NEWS: One official tells NBC that the terror plotters wanted to blow up as many as 10 aircraft flying from Great Britain to the U.S. And this may have been planned for the 9/11 anniversary, if not sooner.


KURTZ: But the story seemed to raise as many questions as answers, along with this never ending dilemma. When it comes to terror plots, how much coverage is too much?

Joining us now in London, Mark Hosenball, investigative correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine. Here in Washington, David Folkenflik, media correspondent for National Public Radio. And Jeffrey Goldberg, Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker".

Mark Hosenball, when you land in London in the wake of this dramatic announcement and you're trying to piece together this story, do you find yourself being enveloped by kind of a wave of hype, with so many news organizations pouncing on this news?

MARK HOSENBALL, INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSWEEK": Well, I tend to work around the edges of these things in my own way, anyway. I don't go to the press conferences. I do my own thing. So I haven't felt I'm part of -- if I could use a rude word, but I won't, a big deal of where everybody's getting together and jumping on thing, a feeding frenzy, but there is obviously a feeding frenzy going here.

KURTZ: Jeffrey Goldberg, when reporters immediately start asking is this related to al Qaeda, which happened about three minutes after the news broke, are they asking the right question?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORKER": They're asking a very good question. It's not the only question. The more important question is, is it not related to al Qaeda, because that has, I think, even deeper consequences for the future of terrorism and anti-terrorism.

KURTZ: If it were to be carried out by terrorists who had no formal links to al Qaeda, but in some way have inspired or copying those kinds of tactics.

GOLDBERG: It's a big deeper and bigger story in a kind of way.

KURTZ: David Folkenflik, did you find the initial waves of coverage here, including the endless live shots from airports and so forth, to be responsible or going a little overboard?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well this is really a big story. I mean, you're talking about a plot which, even to credit the authorities on this, involved 10 airplanes. There's no counterproof that that's not exactly what was being plotted. That's a pretty serious issue.

You know, in a moment of a crisis or, in this case, an averted crisis, it seems to me that news organizations behave in a pretty grown-up way. It's just sort of in the hours after, a day or two passes, that things devolve a bit and unspool. KURTZ: Yes, I find that when stories are not that dramatic, there tends to be a pumping up effect. But when the stories are plenty dramatic, then you see a little bit of restraint in the media coverage.

Mark Hosenball, you know, we've had some previous plots like this announcement in the U.S. about the seven clowns in Miami who supposedly wanted to blow up the Sears Tower. Except all they had was military boots. And I think sometimes those have gotten over dramatized.

But my question is this: if British investigators have been tracking these suspects and this airline plot for months, then did the media in any way fall for the idea that this was imminent, that the attacks were imminent?

HOSENBALL: Well, I mean, you know, the media is just following what the sources are telling them, and in this case, sources were saying things publicly. Chertoff was saying things publicly. The British home secretary was saying things publicly. Uniformed Scotland Yard obviously was saying that this was a recipe for mass murder and they disrupted one of the greatest al Qaeda plots which the Americans said, you know, since September 11. So it's very hard not to report that in a sensational way because by definition, it's sensational.

KURTZ: But my question is how close was this to actually happening? I mean, we all took a deep breath when we heard about this, but on the other hand, if these people were under constant surveillance and the British could have arrested them at any time, then it begins to sound a tad less dramatic.

HOSENBALL: Well -- and it's very hard to tell at this stage what the equities of that particular question are. I was in a conference call with senior homeland officials the other day and they said on the record, it was near to execution, but they hadn't -- it hadn't gotten to the point where somebody had actually gotten on a plane that they would have to pull them off.

It's also said to me, anyway, by RELIABLE SOURCES, that the British were kind of forced to move to conduct this crackdown more early than they wanted to because of the arrest of one of the alleged perpetrators in Pakistan and that the Pakistanis did something prematurely that they shouldn't have done. Who knows? We don't know enough at this point as to what the real underlying facts are here.

KURTZ: All right. Jeffrey Goldberg, on the front page headline of "The New York Times" yesterday, the U.S. seemed to lag on new threats. Take a look at that. And it's about why has there been so much focus on, in effect, finding the last war when it comes to airline attacks, as opposed to liquid explosives.

I can just as easily turn around and say why have the media not been talking about liquid explosives? After all, this was going to be used in a plot in the mid-90s to blow up airliners over the Pacific? And maybe somebody did a nine-part series on it, but I don't remember seeing it. GOLDBERG: You know, the problem here is that there's a universe of things that al Qaeda and al Qaeda-type terrorists can do. So we're always going have a great deal of noise to the signal, as they say in the intelligence world.

And in this case I think that -- you know, obviously there was this plot in the '90s, but there are a hundred different ways to bring down an airliner. And that's one of the things that we should probably be focusing on. Is that there's probably no way to stop, ultimately no way to stop, someone who's incredibly clever who wants to take down an airliner using something that he's bringing onto that plane.

KURTZ: The -- this has largely been portrayed as the triumph, and obviously, we ought to credit the good investigative work to stop this plot from being carried out.

But would it be as valid to say, from a journalistic standpoint, the Bush administration says al Qaeda has been greatly weakened, and yet this shows that there is still a lot of terrorists, at least in the al Qaeda mode, if not connected to al Qaeda, actively planning mass murder attacks?

FOLKENFLIK: I mean, that case you can see a little bit of the outlines emerging in some of the Democratic responses that the Bush administration hasn't, you know, successfully protected the homeland entirely. And you're going to see that play out, probably, as the election season happens.

From a journalistic standpoint I would almost go back to Jeffrey's original question of, you know, is this al Qaeda? Is this not al Qaeda? It sounds like the reporting is indicating that it could be, you know, cells that are almost self-evolving, which would be an incredibly frightening phenomenon.

I think that when you asked a little bit about the media, I think it's worth distinguishing between forms of media. I've got to say, if you look at newspapers like "The Times", "The Journal", "The Washington Post", "The L.A. Times" and other sterling serious outlets, you're getting fairly comprehensive and textured reporting on what is admittedly incomplete information in a way that I think that very question is being surfaced.

KURTZ: Are you implying that you're not getting comprehensive and textured reporting on television?

FOLKENFLIK: I think -- and again, you have to distinguish between broadcast and sort of cable 24-hour outlets. I think on the 24-hour outlets it's almost like watching, in my old college daily, watching the clatter of the teletype of the A.P. come through with sort of two-paragraph updates. You are learning information. It's not -- it's often itemized as opposed to being sort of coherently presented.

KURTZ: Right. Mark Hosenball, pick up this point, if you would, about the media, you know, fighting the last war. For example, there's so much focus now, you know, "Newsweek" is out with a cover story today that you contributed to about terror in the skies.

We see the airplane there, on airplane attacks, and yet I always wonder why there's not more written and reported about the train stations and railways in the United States, which seem to me to be incredibly vulnerable because you can basically get on an Amtrak train without even having your bag looked at.

HOSENBALL: What about the subways? I mean, the subways are deliberately built to move the largest number of people as quickly as possible, you know, through dense passageways under the city in very dense numbers. And they're moved -- they're built against security. They're built so that they're as difficult to protect as possible.

There are very different ways to do these things, shopping malls or whatever. On the other hand, I mean, what are we supposed to do, leap from threat to threat?

I remember a while ago, there were congressmen going off about container securities, people smuggling nuclear triggers via containers into ports. What about the threat of the MANPADS, the shoulder-fired stinger missiles, to bring down airliners. Should we -- and it comes down to a question of resources and also a question of the media's attention. What threat should you pay attention to today?

KURTZ: Right. It's hard to know. Jeffrey Goldberg, should the media pay more attention to the kinds of people who become suicide bombers and are willing to risk their lives to blow up planes, trains and the like, or -- and what is driving them to these unspeakable acts? Or is that ultimately beside the point?

GOLDBERG: No. That is the point, I think. I mean, the point about the next terror attack is that the next successful terror attack will be a surprise, the method, the means and the location. It will be a surprise.

The -- what remains -- what remains constant is -- is the need to understand why people are trying these events, why these self-evolving organizations, as you say, are developing in so many different places in the world. And I mean, the term is overused and it's manipulated.

But the root causes is what we really need to be focused on. And whether that root cause is poverty, which I don't happen to think it is in many cases, or something that's going side inside the Muslim religion or a combination of different things. These are the questions that we need to be focused on day in and day out.

KURTZ: David Folkenflik, you touched on the political fallout a couple of moments ago. When Vice President Cheney or Tony Snow or, for that matter, Joe Lieberman, who lost his primary, seize on this and says that this shows that we have to be more vigilant in the war on terror and are pointing to Lieberman's defeat as maybe the Democratic party not taking terrorism seriously. Should journalists point out that there is a difference between the war on terror and the war in Iraq, which obviously, the latter much more controversial with the American public?

FOLKENFLIK: I think that there are, one could argue, interrelated but certainly separate things going here. I mean, you've got questions about -- I mean, there's the war in Afghanistan. There was the war in Iraq which is argued to be the battleground where you take terror to, but it's not...

KURTZ: And others says it was a distraction from the war.

FOLKENFLIK: And others say it was a distraction. And I think it's absolutely fair to point out that there are distinctions, representing the vice president and Joe Lieberman's position, as well.

KURTZ: All right. We're going to get a break here. Mark Hosenball in London, thanks very much for joining us.

David Folkenflik, Jeffrey Goldberg, stick around. We'll get an update from London later in the program, but when we come back, we'll go to Beirut. The latest on the Middle East conflict as the countdown continues for the potential cease-fire. Jeffrey Goldberg will give us an inside look at Hezbollah. That's coming up.



The Israeli cabinet agreed earlier this morning to accept a U.N. cease-fire resolution, and Hezbollah and the Lebanese government accepted the resolution yesterday. So is an end to the violence really in sight? Let's bring in Brent Sadler, CNN's Beirut bureau chief.

Brent Sadler, there have been explosions going on this morning where you are, yet the cease-fire is supposed to take effect in 15 hours. And I still hear chatter about how Israeli ground forces are going to fight off for several more days.

So how do you square the diplomatic agreement to stop fighting with the fact that there still is fighting and that it may continue?

BRENT SADLER, CNN BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF: You're absolutely right, Howard. We had a tremendous attack against the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital just a few hours ago. That was the heaviest bombardment I have seen here in the month-long conflict.

At the same time, you're getting a hundred-plus air strikes by the Israelis over the past 48 hours. You've got the Israeli army pushing hard against the Litani River, that position that they think is crucial to their military strategy after the cessation of hostilities comes into place.

So you have two levels. I think what we're going to see here is a hope at the international community level that the big, heavy attacks against Israel by Hezbollah to those Katyushas and Israel's air raids against the capital, the outskirts of the city and other parts of the country will stop.

But very much you have the forces locked in combat on the ground. Disengaging those forces by agreement is going to be extraordinarily difficult. And the international troops that are supposed to go in there with the Lebanese army, a total of 30,000, well, that's going to take time. It's going to take implementation. And it's going to be at best, a very fragile truce, Howard.

KURTZ: Brent Sadler, you've covered the region for a long time. You once visited a Hezbollah TV station. My question is, is it difficult for you to determine how much popular support Hezbollah has among ordinary Lebanese people? Or is that really a moot point right now, because Lebanon has kind of come together against Israel because of the bombings and the attacks?

SADLER: Well, again, Howard, two levels and nothing is simple in this part of the world.

Hezbollah's die-hard loyalty, if you like, is in the Shia community, especially in those southern suburbs that have been pulverized. Up to a million people have been displaced. That's a tremendous pressure at people level on Hezbollah to make the calculation that can ease the humanitarian, mounting humanitarian problem here.

If you took a referendum, I think, which is basically what you're asking, of the whole country, many analysts believe that the root support of Hezbollah would probably be something in order of about 35 percent. So the majority would expect Hezbollah to go along with what's been asked of it, to actually go along an internationally- backed guarantee that would one day see Hezbollah laying down its weapons.

But there are all sorts of add-ons to that. The return of disputed land, Israeli soldiers still in the south. Hezbollah will still fight. Very complicated.

But you're asking me, does Hezbollah have nationwide support in keeping its arms? No, it doesn't.

KURTZ: All right. Jeffrey Goldberg, you're just back in the last couple of days from Northern Israel and Gaza. You have spent time with Hezbollah in the past. This question, does the western press hold Israel and Hezbollah to the same standards?

GOLDBERG: No. Of course not.

KURTZ: What do you mean of course not?

GOLDBERG: The asymmetry -- there are many asymmetries in this war. One of the asymmetries is a moral asymmetry. Hezbollah intentionally targets Israeli civilians with rockets. Israel tries to target the Hezbollah rocket teams that are firing these rockets into Israel. These rocket teams are often located in crowded civilian areas, and very often the Israeli bombs kill Lebanese civilians.

KURTZ: Haven't journalists pointed that out?

GOLDBERG: They've pointed it out, but I don't think it comes -- I don't think it comes through. The moral asymmetry is huge.

And I think -- let me be fair. I think the European press and the American press are two different things. I think in the American press you get that nuance. I think in the European press it's sometimes an issue of who has the more dead. In other words, if there were 900 -- 900 Lebanese dead and 901 Israeli dead that would somehow that Israel is winning, in a kind of way, the moral battle.

KURTZ: Doesn't Israel have a pretty good public relations apparatus in order to make its points? I'm constantly seeing Israeli officials on television, for example.

GOLDBERG: I would disagree with you. They have many people doing it? I don't think they do it very well. I don't think the Israeli army -- I mean, I've heard -- when I was up in the northern border I heard a lot of complaints from TV and newspaper people about the incompetence of the Israeli army public relations operation: not having enough staff, not being able to embed people, for instance.

It seems as if the lessons of the Iraq war, in the initial part of the Iraq war, the effective cooperation, in a kind of way, between the media and the army, those lessons did not get passed into the Israeli apparatus.

KURTZ: David Folkenflik, despite the moral distinction that Jeffrey brings up -- that is Hezbollah deliberately trying to kill civilians, Israel at least trying to avoid such deaths -- shouldn't the press hold Israel accountable when it bombs, accidentally or otherwise, U.N. workers or aid convoys or refugees who are fleeing in vans?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's certainly got to be covered, and it's got to be covered completely. I think there are a lot of reporters who are trying in fairly difficult situations to do just that.

You know, we hear sort of from listeners at NPR, CNN's viewers, "The New York Times", everyone covering these things, we hear about those distinctions from both sides. And they say why aren't you holding Israel to the same standard you're holding Hezbollah to? Or exactly vice versa.

The Israelis and their allies would argue that they are held to a higher standard because, in fact, they are a much more complete, western-style democracy and are perhaps more used to a very lively press.

I will say the Israeli press, as I understand it, although I haven't traveled to the region, is if anything, much tougher on the Israeli government than anything you tend to see in this country.

KURTZ: I was going to pick up that point, but let me extend -- extend to ask (ph) this question to Jeffrey Goldberg. You've worked with television journalists covering the region. Do most of them -- some of them parachute in from other areas -- you know, understand the details and nuances of this conflict?

GOLDBERG: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on from how far away they're parachuting from, in a kind of way.

No. I mean, and I was up again, up on the northern border and in various occasions sort of pointing people north and saying that's Lebanon and down here is Israel.

I mean, it's sometimes at that level and the very complicated and a torturous history between these two countries is -- sort of escapes some people. So I would say that parachuting has its dangers.

KURTZ: Brent Sadler in Beirut. Our guests here just made the point about the criticism within the Israeli media of the government and the military. There was a headline the other day: "Olmert Must Go," referring to the prime minister. Criticism of inadequate equipment, military equipment for reservists and just the whole way that Israel has conducted the war.

What does it tell you that there seems to be more criticism of Israel in the Israeli media than in the American or western media?

SADLER: Sorry, Howard, we're having some communications problems here. Was that question for me?

KURTZ: The question is for you. Were you able to hear the question?

SADLER: Not really.

KURTZ: Let me just repeat it. What do you make of the rather -- the growing criticism of Israel, the Israeli government and the Israel military from Israeli newspapers, many of which have been very unhappy with the way this war has been prosecuted?

SADLER: Yes, I mean, the attention is on what the Lebanese army can do, what they're eve made up of. There were many Muslim Shia who could be sympathetic to Hezbollah in the Lebanese army.

The Lebanese army essentially is an internal security force. It's not really an offensive force in the sense of being able to take on another country, specifically not Israel with its military might. But certainly the Lebanese army, hand in hand with the international community, its hope would be able to at least give the Lebanese government sovereignty over its own land.

Let's not forget, the Lebanese army has not been to South Lebanon for almost 20 years, Howard. They don't know the terrain. They don't know what Hezbollah has been able to do in terms of how it has operated its guerilla force, where its weapons are.

And the other thing I think is worth pointing out, Howard, how are those weapons going to leave that no-weapons zone in the south? Israel could well interpret the conditions of the cessation of hostilities agreement to be able to go after weapons if Hezbollah has been carrying them away. So it's very complicated. KURTZ: All right. Brent Sadler obviously having a little trouble hearing my question about the Israeli media.

We will pick up that point after a break. More on the Middle East conflict in a moment.


KURTZ: Welcome back. Go to Brent Sadler in Beirut. I understand you have some breaking news update for us.

SADLER: That's right, Howard. We were expecting a crucial meeting of the Lebanese cabinet here. The cabinet had accepted the resolution, but Hezbollah had some reservations yesterday.

Now we're hearing this very important cabinet session has been postponed. We're not being given a time or day when that might happen, but it does seem sort of a possible hurdle in the way of the Lebanese side being able to live up to its commitments.

KURTZ: All right. CNN's Brent Sadler in Beirut, thank you for that update. We'll have to see whether the cease-fire actually takes place.

Jeffrey Goldberg, as I mentioned, you're just back from Israel and Gaza. I've really been struck by the criticism of the Israeli government and the military in the Israeli press, much harsher than we're seeing here at home. What explains that?

GOLDBERG: Well, it's different kinds of criticism. In Israel the criticism is directed at what many people see as an incompetent -- incompetently-run war and an inexperienced and incompetent government.

The criticism you see in the west is the criticism of the number of civilian casualties that Israel's caused on the Lebanese side. That's not to say that there are many people in Israel who are concerned, as they should be, about the large number of civilian casualties in Lebanon, but the criticism is directed at the incompetent prosecution of the war rather than the war itself.

KURTZ: Right. Four years ago a Hezbollah official told you that CNN is the Zionist network.

GOLDBERG: ZNN, I think they referred to it as.

KURTZ: And when you asked about -- Al Manar, which is the Hezbollah television station, somebody there said, "We're not looking to interview Ariel Sharon. We want to get close to him in order to kill him." They don't make any bones about...

GOLDBERG: Al Manar -- Al Man adds new meaning to the term advocacy journalism. Put it that way. I mean, it is very frank in what it stands for. It's very honest about what it stands for, which is the elimination of Israel and the removal of Jews by force or violence from the Middle East. It's a different kind of thing. KURTZ: David Folkenflik, if the fighting does wind down this week after a cease-fire agreement, will correspondents move on and will the story recede from the media's screens until the next eruption?

FOLKENFLIK: I think there's no question about that. I mean, you've got to remember there's an extraordinary moment where news organization are covering, theoretically, the conflict in Iraq. They should be covering things in Afghanistan.

KURTZ: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: There's this outbreak, and this has been, you know, for decades a story that reporters have gone to, as Americans have stake in various loyalties. I think it will absolutely fade and recede.

It's interesting. You know, earlier this week I spoke with the editor of the "Dallas Morning News", and they'd just done cutbacks. I mean, they've cut their staff by about 25 percent in two years. A lot of major newspapers and news organization are cutting back. This is a very expensive time for them. I think there's no question people will have to, you know, move away.

KURTZ: People forget the financial strain of covering these conflicts. Jeffrey Goldberg, David Folkenflik, thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, are the media starting to turn on Joe Lieberman now that he's fighting on after losing his Democratic primary in Connecticut? And how big a role did liberal bloggers play?

Plus Reuters under fire for a bogus war photo, and an advance look at the first interview with Jill Carroll about her kidnapping ordeal in Iraq. All that after a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN center in Atlanta.


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris at the CNN center in Atlanta.

Now in the news, earlier this morning Israel's cabinet approved the U.N. resolution to halt the fighting with Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. Israel's foreign minister says the resolution would change the rules of the game in Lebanon.

The deal doesn't take effect until 1 a.m. tomorrow and the fighting today is fierce. Hezbollah rockets land into Northern Israel, killing one Israeli civilian and wounding seven. Explosions rocked Beirut's southern suburbs about two hours ago as Israeli jets roared overhead targeting a Hezbollah stronghold.

The chance of another terrorist attack is chronic and severe, according to the British home secretary, John Reid. He says at least four alleged terror plots have been prevented. Nearly two dozen suspects have been interrogated in connection to what British authorities say was a plan to blow up passenger jets to the United States.

Three men are being held on terrorism related charges in Michigan. Police found nearly 1,000 cell phones in their minivan. They say cell phones can be used as detonators. A prosecutor says the men may have targeted the Mackinaw Bridge.

Two other men are under arrest on terrorism-related charges in Ohio after buying up hundreds of cell phones. Police say they had an airline passenger list and details about airport security checkpoints.

More headlines in 30 minutes. Back to RELIABLE SOURCES right after this.



BRIAN WILLIAMS, ANCHOR, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS": It was just a primary election in the middle of the summer in a small New England state and, yet, now that all the votes have been counted it might go down as the political shock heard round the country this year.


KURTZ: Even before Joe Lieberman lost his Democratic primaries in Connecticut, journalists were busy analyzing what it would mean if he lost, for the senator, for the party, for the antiwar movement and for the liberal bloggers who backed Lieberman's opponent, Ned Lamont.

The morning after Lieberman went down to defeat this week, journalists seemed skeptical, even hostile about his plan to run this fall as an independent.


MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, NBC'S "THE TODAY SHOW": The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of Democrats who think that now, going forward, you are putting your own personal ambitions above the good of the party. How do you respond to that?

SAWYER: There are members of the party who've already said, commentators, that this is a selfish decision. How can you run against the party?

SMITH: You will run as an independent at risk of losing the seat to the Republicans. Do you understand that risk?

O'BRIEN: What do you do when the Democratic leadership -- if they come to you and say, "You know what? It does not help us if you run as an independent. It's a problem if you run, Senator Lieberman, as an independent. We want you to withdraw from the race"? What will you say then?

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, I will respectfully say no, no, no. I am in this race to the end.


KURTZ: Joining us now in Los Angeles, Arianna Huffington, editor of and also in L.A. And also in L.A., Charles Johnson, who blogs the

Arianna Huffington, you've been attacking Joe Lieberman as selfish for staying in this race. You've put up all these liberal bloggers who have been ripping Lieberman. Do you think in light of what we just heard that the establishment press is going to turn on Joe Lieberman, as well?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, EDITOR, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Absolutely not, Howie. It's stunning to me that there isn't even more outrage at the fact that a candidate who lost an election is trying to get a do-over and re-run, effectively, in a new way. This is a democracy. He lost the primary. So to try and get another attempt to keep his seat is completely unprecedented, and I'm surprised there wasn't even more outrage and amazement.

KURTZ: All right. Charles Johnson, I don't think there's any question that liberal bloggers played a significant role in Lieberman's defeat. I mean, you had Markos Moulitsas, better known as Daily Kos, actually appearing in an ad for Ned Lamont, the man who defeated Lieberman.

What did you think do you make of the tone of much of the liberal commentary in the attacks on Lieberman?

CHARLES JOHNSON, LITTLEGREENFOOTBALLS.COM: Well, I was very appalled by the tone, actually. There was quite a bit of real nastiness directed at Joe Lieberman in this campaign.

For example, an image was posted on Arianna's site of Lieberman in minstrel black face. And there was also some sort of homophobic images posted on Markos Moulitsas's site. So yes, I think the overall tone was very negative, very nasty.

KURTZ: Arianna, you want to respond to that?

HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. I think that Joe Lieberman represented and -- what was worse about the Democratic Party. It represented the timidity about taking on the Republicans on the war and the national security. It represented buying into the Republican spin that if you criticize the president you're unpatriotic.

There was really -- all that we were trying to oppose for months and years now in the person of one candidate, one senator. And it was very, very significant that the grassroots and the Net roots came together, as well, as the liberal bloggers, as you call them, as well as mainstream, middle-class Americans, as well as independents.

KURTZ: Let me -- let me just interrupt this commercial for Ned Lamont to ask you this, because there was this picture of Lieberman in black face that was distributed by Jane Hampshire, a liberal blogger who was working with the Lamont campaign.

And let me read you something from "TIME" magazine's Joe Klein just out today and let you respond, Arianna. "There isn't much point in detailing the chest-thumping of the various blog nut extremists. Their reach is miniscule, largely limited to the left's upper crust, and their angry spew is beginning to seem so six months ago."

Your response?

HUFFINGTON: You know, Joe Klein is really, really out of touch with what is happening. It was not liberal nuts or extremists or whatever he wants to call them who elected Ned Lamont. He should look at the exit polls. He should look at the demographics.

There were many independents. There were 28,000 people who either have never voted before only registered as Democrats to vote in this election. Many middle-class Americans, many moderates. So to try to dismiss this incredibly significant election is actually to miss what is happening.

KURTZ: All right. To Charles Johnson, I'm sure you don't consider yourself a blog nut extremist, but let me ask you this. Clearly, opposition to the Iraq war was a key factor in Lieberman's defeat, but every election is different. Some people thought he may have gotten out of touch with his Connecticut constituents.

Could the press here be over-interpreting just a tad by saying that the Democratic Party will now be driven by the antiwar left?

JOHNSON: Yes, I think so. I think that this is really just almost a fluke in a way. And if you notice, a lot of the people who voted for Lieberman are now experiencing a sort of a sticker shock and sort of wondering whether they did the right thing. And I think we're going find out that this really isn't going to carry over to the wider election.

KURTZ: Arianna, a brief response?

HUFFINGTON: It can not be over-interpreted. This is incredibly significant. This is finally a real battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. Are they going to stand up to the Republicans on national security or are they going just fall as they did in 2002 and 2004 and buy into the attacks on them as being timid on the war on terror?

KURTZ: All right. Let me jump in here because I want to turn to another story that has generated a ton of buzz in the blogosphere this week.

Reuters released this image by freelance photographer Adnan Hajj showing the smoking aftermath of an Israeli air strike in Lebanon. But if you look carefully at all that smoke, some of it wasn't really there. This is the original image. Hajj used a computer program called PhotoShop to create more identical plumes of smoke, making it look like there was more damage than was actually the case. Reuters looked into Hajj's other work and found another instance of creative editing. In this photo of an Israel F-16, he doctored the image to increase the number of flares from one to three. Reuters called this manipulation entirely acceptable and has dropped Hajj and purged his 920 pictures from its files.

Hajj says he was not trying to intentionally doctor the photo.

Charles Johnson, you were the one who blew the whistle on this. How did you discover that that smoke was -- was not fully there? And should Reuters have caught this in the first place?

JOHNSON: Well, a reader of my site tipped me off to the photograph. He e-mailed me on Saturday morning and said go look at this, I think it's fake, and I did. I clicked on the link and looked at the photo, and I instantly realized that this had been altered with PhotoShop because it showed all the signs of a sort of inept alteration. Yes.

KURTZ: If it was that inept and you caught it, what about Reuters?

JOHNSON: Well, that's really the strange thing about it. Any competent editor really should have been able to take one look at this and realize that this was not a genuine photo.

KURTZ: Arianna Huffington, you're obviously on a different side of the political fence than Charles Johnson, but do you think this is another example of bloggers, you know, holding the mainstream media accountable?

HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. In fact, I want to congratulate Charles. That is exactly what bloggers should be doing. It was outrageous what Reuters allowed to appear. And the fact that they fired the photographer, it was the only legitimate response.

And I want to take this a step further and say that we should hold all journalists accountable, whether they are photojournalists or not, for deceptive statements, whether they're images or words.

I mean, you had your own headline anchorman, Chuck Roberts, describe Lamont as the al Qaeda candidate. This is an equally deceitful, fraudulent, fabricated statement. There should be zero tolerance for all those deceits, whether in images or words.

KURTZ: Well, what Chuck Roberts said, according to the transcript, was that some are calling Ned Lamont the al Qaeda candidate. But it's certainly not a formulation I would have used.

HUFFINGTON: Right -- nobody, see you cannot found a single person who called Lamont the al Qaeda candidate, except Chuck Roberts. And what has been the consequences when it comes to Chuck Roberts? Has he been demoted to be covering Paris Hilton or entertainment news where the truth doesn't matter? It's about time that there is that same kind of accountability that Charles is demanding from photojournalists from journalists, as well. KURTZ: All right. Charles Johnson, let me bring you back to the question of this photo. Once this -- you pointed this out on your Little Green Football site, did Reuters handle it well like by pulling the picture, letting go of the photographer, who was a Lebanese freelancer and dropping these other images?

JOHNSON: Yes. I think overall, they did handle it pretty well. But one thing that I would take issue is -- with is the fact that they pulled all 900 some-odd photos of his catalog and said that they would be examining them for further evidence of fraud.

But this was at the beginning of the week. So where is the results of this survey? I mean, I would like to know, whether they discover anything. And I suspect that they really don't intend to release any more information about it.

KURTZ: You said that you think there are more fake photos related to the Middle East war, and perhaps this is being done to aid Hezbollah. What do you base that on? Maybe this is just a case of a photographer trying to make his pictures more dramatic so he could sell more photos.

JOHNSON: Well, one thing I based it on is the fact that Hezbollah is an extremely organized group. They're far more than just, you know, a bunch of guys wearing masks in garages mixing up bombs. They're -- they have a media relations department. Several days ago I published scans of their business cards on my web site.

So they're fully organized and very interested in controlling the information that comes out of Lebanon. So I think that it really behooves the news agencies to be very much on their guard against this kind of manipulation because otherwise, we won't even know.

KURTZ: Arianna, is it fair to take this one regrettable incident involving Reuters and say that much of the coverage of the war is tainted or perhaps biased?

HUFFINGTON: It's not just Reuters. I mean, there were stories yesterday in the "Jerusalem Post" and in the "L.A. Times" about other photographers who had doctored their photographs, who put toys on top of ruins, who have the image of one woman that had a beard again and again, crying, weeping, but it was the same woman.

So this is not an isolated incident that Charles has discovered.

KURTZ: Right.

HUFFINGTON: But the fact that he pointed it out means that there is now need for further investigation.

KURTZ: All right. You know, digital technology enables us to bring you the news more efficiently. But it also allows for more cheating.

Arianna Huffington, Charles Johnson, thanks very much for your bloggers' perspective. HUFFINGTON: Thank you.

KURTZ: Ahead we'll go to London and check in on how the British media are covering the unfolding airline terror plot. That's just ahead.


KURTZ: Earlier in the program, we talked about the American media coverage of the foiled plot to blow up nearly a dozen airliners out of London in mid-air. Let's bring in CNN's John Vause, who joins us from Heathrow Airport in London, to get the British media perspective.

John, give us some sense of how the newspapers today are handling this unfolding story. And I understand you have some headlines to show us.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Howard, when this all first began the coverage seemed very matter of fact: who are the suspects, the 24 people being held by the authorities? It's since moved on in the last couple of days.

This is, in fact, the headline from "The Mirror" today. As you can read, "Baby Bomb". An exclusive here, "Terror suspects planned to kill their own tot on jet suicide mission." The story inside is three or four paragraphs quoting unnamed police sources that essentially -- this story is all about the fact that one of the suspects has a wife and a 6-month-old child.

Let's move on to one the other papers here. This is "Mail" on Sunday: "Reid Spin 'Is Wrecking Terror Case'". That's in reference to John Reid, the home secretary, who in the opening hours of this story essentially said at a press conference that they had the main players and, according to the "Sunday Mail", there's now a political storm about that, which essentially means that somebody has talked about it.

And also speaking of politics, inside the "Mail" on Sunday some photographs of Tony Blair, who went on holiday the day before the terror case was made public, and here quite a bit is made of his rather loud board shorts. His swimming trunks, which he's wearing while on holiday in the Caribbean.

KURTZ: All right.

VAUSE: So the coverage has moved on from trying to find out who the suspects are to now the politics and some of the more salacious details of the case, Howard.

KURTZ: I wasn't expecting to see Tony Blair in a bathing suit. It shows you the British tabloids can take any story and make it even more amazing and exciting.

I do want to ask you on a more serious note, as you know, NBC is reporting that a senior British official was saying that British police were planning to conduct the surveillance of these suspects for at least another week to try and obtain more evidence and that American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner. The White House is denying that.

What can you tell us about that report?

VAUSE: Well, British intelligence sources have told CNN that there is no rift, there's no disagreements between U.K. and U.S. law enforcement agencies.

But what has been interesting about covering this terror -- alleged terror plot is a lot of the information that we've been getting has been coming from U.S. sources. It's been almost impossible to get anything out of U.K. police or law enforcement agencies.

And it was a similar case when I was here just over a year ago covering the 7/7 Underground bombings. Once gain, all of the information, or most of it anyway, was coming from the United States.

But what one British intelligence source has told us is that, really, it's a difference in policing techniques. The British have a much wider scope when it comes to domestic surveillance. They can take their time. They can monitor suspects for a lot longer.

And once they get into court, the evidence which they've gathered as a result of this must stand up to a much higher scrutiny.

KURTZ: Right, right.

VAUSE: The Americans, they say have basically -- have a philosophy of acting sooner rather than later, especially after 9/11, Howie.

KURTZ: I've got -- I've got about 20 seconds, let me just ask you this. How much attention has the British press played to the fact that this is a homegrown plot, Muslim extremists who live in the United Kingdom?

VAUSE: Yes, it's a re-run of last year when the four suicide bombers were found to come from Leeds, up north. Same thing again. How could this happen? Homegrown terror, all of the headlines which were printed out last year, same thing again this time. These alleged -- this alleged terror plot, same thing again.

KURTZ: All right.

VAUSE: How could these middle-class British citizens be involved in this?

KURTZ: All right. CNN's John Vause reporting for us from Heathrow.

Up next, reporter Jill Carroll ready to tell her story of the three-month abduction in Iraq. And which TV journalist scored the highest approval rating in a new Gallup poll? Stick around for our "Media Minute". (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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


KURTZ (voice-over): In the five months since Jill Carroll was released by kidnappers in Iraq, the "Christian Science Monitor" reporter has kept a very low profile. Tomorrow her paper begins the first of an 11-part series about her ordeal.

Carroll's timing was good. U.S. officials announced this week they had arrested four Iraqi men in connection with her 82-day abduction.

In the series, Carroll writes of her kidnappers, "These were Zarqawi people. There's no way I was getting out of this alive."

JILL CARROLL, FORMER HOSTAGE: I was, "Oh, my God, they are going kill me. He's bringing me here to show me how much he hates Americans and the joy they take in killing people and that I'm next."

KURTZ: Public opinion polls aren't just for politicians anymore. In a Gallup survey of top TV journalists, Diane Sawyer led the pack with an 80 percent approval rating, followed by Dan Rather with 70 percent and Barbara Walters with 66 percent.

Among the soon to be big three anchors, Katie Couric was the winner with 60 percent, followed by Charlie Gibson at 55 percent and Brian Williams at 47 percent.

CNN's Larry King was the highest-rated cable personality with a 57 percent approval rating. But Rather, Couric and King all drew disapproval ratings of about a quarter of those surveyed.

Oh, and FOX's Bill O'Reilly, 45 percent said thumbs up, 35 percent said thumbs down.

And another tabloid tale involving the British royals, and this time a leading journalist is involved. Clive Goodman, a correspondent for London's "News of the World", was one of three men arrested this week in connection with an alleged wiretapping incident at Clarence House where Prince Charles lives with his wife Camilla.

Scotland Yard investigators, who were using anti-terror laws in the probe, became suspicious that Goodman was listening in on royals' phone messages when some of his scoops about Prince Charles were a little too good.

Charles, Camilla and the late Princess Diana all have experience with intimate phone conversations leaking out.


KURTZ: Before we go, I want to mention that RELIABLE SOURCES has won the 2006 National Press Club award for media criticism, called the Arthur Rowse Award. I want to thank the producers here at the program, who really made this possible.

And some technology news. If you happen to miss RELIABLE, which we frown upon, you can now get it by podcast, which is available at So you can catch our critical lens on the media on your MP3 player.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning, 10 a.m. Eastern. "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER" begins right now.